19 August 2010 10:25:44

Saul's murderous character was so transformed that he became the apostle of love, and the one who had sought to destroy Christianity became its chief builder.

The life of Paul has spawned whole libraries of books.

It has been suggested that his influence upon the world is second only to that of Jesus Christ.

Paul's ministry to non-Jews, his missionary journeys reported in Acts, and his twelve New Testament books have opened the floodgates of heaven to over a billion people throughout the earth alive today who would claim to be Christians.

In this brief insight we can only scratch the surface of Paul's life, but we will look at what is probably the key of his whole life and ministry: his conversion.

Although the story of Paul's conversion to Christianity on the road to Damascus is dramatic enough, what is even more significant is the conversion in his whole worldview and lifestyle.

Originally he was called Saul and, according to Philippians 3:4–6, he was a zealously strict Pharisee who had studied Judaism under the great rabbi Gamaliel in Jerusalem (Acts 22:3).

It was his rigorous training and passionate belief in Judaism that led him to regard Christianity as a dangerous heresy that should be stamped out whatever the cost.

Saul became consumed with hatred for the new heretical sect called 'The Way' (Christianity), and he was a key figure in the execution of Stephen, the first Christian martyr (Acts 7:58–60).

In his zeal to destroy the movement, Saul became "like a wild man, going everywhere to devastate the believers, even entering private homes and dragging out men and women alike and jailing them" (Acts 8:3 TLB).

Saul became aware that some believers had fled Jerusalem and so, not content with his operations there, he went to the high priest for permission to seek out the 'traitors' in Damascus (Acts 9:1–3).

Paul was later to refer to this part of his life in the words "I am the worst sinner of all" (1 Tim 1:15).

It was on a fateful journey to Damascus, hunting down followers of the Way, that Paul had his conversion experience.

Paul's life was so dramatically turned round that, according to his letter to the Galatians, believers exclaimed, "That man who once persecuted us is now preaching the very message he used to try to destroy" (Gal 1:13–23, The Message).

Whereas Paul had previously travelled long distances to persecute disciples and destroy Christianity, he began to travel long distances to make disciples and expand Christianity.

As a Pharisee he separated himself from gentiles, but now he even rebuked the apostle Peter for refusing to eat with them, and the student of the Law became the minister of grace (Gal 2:11–21).

Saul's murderous character was so transformed that he became the apostle of love.

The one who had played an important part in the stoning of Stephen and persecution of Christians was himself stoned and persecuted for the faith (2 Cor 11:22–33).

The conversion of Saul was so dramatic that even his name changed to Paul. This itself is a startling revelation of the deep transformation affected in his life as Saul means 'destroyer' whilst Paul means 'builder'.

The one who had sought to destroy Christianity became its chief builder.

We therefore see from Paul's life that no one is beyond the redemptive power of a mighty God.

If even the "worst of sinners" and a vicious persecutor of the Church can be forgiven and so thoroughly converted, then anyone can be.

Saul was guilty of murder, persecution, hatred, blasphemy and more besides. Yet God reached out to him in loving mercy to cleanse and change him.

It is that conversion of Saul's character that gives us immeasurable hope that the same God can also take our bitter, evil hearts and transform them into vast reservoirs of His love.

We too, have been given a new name – Christian, meaning 'little Christ'.

And we are now 'in Christ' – Paul's favourite phrase for describing believers – and the same powerful Spirit of Christ who empowered and transformed Saul into Paul lives in us, enabling us to reveal Jesus to others.

May we, like Paul, not merely be converted in our beliefs but experience such a deep transformation in our hearts that the whole world will come to know about it!

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