A Life in Christ:
The Conversion of Paul and
the Core of Christianity
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 13 September 2003
We are all creatures of habit. If you place a human being in a new environment he will soon settle into a routine of daily activity. Today I want to share with you why I continue to be fervently and passionate committed to the cause of Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
March 30th, 1977 was the turning point in my life. After that day everything changed, and it has been changing ever since. Intellectually and emotionally I have changed enormously - indeed, there is very little of the 'original me' that existed before that time though looking at me outwardly you might not think so. So much has happened in 26 years walking as a disciple of the carpenter of Nazareth. I could scarcely have begun to imagine how my life would change in those intervening years.
I am not a believer in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) because I have been intellectually convinced about the truthfulness of the Bible. Yet the Bible remains my intellectual bedrock. I am not a believer in Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) because I was emotionally touched by His life and love. Yet I was - and remain - deeply moved by the beauty of that man's life. I am a Christian because of a fire that was supernaturally placed in my bosom from outside of me - a fire that transformed everything in my personal universe, a fire that has never gone out. Moreover, whilst everything around me has changed - my career, my marriage, my children, my interests and hobbies, and all that defines my personality and life - there is one thing that has never changed - the light that was placed in my soul on that fateful evening.
It would, however, be true to say that the implications of that spiritual rebirth have been dawning gradually on me. I did not receive an instant understanding of everything that I was ordained to understand in my life. The readjustments that I have had to make in my life have more or less been going on uninterrupted. You will remember, I am sure, how disorientated the first disciples were after Yah'shua (Jesus) died. And even after He was resurrected and manifested Himself to them, they yet required many years to adjust to the reality and implications of the life of this man of Galilee. Not everything which Christ had preached to them took shape in their minds immediately. They required time to grasp the meaning of all that had happened so that surprises - pleasant surprises - yet awaited them.
We know, don't we, that after his encounter with the resurrected Lord on the road to Damascus, the apostle Paul required years of rethinking his beliefs and readjusting his life. When a soul is impacted by the living, resurrected Messiah, nothing short of a revolution takes place. So grand was this change that the man Paul spent years in seclusion in meditation before the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) gripped him and propelled him into a life of evangelism. Everyone who is born again of the Ruach (Spirit) comes to understand in some way that a time of consolidation is required before the soul is ready to fulfil its divine destiny.
A life in Christ is a life of constant discovery. There is no statis in it, no sitting back learning nothing. When such a condition of inactivity exists it is because that life is absent. The moment you truly receive Yah'shua (Jesus) as your Lord and Saviour, and respond in obedience to that covenant relationship, the results will be immediate and direct. There will be flashes of discovery for the rest of your life. There will be multiple glories of certainty. Yes, there will almost certainly be periods of doubting too as we test and re-test the assumptions on which we base our faith, but provided we hold out, those flashes of certainty will return.
The core of our faith is not a set of intellectual propositions. It is not theology. It isn't even 'religion' as that word is commonly understood. Our faith is not religious observance in itself. Our faith centres on a divine life. And there is absolutely no way you can explain it until you have encountered it personally. It has to be a part of your own life experience.
What was it that changed Paul so suddenly from being a zealous and murderous Talmudic Jew - a man of intense religion - to becoming an even more zealous follower of the Messiah? What made him regard everything he had known before that moment of conversion as mere nothingness in comparison? Why was the contrast so great? Paul was a highly educated man - a scholar of some repute, taught by the foremost scholars of Judaism of his day. We know he was a clever thinker and writer. Look at his writings which sometimes continue to baffle us by their shere scope and depth! What changed Paul so much was realising that Yah'shua was alive - not in some abstract sense, but literally in every way.
I know you are alive because I can see you moving about physically. But more than that, I am interacting with your personality. I sense a creative force in you - something that is reaching out. And no matter who you are, when I truly meet you, I am influenced and changed by you, for good or evil. Not only did Paul see that the crucified Christ was alive with his own two eyes, but his whole being was changed by a dynamic encounter with His very Personality - His spirit, if you will. This was no vague 'heavenly being' that he saw in some vague, distant vision - it was Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself whose life and character were well known to him through his persecution of the young Christian movement. The vision of a heavenly Messiah would never by itself have made Paul a Christian: indeed, it probably would only have served to strengthen his Jewish pride. No, what made Paul a Christian was almost certainly the realisation that the faith on which those he had earlier persecuted, and on which they had staked their very lives, was really true! Stephen's declaration that He could see Yah'shua (Jesus) sitting on the right hand side of Yahweh as he was being stoned to death by the Jews, of which Paul was one them - physically present - must have made him suddenly realise that this was no blasphemy but sober, literal fact! Then all those who had made such fantastic claims about Him as the Messiah no longer seemed preposterous but accurate and genuine.
