How Do We Change A Broken System?  Repentance to Redemption to Relationship

‘A Look At The Life Of The Apostle Paul’

Dan O’Deens – Reflections on June 12, 2020

Well, it starts with me.  Search me O God, and know my heart, see if there be any wicked way in me.  Eugene Peterson says it this way, “ Investigate my life, O God, find out everything about me; Cross-examine and test me, get a clear picture of what I’m about; See for yourself whether I’ve done anything wrong— then guide me on the road to eternal life.Psalm 139:23,24

There is hope even for a system rooted in ‘religion’ where hatred for people different than us and a warped view of the image of God was being taught as a way of life.

When we think about the Apostle Paul we think of the man of God who wrote almost half of the New Testament Bible.  We see him as the Apostle to the Gentiles.  BUT, he was not always ‘the Apostle Paul.’  His real name was Saul and he was raised with an unhealthy worldview.

Saul was a ‘hater.’  This hatred was not so much about race, but about those who called themselves Christian.  The issue of ‘hate’ and our view of ‘humanity’ remain the same in the struggles we face as a nation in 2020.  Saul and the religious leaders hated Christians so much they were willing to go on crusades to persecute and kill those who were different than them.

Saul was elite.  He was a student of Scripture under the tutorship of Gamaliel.  He was from the tribe of Benjamin.  He was on a mission to torture and kill Christians and Acts 9:1 even says he was breathing down the necks of Jesus’ disciples out for the kill.

This story is a story that could be called, ‘It’s never too late.’  As a young man I learned of this story as ‘NINE-SHINE’…It was the story of Acts Chapter 9 where God ‘shines’ the light from heaven and redirects the life of the man Saul and then given a new name, Paul and a new mission.

What was God thinking?  How could he take the chief persecutor and killer of Christians and choose him to be His Apostle to the Gentiles.  That seems so wrong!  It’s really no different than King David, adulterer and murderer, whom God calls, “a man after His own heart.”

God is in the Redemption business.  He is much more concerned about where we are going than where we have been.

What really happened on that road to Damascus?   JESUS, showed up!  And when Jesus shows up, traffic stops and we drop to our knees. We see ourselves for who we truly are without Him. Saul falls to his knees and repents.  It was an about face conversion.  We see a man turn from destroyer to disciple.  Saul…soon to be Paul, has come face to face with His creator and now His Savior was going to give him a brand new focus.

The next part of the story is crazy.  Although the conversion was immediate, the transformation would require the investment of a teacher and man of God to build a relationship with Saul now Paul.  We are not sure about the exact amount of time that Ananias poured into Paul, but there was a long period of time and training.  It should be noted that at first Ananias was hesitant but God squelched his fear and ill will toward the former persecutor and commissioned him to invest in the man He had chosen.  Ananias obeyed and immediately invested!

I wish we had a record of all the training and even ‘un-training’ that took place in those formative years for Paul to learn from his teacher.   I wonder how this man of God grappled with the ‘old man’ and the ‘new man’ that God was making.  I wonder how much he wrestled with his worldview of ‘hatred’ to his new worldview of ‘love?’

I am not sure we know the details or the curriculum, but we can know that he spent time with a mentor and with His Lord and Savior and invested in his new relationship with Jesus.  He was smitten.  He was all in.  He was a changed man.  How do we know?

His ‘old’ self was replaced with purpose and his purpose was now singular.   Phil 1:21 says, For me to live is Christ and to die is gain.

That led him to write “But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ.” Phil 3:7,8

The once confident Saul had repented of his old ways…his sin!   He had experienced true redemption.  His creator, paid the price and bought him back out of the bondage of slavery to sin and its way of hatred, and transformed him into a person with great humility recognizing that he and everyone was made in the image and likeness of God and his new worth was found in whom he belonged.

Paul chose to relentlessly pursue Jesus.  Jesus was his new way of life.  Phil 3:10 says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death.” 

That is total transformation.  This man went from being the one who caused people to suffer to one who was now willing to suffer even to the point of sacrifice and death.

How do we move on from our past?  How do we move on when we grasp that our past includes a very sinful and harmful dose of hatred and bigotry and misunderstanding of Imago Dei?

The answer is found in our focus.  Paul said, “Not that I have already obtained all this, or have already arrived at my goal, but I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me.  Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.  All of us, then, who are mature should take such a view of things. And if on some point you think differently, that too God will make clear to you.” Phil 3: 12-15

Transformation happens for a believer at the point of conversion when we receive the very breath of Life from our creator and Savior.  But transformation is also necessary for every believer on a daily basis.  We call this sanctification.  We live in a world of sin and the system is deep in the flesh.  We struggle with the flesh.  Paul did!  Romans 7 is clear about this.  Paul tells us that the things he wants to do he does not do and the things he does not want to do he does.  This is the struggle between the flesh and the spirit.  It is real.  It is war!

This war is not of this world alone.  Eph 6:12 says, “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms.”

The Story of the Apostle Paul is a profound example of hope.  We get to watch God, knock a man down, build him back up and set his feet to dancing with a new hope and a new purpose.  That is the story of repentance, redemption and finding true relationship with the one person who can turn desecrated space and make it sacred again.  That person is JESUS!

I finish with a few last words from the testimony of the man that was totally changed when he truly had a face to face encounter with Jesus himself.

“I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.”  Gal 2:20

“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” Rom 12:2

“But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.”  2 Cor 3:18

As we choose to engage in this fight against evil, I pray that we will be changed like Paul and be able to say, I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race of telling people about the Good News to everyone, everywhere.

I pray that our worldview will take on the view of our Father, who so loved the world.   It’s really pretty simple, ”Love God, Love People, in that order.”  And remember, “He who loves first, wins.”