If anyone had a right to talk about transformation and the need for it in a person’s life it was the Apostle Paul. He could say things like:
Romans 12:1-2 “1 Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God–this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is–his good, pleasing and perfect will.”
Ephesians 4:22-24 “22 You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; 23 to be made new in the attitude of your minds; 24 and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.”
2 Corinthians 3:18 “18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
Paul could talk about transformation because he had been through it. He did a complete 180 when God got a hold of him.
We see from Paul’s conversion story on the road to Damascus that transformation begins with PERSONAL CONFRONTATION.
Acts 9:1-6 1 Meanwhile, Saul (Paul’s former name) was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
Each one of us this morning is faced with some very personal questions. For those of us who aren’t living right, Christ is here to confront us. Why are you doing what you are doing? What will your response be to Jesus?
Saul found himself not between a rock and a hard place, but literally on the ground. Verse 4 says this encounter with Jesus absolutely leveled him and in an instant his physical body represented his spiritual condition. Verse 8 tells us Saul was physically blinded by the experience.
For those whom I love who are not yet Christians, I am so glad that God will use whatever means necessary to get our attention. I am glad He goes out of His way to speak to us, and does whatever it takes for us to see how dark our souls are and how desperately we need Him to do something about that. Until we know we are dark in our souls, until we know we are full of sin, until we wrestle with why we are doing whatever it is we are doing when we were created for so much more, we won’t look to the Resurrected Messiah!
Embracing Jesus as Lord is the only way to fulfill your life’s purpose and to have peace with God forever here and in eternity in heaven. There is no other way to salvation. Saul’s life had involved Jesus. He had been talking about Him, but not in a nice way. He not only didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah who had been raised from the dead, but he went out of his way to persecute Jesus’ followers and to see them imprisoned and killed. Saul was really good at what he was doing. He was a very successful persecutor. He was a man on a mission. He was determined to do his own thing his own way. Saul was very stubborn.
It’s not that Saul hadn’t heard that Jesus was alive. He had. The believers were going from place to place talking about it. Those who saw Jesus after His resurrection were the ones spreading the Good News, but Saul refused to believe it could be true. Stubborn Saul just wouldn’t listen. Saul was an intelligent man. He would have had to have thought, “Why would all of these Christians continue to risk their lives to talk about the Resurrection if it wasn’t true?” But Saul just kept trying to push those thoughts to the back of his mind. In Acts 26:14, God describes Saul as one who would “kick against the goads.” A goad was a kind of prod or prompt used to move animals in the right direction. There were prompts and signs pointing to Jesus, the Messiah, the Resurrected Christ, everywhere, but Saul refused to believe them.
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I’m glad we don’t just have to take someone’s word for it, but that God will come to each one of us personally and reveal Who He is. Amen? In fact, He’s talking to some of you right now. Some of you are hearing, “You know, she’s right!” whispered into your ear!
Saul banked everything he was saying and doing on the belief that Jesus was dead, but now in this encounter on the Damascus Road, Saul was face down on the ground with heavenly strobe lights blinding his eyes and was listening to a voice that was anything but earthly. It was Jesus. He WAS alive! Saul wouldn’t believe Peter, James, or John, but due to the dramatic confrontation and the physical blindness he then experienced as a result, Saul was convinced that he had been wrong all along. Jesus was in fact, alive!
Are you “kicking against the goads” this morning? Have you heard all of the testimony and witnessed those who have lived their lives before you in commitment to the Resurrected Christ only to continue to do what you wanted to do while pushing the truth to the back of your mind? Jesus can stop you dead in your tracks like He did Saul. He can put your life on hold. He can convince you of His living presence through signs and wonders. He can impair your physical body some way in order to get your attention. He can do whatever it takes, but why wait for the drama? Why not respond to His gentle call, to His still small voice?
Saul’s transformation began with a personal confrontation. It continued with a CRISIS OF BELIEF MOMENT. Look at verse 6. “6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” If you believe God is who He says He is you will do what He says you must do. It is as we travel with God, as we do what He says to do, that we gain more and more understanding, that though we don’t have all of the answers, we move to a new place where the “scales” can fall off of our spiritual blindness, just like the physical scales fell off from Saul’s eyes after three days and he could see again.
