“Before” and “after” pictures are supposed to be stunning. But few transformations are as dramatic as Luke’s picture of Saul becoming Paul, which we will explore this week. In Acts 8:1-3, Saul is a determined enemy of Christ’s church. Not only does Saul approve of Stephen’s execution, he wants to eliminate the Jesus Way as quickly as possible. He raids homes and imprisons anyone suspected of following Jesus. Saul’s fervor borders on fanatical. He feels driven to destroy the church in its infancy.
He displays this same drive as his conversion story begins. Meanwhile, Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest (v. 1). “Still” signals that Saul has not changed since Luke introduced him in chapter 8. In fact, his obsession has intensified and grown darker. Not content to root out disciples in Jerusalem, he now widens his search to include Damascus. No one orders or suggests that he do this; this is his initiative. Fueled by fierce animosity, he persistently enlarges his efforts to destroy the church. He is still who he was at the outset, only worse.
Our behavior doesn’t rise to Saul’s level, but we too get stuck in ways of living that diminish our witness and hinder our spiritual growth. We pour concrete around some of our attitudes and activities and refuse to entertain the idea that we need to change. “Still” accurately captures where we are much of the time. Our faith stays stunted; we can’t add a mark to the doorsill to show any growth. We are “still” who we were yesterday or a year ago. Grace eventually teaches us all that conversion is never a “one and done” event. It’s a lifelong process that requires we offer up the habits, routines, and actions that “still” persist in our lives. Our conversion can continue even today.
What habits and attitudes of my own have I declared beyond God’s reach?
Life-giving Lord, break the hardened patterns of my life and set me free. Amen.