And when the blood of thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and kept the raiment of them that slew him” (Acts 22:20).This is Paul; recounting his former deeds. You admire Paul right? Before he became Paul, he was Saul: a murderer and hated believers with all zeal. He had blood on his hands.
Today, if you are looking for the equivalent of Saul--prior to the road to Damascus encounter, look at the most gruesome terrorist group around: Saul could be a leader of any one of them. His brutality becomes clearer when we ponder the response of the believers when they heard of Saul's conversion. They didn't believe it:
But all that heard him were amazed, and said; Is not this he that destroyed them which called on this name in Jerusalem, and came hither for that intent, that he might bring them bound unto the chief priests?(Acts 9:21).When Jesus appeared to one of the believers then--Ananias---concerning Saul, he was courageous enough to doubt Jesus' instructions:
Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. (Acts 9:13-14).Paul, by human reasoning, doesn't belong in the fold of God's people. He unleashed terror on God's people yet he was a chosen vessel of the Lord. Jesus told Ananias: "... he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel:" (Acts 9:15).
Saul was unstoppable, full of hatred for the believers of his day. But when he encountered the Lord Jesus on his way to Damascus; his life was changed. Though a murderer and persecutor of the church, grace transformed him.
And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do."(Acts 9:3-6).Saul the terrorist "trembling and astonished"...the rest of his life he became a disciple of the Lord and what a gift he was to the body of Christ. Though a persecutor, nonetheless, He became a product of grace. He encountered the grace of God and was transformed. Total Grace. Hear him speak:
by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me."(1 Corinthians 15:20).God's grace pardons. Irrespective of your history. Pardon and forgiveness of sins are available through the atoning sacrifice of Christ: "...he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God."(2 Corinthians 5:21).
God's arms are outstrecthed. Come just as you are: "...To day if ye will hear his voice, Harden not your hearts..." (Hebrews 3:7-8)
Amazing Grace, how sweet the sound,
That saved a wretch like me.
I once was lost but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see.