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How the "chief of sinners", Saul of Tarsus, went from making followers of Christ suffer to suffering for the name of Christ and defining what it meant to follow Jesus.With four testimonies on how this impacted people

Submitted:Mar 27, 2013    Reads: 26    Comments: 3    Likes: 0   

Living a life to bring pain to others because of the difference in beliefs but then being pushed to the ground because of the glory of the One that appeared to him. Being radically changed in an instant with the calling to suffer for the name of Jesus. This was Paul's life and testimony.
In the beginning of the Apostle Paul's life, he lived against those who believed in Jesus Christ even though he was a head Pharisee. Living under the name of Saul, he persecuted the churches, stoned those who represented Jesus, and made sure the gospel was not spread throughout the land at the time. Pharisees were Jewish, and all Jews did not believe Jesus to be the messiah that they had waited for, from God. The power that a Pharisee had combined with this belief of Jesus not being their messiah grew into a hatred towards those who followed Jesus. This is where Saul's role of persecution came into play and the many people who would suffer because Saul existed.
The majority of the Apostle Paul's life was based on spreading the good news of Christ and making sure the churches all around were living according to the word of God. Though at first his life did not reflect this, except the exact opposite. Paul's life would eventually represent the suffering that he dealt upon those who represented Jesus. Because of his suffering, many people would come to know Christ and the churches Paul planted would eventually have a steady foundation on Christ. We see all of these wonderful things and realize that God can take the things that destroy us and destroy those around us,using them for His good and turning them into things that are wonderful.
A Pharisee was someone who had a high role in the Jewish religion. Someone who made sure all the laws of God were followed line for line and made sure that people were punished for not following the laws. In reading the gospels, you could see that Pharisees were very hypocritical in what they did. Jesus called the Pharisees out for the laws that they placed in for the Jewish people that they did not follow themselves. The shameful part on their behalf was being a high spiritual leader and passing out the Law of God, which was holy and righteous. Reason being for Jesus' reaction towards the Pharisees for forcing a perfect Law upon a broken people and not following it themselves.
Since Pharisees existed for the main purpose to order and establish the law in which God established for the Jewish people. They wanted to follow the scripture of the Law and not the Spirit of the Law which in terms made things legalistic. Some Pharisees took this power they obtained and made sure people's lives were miserable if they did not follow the laws. In some cases, they persecuted those who believed in Jesus Christ to be the Messiah because Pharisees were under the Jewish religion which stated that they were still waiting for their Messiah. Jesus did not come as the Messiah they thought God would send and one of these people who made sure people suffered for the name of Christ,was a High Pharisee named Saul.
When the disciple Stephen came to address to the people in the Synagogue in Antioch, he spoke towards the Jewish priest to remind them what God did for them in the past and what Jesus came to do for them. In calling them "stiff-necked and uncircumcised in hearts and ears" meaning that they couldn't receive any teaching or receive anything that God would potentially want to grow in them. Due to the fact that they were so misguided by wanting just to do what the Law said but they "always resist the Holy Spirit"(Acts 7:51). Though the priest could not accept this teaching because of their Law binding legalism being that they were" using morality or a command of God as a means of expressing independence, self-sufficiency and self-determination. It's moral behavior that's not from faith. This is the kind of legalism the Pharisees were most often caught up in" (Matt Chandler. The Village Church. http://www.thevillagechurch.net/the-village-blog/legalism/) Which really separated the priest - who were in charge of keeping the church in order with the Law - from the people who actually followed Christ and allowed Him to move in their lives under the power of grace and not just the power of the Law. Though the Law was still very much important and real, living a life for Christ allowed the Law to be apart of their lives without taking any procedures that made sure they followed the Law.
