How Did Saul the Christian Killer Become the Apostle Paul?

There was once a zealous man named Saul (from Tarsus) who hounded the young and growing Christian church at every turn. He persecuted and attacked the followers of the Way, and accused those who preached Jesus’ resurrection of blasphemy. His career as Pharisee was taking off because he was ruthless in his judgement and relentless in his pursuit. But somehow, something changed for Saul: this same man had an experience that transformed him and changed his life completely.

What Happened?

We know him now as the Apostle Paul, the same man who said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God unto salvation to everyone that believeth; to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” How could a Pharisee of such unparalleled zeal make such a change? How could an enemy of the Church become one of its staunchest defenders? What changed him from Saul the persecutor into Paul, the Apostle? History tells us that something happened to change his life and change his name. Apparently the power lay in the Gospel, which Paul defined so well in his first letter to Corinth:

“For what I received I passed on to you as of first importance: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Peter, and then to the Twelve. After that he appeared to more than 500 of the brothers at the same time, most of whom are still living, though some have fallen asleep. The he appeared to James, then to all the apostles, and last of all he appeared to me, as to one abnormally born.” (I Corinthians 15:3-8, NIV)

Quite a Resume

Saul of Tarsus was a Hebrew scholar, educated at the feet of Gamaliel, a famous rabbi of that era. He persecuted the early church in his zeal as a Pharisee, and his Jewish credentials were impeccable. (Paul referred to himself as formerly “faultless” in the eyes of the law in Philippians 3:6). He was consenting to Stephen’s death in Acts 6, but a short time after that encountered Jesus in a vision while traveling to Damascus. (By definition an Apostle had to have seen Jesus, and this was Paul’s encounter. It changed him forever.)

Saul apostle

He embraced the reality of the resurrection and began to follow Christ with the same zeal he had previously applied to persecuting the church. He spent three years in Arabia communing with and learning somehow from Christ himself, and then taught in Damascus, strengthening the church. The Apostle Paul became perhaps the greatest Hebrew apologist for Christ the world has ever known, and his missionary efforts spread the good news all over the world.

So Why Focus on a Pharisee Who Converted?

You can doubt a lot of things about Christianity, but you really can’t argue with the historical impact of Paul. If you haven’t read his letters, they are amazing in their ability to connect the work of Christ with God’s revelation through the Old Testament. He said in Romans 8:38-39, “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Saul apostle Paul

Saul’s testimony still counts as an eyewitness because he was transformed after an encounter with the risen Lord. He went from being an enemy of those who followed Jesus to a follower himself. When he encountered Jesus, he began to connect the dots, and the rest is history.

It’s really the same for all of us—a lot of things aren’t clear until we encounter Jesus. But once we put him in the proper place, there are so many things that suddenly make sense. I hope they do for you!

Unashamed

Saul abhorred the gospel, and he hated those who knew it;
If there was any way that he could stop them, he would do it.
He encountered Jesus as he traveled to Damascus;
Witnesses said, “Yes it really happened there. Just ask us!”
That was not the only testimony to that day;
Saul was transformed into Paul, and then had this to say:

“I am not ashamed at all! The Gospel gives me power,
And I am going to preach it every minute, every hour.
I will go in grace to those who used to fear and hate me,
And preach God’s endless love, from which no power can separate me!
I’ll gladly preach of healing where I used to cause such pain,
For me, for Paul to live is Christ! For me to die is gain.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

The Roman Road: It will Take You to Amazing Places

The Roman Road system was an amazing accomplishment in the ancient world, and it allowed people to travel all over Europe. The zealous Pharisee, Saul of Tarsus, was traveling on such a road from Jerusalem to Damascus when he had a life-changing experience.

In the Book of Acts, Dr. Luke describes it like this: “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him.” (Acts 9:1-3)

Roads That Take You Somewhere

The actual road to Damascus took Paul on a life-changing journey; the spiritual “Roman Road” he outlined in the book of Romans can do the same for you. J R R Tolkien’s poem in The Hobbit said, “The road goes ever on and on, Down from the door where it began”, offering a hint of adventure and mystery about where a road might lead. And of course Robert Earl Keen pointed out that “the road goes on forever”, indicating he may have been aligned with today’s blog, although perhaps he wasn’t thinking about Rome in particular…

Roman road

.

One of ancient Rome’s contributions to civilization was a system of public roads that was unrivalled in the ancient world. Their handiwork is still evident today, and in fact our tour group rode bicycles down the Appian Way, a road said to have been traversed by the Apostle Paul (among many others) back in the day…

In terms of its impact on life and culture, the Roman roads were sort of the equivalent of light speed in Star Wars, or a Star Trek transporter. Wikipedia says, “At the peak of Rome’s development, no fewer than 29 great military highways radiated from the capital, and the late Empire’s 113 provinces were interconnected by 372 great roads.“ It was the best means of getting to the desired destination in the entire world, and stretched from Rome all the way to Gaul and Great Britain.

