Recently I watched a series on Netflix called “A.D. Kingdom & Empire.” I always find it interesting to see how the movie and television industry interprets scripture. Full disclosure: This particular series was produced by Roma Downey and Mark Burnette, whom I do not agree with theologically. While their intentions may be good, they are very New Age in philosophy, and align themselves with many people I find troubling. (If you want specifics, contact me and I’ll send you links to articles.)
That being said, I have often said I hope that God has a whole library of DVDs in heaven because there are just some stories in the Bible that I would love to experience in full color. The good news is we’ll get to meet the people in those stories, and hear about them first-hand!
While the A.D. series takes some “creative license” on interpreting the events of the book of Acts, it did keep my attention. Some of my favorite episodes were those that featured Saul of Tarsus, both before and after his salvation. What a story! The character of Saul is disagreeable and arrogant. He is matter-of-fact, straight-to-the-point, and undeterred. Watching the show, he’s the one you love to hate.
Acts 8:3 tells us that after Stephen’s death, Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. Saul was no ordinary man. God had made him to be a man of passion, and convinced he was in the right, he was on a murderous rampage when God interrupted him on the road to Damascus. You can read about his conversion in Acts 9.
What I love about Saul’s story, or Paul, as we know him, is that he didn’t stop being the man of passion and commitment when God saved him. He was still “on a rampage” but he had a different purpose. One scene particularly highlighted this for me, and I keep thinking about it. Paul has a reputation in Jerusalem as a murderer. The Christians are afraid of him, and most are quite skeptical that he has truly met Jesus. Does this bother Paul? Not in the least. He tells the other disciples that they must go to the synagogue and tell everyone that Jesus is the Messiah, and that He is alive. When the disciples encourage him to be a little more discreet, he shrugs them off, and in the same bold, undeterred, confident way that he had gone into their homes to drag them off to prison, he heads toward the synagogue to declare the gospel. He doesn’t wait for them to get on board. He has a job to do, and he is going to do it.
His personality didn’t change.
But his purpose did.
As you read Paul’s letters in the New Testament, you see evidences that God’s Spirit softens his heart, and that he develops a more humble attitude as he grows in his faith. But God uses the unique way that He made Paul to accomplish great things for the kingdom. His personality, his boldness, his unashamed commitment … these are the things about Paul that inspire us.
Paul’s understanding of the grace of God is amazing. He knew exactly what he had done to harm the cause of Christ. He was well aware that he had been a part of something evil, even in ignorance. But he also knew how powerful the grace of God was that bought his forgiveness. Read his words to the Ephesian believers:
Ephesians 1:3-4 – Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ, just as He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and blameless before Him.
Paul knew that God had chosen him before the foundation of the world, and that he was holy and blameless in God’s eyes. Holy? Blameless? Only in Christ. Only because of the cross. And it was this knowing, this understanding of the power of God’s grace, that allowed Paul to be the bold witness that God had called him to be. Because he knew who he was in Christ, he could be who God called him to be.
Do you believe this about yourself? If you are in Christ, having surrendered your life to Him and repented of your sins, then you are holy and blameless, no matter what your past looks like. And God called you to Himself, knowing exactly how He created you, and with a divine purpose in mind, to bring Him glory and proclaim the gospel.
If you are hesitant about telling others about what Jesus has done for you, because you don’t think they’ll believe it, or because you think your past is too messy or too ugly, then consider yourself in good company – the apostle Paul! Lay that wrong belief down, and believe what God says about you!