8 Last of all, as to one untimely born, (Jesus) appeared also to me. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain. On the contrary, I worked harder than any of them, though it was not I, but the grace of God that is with me. – 1 Corinthians 15:8-10 (ESV)
What if Saul had chosen to wallow in his sin? What if, after his encounter with Jesus Christ, Saul opted to continually revisit his wrongs, his errors, his sordid past? What if Saul couldn’t get past what he had done, instead of embracing the freedom Christ offered him through faith?
Had Saul not allowed the grace and forgiveness of the Lord change him, cleanse him, Saul would never have become Paul. The Lord would have, perhaps, chosen someone else to reach out to the churches at Corinth and Philippi and Colossai and… Maybe God would have found someone named Bob. “I, Bob, a servant of Christ our Lord…”
But Saul did recognize Christ. He did repent, submit, and find himself wonderfully transformed into the apostle Paul – apostle to the Gentiles, writer of the majority of the New Testament, expositor of the Law of Grace and Salvation through Christ.
Despite his history of attacking the church, Saul was uniquely fitted even before Christ turned him around. God saw to it he was a Roman citizen, raised in the heavily Greek area of Tarsus, a Jew who was trained to be a good, zealous Pharisee. All of these experiences served Paul uniquely on his ministry. It gave him a clear understanding of Scripture as well as Roman, Hellenistic and Pharisee societies. He could genuinely reach people where they were because he understood where they came from. He could correctly teach God’s Word in light of the Gospel.
If God can grab such a hold on Saul that He can turn him around so completely that his very identity changed. “I am what I am because of the grace of God.”
Here’s some great news: so are you. You never know what God has in store for you or anyone else. You never know how or when the Lord might confront you on your road and challenge you – dare you – to change.
And, remember, none of us can truly change all on our own. It is God a Who defines us. He can use our past, present and future to His glory. Nobody can sin so bad that they are beyond forgiveness. No one is so shattered that they can’t be restored. No one has fallen so deep they can’t be lifted up and righted.
Do not live in shame. Do not let fear or worry or sorrow over sin (past or otherwise) rule your thoughts or your life. You are not what you have done or said or thought. What others say about you does not define who you are. You are who Christ says you are.
Be thankful that Saul embraced the glorious forgiveness, joy and restoration that Jesus offers. God has been using Paul to ahistorical glory and the benefit of millions for nearly two millennia. All because Christ met him, blinded him, righted him and set him on His way.
He can do the same for you. Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Seek and you will find. Trust God entirely, implicitly, without reserve, without doubt. His forgiveness is complete. His restoration is total. His love is without compare and His grace more than sufficient for anything – anything – you face.