Could God turn the heart of a Christian killer, to have a heart of love for Jesus? Seriously, picture someone who has a complete hatred for Christians and Jesus to the point of wanting to destroy the church and have Christ followers killed… Jesus has an interaction with a man with that exact life goal - to destroy the Christian church. What was the result of that interaction? Let’s see…
Saul was a man who purely hated Christianity with a burning passion. As a strict Pharisee, he did everything he could to make sure that Christians were arrested, killed, and the Christian church would be destroyed. He was deeply rooted in his Jewish heritage, and legitimately saw Jesus as a threat to Judaism. After reading that Saul approved the murder of a strong Christian man named Stephen (who became the first martyr for Jesus), in Acts 8:1-3, you can read about his passionate dislike for Christians:
On that day a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria… But Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.
He literally dragged off men and women because of their faith in Jesus, to have them arrested. If you jump to chapter 9, you read that he was “breathing murderous threats” towards Christ as he was (going out of his way) traveling to Damascus to arrest and persecute more Christians. On his way, however, Saul had an unexpected encounter that we read about in Acts 9:3-6:
As [Saul] neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
Saul, being physically blinded by this encounter, made his way to Damascus to meet up with a Christian named Ananias. At this meeting, Ananias (prompted by Jesus) prayed for Saul to give him his sight back as well as to be filled with the Holy Spirit. In that very moment, Saul received sight and became a Christian! And in Acts 9:20-22, you read of this astonishing transformation:
At once [Saul] 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.
Absolutely incredible. Once a man who pursued the absolute destruction of Christians, the Christian church, and all things Jesus - became a man who was preaching Jesus as the Messiah! This man Saul, he had two names that he went by: before his conversion, he went by his Hebrew name Saul. After he became a Christian, he went by his Greek name: Paul. Yes, this former Christian persecutor became the greatest evangelist for Jesus in history. In fact, because of the absolute breadth of his ministry, Christians to this day can likely trace their faith ancestry back to Paul.
So what do we take away from this? Well first: Jesus can change the heart of anyone. Is there anyone in your life that you think God just can’t change? Maybe you see that their hearts are so cold towards Jesus, you think they are a lost cause… Don’t forget the story of Saul transforming to Paul. We need to trust that God can change anyone’s heart. Do you believe that He can? We need to be constant in prayer for the lost people in our lives. Never ever, ever, ever, ever give up hope for the lost people in your life.
Also, Jesus can use even the worst, to do the very best. Sometimes in our lives, we will feel inadequate for sharing Jesus’ love to people. Maybe you’ve done some bad things, built up a long list of sins that weigh you down, and you believe the lie that you are “not good enough” to do anything good for Jesus. Don’t ever believe that lie! God uses broken people to show His love to others. If God can take a man who’s life mission was to destroy Christianity to ultimately advance Christianity more than anyone (other than Jesus, of course) - if God can use that guy, he can use you!
The story from Saul to Paul is a story of big transformation. God can transform any heart to love Him and He can transform even the worst to do the very best. Are you transformed like Paul? Before becoming a Christian, it certainly was not your life’s mission to worship Him with your life — but have you been transformed to a point of surrender? Reflect on your own life, and if it’s not transformed to that point, ask God to do just that!