The apostle Paul is a fascinating character. He exemplifies for us the zeal and passion of one who is so ‘arrested’ by the love of Christ that he couldn’t help but serve God with all commitment and zeal (cf. 2Co 5:14; Php 3:12). Yet he is not a superman, immune to the failures, pain, sufferings, and moments of doubt and loneliness that beset all of us along life’s way. We learned that Paul does not give up in spite of all that. Can we do the same?
Paul’s transformation, as laid out for us in the New Testament, tells us what the love of Christ can do for every man and woman. The gospel of Jesus Christ, which is God’s power to save anyone who will humble his heart and obey, is also the power to change our lives. Paul is only one of many examples in the New Testament of how the love of Christ can bring about radical changes in a person’s life.
Acts 9:1-22 recount for us the turning point in Paul’s life. He was a persecutor of the church. But on the way to Damascus, the Lord Jesus confronted him. From that encounter, Paul was shaken to the core. Everything he believed in, everything he held dear, were torn down.
It wasn’t easy for him; he struggled against surrendering. The Lord showed his understanding for Paul’s struggle when He said, “…it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks (Acts 9:5).” But Paul could not continue in stubbornness; he humbly stepped out of his comfort zone and obeyed the gospel. From that point on, the champion persecutor became a champion herald of the gospel.
Previously the Ephesians lived by their sinful and satanic passions. They were dead in trespasses and sins, living according to the lusts of their flesh and fulfilling the desires of the flesh and of the mind. They were the children of wrath (cf. Eph 2:1-3).
But all that changed when the merciful God made them alive in Christ because of His great love. Their hearts, which were previously geared toward sin, were now turned toward God.
“But God, who is rich in mercy, for his great love wherewith he loved us, Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved;) And hath raised us up together, and made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus: That in the ages to come he might shew the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus (Eph 2:4-7).”
The Corinthians, too, had their hearts changed by the love of Christ through the gospel. The city of Corinth was steeped in sin and vice. Some of the Corinthians were fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, homosexuals, thieves; covetous, drunkards, revilers, and swindlers (cf. 1Co 6:9-10). What happened when the gospel was preached to them and they obeyed? “But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God (1Co 6:11).”
Brethren, let each of look deep within to see if indeed the love of Christ has brought about a change in us. Perhaps some time has passed and some of us have shifted gear into autopilot, and the flame of our love and zeal for the Lord is burning low. If so, then it is time to trim the wick and add oil to our lamps.
“Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates (2Co 13:5)?”
It is good for us to measure the level of our gratitude to God by our daily living. Our service to God is out of devotion and gratitude, never self-aggrandisement. We do not preach or lead songs or serve the Lord’s Table, etc. in order to earn men’s applause. No, we serve because we want to show our appreciation to our Saviour.
It is also good for us to measure our change of heart by our hatred of sins. Do we hate the sins we used to love and indulge in? Do we condone sins because it is convenient for the situation? Are we striving to mortify sins in our lives (cf. Col 3:5-8)? Are we walking in the light, as our Lord is in the light (1John 1:7)?
The love of Jesus Christ can change us. On our part, let us be humble and not struggle against the Lord. As Paul said in 2Cor 5:14, “For the love of Christ constraineth us”, let us also be held together and controlled by His love. Life will bring challenges and difficulties. The children of God are not insulated against them. But we can endure; we can overcome, because the love of Christ constrains us.