Formations lesson for April 29: Paul's conversion
April 6 2001 by Ken Vandergriff , Acts 9:1-6

Formations lesson for April 29: Paul's conversion | Friday, April 6, 2001

Friday, April 6, 2001

Formations lesson for April 29: Paul's conversion

By Ken Vandergriff Acts 9:1-6 When I first saw the text for today's lesson, I thought the editors must have made a mistake. Why study only the first six verses of this chapter? Why neglect the rest of the story, with its compelling psychological drama between the fearful but obedient Ananias and the fearsome yet strangely weakened Saul? Nevertheless, focusing on these few verses alone leads us to significant insights.

The background (Acts 9:1-2) Saul first appears in Acts 7:58-8:1, where he approved the stoning of Stephen, and 8:3, which describes his "ravaging the church." Why? Because he was convinced that he was upholding God's honor. He was convinced that this Christian proclamation concerning a crucified criminal was blasphemy and therefore deserved harsh attack (see 26:9). We can only appreciate the intensity of Saul's Christian convictions when we have appreciated his pre-Christian convictions. Here was a man zealous for God both before and after his Damascus experience.

It is instructive to compare 1 Tim. 1:12-16. There Saul's violence is attributed to ignorance, but even more important is the affirmation that God "judged me faithful and appointed me to his service ... and the grace of our Lord overflowed to me." God saw more than simply a violent persecutor. God saw one whose strength of conviction - if it could be redirected - would be one of his greatest assets. If we could see others and ourselves through God's eyes, the potential would amaze us.

The revelation (Acts 9:3-5) We often focus on "Paul's conversion." Paul himself, however, pointed away from himself to Jesus Christ. God "was pleased to reveal his Son to me" (Gal. 1:16); Paul saw Jesus the Lord (1 Cor. 9:1); the risen Christ appeared to Paul in the same way he had appeared to the disciples at the Easter event (1 Cor. 15:8). Since, for Paul and us, the objective revelation of Christ produces the subjective conversion experience, we do well to look first at the one being revealed. There is no Christian conversion without Jesus Christ being revealed to an individual.

How did the revelation of Jesus influence Paul's theology? Several things may be noted (see the helpful analysis of Joseph Fitzmeyer, Pauline Theology: A Brief Sketch [Prentice-Hall, 1967], 6-15). First, Paul recognized the continuity between God's work in Israel and God's work in Jesus. Paul did not abandon the faith he had learned as a well-educated Pharisee. Rather, he built upon it. He saw in Jesus the blossoming of the centuries-old covenant promises of God to Israel (see Acts 13:32-33).

Second, the revelation of Jesus impressed upon him the saving significance of the death and resurrection of Jesus. His Jewish background had taught him the concept of vicarious death, a concept central to animal sacrifice. What his Jewish background had not taught him was that the Messiah would die a vicarious death. In Old Testament and Jewish expectations, Messiah was supposed to conquer, not die. That is why the concept of a crucified Messiah was a "stumbling block" to Jews (1 Cor. 1:23; Gal. 3:13). Seeing the crucified and risen Christ convinced Paul of something new: Jesus was the expected Messiah, who conquered sin and death through his own vicarious death.

Third, as a Jew, Paul believed that one-day God would bring to completion all that God had intended his creation to be. That would be the eschaton, the age to come, the day of salvation (see Isa. 2:1-4; 25:6-9; 29:18-21; 35:1-7). The revelation of Christ convinced Paul that the eschaton, although not yet brought to completion, had already begun. Its first fruits were already enjoyed in this age (1 Cor. 15:20; Eph. 2:6; Col. 2:12, 15; 3:1-3; Phil. 3:20).

We should not expect that Paul immediately grasped all of this. Like us, over time he grew in his understanding of the faith.

The mission (Acts 9:6) If we compare verse 6 with 22:14-15; 26:16-18 and Gal. 1:16, we see that "what you are to do" refers not to the upcoming events in Damascus, but rather to Paul's mission to the Gentiles. Paul does not dwell on his conversion experience. He sees through it to its greater purpose. May each one of us be sensitive to that unique work God has appointed for us beyond conversion.

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4/6/2001 12:00:00 AM by Ken Vandergriff , Acts 9:1-6 | with 0 comments
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