People could not accept this teaching because of the fact that they already closed themselves off from Stephen's address. In reaction to his address, the people decided to drag Stephen from the Synagogue in order to punish him and eventually kill him for what he had said because this was defined as basically blasphemy. In consenting to the death of Stephen, this created a "great persecution of the church" (Acts 8:1). Going from church to church, killing people that followed "the Way" (Acts 9:2). Eventually Saul came upon the road to Damascus, being halted by Jesus as He asked Saul why he was persecuting people and being blinded. This caused Saul's Spirit to be opened in order to see the truth, leaving Saul physically blinded but the Vail was taken from him in order to really see.
This completely changed who Saul would be and becoming Paul of Tarsus. A man who would now no longer allow people to suffer for the name of Christ but a man who would now be called to suffer for the name of Christ. Telling the world about who He was,planting churches in Rome, Ephesis, Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, Colosse, and the churches of Thessalonians. We even see discipleship being played out even after Paul is thrown in prison for preaching the gospel. The fact that Paul makes an effort to keep up with the churches he planted by writing letters to them, and because of the fact that Jesus did tell Paul that he would suffer for His name, "Jesus must therefore make it clear beyond a doubt that the 'must' of suffering applies to His disciples no less than to Himself." (Cost of Discipleship. Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Pg 87). We even clearly see that the author of Hebrews stated that the suffering that Christ went through and the trials we must go through wasn't something for Jesus to do. He made it clear that " we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses", the author clearly gave us hope that there are people who already went through the things that we would go through including Christ Himself. Therefore we should "lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us"(Hebrews 12), and in this journey "there's two different things that operate in our life, the legitament pleasures and the things that are just the weight of life. And then there's the sin that ensnares us.... The sin it tangles you up." (Misty Edwards. Hebrews 12 Endurance.Sermon.Audio)
Which Paul clearly felt when he was either thrown into prison or was suffering from "a thorn in the flesh" (2 Corinthians 12:7) to which Jesus replied to him that His grace was enough. This wasn't to act towards Paul like Jesus wasn't going to do anything about his condition at the time and we clearly see that Jesus loved and cared about Paul to even respond to him. Though if Jesus would of healed Paul right away, the fact " that My wonders may be multiplied..." (Exodus 11:9)probably wouldn't of been shown to the people in Paul's life and to Paul himself.
Going on then in Hebrews 12, the author said to "let us run with endurance the race that is set before us" being the life that Jesus has given us. In this life, there won't be any moment in our walk with God that we should coast by and sail away with calm winds ,because we should know that Jesus lives in us, and we are the boat. Dwelling with Him in it and even if Jesus does not snap to it and speak up. We know that He is there with us in the midst of the storm and all we need to be doing is"looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith" because - even though Jesus finished our faith we can't sit around and expect things to happen - "Paul knew better than anyone who has ever lived that grace comes undeserved, at God's initiative and not our own." (What's so Amazing about Grace. Philip Yancy. Pg 66) and the fact that "Paul stressed that a price has been paid - by God Himself. God gave up his own Son rather that give up on humanity." (What's so Amazing about Grace. Philip Yancy. Pg 67) made his life more obvious about the grace of God. He knew being the "chief of sinners" (What's so Amazing about Grace? Philip Yancy. Pg 67) that God would of had to love someone like Paul. Otherwise all of his letters, his epistles, his teachings, and his passion for the love of Christ would of been in vain. "That is why He warned people to 'count the cost' before becoming Christians" (Mere Christianity. C.S. Lewis. Pg 202) because than otherwise all of our sufferings for Christ, and all of our beliefs in Christ would be for nothing in our personal lives if we didn't really ponder what it meant to be a follower of Jesus. Like that in the life of Christ, "who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God." For Jesus wanted us to "consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls." (Hebrews 12). He wanted us to really understand that not only Paul, but many followers of Christ would know that Jesus suffered so that the ones (the joy set before Him) that would be in love with Him and follow Him until the very end. Would know too that their suffering for Christ would also be a joy, and that they could "Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, in everything give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus" (1 Thessalonians 5:16-17) for all of us who would take into consideration the life of Paul and develop the same passion for Christ.
