3 Ways God Changes Every Believer

Acts 9:19-31     |    Sermon Resources     |    29 March 2020



Among the final recorded words of Jesus in the Bible is this statement:

And he who was seated on the throne said, “Behold, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.”  Revelation 21:5 [ESV]

This was part of the vision the apostle John received while he was in exile on the island of Patmos.   And here he makes a powerful promise to “make all things new.”  This is the substance of our Christian hope that there is a God firmly seated on the throne of heaven and that he is at work renewing all things.  We’re reminded that we follow a Savior who purchased eternal life for us with his agonizing death on the cross and so we can be sure that there is no circumstance or situation that is beyond his ability to redeem and renew.  From death comes life.  From chaos comes order.  From darkness comes light.  Jesus renews all things!

As we continue our study of the book of Acts, we see up close how this renewal took place in the life of Saul.  Here was man who set out on a long journey to murder Christians and destroy the church but along the way has his life turned upside down by Jesus and he ended up worshipping with Christians and seeking to build up the church.

We will see three dimensions of change that God brought into his life.   These three dimensions are consistent with the change that the Holy Spirit brings into every person who is renewed by his grace.  And we so study this passage not just out of curiosity to see how Saul changed, but knowing that these are ways God is at work changing each of us.


#1 A New Relationship with Jesus

Let’s begin with most obvious change that took place for Saul – a radical new way of relating to Jesus.  The one who previously persecuted Jesus now proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues (v.20).  He confounded his one-time partners in persecution by proving that Jesus was the Christ (v.22).  The extreme nature of Saul’s transformation helps us to see his change clearly but recognize that all who call on the name of Jesus experience deep change as well.

We all have different starting points on our journey to faith in Christ.  Few of us were once murders of Christians but all of us once lived at odds with Jesus.  And all of us who now call on his name have had obstacles to faith removed.  For some it was moving from a distrust of the Bible and Christians and perhaps even God to a growing trust of those things.  For others it was moving from indifference towards spiritual things to developing over time a curiosity of spiritual things.  For still others it was moving from being closed to any kind of change to being more open to the possibility of change.  And for every Christian we were moved from unbelief to belief.

For more insight into the various thresholds we tend to cross on our journey to faith, I highly recommend Don Everts book, I Once Was Lost: What Postmodern Skeptics Taught us About Jesus.  Here is summary of those thresholds:

5 Thresholds

Distrust  –> Trust

Indifference –> Curiosity

Closed –> Open

Meandering –> Seeking

Unbelief –> Belief

Not only do we see great obstacles overcome in Saul’s journey to faith, but we also see a radical new way of living.  Saul does not run from his past and neither does he hide in shame.  He goes into the synagogues and begins to preach that Jesus is the Son of God (v.20) and notice just a little further in the passage that he has disciples (v.25) himself.  This is a powerful testimony to those who say, “I know God has forgiven me, but I can’t forgive myself.”  This new relationship with Jesus obviously changed how Saul viewed himself.  He knew that he had been given a new identity and a new purpose.

A careful reading of this passage along with Saul’s later reflection in Galatians 1:11-24 reveals that his visit to Damascus actually took place over the period of about three years.  Luke uses the phrases for some days (v.19) and then when many days had passed (v.23) to indicate the passage of time which would make sense as he was recording the entire history of the early church.  The point is this:  this radical new way of living for Saul took some time to develop.  He had to “go away into Arabia” (c.f. Galatians 1:17) for some time to become rooted in the faith.


#2 A New Relationship with the Church

Secondly, we see that Saul was given a new relationship with the church.  Not only was he called to belong to Jesus, he was called to belong to Jesus’ body of believers.  This is why Ananias referred to him as “brother Saul” (c.f. Acts 9:17) when he went to pray for him.  We are told right away that he was with the disciples at Damascus (v. 19).  Later in Jerusalem he attempted to join the disciples (v. 26) although it took some work from Barnabas to convince the others that Saul really was disciple of Jesus.  Fellowship with other Christians was important for Saul.

We’ve noticed this before with the other apostles as well.  They made it a priority to gather together with other believers.   Sometimes we conceptualize these early leaders of the church as fiercely independent and in need of no one.  But this is simply not the case.  It was the Christians in Damascus who saved Saul’s life by lowering him in a basket (v. 25) so that he could escape the city.  He needed them.

As I write this blog, we are in midst of our coronavirus quarantine.  We meet over livestream each Sunday.  I am sure there is a particular comfort in going to “church” in pajamas but it’s not the same as actually being together in one another’s presence.  We are discovering how important fellowship is.  I have a new-found appreciation for verses like Psalm 122:1: “I was glad when they said to me, “Let us go to the house of the LORD!”  We long to be together again!

We need to see the church as less on an institution and more of a family.  This was certainly the experience of Saul.


#3 A New Relationship with the World

Like all of us, Saul had a new responsibility to the world.  He was called to share with others the hope he had found.  And of course, we remember Jesus’ words to his disciples that they would be his witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and to the ends of the earth (c.f. Acts 1:8).  Saul would greatly fulfill these words of Jesus.

Before coming to faith, Saul was at enmity with Jesus and in friendship with the world.  Upon his conversion he found the opposite was true: he was a friend of Jesus and at enmity with the world.  Even as Saul was seeking to share the good news with others, they sought to kill him.  In Damascus he had to escape by night in a basket (v.25) but then again in Jerusalem there were many who were seeking to kill him (v.29).

This is part of the complicated relationship that every believer has with the world.  On the one hand the world is a mission field and on the other it can be the source of much grief.


Discussion Questions

  1. Take a look at the “5 Thresholds.”  Which of these thresholds did you have to cross?  What process did God use to help you do so?  Who did God use?  What was the experience like?  Are there any thresholds you still need to cross?
  2. In verse 20 Saul says that Jesus is the “Son of God.”  How would an understanding of Jesus as the royal Son of God bring comfort to those who are disturbed by recent events?
  3. What complications did Saul face in joining the church? Can you relate in any way?
  4. What would say to someone who said: “The important thing is my relationship with Jesus and so I don’t need to be a part of any organized thing like a church”?
  5. What new responsibility to the world did Saul take on after coming to faith?  What responsibility do you have?
  6. What opportunities does our current situation provide for you (or for your family) to share your faith with others?

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