The great converting event in Paul's life was the physical resurrection. And the great converting event in the life of all true believers is, I would like to suggest, exactly the same. But more important than an event in time was the power that lay behind it and which is released in those who truly believe. He was thus able to say to the Colossians that "you also were raised with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead" (Col.2:12, NKJV).
For those who have not experienced the resurrection power of Yah'shua (Jesus) for themselves these, and other words like them, must sound mysterious and strange indeed. So we have an event and a power that are the keys to Paul's conversion, but even they do not paint an adequate picture of what happened to him. What was the nature of the power that he experienced? What was it that propelled him for the remainder to his life to final martyrdom? What did he mean when he said to the Corinthians, "For I determined not to know anything among you except Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ) and Him crucified" (1 Cor.2:2, NKJV).
I think most of us can understand that the resurrection was an event of the past, an astonishing thing that took place two thousand years ago. But what non-believers really grapple with is the idea that it is something tangible in the present - it is, for us, a tangible reality now. For you have to understand something of the background of Paul to appreciate what it was that so utterly changed him.
Many Messianic Jews make the mistake of believing that Yah'shua (Jesus) was somehow 'added' to their former religion of Torah-obedience. Paul was a Talmudic Jew. Torah was the beginning and end for him. It was the expression of his devotion to Yahweh. What we have to realise is that the resurrection of Yah'shua (Jesus) shattered not only the heathenism of the time but also Paul's version of Judaism! Everything he had stood for suddenly became meaningless in the light of his encounter with the resurrected Yah'shua (Jesus). He came out singing a new song of salvation. For a Jew like himself coming to Christ meant starting all over again. All the assumptions of his former faith were shattered. He realised that his whole way of approaching Yahweh had been futile because it was based in legalistic religion rather than in a divine encounter. The Torah was, in that divine encounter, suddenly transformed and replanted within him in a new way. It was 'filled up' or brought to a sudden and deafening completion in the Man from Nazareth.
When I was born again on 30 March 1977 I had been studying religion for some years. It had begun with Buddhism and had moved, after my experience in a Buddhist meeting when Yahweh spoke personally to me and told me that Yah'shua was God, into Christianity. What you have to realise, though, is that nothing I had learned in Christianity up to that point had any meaning or life for me until I was flooded with His Ruach (Spirit). I had had a head filled with facts and was living a kind of morality but I had not until then partaken of the resurrection life. I had been preparing logs of wood in the fireplace of my heart but it took God to light it.
The second great change that took place in Paul after his baptism in the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) was his revolutionary change in understanding of the meaning of the cross. As a Talmudic Jew he had been taught to despise and loathe criminal execution. And he had read in the Torah that a dead body allowed to hang for a few hours upon a tree would defile the whole land of Israel (Dt.21:23). Thus to both Jew and Gentile execution on a cross was a symbol of final condemnation and uttermost shame. Can you picture, then, the utter contempt Paul must have previously had for the criminal Nazarene hanging on the cross? The loathing and shame he must have felt? And then, suddenly, you must picture Paul's attitude being turned completely upside down! What had been for him something so utterly disgusting, was suddenly transformed into the most glorious event of cosmic history! Whereas before he had called Yah'shua (Jesus) accursed - as do the Talmudic Jews today - now he could declare in complete sincerely and truth to the Corinthians: "no one speaking by the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) calls Yah'shua (Jesus) accursed, and no one can say that Yah'shua (Jesus) is Lord except by the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit)" (1 Cor.12:3, NKJV). When Paul made his confession that "Yah'shua (Jesus) is Lord" it was within the context of his having formerly declared that He was accursed - this was no mumbling of words on his lips - this was said with the conviction and passion of his whole soul which had been turned upside down.
When the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit) flooded into me that night of 30 March 1977 I sank to my knees onto the floor of my room and praised Yahweh with my whole soul. When I declared - over and over again, "Hallelu-Yah! Praise the Lord!" I was not repeating some liturgy. My whole being was expressing gratitude for a reality that I had apprehended supernaturally. I knew - beyond mere words and in the passion of my soul - that I was saved.
There is this silly idea abroad in many circles that all you have to do is repeat the words, "Jesus is my Saviour" and, like the waving of a magical wand, a person is saved. About anyone on the face of the planet could do that and remain unsaved. For a soul to be saved his whole soul must sing out this truth as a living reality. Our spiritual journey may begin by a simple confession of faith but one is not finally delivered from spiritual death until that fire consumes one. It may occur gradually over time or it may be instantaneous as it was with Paul or with myself. I would not presume to say that everyone must experience the new birth in exactly the same way. But what I would say is that until the soul has been totally engaged with the reality that Yah'shua (Jesus) is alive and that the Cross is something great and glorious, that secures for the sinner redemption and a place in heaven, that there is something missing. There must be that realisation, born not of propaganda preaching but a revelation to the soul, that any other way of life apart from the Cross is ultimately futile. Only then can we understand the apparently shocking words of Paul when he declared: "If anyone does not love the Lord Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ), let him be accursed!" (1 Cor.16:22, NKJV). For what Paul was not doing was cursing people to hell for not believing, as some glassy-eyed and loveless fanatics are wont to do who, in their ignorance and blindness, say things which no man has any right to say: what he was saying is that one of the most destructive types of person that there is, is a religious hypocrite, reserving the same kind of ire for such as Yah'shua (Jesus) Himself did for the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, Saducees, and Torah-teachers of His time. A person who claims to be a believer in Christ - and you must remember that he was addressing the assemblies (churches) of Asia when he said this - but who does not have the love of Yah'shua (Jesus) in his heart, will go around preaching a dead Gospel because he himself is spiritually dead and unregenerated. Such a person is cursed!
