Saved by Grace
I can still recall how shocked I was when I read for the first time, in the book of Acts, the account of Saul’s conversion. That God would save a man like that was amazing to me! It speaks to the majesty of God’s grace.
Saul was a religious man, incredibly so, but he was not saved. According to his own account, he possessed an impressive religious pedigree, position, practice, and passion (Philippians 3:5-6). Underneath the religious veneer, however, was a man who was radically depraved. He hated Jesus and His followers. He was “breathing threats and murders against the disciples” (Acts 9:1-2). When they were being “put to death (he) cast (his) vote against them” (Acts 26:10). In “raging fury against them (he) persecuted them” (Acts 26:11). “(He) persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Galatians 1:13). He was, in his own words, “a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent” (1 Timothy 1:13).
Saul was not in any way seeking after Christ. He was engaged in his murderous activities at the time of his conversion. He would have undoubtedly been voted “least likely to be saved,” had any such vote been taken. So repugnant was his reputation that God had to convince Ananias to go to him (Cf. Acts 9:10-14). It was to such a man that Christ appeared. How are we to account for Saul’s salvation? Obviously there was no Pauline contribution to it–no goodness of heart or work of his own which led up to it. He was headed in the wrong direction when God turned him around. Years later Paul himself explained that which transpired—“But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus” (1 Timothy 1:13a-14). By what means was Saul saved? By the love, grace, and mercy which are found in Christ Jesus. We deserve judgment. Through Christ’s mercy and grace we receive forgiveness instead. The distance between what we deserved and what we have received is infinite and speaks to the “overflowing” nature of the grace of God revealed to us in the gospel.
Grace is commonly defined in terms of “unmerited favor.” And we’ve addressed the “unmerited” part when it comes to Paul. But what about the “favor” part? It’s not just that God saved a man who was seemingly impossible to save, the majesty of God’s grace was unveiled in how God showed “favor” towards Paul in so mightily using him. That former Christian persecutor, was transformed by grace to become the church’s greatest missionary. In three missionary journeys he started dozens of churches and witnessed to thousands of people. He wrote many of the books of the New Testament. God unveiled the truth to Him, and he was even once caught up into the “third heaven.” By His grace, God protected Paul through countless trials, and ultimately worked to bring him and the gospel to Rome. Paul never lost track of his spiritual roots. He called himself “the foremost of sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) and the “least of the apostles” (1 Corinthians 15:9). “By the grace of God I am what I am” he said (1 Corinthians 15:10). God only knows the full measure of the impact of the ministry of the Apostle Paul both in his life and legacy. Look how God saved that man! Look how God changed that man! Look how God used that man!
God is able to do the same with any of us. “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). To save lost sinners like Paul. And Paul explained why he himself was shown mercy: “But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16). In other words—if Jesus could save Paul, He can save anybody. His ability to pardon exceeds our ability to comprehend (Cf. Isaiah 55:6-9). God is amazing in His grace!
Heavenly Father. Thank you for saving me by Your grace! Thank you that Your ability to save by grace transcends our capacity to comprehend. Our hearts are gladdened by every testimony regarding your saving and transforming work. Every part of it is by Your grace, help me to always keep that in mind, and praise and thank You accordingly. Amen.