For we know that the life of Paul represented what it meant to have the grace of God on our lives, and what it meant to not look to the things seen but the things that are unseen. And because of this, our hope in Christ is beautiful in the fact that He is producing faith in us everyday to love, to follow, and to seek Him. In this, we can trust that "God has allowed hard things in your life so you can show the world that your God is great and that knowing Him brings peace and joy, even when life is hard." (Crazy Love. Francis Chan. Pg 44) as it was obvious in the life of Paul.
For one person, their life has been drastically changed not only by the teaches of Paul, but by the very life of Paul. Even before Paul began to preach the Gospel of Christ. Spoke to Ananias, and told him that God shall reveal to Paul how much he must suffer for His name. Especially in Christianity today, we are often taught a doctrine of prosperity, completely the opposite of suffering, yet "for the sake of my name" the Lord desired Paul (Acts 9:16). Simply in what Paul saw was amazing the miracles the blessings and the fulfillment of the blessings to the times of difficulty. However, through all of Paul's life, conversion, ministry and death, one verse reigns clear Philippians 1:21 "For me to live is Christ and to die is gain" if there is one verse saying , life verse that I desire to completely take over my thinking and soul, it is Philippians 1:
21. With my life, if it is not growing in Christ or reaching people for Christ its worthless. To die is gain, for death warrants nothing except an eternity with the beautiful one Christ the Lord! In telling people about who Paul was, I feel like the people who hear about Paul should know the explicit details of his life. Paul defined what it was to be a radical follower of Christ and he also painted the detailed picture on what the purpose of the gospel was. Since Paul wrote entire New Testament and the majority of it was based on the gospel of Jesus. Then I should be able to share the gospel based out of the books that Paul wrote. With the confidence that the Word of God was breathed through the words that Paul confessed about, and in reading each of the letters he wrote. We should realize that it is either to live is Christ, rather or not our life is pleasant, or to die is gain. To rejoice in all things in our life while we continually run forward.
To be honest, I am just learning a significant amount about Saint Paul. It is crazy, reading and learning more and more about him because not only does it give me wisdom and guidance to better understand not just him and his story, but it also helps me to learn more about God, who He is, His character, and what He wants for my life. I know that learning about Paul is the beginning of a whole new road on my walk/journey of growing with God.
As you already know, Paul started out as being Saul. Saul, from a young age, put his all into his education. He grew up, and into knowing everything there was to know about God as far as the old testament went. Saul was a pharisee. I do not feel that I can relate with the early life of Saul. I did not grow up putting too much into my education, especially about God. I did not begin to recognitially learn anything about God until I was about 15. As for the later time in Saul's pre-conversion life, and throughout the rest of his life, is where I can relate with him. He went through the phase of his life persecuting Christian, even killing them. I by no means have physically killed Christians, but I have, in my own way, been against/persecuted Christians, and as God says, hate in your heart is just as murder is. Though it is nothing in comparison, I feel in that way I related to Saul.
At first, the road to Damascus, to me, had nothing relational to it, but after having group discussions, i realized how the road to Damascus is one of the most relatable stories. It is what lies beneath, not the surfaced details. A man so confused of the truth. Led into deception. Full of anger and hate. His world was flipped upside down by an encounter with Christ. Immediately, though physically blinded, he, spiritually blind, could now see. He knew truth from lie, right from wrong. He knew he was called, and devout he became in pursuing and living for God. Though I did not have some huge encounter with Christ, when I came to know Him, it was as if my life was turned upside down, blind eyes could see. My heart and mind took on this sudden transformation, though not thorough, it was enough to know i had been living with this weight and deceit, and whatever this God was, was the one thing that I had been missing that I needed, and from that point on I have been in pursuit of Him, keeping on, to grow closer, and live for Him.
