This past Sunday at church, I sang the Natalie Grant song, “Clean”. I heard it for the first time a couple of months ago, and then was blessed to hear Natalie sing it live at the Lifeway Abundance Conference in Memphis last month. That song has both haunted and encouraged me ever since…
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about what redemption means deep down. You know the saying, “The devil knows your name but calls you by your sin, but God knows your sin and calls you by your name.” They don’t call that old serpent the Accuser for nothing, y’a know?
I’ve also had Paul on my mind as well. Any time someone encounters Jesus, they are forever changed. From what I understand, Paul (originally named Saul) was trained to be an expert in the law… a very devout Jew… a Pharisee. He was raised from an early age to understand God’s law and to aggressively defend and zealously promote it. It is hard to fathom, how he didn’t recognize the Lord Jesus as the long awaited and prophesied Messiah when he was so well studied, but he didn’t. He was so determined in his understanding of his faith, that he felt it necessary to persecute Christians. The first time that Saul is mentioned in the New Testament, it was in his role as a persecutor of Christians:
There are several more instances thereafter:
1 And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.
2 And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him.
3 As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.
4 Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Acts 8:1-4
1 And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest,
2 And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. Acts 9:1-2
And in Paul’s own words:
10 Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them.
So, some may say that Saul was the lowest of the low, the cruelest of the cruel, the most radical and fanatical of his faith, an extremist even. Lots of us, if we didn’t already know the miraculous story of his conversion, would say that Saul was irredeemable… too dirty… too hateful… too far gone to be of any good ever in God’s kingdom.
Isn’t it something though, what Jesus can do with just such a person as Saul? The Lord miraculously converted Saul as he traveled the road to Damascus. Jesus appeared to Saul on that road and Saul was struck blind at this encounter and for three days couldn’t see and did not eat or drink. The Lord sent Ananias to lay hands on Saul and the scales fell from his eyes and his vision was restored. Saul of Tarsus took on a new name… Paul. From that point he became one of the Lord’s servants who spread the gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel. God took this man who had literally jailed, tortured, and killed God’s people and redeemed him to be His own. Redeemed him to plant the seeds that might convert others, and used his hand to pen a majority of our New Testament.
Once we realize that we are all sinners and all of us fall short of the mark God has set for us, we can appreciate that the ground is level at the foot of the cross. It is today, and it always has been. The conversion of Paul should be enough to convince us of this fact. If The Lord Himself could forgive him for the persecution of His own people, and not just forgive him, but use him mightily to save others, then what things do we hold against people that we can’t forgive? Are we better and our feelings more important than God Almighty? God forbid that we ever think that! I know most of us do not feel that way consciously, but is that the message that we telegraph to others by our actions?
When we claim Jesus as our Lord and Savior, others are watching us. They are studying us. They are analyzing what we do and say to see what is so different about us? They want to see why we need Jesus. We should be so different from the world that they recognize how peculiar we are. Furthermore, they should see our joy, and our faith should be lived out in a way that makes them want to be a Christian too.
Paul knew that he had persecuted the Lord Jesus Himself in his past. He had hurt and caused to be jailed, tortured and killed his Christian brethren. He could have just been thankful to be saved, and faded into the background, but that is not what he did. He could have decided that he had been so sinful and horrible before his salvation that God would never use him. He could have been afraid that someone might even call him out for his prior sin and question his motives. What he DID do as opposed to those things was remarkable. So thankful for his salvation, and so full of remorse for his past behavior, Paul became a mighty evangelist intent on spreading the Gospel to the ends of the earth, no matter what happened. He surrendered his will, and indeed, his very life to the Lord and was obedient to Him. He endured sufferings unimaginable to us Christians of today. He pressed on, though. He tirelessly spread the gospel, planted churches, mentored ministers, encouraged his brethren and even in all of that, he remained an humble servant of the Lord.
So, the next time you are tempted to think more of yourself than others, just remember Paul. The next time you think that someone is hopelessly lost, just remember Paul. The next time you think that God cannot use a sinner like you and me to spread His word and glorify His name, just remember Paul.
“There’s nothing too dirty, that You can’t make worthy. You wash me in mercy. I am clean.”*