When people see you coming, what do they do? Do their faces light up with enthusiasm, or do they run in the other direction? For the most part, people’s responses to our appearance fall somewhere between these extremes.
In the first century, a man named Saul created quite an impression. Early in his life, Saul exhibited a high level of intensity in his practice of the Jewish faith. Saul was so zealous for his beliefs, he persecuted those who did not share his exact point of view — including the very first followers of Jesus Christ. Saul described his life in those days this way,
“I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” (Galatians 1:13)
Because of this reputation, you can imagine many Christians who would have feared Saul (at least at some level) during this era of his life. But this early “zealous” era would not be the defining period of Saul’s life. In fact, this era would end up serving as the prelude to the real story of Saul’s life. By the end of Saul’s earthly life, he would have a name change (from “Saul” to “Paul”) and Christians everywhere would:
“glorify God because of him.” (Galatians 1:24)
So how does this kind of life change happen? How does someone go from “fear” to “glory” in just 9 verses? The answer is found in Galatians 1:15-16a:
“but when He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles . . .”
In this verse, Paul (formerly Saul), under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, lets us know the secret of his changed life. In fact, the same pattern he describes is the power that can change our lives as well:
- Change begins with divine intervention. “But when He . . .” The first step in this process of change was NOT Saul doing anything. It was God doing everything. God reached down into time and got a hold of Saul’s heart. God had an “intervention” with Saul on the Damascus Road (see Acts 9), and it was God’s initiative that led to Saul’s change of heart. The same is true with us. In order for our lives to change, God must initiate and lift the “veil” so that we can see Him (2 Corinthians 3:12-16).
- Change was the plan from the start. “. . .who had set me apart before I was born. . .” God’s plan for Saul was always to become Paul. God has prepared a process by which to mature each of us in His image. Ephesians 1:5, Ephesians 2:10, Philippians 1:6, and 1 Thessalonians 4:3 (among many other verses) remind us that our change and growth in Christ have been God’s plan all along.
- Change is a gift. “. . . who called me by His grace . . .” Jesus does not wait for us to earn God’s favor. Instead, God’s favor is given to us as a gift. This is the idea of “grace” — a gift we do not deserve and can never repay. Our salvation, and the change that follows it are a product of God’s character, not a reward for our’s. (see Romans 5:8 and Ephesians 2:8-9).
- Change is connected to Christ. “. . . was pleased to reveal His Son to me. . .” The hope Saul/Paul had was connected intimately to Jesus Christ. It was Jesus who Paul saw on the road to Damascus – the same Jesus who had died on the cross for the sins of the world, and raised from the dead to demonstrate His authority, power, and true identity. Our dead lives need resurrecting . . . that is why our only hope is connected to the Man who conquered death. (see also Colossians 1:27).
- Change in us leads to blessing others. “. . . in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” We are blessed by God, changed by His grace, in order to be a blessing to others. Abram demonstrated the pattern in the very beginning (Genesis 12:1-3), that God’s plan is to bless the world through His followers. Our lives are changed in Christ, and we remain on this earth in order to point others to Him so that Jesus might change their lives as well. The life change Christ brings is not selfish . . . it flows through us to bless others.
Saul became Paul, the one who incited fear, encouraged worship. This level of change is desired by most all I know — in our lives and in the lives of those we know. This kind of change needs Divine power . . . it needs God Himself. Thankfully it is available to all through the person and work of Jesus Christ. Do you know Him?