Roman road

Many Roads, Many Possibilities

Robert Frost wrote about taking “The Road Less Traveled”, and the difference it made in his life. He pointed out that our choices can take us down roads whose destination is uncertain or unscripted. In “The Wizard of Oz”, Dorothy met the Scarecrow at an intersection when she wasn’t sure where to go. We encounter many such crossroads in life’s journey, and some of our choices cause us to fall in with dubious companions or go down the wrong path.

In Scriptures, there is another “road” that provides the best means of getting to your desired destination. Do you want to go to heaven? Would you like assurance that your journey is leading to God’s Kingdom? The “Roman Road” is a series of verses in Romans that outlines man’s position relative to being judged by a Holy, righteous God, and outlines God’s provision for man’s salvation. If you’ve never travelled the Roman Road, I highly recommend that you follow its course.

Read through these verses from Romans and see where it leads you:

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (3:20)

“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God…” (3:23).

“For the wages of sin is death…” (6:23a).

“But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (5:8)

“But the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (6:23b).

“That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.” (10:9, 13).

It’s why Paul said, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to everyone who believes…” (1:16). Take a walk down the Roman Road. And while you’re at it, take somebody else with you.

THE Roman Road

Roman soldiers built their roads to carry armies, men and loads
So Roman soldiers could be hurled to any target in the world.
Roads were built for one and all–Roads in Europe! Roads to Gaul!
Starting here and going there, your feet could take you anywhere.
Paul described a journey, too–a roadway built for me and you,
To transport us from earthly states, up all the way to Heaven’s Gates.
Just read Romans, you will see the path laid out for you and me:
Walk that path around the bend. Who knows indeed where it will end?
Read in Romans, then take heed; who knows indeed where it will lead?

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread

Speaking Out: As for Us, We Cannot Help Speaking about What we have Seen and Heard

After Jesus was crucified, Peter and John were out speaking in public about recent events. Not everybody wanted to hear what they had to say, and in fact their religious and cultural leaders told them they had to stop speaking. “Cancel culture” is not new in the twenty-first century. It alive and well in First Century Judea. Here’s how it went down:

“Then they (the Sanhedrin) called them in again and commanded them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus. But Peter and John replied, “Which is right in God’s eyes: to listen to you, or to him? You be the judges! As for us, we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” (Acts 4:18-20 NIV)

speaking

Undeniable Evidence Meant They Couldn’t Stop Speaking Out

Peter and John, whom Luke described as “ignorant and unlearned men”, were called before the Sanhedrin and told they needed to stop telling people about Jesus. If they didn’t stop, the Sanhedrin would take action: they could be arrested, imprisoned, perhaps even stoned. But for some reason they were not intimidated, and proclaimed boldly that they could not help but speak out about what they had seen and heard.

I have often thought that the main reason Christianity is around today is because the followers of Jesus were utterly convince about the resurrection. They were so overwhelmed with the magnitude of what happened that they could not keep from telling people about it.

Tell me, what have YOU seen and heard? Has the good news about Jesus been validated in your life? Are you different because of it? We also find ourselves in many places and social contexts that make it feel uncomfortable or prohibitive to discuss our faith candidly and without reservation. Our political system requires separation of church and state. We are told that God has no place in our schools. More and more, God is being taken out of our public lives…

So, Then…

Is “speaking out” ok? Should we pray at a restaurant? Is it ok to mention our faith at work? Should we obey the current culture of tolerance, which suggests that we not offend anyone with our beliefs? Or should we speak boldly about what we have seen and heard? Every day, in so many little ways, we are faced with a choice– to be cultural or to be godly.

As Paul said in Romans 1:16, “For I am not ashamed of the Gospel of Christ”! And as he wrote to the Thessalonians, “But as we were allowed of God to be put in trust with the gospel, even so we speak; not as pleasing men, but God, who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4 KJV) If you’ve seen it, you believe it. If you believe it, speak it.

Little Choices

John and Peter were rebuked for telling what they knew;
The Pharisees commanded them to stop their preaching, too!
But they replied, “We’ve said it once, we’ll say it now again,
Should we obey the Lord our God, or listen to you men?”
The Council was surprised by John and Peter’s forceful word;
They said they had to testify to what they’d seen and heard.
This story is still relevant, although it’s very old:
John and Peter’s actions should inspire us to be bold–
To speak the truth, to testify about what God has done–
Not bowing to the many, but obedient to the One.

To buy my latest book, Real People, Real Christmas: Thirty-one Days Discovering the Hidden Treasures of the Christmas Story, go here: https://www.amazon.com/gp/product/1729034918/ref=oh_aui_detailpage_o00_s00?ie=UTF8&psc=1
For Slaying Giants: Thirty Days with David, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Slaying-Giants-Thirty-Devotions-Ordinary/dp/172568327X/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1535814431&sr=8-1&keywords=Slaying+Giants%3A+Thirty+Days+With+David
To buy my book, Beggar’s Bread, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Devotions-Ordinary-Guy/dp/1535457392/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-1&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread
For the Kindle Edition, go here: https://www.amazon.com/Beggars-Bread-Bo-Jackson-ebook/dp/B01K5Z0NLA/ref=sr_1_2?ie=UTF8&qid=1473336800&sr=8-2&keywords=Beggar%27s+Bread