Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah. After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall. When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. Acts 9:19-26
In this passage Paul (formerly known as Saul) is a new believer. Immediately he begins to preach the gospel which I think is probably relatable to most believers. At least, it is for me. As a new believer I was so excited and passionate about the gospel, hitting the streets with my friends as we tried to convert every passersby. But even though Paul was this new creature, who all of a sudden LOVED Jesus, he could not fully escape his old identity. He was accepted by those who had witnessed his transformation, the disciples in Damascus, however when he left that area and came to Jerusalem he was rejected. The disciples in Jerusalem only knew him as Saul, “mass murderer of followers of The Way”. It was a little difficult for them to believe that someone who so zealously set out to kill God’s people, all of a sudden was so zealously witnessing with them. And can you blame them? How hard is it to receive a change in someone when all you have known of them is a certain way that they have functioned or certain beliefs and values they have held? You acquainted these characteristics to their identity but because we are born in a fallen world, often our beliefs are rooted in dysfunction. Often we are functioning from a false identity. And often as we get older we will be transformed in our thinking and perception of life.
I am reminded of King David, the man after God’s own heart. But King David sinned! He committed adultery, tore apart a home and killed a man! The thing is, he truly did not see his dysfunction. We know this because when he is approached by the Prophet Nathan and given a parable he all of a sudden gets the revelation of his sin (2 Sam 12-15). And what is his response? Repentance. He is repentant and he accepts the consequences for his sin. That is why I believe He was a man after God’s own heart. Not b/c he was blameless but b/c his heart was repentant.
Because God looks at the heart.
God understands that we are born into dysfunction. He understands that we are imperfect and flawed individuals. There is simply none righteous, no, not one. That is why I believe it is so easy for Him to forgive, b/c no one is able to stand up to the standard of perfection. I know my own imperfection has aided me in forgiving. It has aided me in extending grace, forgetting the past, and working towards a better future. I refuse to be boxed in as a past, lesser version of myself. We should all be growing and transforming as we continue in this journey of life. We should be learning from our past mistakes and forgiving others for theirs. It is the Father’s intention as He has promised to complete the work He started in us.
If God could take a man like Paul, who slew so many believers, and change him into a man who wrote the most books of the New Testament and helped to lay the foundation of the first century church, well, what can He do with you or I? If He could view a murderer and adulterer as a man after His own heart, how does He view you or I?
There is none righteous. No, not one.
It is by grace we have been saved.