Paul wrote to the Galatians, “for you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it; and I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers.” Galatians 1: 13, 14 Paul was no lightweight when it came to persecuting the church, in fact he had so much enthusiasm for his task that he actually tried to destroy the church. The book of Acts records the anger Paul (Saul) had against Christians. “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.” Acts 8: 3 Further in Acts we read, “And I did so in Jerusalem; I not only shut up many of the saints in prison, by authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme; and in raging fury against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Acts 26: 10, 11
It would seem that Paul had a pathological hatred for Christians and took great pleasure in hunting them down, throwing them in prison and testifying against them at their executions. He ravished the churches and when he could find no more Christians to persecute, he went to new locations to search and destroy.
Paul was a man consumed by hatred that racked destruction upon Christians with jealous abandon. He was a bigot and fanatic; the type of person that would seem to have no redeeming value at all. And then he came face to face with Jesus and everything changed. “But when He who had set me apart before I was born, and had called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son to me, in order that I might preach Him among the Gentiles.” Galatians 1: 15, 16a On the Damascus road Paul went from persecutor to preacher and the greatest evangelist in the history of the Christian church.
Did you notice how many times Paul speaks about himself in Galatians 1:13, 14? I persecuted the church, I advanced Judaism, I was jealous for the traditions. Notice the contrast with verses 15 and 16. But when God set me apart, when God called me through His grace, when God revealed His Son to me. Here is the difference between the old Paul and the new man; God in his life and that changes everything.
It’s amazing how easy it is for us to look at someone and write that person off as beyond hope when it comes to spiritual realities. In the eyes of God, however, no one is ever beyond hope, no one is too bad, too indifferent or even too much of a monster that God is unwilling to forgive the repentant heart.
Years ago I became acquainted with a man who was a nasty piece of work. No matter how much I tried to reveal God’s love for him he was resistant. One evening he invited me over to his house to meet his aunt. All I could think about on the way was about how much I didn’t want to spend an evening sitting around making small talk with someone I didn’t know. The lady turned out to be fascinating and I enjoyed every minute my conversation with her and before I knew it, it was time to leave. As I was getting up to go my acquaintance, who had been quiet most of the night, said, “Would you pray for me, I want to be a Christian?”
I learned a valuable lesson that evening. No matter how far away you think someone is from God, they are never so far away that God isn’t there with them. I also learned that God is bigger and greater than my timetable and my assessments of someone else’s spirituality. Remember, God comes running for the prodigals, no matter how far off they may be, we just need to be sure we aren’t in the way.