By Clarence L. Haynes Jr., Crosswalk.com
In Acts chapter 9, Paul, then called Saul, was on his way to Damascus and while on his way there, he had an encounter with the Lord himself. This encounter ultimately led to his conversion.
As I was looking at the story, I felt compelled to share with you some things we can learn from Paul on the road to Damascus.
1. Saul Was Sold Out to His Sinful Mission
Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest. He requested letters addressed to the synagogues in Damascus, asking for their cooperation in the arrest of any followers of the Way he found there. He wanted to bring them—both men and women—back to Jerusalem in chains. Acts 9:1-2 (NLT)
Saul was very much like you and I were before Christ, he was committed to his sinful lifestyle. He was all in. He held nothing back in his pursuit of followers of Christ. His mission was to find them, jail them, and if possible, even kill them. We often hear the term sold out for Jesus, well Saul was sold out for sin. Paul even acknowledged his previous condition.
I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength to do his work. He considered me trustworthy and appointed me to serve him, even though I used to blaspheme the name of Christ. In my insolence, I persecuted his people. But God had mercy on me because I did it in ignorance and unbelief. 1 Timothy 1:12-13
Paul gave everything he had to his life before Christ and thankfully that same zeal carried over after his conversion.
2. God Often Confronts Us When We Are at Our Worst
As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. Acts 9:3 (NLT)
I cannot tell you how many people I have heard say I need to get my life right and then I will come to God. That thinking is so contradictory to how God deals with us. In Paul’s life God didn’t wait until Paul recognized what he was doing or until Paul cleaned his life up a little. Jesus confronted him when he was in sin and when he was on his way determined to commit more sin.
He addressed Paul when he was at his worst, and it is at that point he saved and rescued him from his life of sin. This is not unusual because Romans 5:8 reminds us of this truth.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
God died for us when we were in sin and not thinking about him and God often reaches out to us when we are in sin not thinking about him. He did it for Paul and he has done this for so many others.
3. There Is No Room for Arrogance in God’s Presence
He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Acts 9:4-5 (NLT)
I often find it funny when people say when they see God, they are going to give him a piece of their mind. My response to them whether I say it out loud or to myself is no you’re not.
What we learn from Paul on the road to Damascus is that when you are confronted with the presence of God there really is no room for arrogance. There is something about the presence of God that humbles you and it happens very quickly.
Notice from the moment he encountered God’s presence he ended up on the ground. Paul’s plight is exactly the same as ours. I remember a time when I was praying at home with my mom and sister. During that time of prayer there was such a strong sense of God’s presence that filled the room that I literally could not stand up. I didn’t see a light or hear a loud voice, but I knew it was God’s presence.
That’s why in Philippians when Paul penned these words, they probably meant more to him than anyone else.
Therefore God exalted him to the highest place
and gave him the name that is above every name,
that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow,
in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord,
to the glory of God the Father. Philippians 2:9-11
When God’s presence shows up all arrogance and pride immediately bows at his feet.
4. It Only Takes One Touch from God to Change a Person
The Lord said, “Go over to Straight Street, to the house of Judas. When you get there, ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul. He is praying to me right now. Acts 9:11 (NLT)
When Paul started on his journey to Damascus, he was a staunch enemy of the gospel. He was seeking to stop it and snuff it out wherever he could. If there is one thing to learn from Paul on the road to Damascus, here it is. It doesn’t take much for God to change a person’s direction. Look at what happened to Paul in a matter of just three days.
Beginning of the road: Saul, the enemy of God, sets out in pursuit of followers of the way with bad intentions for them.
Along the road: Saul encounters God and is brought to his knees by his presence. After this encounter, he is blinded but his life is changed.
End of the road: Saul arrives at Damascus but not to accomplish what he set out to do. Instead of arresting and persecuting these followers of the way, he becomes one of them.
Paul began this journey an enemy and ended this journey praying. This all happened in a very short span of time. We should all be encouraged by Paul to recognize that no one is beyond God’s reach so don’t stop praying for them.
Even the most hardened individual can be transformed when they come face to face with who they are and who God is. You should also note it doesn’t take long for God to change a person’s heart. Sometimes it doesn’t even require anyone talking to a person but simply allowing God to do what only he can do.
Remember Paul’s conversion did not come after someone witnessed to him or shared the gospel, it was a personal encounter that changed his life. It is critical that we share the gospel but at best all we can do is plant and water. It is God that gives the increase and makes the message of the gospel come alive in the heart of the person hearing it.
In other words, at some point, we must all have an encounter with Jesus which leads to our conversion. As you pray for those who don’t know Jesus, let’s pray that they hear the gospel and they would encounter the living Christ because we know that he is able to do more to change a person’s heart and life than we ever could. Paul is an example of this.
One last thought from the life of Paul. God used the same zeal he had but changed the direction it was pointed in. When you come to Christ some of the same gifts, talents, or zeal you had before you were saved, God can use them, but he will steer them in the right direction.
When you look at Paul on the road to Damascus, God saved him, God changed him, and God used him for his glory. Come to think about it, what God did in Paul’s life is the same thing he still does today. Whether they are bright lights and Damascus roads or quiet moments in your living room, this same Jesus is still changing lives.
Photo Credit: ©Unsplash/Clay Banks
Clarence L. Haynes Jr. is a speaker, Bible teacher, and co-founder of The Bible Study Club. He is the author of The Pursuit of Purpose which will help you understand how God leads you into his will. He has also just released his new book The Pursuit of Victory: How To Conquer Your Greatest Challenges and Win In Your Christian Life. Do you want to go deeper in your walk with the Lord but can’t seem to overcome the stuff that keeps getting in the way? This book will teach you how to put the pieces together so you can live a victorious Christian life and finally become the man or woman of God that you truly desire to be. To learn more about his ministry please visit clarencehaynes.com.