Change is Possible
Today’s story is about the incident that changed Paul completely and radically. As you know, Paul was the most important person, who took Jesus’ message and ministry and all the way to create Christianity, as we know. Paul’s thoughts are the basis of what we believe without Paul, I’m not sure whether we would have Christianity. Jesus gave the message in the ministry and Paul really described who Jesus was, what salvation is, and everything. So he was the most important person in Christian history, but he was not a follower of Jesus from the beginning. Rather, he was against Jesus message and wanted to destroy the movement. He was smart, well versed in the scripture and very, very strong. He was on the way to Damascus to arrest Christians. This is what he says, “Meanwhile Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus so that if he found any who belonged to the way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” Saul was a Hebrew name. A lot of people mistakenly think the name Saul was before he was converted. No Saul was a just Hebrew name and Paul was a Greek name. So Saul did not become Paul, just a different name, like John and Johan so it’s just a different name. Any who belonged the way were Christians. At that time, Christians did not have a name for themselves, so people call them the ‘those who follow the way’.
Reading today’s story, I realized that people can change. For 30 years of ministry, I’ve seen people but people don’t change. They are so stubbornly the same. I mean 30 years, from the outside, they look like they’ve changed, but the inside is still the same. So I don’t see change much. But reading today’s scripture passage, I realized that change is possible. People can change. Paul was strong and full of conviction. He was full of passion and zeal. He was so sure of himself. He was confident that he was right. He was religious and he was a man. Can you tell, this guy will not change? Hearing all the discretion that I just made. You will suspect that this guy will never change, but this impossible person changed.
Persecuting The Lord
You know, religious people can be very stubborn. Religious people believe that what they think and what they do is what God wants from them. They are very stubborn. They can be very stubborn. It is beautiful to be religious, but when that beautiful religion can also blind us and we can become very stubborn, that was what Paul was like before he met Christ. He was so sure of himself, but the irony was, he didn’t truly know who he was. He didn’t even know that he didn’t know about himself. He was so blinded about himself. St Paul was passionate maybe even before he met Christ. There’s nothing wrong with being passionate. Being passionate, it is good. Being devoted to what you do is good, but when your passion is so strong that when you’re that you’re consumed by it and make you blind about yourself, then that passion can be dangerous. People who are so sure of themselves when they don’t really know about themselves. Those people are dangerous people. That was what Paul did. His passion consumed him and he hurt others and even killed them. That was why Jesus asked, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” He used the word persecute. In other words, why do you hurt people? Why do you abuse people? He was so blindly strong that to him, his thoughts were gospels. His will was God’s will and his purpose was God’s purpose. Arresting Christians, killing them and destroying the movement was not his agenda, but he believed that it was God’s agenda. That’s why change is so hard. Once you get to the point of where Paul was, nothing really can change you. Everything he did was what God wanted to do, he believed. He firmly believed that whatever he did was what God wanted to do, but he was wrong. In the end, he confessed that he was wrong. He became totally blind to himself. Parker Palmer, an educator said, “Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.” Look at the screen, meditate on that. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.
Just because you do gospel work, that doesn’t mean that you really know God and God really knows you. What is important is now whether you’re doing God’s work or not, but whether it is anything to do with God but everything to do with yourself, you have to ask yourself. There’s a very insightful passage about this. Matthew records it this way, “Not everyone who says to me, Lord, Lord will enter the Kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven. On that day, many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesies in your name and cast out demons in your name and too many?” There is power in your name. Then I’ll declare to them, “I don’t know you. I don’t know you. Who are you? Go Away from me, you evil doers.”
Change By God’s Grace
The change that happened on the road to Damascus was not a bad person becoming a good person, an immoral person, becoming a moral person, an unbelieving person becoming a religious faithful person. The change that happened on the route to Damascus was basically about a person who was so blinded about himself, came to find himself. This change wasn’t a miracle. To me, this change was a miracle. Voice, light, those are not what’s amazing, what was really amazing was that this person really changed until he died. That change was a miracle to me because I don’t see that kind of change in people often. Paul, a true miracle happened on the road to Damascus. Finally, he realized that his will, he’s not God’s will. His purpose is not God’s purpose. His work is not God’s work. He realized that like what Isaiah discovered, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways my ways, says the Lord for as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.” He realized that he was not as righteous of a person as he thought and he realized that God’s grace was given not to those who think they were righteous, but to those who realize that they were sinners. He realized that salvation did not belong to him or depend on him, but only on God. His religious convictions, traditions and behaviours would not save him, he realized. All these theologies do not go beyond this boundary of his experience on the road to Damascus. Everything came to him on that day. The whole world of Paul changed on the road to Damascus. My friends, when you discover yourself, the universe opens up. He saw God in a real way and he could experience God’s grace. His zeal and passion blinded him, but God’s grace opened his eyes. What happened on the road to Damascus? God’s grace came down upon Paul. That is the power of God’s grace. That was what made the change possible. God’s grace. Who are you? How do you define yourself? Your abilities, your job, your religious deal, your righteousness? No. You are who you are by God’s grace. You are who you are by God’s grace.
Ultimately, that was Paul’s conclusion. This is what is said, “For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called even an apostle because I persecuted the Church of God, but by the grace of God, I am what I am and his grace towards me has not been on the contrary. I work harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me.” There is nothing more important than to realize that we are who we are by God’s grace. That was what all these people who met God experienced. We are who we are by God’s grace. It was not my ability, not my religious zeal, nor my righteousness, only God’s grace. You know, Paul try to do everything on his own, to please God, to do God’s work. He did everything. He worked really hard to do that, but he became angrier. He became more violent. Without the grace of God, when he tried to do everything on his own, he only became an angry person. But God’s grace brought him back to where he was supposed to be. By God’s grace, he found himself. When he found God’s grace, he worked harder than before. But there’s one thing that is changed that is, hatred disappears. When God’s grace works in you, hatred disappears. Anger goes away. Guilt, well not torment you anymore. Worries and anxieties will not bind us. Hostility does not control us. Love will bud forth. Hope rises from within. And finally, you have the power to forgive. The power to forgive. You will be filled with confidence that you can overcome any challenges. Always remember that you are who you are. By God’s grace, your zeal will not blind you. Your zeal will accomplish wonderful works of God and you won’t hurt other people. You will build other people up. I hoped that we all become who we are by God’s grace.