And such was Paul before he met the living Christ on the road to Damascus. And he knew it! He realised that his religion before this encounter had been all but meaningless. It was a religion that was killing people both physically and spiritually. It was a religion that lacked love even though it possessed zeal. It was a religion that hated. And hate, as we all know, is the spirit of murder, and leads people to commit desperate acts of wickedness. Hatred kills both the one hating and the those who are being hated.
Paul realised that Yah'shua (Jesus) was not only alive but that he had conquered death itself, something to celebrate indeed. You do not fear death until it begins to stare you in the face - whether it is your own approaching death, or the death of a loved one who is suddenly snatched away, leaving emptiness behind. Death never hit me until my own father was taken. And even though I had the hope of the resurrection, its suddenness and awfulness struck me as nothing else in life had done previously, and the nearest that had came to it was the loss of my first wife. Without the resurrection life that was mine through the undeserved loving kindness of Yahweh I am sure that his death would have devastated me a hundred times more than it did. The presence of Christ in my life made me realise - not by mere intellectual reasoning, but by a supernatural knowing - that death is only temporary for those who accept Yah'shua's (Jesus') free gift of everlasting life.
To understand the dimensions of the cross does require much prayer and meditation. There is nothing to compare this event with in the whole history of existence. It was Yahweh's supreme act of love on behalf of undeserving mankind. The death of the cross, moreover, was the wisdom and glory of the Elohim (God). And what you have to realise is that Yah'shua (Jesus) had not been driven to it helplessly, broken and defeated - He had accepted it in the freedom of His own unconquered soul. Calvary was in the divine plan for mending a broken world. All this Paul began to see. It was that hour of Damascus that taught him the first notes of what was one day to become a great, jubilant battle-song of faith which we find recorded in Galatians: "God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross" (Gal.6:14).
Great and glorious though Torah is, Torah is meaningless without the Cross. Paul understood that when he met the resurrected Yah'shua (Jesus). And that, brethren and sisters, is my testimony too. To take the Cross away, as many are trying to do to make Christianity more palatable to the pagans, is to at once rob our faith of its power and hope. It distresses and angers me, therefore, to see some modern Bible translations - especially Messianic ones - trying to reduce the meaning of the Cross by substituting words like 'torture stake' which lacks the spiritual content which in our language the word 'cross' has come to contain. For the cross is not just an instrument of torture and execution but the very means of our deliverance. And that truth must be emphasised over and over again.
We end today with a third and vital consequence of the Cross which we dare not forget - for without it we remain dead to the glory of life. When Paul encountered Yah'shua (Jesus) on the road to Damascus he surrendered to the divine love which now stood revealed before him. If the Cross has not revealed divine love to you, its mystery remains hidden to you. When Yahweh confronts us with His cosmic love we are at once presented with a choice: to embrace it or resist it. You might suppose that, confronted with divine love, everyone would automatically receive it. Sadly, this is not so. For people, as we well know, are apt to spurn love.
You must also remember that for Paul - who had persecuted Christ and His followers to the death - was suddenly being presented with something he knew he absolutely did not deserve. And he suddenly realised that he, Paul, the blasphemer and persecutor, was yet being sought out by this love. That must have shocked him terribly. He had been taught to repay hate with hate, and eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth, but here was Yahweh revealing to him a dimension of His love that he had never dreamed of. It made no sense to him! How could Yahweh repay all his cruelty and hatred with so much forgiveness and love? Hence he could later say, with endless wonder, that "I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me" (Gal.2:20, NKJV).
It was though his meeting with Yah'shua (Jesus) - a Christ who was all grace - that he entered on the knowledge of divine love. All his feverish quest for peace and righteousness and certainty was now over, for Yahweh in the Messiah had taken the initiative. The poor, smoking lamp of legalism had flickered out in the glory of the dawn. Yahweh had reconciled him. While he was yet a "sinner", an "enemy" - how deep dyed in Paul's own heart's-blood the great words in Romans are - Christ had died for him. That too is my testimony. It is upon that resurrection life that my life is founded and built. And no matter whoever you are, or whatever your background, that life can be yours too. Amen.
This page was created on 11 September 2003
Last updated on 11 September 2003
Copyright © 1987-2007 NCCG - All Rights Reserved