When Saul agreed to go to the city like Jesus told him, he didn’t know what that would mean. He didn’t know what would happen to him when he got there. Jesus never said, “If you go, I’ll restore your eyesight.” Saul didn’t know if he would ever see again. He wasn’t following Jesus for a reward or a miracle of healing. But he was following Him because he realized he had been wrong and that following Jesus was the only way to get things right!
By definition, a crisis is a moment when action has to be taken. As it applies to a medical situation, it is the moment when someone gets better or worse. Therefore, a crisis is a turning point in a person’s life. Taking God at His Word and following Him was the turning point in Saul’s life.
It doesn’t matter how many dramatic moments God interrupts your life with. Nothing will change until you decide to believe God and follow Him wholeheartedly. The word “crisis” comes from a word that means “decision.” What you decide will determine what you will become!
Every time someone in the Bible was given instruction by God, they had to make a decision. And those who followed God’s directions moved on in the transformation process. They became leaders. They became miracle workers. They became witnesses. They became something they weren’t before. Saul could have believed in that moment with all of his heart and yet not followed God. Maybe his belief would have been enough to get him to stop doing what he had been doing, but it wouldn’t have been enough to get him to become what God intended.
We are transformed when we exercise our faith. Therein is the problem for many Christians. I believe many are saved FROM their sin, but they don’t exercise faith beyond confessing Jesus as Lord and therefore they don’t become what God intends for them to become. And if we don’t become stronger in Christ, deeper in our faith, people who are on task doing God’s work, we are easy targets for the enemy. And if we are easier targets for the enemy we are sitting ducks and can be easily taken out.
I believe the main reason people fall away from Christ is because they don’t move from believing to obeying. They didn’t move from knowing to doing. They didn’t move from conviction to commitment when it came to doing what God said to do. As a result of following the Lord’s instructions, Saul became a preacher to the Gentiles and Saul received his sight back. Only now he had fresh eyes. He didn’t see things the same way he had seen them before! J That’s what transformation will do to a person! We don’t see things the way we used to! It is going with God when He calls that will truly change a person.
So in transformation there is a confrontation and a crisis of belief. Third, I want to point out in Saul’s story that there is a COMMUNAL component. Look at verses 7-12.
7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything. 10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!” “Yes, Lord,” he answered. 11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
Saul was guided by his friends as they took him into the city since he was blind. They led him by the hand, verse 8 tells us. To be led like a child into the city had to be quite humbling for Saul. He was a reputable guy. The Pharisees looked up to him. What would everyone think of the great Saul who had been struck blind and was being led around town by his friends? Saul the great leader, now all of the sudden had to be led.
God continued His work in Saul’s life through Ananias, a stranger to Saul. It’s interesting to me that even though Saul was blind, God showed him a vision of Ananias who would come to him to place his hands on him and restore his sight. Perhaps God had to strip away the things Saul could see in order to help him see the unseen.
We cannot have a “nobody can tell me what to do attitude” and move on in the transformation process with God. He always uses people to accomplish His purposes. Who has God placed in your life to help bring you closer to Him or to bring you healing? Who in your life does God want to touch through you?
Transformation involves a CROSS TO CARRY.
Acts 9:15-16 15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
Saul had been causing Christians to suffer. Now he would experience a kind of suffering himself. Following God isn’t easy. It isn’t supposed to be. We aren’t transformed by easy. Has anyone here ever been transformed by the easy parts of life? I didn’t think so. Jesus said in Luke 9:23 “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.”
Transformation is demanding. Transformation requires that everything we are, we willingly give up in order to become all that God intends.
