Many of us know the story of Saul the Pharisee; if you grew up in church you know more about him than most, but even those who didn’t grow up in a church (those like myself) have likely heard enough about Saul’s story to put the pieces together. Saul was the best kind of Pharisee, he followed all of God’s laws to a T. He lived his life around God’s word in the Old Testament and his every moment was centered around honoring God the best way he knew how. But, Saul was the worst kind of sinner. He killed Christians. He persecuted other Jews. He denied the heritage of Jesus Christ, and he proclaimed Jesus to be a liar and a trickster.
Saul murdered people. He was, to put in terms we are familiar with today, a religious terrorist.
God knew all of this about Saul and more. He watched as Saul persecuted those He loved, and denied the existence of His chosen Son. He witnessed all of Saul’s depravity, all of his terrible deeds, and yet God loved him still. Loved him enough to call on him to be an incremental part of His ministry. To be a foundation stone in the building of the early church. To spread the Good News Gospel farther than anyone ever dreamed. And to minister to people he might have hated even more than Christians; the gentiles.
Why did God use such a terrible person? Surely there was someone better suited for the job? Surely a man of such horrible character was not worthy to proclaim the salvation of Jesus? These are questions one naturally asks when they delve deeper into the story of Saul before he became Paul. It makes no sense that God would hand pick such a vile human being to do His work. But He did. He does still, every time He calls one of us to take steps to declare His truths. Every time He blesses another human with the Saving Grace offered through the blood of Christ.
It says in Romans 1: 1 that “Paul, [was] a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle, set apart for the gospel of God.” This true statement can be hard to swallow in light of Saul’s actions before he became Paul. Because it means that God, despite knowing how terrible Saul would become, still chose to redeem this broken man in order to advance his gospel. This man who showed others not even a scrap of mercy was to be instrumental in telling the greatest story of mercy there ever was.
I don’t know about you but I know this is still hard for me to wrap my head around at times. But this morning, during my devotional time, God threw yet another puzzle into my lap, one that makes the problem of Saul seem like small change.
This morning God reminded me of what I was like when I was Saul. When I hated God and his people because of what they represented. When I lived my life with no regard for Him, simply going about my business however I wanted to. He reminded me of how judgemental I was, how hateful, how angry, how lost I was. He reminded me that there was a time when I was just as terrible as Saul was before he became Paul. But why?
God is not a god of shame and guilt so why would He bring these things back at this moment and set them before me to remember?
I think Charles Spurgeon said it quite well when he said, “Too many think lightly of sin, and therefore think lightly of the Savior. He who has stood before his god, convicted and condemned, with the rope about his neck, is the one to weep for joy when pardoned.”
You see, I think we all have times when we forget how we were and who we were before God saved us. We see ourselves as we are now, as we aspire to be in light of God’s grace and salvation, but we forget how wretched we once were, how much like Saul we used to be. I think God reminds us of our inner Saul’s for the simple reason of reminding us of the magnitude of our salvation. If we forget who we used to be, if we forget that we were all Saul at some point then we lose sight of the monumental nature of our salvation in Jesus Christ. Worse still, if we cannot look back and remember our own sins and failings before we were saved then we are incapable of having compassion for those who are still living as Sauls at this point in time. God saw Saul not just in light of who he was after he was saved, but in light of who he was as a child, a young adult, a Pharisee of Pharisee’s, a religions terrorist, and a murderer. God, despite seeing all of these things, still worked out a mighty plan to save Saul, to give him a new identity in Christ, and to use him in amazing ways to advance the Gospel.
Paul’s past as Saul was forgotten in that God no longer sought to punish him for the sins he committed, but I doubt that Paul was quick to forget about all of the people he terrorized before he saw the truth. I believe he must have been reminded every day of all of his wretched deeds when he ministered to the gentiles, people who never knew God, who had no moral compass, who were just as wretched as he once was. I believe that God had tailor made this role for Saul/Paul in light of his past and his salvation so that he could fully become the man God intended, the servant of God.
What does that mean for us? All of us who have our own Saul stories before God stepped in and redeemed us? How does this apply to our lives? I think it gives us hope, and a deeper understanding of just how mighty God really is. I think it is supposed to give us compassion for those who are still living Sauls, and a deeper appreciation of the magnitude of Salvation. I think it’s supposed to strengthen our faith, for if God can save Saul and redeem us there must be nothing He cannot do.
Psalms 77:11 reads, “I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
yes, I will remember your miracles of long ago.”
I think it would serve us all well to remember the time when we were Sauls, and just how amazing it was when God saved us from ourselves. It may seem like ages ago that we were like that, but remembrance is necessary in so many ways; to understand salvation, to drive compassion, and to strengthen our faith.