Acts 9: From Saul to Paul

Possibly the biggest conversion documented in the Bible is that of Saul of Tarsus. Saul was a vehement persecutor of Christians—he even took part in the stoning of Stephen (Acts 6-7). He would go on to write almost half of the New Testament. Now that's a testimony! Throughout this post, I'm going to refer to him as Paul since that's the name we most commonly use. Let's jump into some key points of his conversion...

What Made Paul Change?

The church I'm a member of is currently investing in discipleship—from small groups to outreach, we're hearing a lot about horizontal relationships. However the conversion of Paul is not about a horizontal relationship. When Christ appears to Paul, he is with his fellow "anti-Christians." He is not moved by Stephen's speech or seeing the perseverance of the disciples. It is Christ Himself who changes Paul's heart. Yes, followers of Christ aid Paul in his transformation, but that first step comes from Christ. The other conversion accounts support this pattern as well, but with Paul I find it much easier to see.

A lot of times we forget this, but it actually isn't our job to convert people. Our job is to help people find answers and grow after the Spirit converts them. When people aren't ready and we push faith on them, it only turns them away. This pattern is evident with the Ethiopian man (Acts 8), Cornelius (Acts 10), and Paul (Acts 9). Each of these men were called by God independently of the disciples. It is only after they accept that call that God sends a disciple to nurture their growth.

Fear of Change

Paul represents an extreme case. He wasn't just someone who made disparaging remarks about Christ's followers, he was actively participating in their deaths. Can you imagine hearing that the person who is responsible for your loved ones' death has turned over a new leaf and is joining you? That's a hard pill to swallow, and as expected, the disciples were not convinced.

The Right to Change

Despite the fact that we don't experience this type of persecution in the modern US, it's oddly relatable. What we do live in, is the era of social media and the permanent record of all our stupidity. Do you remember in school when teacher's threatened to put something on your "permanent record"? I don't know if anyone actually looks at those, but you best believe that Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, etc. have a permanent record of everything you've ever posted. Idiotic babbling, uniformed opinions, drunk posts, idle musings, conspiracy theories, etc. There's also that person bored enough to go back through your life to find the post from 15 years ago where you said/did something you should not have. How many celebrities and political candidates have gotten in front of a camera to release a statement about social media misconduct? A better question is how often do we actually believe them?

When I think about who I was my freshman year of college—the year I created my Facebook account—and who I am now, there are definitely major differences. Lucky for me I've always been a bit reluctant to share my life on social media, but I can easily see how things I thought at 18 could haunt me at 32. And yet, I have a right to change—to grow.

The Church is one of the most unforgiving places when it comes to change. I don't know how many times I've seen or heard about a "Christian" rudely dwelling on a person's past. When people turn away from the world, we should be welcoming them with open arms and making that transition easier. Yet often, they are met with reaction and skepticism.

Skepticism Isn't Always Bad

There are two kinds of apologetic people: those who are actually remorseful and those who got caught. Some people genuinely make mistakes—the girl who got pregnant/the guy who got a girl pregnant outside of marriage, the person who cheated on their spouse once, the person who got desperate once and stole some money, the recovering alcoholic, etc. While other people boldly continue in their sinful trajectory. The latter are the people we rightfully guard against, but in doing so, many times we lump in the former. Yet these are the people with the most compelling stories and the people who are often most able to reach the lost.

We have to approach things with skepticism to avoid allowing false doctrine and complacency in the Church, but how do we know what to shut out and what to accept? How do we recognize a genuine transformation? The Holy Spirit

Holy Spirit

The Holy Spirit knows who He's converted. After Paul is converted, the Spirit tells Ananias to go to Paul. Notice that it's not a council of men voting on whether Paul is or isn't a true believer, though it does take a while for them to be convinced. In every case, God places a disciple in position to help His newly converted child. That disciple knows the person is the real deal because the Spirit has revealed it! We should never be relying on ourselves to determine who has changed and who hasn't.

Signs of Change

I don't think everyone changes at the same rate, which means I also don't think everyone's transformation will look the same (a major reason why we should be rely on the Holy Spirit to do the discerning). However, what I do know is that a genuine change will be led by the Holy Spirit and therefore will show a person coming closer to the Holy Spirit. I would expect to see the person seeking answers and studying the Word, leaving behind worldly behaviors, adopting behaviors that reflect our Father, growing the Fruit of the Spirit, and an admission of guilt.

Ananias

Ananias is the brave disciple who goes to Paul right after his conversion. It is Ananias who heals Paul, returning his sight.

Who Was Ananias?

The first point I have to make about Ananias is that he isn't the Ananias from earlier in Acts who ended up dead. Apparently Ananias was a popular name in during this time.

The Name of Ananias

Ananias is actually the Greek variant of the Hebrew Hananiah. In the Old Testament, there is a person named Hananiah featured in the book of Daniel. You may know him better as Shadrach (Daniel 1:7). This Hananiah was strong and stood for God during a time of captivity and turmoil, so it isn't shocking that it would become a popular name. The name actually means "YHWH has been gracious."[1]

The Faith of Ananias

Let's be honest. If the Holy Spirit came to me and told me He wanted me to go to the house of a known killer, I don't know what I would do. I know my immediate answer would not be "Yes Lord." Ananias was just as scared as we know we would have been. The book of Acts doesn't paint a holier-than-thou image of him rushing to Paul without question. Like us, he is taken aback and unsure of the command he is given. The important thing is that he moves past his own reasoning to do what the Holy Spirit requests.

Imagine, if no disciple was ever willing to go to Paul? We know that God's plan was always going to be fulfilled, but someone had to go to him. The Church had to accept Paul for him to be able to spread the gospel. The first step in that process was Ananias surrendering to the Holy Spirit.

The Power of Ananias

How many people do you think actually know who Ananias is? Despite playing a crucial role in Paul's entry to the Church, few people would name him if tasked with jotting a list of people from the New Testament. Yet, he was able to remove the scales from Paul's eyes. What does it say about us if a little known disciple who is never spoken of again can restore vision, but our church doesn't have any healers in it? Where is the Holy Spirit in our Church? Where is our faith?

Summary

  • Paul's conversion was motivated by the Spirit
  • You cannot and should not force the Word on a person in attempt to convert them
  • The Holy Spirit is the only one who can assess wether a person is truly changed or not
  • It takes courage and faith to follow the Holy Spirit's instruction instead of our own
  • The biggest enemy of the Church became the most powerful ally

References

  1. "Who was Ananias in the Bible?". GotQuestions.org; visited May 29, 2020
  2. "Ananias". Bible Gateway; visited May 30, 2020

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About

Author Image Author Image I love reading the Word of God. With prayer God's Word reveals so much: from comfort to temperance, from perspective to affirmation. Digging into the depths of the Word, cross-referencing history, language and time differences, is a passion of mine. In March of 2015 I decided to go back through the Bible doing an in depth study on each section I read. Eventually I decided to share my journal of notes as I partake in this journey. I hope you are blessed by God and inspired to pursue a deeper relationship with Him. I love reading and learning about God, nature, and science. I am interested in how it all connects. The Creator's fingerprints are all over his creation. We can learn so much about Him and how we came to be by exploring the world around us. Join me as I explore the world and draw closer to the One who created it all.
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