Saul to Paul

Pastor Josh Combs

“But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him.” Acts 13:9

Arguably the most dramatic conversion recorded in all of the Scripture is that of Saul of Tarsus on the road to Damascus. Saul was, in his own words, “advancing in Judaism beyond many of [his] own age…” (Galatians 1:14). He was a Roman citizen, an extremely well-educated Jewish scholar, and bore the name of the most prominent member of his tribe, King Saul of the Old Testament. What appears to rocket Saul to fame among his Jewish colleagues was his vicious hatred for Christians. Saul’s first appearance in Scripture portrays him as the authorizing force, standing watch over the brutal execution of a Christian named Stephen. “Saul,” the Bible says, “approved of his execution” (Acts 8:1). It is as if Stephen’s execution was blood in the water for a shark. Immediately following Stephen’s death, Saul is even more aggressively persecuting the church. “Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison” (8:3).

On a mission to hunt, arrest, and imprison more Christians, Saul’s life was completely changed. A blinding light encompassed Saul, and the voice of Jesus from the glory of Heaven spoke to the early church’s most vicious enemy. “Saul, Saul,” Jesus said, “Why are you persecuting me?”

“Who are you?” Saul responds.

“I am Jesus,” the Lord replies, “whom you are persecuting. But rise and enter the city and you will be told what you are to do” (Acts 9:4-6). For the next three days, Saul was blind and refrained from eating or drinking anything. God graciously sent a Christian to Saul to pray over him. Saul regained his sight and was immediately baptized. From that encounter with the risen Christ on the road to Damascus, Saul was never the same. He boldly began proclaiming Jesus. With the same passion and dedication that Saul had in persecuting the church, he would now become its greatest proponent. Saul became the global emissary for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Decades later, while beginning the first of his four missionary journeys, the Bible says, “Saul, who was also called Paul….” And with those simple words, he is never called Saul again. He is henceforth known as Paul. Saul was his prominent Jewish name, which means “asked for” or “demanded.” Paul was his Roman name.

The significance of this transformation is extraordinary. Paul, who had once pursued success, power, prominence, and position within Judaism had abandoned it all. He no longer demanded to be addressed by the name of a king. His Roman name, Paul, was sufficient. Paul means “little.” In his letter to the church at Philippi, Paul writes, “I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Philippians 3:8). What he recognized as valuable had completely changed. He goes so far as to call his previous achievements “dung.” The Gospel transformed Saul, a power-hungry religious leader, into Paul, a man who didn’t mind being little. He embraced this dramatic change in his goals and dreams.

The Gospel continues to transform dreams, desires, and pursuits. When we lay aside our selfish ambitions in exchange for “knowing Christ Jesus,” we trade in the temporal for the eternal. Martyred missionary Jim Elliot once said, “He is no fool who gives up what he cannot keep to gain what he cannot lose.” Jesus simply said, “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 10:39). Saul of Tarsus found his life as Paul, slave of Jesus Christ.

Today’s Bible Reading: Acts 9:1-25; Galatians 1:11-24; Philippians 3:2-11

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