Mercifully Knocked in the Noggin

Sometimes we can think we’re so right and be so wrong.

The classic example would be the man now remembered as the Apostle Paul, called Saul when among his fellow Jews. Paul always believed himself to be a zealous champion of God, but early in his life that meant persecuting a new sect that had popped up. Its members were followers of a man who had claimed to be the messiah before finally being crucified.

Trained by the finest Jewish teachers, Paul traveled in his work, carrying with him what amounted to arrest warrants. But everything changed on his way to Damascus to nab some Christians.

If you don’t remember the story, you need to take time to read it in Acts 9:1-20. Paul was literally blinded by the light. More importantly, he encountered this resurrected messiah directly, hearing him say, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.”

It was a terrifying experience, not one most of us would choose to undergo. But I will say this: After his “road to Damascus” moment, Paul had no questions about who Jesus is. And Paul certainly understood what he was to do with this newfound understanding.

What exactly was in this “light from heaven” that shattered and then quickly reformed Paul’s worldview? I would call it pure holiness. In a flash, a wrongheaded man was made rightheaded, filled with an instant understanding of God’s will for the world.

It was a very special, very powerful kind of grace, the mercy of God poured out on a sinner who until that moment was sure he knew what he was doing. Paul seems the kind of sinner least likely to reflect and repent, but Jesus Christ made Paul his own, anyway. In fact, that’s how Paul described his conversion experience years later in a letter to a young pastor named Timothy.

“I am grateful to Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because he judged me faithful and appointed me to his service, even though I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a man of violence,” Paul writes in 1 Timothy 1:13-14. “I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”

Few of us have converted to Christianity after actively persecuting Christians, but most of us are at least familiar with how our faith can deepen and shift over time. After all, until we reach the point when our will is aligned with God’s will every second of every day, it’s quite possible that we can think we’re doing God’s work when we’re not.

Like Paul, our antidote to poor thinking is understanding and remembering the power of God’s grace. Until Paul’s conversion experience, he best understood God through the Jewish law and a strict adherence to that law.

We do need rules; in particular, we need the guidelines for living offered to us through Scripture. God’s law continues to have tremendous value. But God’s grace, made evident in Jesus Christ and poured into us via the Holy Spirit, is the path to eternal life.

Here’s a question to keep before us: Without affirming ongoing sin, how do I inject grace into a situation? In particular, how do I offer God’s grace to others, especially those I might like to convict under some unbending rule I carry in my head?

Better to seek and offer grace on our own than to have God knock us into an understanding of its value.