Though I can not yet relate much to post conversion Paul, I hope to someday. The life of Paul is such a good example to look up to and use as a tool for so many things in your walk with God. Whether you are not a Christian, are new in Christ, or have been a believer all of your life. Again, not only the life of Paul, but the story God is trying to tell you about Himself too, for your relationship with Him and your life. Paul's persistence is something that I look up to. The transformation that was brought to him, how he was blessed to be a blessing, and all of the good works he did for others in Jesus' name will forever be held in my heart, remembering that a real man who struggled with real life things, as I ( and the rest of the world) , CAN keep on keeping on to continue growing, growing closer, and becoming more and more Christ like each day.
Paul had a brilliant mind, a strong knowledge of philosophy and religion, and could debate with the most educated scholars of his day. At the same time, his clear, understandable explanation of the gospel made his letters to early churches the basis of Christian theology. Tradition portrays Paul as a physically small man, but he endured enormous physical hardships on his missionary journeys.
God can change anyone. God gave Paul the strength, wisdom, and endurance to carry out the mission Jesus entrusted Paul with. One of Paul's most famous statements is: "I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me," (Philippians 4:13, NIV), reminding us that our power to live the Christian life comes from God, not ourselves.
Paul also recounted a "thorn in his flesh" that kept him from becoming conceited over the priceless privilege God had entrusted to him. In saying, "For when I am weak, then I am strong," (2 Corinthians 12:2, NIV), Paul was sharing one of the greatest secrets of staying faithful: absolute dependence on God.
Much of the Protestant Reformation was based on Paul's teaching that people are saved by grace, not works: "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith-and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8, NIV) This truth frees us to stop striving to be good enough and to instead rejoice in our salvation, gained by the loving sacrifice of Jesus Christ.
There was one thing from the life of Paul that offset the calling on his life that defined who he was. To suffer for the name of Christ as he spread the Gospel. Though I haven't been spreading the Gospel as much as Paul. I can say that I've been learning what it means to know the sufficiency of the grace of God and knowing His perfect strength in my weakness. Knowing that "no other foundation can anyone lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ" (1 Corinthians 3:11) so that this life of mine can really be obvious with the grace of God. I really feel that the visual of Saul being on a road and running into Jesus. Gives me the picture of how my life was a road of all these problems in my life, and how my old self, "Saul", was deceived and evil. Not literally persecuting those who believed in Christ but feeling hatred and being envious towards those who followed Him because I did not know how to even get that same relationship.
The fact that I wasn't physically blind but spiritually I was blind by the darkness of the world and though Jesus didn't put me under a blindfold after I accepted Him into my life. I could say that my life was somewhat blinded because I had to restart things and learn things over by the word of God. Just the fact that Paul went from persecuting the followers of Christ to living according to one thing, "to live is Christ, and to die is gain" (Philippians 1:21). This was really going from this high "righteous" man to a person that calls himself a bondservant of Christ. Paul said to "let a man so consider us, as servants of Christ..." (1 Corinthians 4:1), and the word "servant" in Latin in this context literally meant the people who mopped the "poop deck" on ships. This mentality of Paul's was the life style of having a servant's heart, is what I've been wanting to have for a while but sometimes I still have that "Saul" mentality. He stated, "For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God" but Paul knew that "the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain".(1 Corinthians 15:9)
I know for my life that the grace of God is sufficient and that for His grace allows me to have the faith that allows me to continue to believe in the cross that Jesus died on for me. I always go back to "if Christ is preached that He has been raised from the dead, how do some among you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ is not risen. And if Christ is not risen, then our preaching is empty and your faith is also empty"(1 Corinthians 15:12-14) which the beautiful thing about all of this is that our "faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen." (Hebrews 11:1) which is why I "do not look at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen. For the things which are seen are temporary, but the things which are not seen are eternal."(2 Corinthians 4:18).
I know that my whole life is based off of having faith in Christ, because I cannot see Christ yet I know that I know that He sustains me and that I somehow having faith in knowing His grace is sufficient for me. In my life, knowing that because of the fact Christ died for me to be whole. I can live free from the things that hinder me from seeking Christ.


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