July 3, 2022

THE AFTERMATH OF AN AMAZING CONVERSION

Passage: Acts 9:19-31

19 and taking food, he was strengthened.  For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. 20 And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. 23 When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him, 24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were watching the gates day and night in order to kill him, 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a basket. 26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he went in and out among them at Jerusalem, preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 And he spoke and disputed against the Hellenists. But they were seeking to kill him. 30 And when the brothers learned this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus. 31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied.
— Acts 9:19-31, ESV

Who is a Christian?  Is she the Roman Catholic that never misses mass, participates in the seven sacraments of the church, and because of her own good works dies and escapes Hell and Purgatory to go straight to Heaven?  Is he the mainline Protestant whose parents enjoined him to the church, who attends on Christmas and Easter, who minds his business and goes to Heaven when he dies because, according to their unitarian theology, everyone goes to Heaven anyway?  Or, is it an Evangelical who insists upon a proper profession of faith begotten by a born again experience with God?  I think the Catholics have too many teeth, most Protestants have lost theirs, and Evangelicals have the bite that’s just about right.  Yet, many of them have false teeth.

Consider our own denomination, for example.  Fourteen million Southern Baptists are currently on record as having made professions of faith in the Lord.  But, Lord knows, you can only find a fraction of them ever following or worshiping Christ.  There is something dead wrong, dead and wrong, with a person who does not practice the Christianity they profess.

There is also something wonderful, hopeful, and eternal, about a person who does practice the preached gospel.  A superlative example is the super Apostle Paul, formerly known as the pharisee Saul of Tarsus.  In the first part of Acts 9, we see his amazing conversion.  As we move forward, we see the aftermath of his conversion, which provides ample evidence of a genuine, saving, born again relationship with God, by grace through faith in Jesus Christ.

Like his amazing conversion, the aftermath of Paul’s profession of faith is a picture that should resemble every true Christian.  Indeed, such amazing grace and sincere faith in Jesus Christ makes all things new.

A New Relationship with the Church

Remember that Saul had set out on the Damascus Road to destroy the church.  He aimed to take Christians prisoners, transport them back to Jerusalem, and see them stoned to death like the first martyr, Stephen.  Now, by the grace of God, Saul (soon to be known as Paul) was “with the disciples.”  He became one of the very people he previously persecuted, a member of the church rather than a menace to the church.

For two thousand years people have tried to destroy Christ’s church, from without and within.  We who now profess faith in Jesus Christ were once among them.  We may not have assaulted the church members, or burned down the church buildings, but unconverted people are enemies of God and hostile towards the church, seeking to tear her down.  Remember, neglect destroys more buildings than attack.

When one is genuinely converted, however, by the amazing grace of God, he or she like Saul forms a new relationship with the church.  Counter to the individualistic spirit of this present age, true Christians realize Christianity is as much a corporate relationship with Jesus Christ as it is personal.  We love the church, we participate in church, we protect the church, we help the church to grow, and in the church we glorify God.  If this is not your relationship with the church, perhaps you should check your profession of faith.

Saul’s faith was by no means merely personal.  He took his place in the church and helped her to stabilize, develop, and grow.  This new relationship he enjoyed with the church was a reflection of his new relationship with God.

A New Relationship with the Lord

The Pharisee Saul had a relationship with God, sort of.  It was a false relationship based upon faulty principles.  Saul was a racist, believing only his kind of people could be saved.  Saul was a legalist, believing in salvation by works.  Saul was a modalist, believing God did not have a Son and Spirit who shared His perfect, eternal, and essential being.

But God the Father ordained for Saul to meet God the Son on that Damascus Road and become converted to Christianity by the power of God the Holy Spirit.  Look at the great change it made in his life.  Instead of denying that Jesus of Nazareth is the Son of God and promised Messiah, Saul “proclaimed Jesus …saying, ‘He is the Son of God, … proving that Jesus is the Christ.’”

Saul understood, and the pen of the Apostle Paul would flesh this out, that he was chosen by God the Father (ref. Ephesians 1:4), redeemed by God the Son (ref. Galatians 3:13), and converted by God the Spirit (ref. Titus 3:5).  He fellowshipped with the Father, walked with the Son, and was indwelled by the Spirit.  His new relationship equipped him for new responsibilities, especially those to gather with the church and then go out and tell others about Jesus.

This is the way it is with everyone who has trusted the promises of God’s word and experienced the power of God’s grace.  Amazing grace always results in awesome changes, including our relationship with the church, our relationship with God, and our relationship with people.

A New Relationship with People

When the Lord comes into our lives, He has a way of turning things upside down, or perhaps right side up, depending upon how you look at it.  Everything changes, our feelings, our understanding of the facts, even our friendships.  Look at Saul’s life, how his relationships reversed roles.

Saul’s friends became his enemies.  The killer Saul was now on the list to be killed, by the same kind of reprobate religious rulers he once was.  The worms turned on Saul, which is one reason he stayed on the go and started going by the name Paul.  The Lord protected His servant, though, as no child of God can perish before God’s purpose for them on earth is fulfilled.

Saul’s enemies became his friends.  The very Christians whom he formerly persecuted became his best pals, although with some understandable reluctance at first.  These new friends would save Saul from his old friends.  They smuggled him away from danger and death, twice in this telling.  They bid him home to Tarsus for a while, and eventually he spent some time alone with the Lord in Arabia.  This enabled Saul to recoup, regroup, and come out swinging as the Apostle Paul.

Acts will record Paul’s many notable friendships.  Ananias had helped him regain his physical sight and gain spiritual insight into the gospel and the Christian life.  Barnabas stepped up and ingratiated Saul to the mother church in Jerusalem.  Silas, Timothy, Titus, and others would befriend him and partner with him in his mission trips and church planting.  Our Christian friendships are our best relationships.

The loving, faithful, solid relationships between Paul and the other early Christians is the reason for the happy ending of this story (ref. vs. 31).  There was “peace” in the church as it grew spiritually, edified, “built up.”  There was a healthy “fear of the Lord” and “comfort of the Holy Spirit” as the church grew numerically, “multiplied.”  This will happen in any church where the members love one another instead of fight with one another.

A New Day for You

Perhaps Paul’s most personal and powerful testimony of his own profession of faith is penned in 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”  Paul’s amazing conversion and its aftermath gave him a new relationship with the church, with the Lord, and with the people he would minister to in the church and in the world.

This should be true of you, too, if have experienced the amazing grace of God in conversion and are living in its aftermath.  Everything is new, especially relationships, and relationships are the things in life that matter the most.  God’s grace and mercies are new, each and every day, and He never lets us down.  People, old and new, will present great challenges in life, but we learn to worship and work with the faithful, then reach out while watching out for the rest.  The world we live in and the bodies we inhabit are growing old and will one day be replaced with a renewed earth and glorified bodies.  But this glorious end of the gospel promise is only given to those who begin the journey on their own Damascus Road.

I often think of Robert Frost's conclusion to his most famous poem, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I — I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.”  Two roads diverge in this life we live, one is the road to destruction and the other is the road to Damascus.  Christians who experience genuine conversion have proof to offer in its aftermath.  That’s the road taken by Paul.  You take it, too.  It will make all the difference in this life, and in the life to come.

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