It is a daily choice to follow Jesus. Saul turned Paul said of his transformation that it was a daily choice to carry the cross Christ placed in his hands when he simply said, “I die daily.” (I Cor. 15:31)
God doesn’t just want to save your soul, but He wants to change your life. He does that by sending you on assignments that are beyond your comfort zone, above your pay grade and beyond your experience and education. And when you go, and carry that cross, something happens in your mind at the same time. You begin to gain a different perspective. The going isn’t a burden. The assignment isn’t oppressive. The task isn’t frightening. You don’t regret picking up the cross in the first place, but your mind is changed into a person who thinks about the situation like God does. You come to realize there is purpose in cross carrying. Whatever He has you doing makes the carrying of the cross worth it all. You become a person who would have it no other way! You become stubborn for the right reasons, tenacious and persistent and unyielding to the things of the world because you see what God is up to and you are humbled just to be a part of it.
You see, when we sign up wholeheartedly with Jesus, even the cross carrying part becomes a joy. Even the dying daily becomes our desire. Even the hard things are easily accepted because we know what the power of a cross can do! We know the results sacrifice brings. We see the lives that get repaired when Christians lovingly and willingly follow the commands of God.
Finally, those who undergo transformation with Christ, their lives reflect CONSPICUOUS CHANGE. Look at verse Acts 9:17-22 (NIV) 17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord–Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here–has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ.
What happened to Saul internally, spiritually, on the inside, completely altered the way he lived his life. He went from trying to imprison and kill Christians to preaching to all that they should follow Christ. Verse 20 says he started preaching immediately and verse 22 says he grew more and more powerful and people had to pick their chins up off the floor as they couldn’t believe the transformation. The end of verse 22 says the change was so drastic that it proved Jesus was the Christ. I can just hear the onlookers, “If a murderous, hateful bigot like Paul can be convinced, it must be true!”
Turn to Acts 26, and listen to Saul’s own description of who and what he had been before the road to Damascus. 9 “I too was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And that is just what I did in Jerusalem. On the authority of the chief priests I put many of the saints in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. 11 Many a time I went from one synagogue to another to have them punished, and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them.”
Listen, don’t you ever give up on people who are convinced that there is no God or convinced that God doesn’t love them or convinced that there is no Resurrection from the dead. Saul turned Paul was convinced too, but he completely changed.
How about what he said to Timothy in 1Timothy 1:12-14? “12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.”
Talk about being transformed or being made new in the attitude of your mind! Saul completely changed the way he thought and lived! I want to suggest something to you for your consideration this morning that might stray a bit from what you grew up thinking or assuming. I remember learning that God changed Saul’s name to Paul. While Saul’s name did change from Saul to Paul, nowhere in Scripture does it say God changed it.
Saul was Saul between Acts chapter 9 and chapter 13 and verse 9. In Acts 13:9, however, a shift takes place and Saul is referred to from there on as Paul. The name “Paul” actually means “small” or “little.” I personally believe it is a great possibility that Paul had undergone such a transformation that he wanted his name to reflect that transformation and that he changed his name himself. It was no longer about him and his notoriety and his agenda, but it was all about advancing the Gospel. Saul became “small” in order that Jesus could be the star! His name change reflected his new identity in Christ!
I also believe the name change was a strategic way to reflect Paul’s new purpose. He was to be a preacher to the Gentiles (I Timothy 2:7) and “Paul” was the Gentile equivalent to the name “Saul”. Perhaps it was thought that Paul and the Gospel message would be more accepted by the Gentiles if he didn’t have such a Jewish-sounding name. Remember, Paul said, 1 Corinthians 9:22-23 “I have become all things to all men so that by all possible means I might save some. 23 I do all this for the sake of the Gospel that I may share in its blessings.” I believe he was willing to change anything, including his name, in order to win people to Jesus!
And because Paul was “all in” he was willing to stay “all in!” Even when it got tougher than tough. He said in II Cor. 12:7-10, “7 To keep me from becoming conceited because of these surpassingly great revelations, there was given me a thorn in my flesh, a messenger of Satan, to torment me. 8 Three times I pleaded with the Lord to take it away from me. 9 But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. 10 That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.
That thorn in the flesh, whatever it was, (Most scholars think it was a physical condition.) was there as a reminder of where Paul had come from. He had been transformed from a person of self-reliance to a person of God-reliance. He had left the applause of men and worked for an audience of One. It was no longer what Paul was convinced of in his mind, but it was about what God had convinced him of. That thorn reminded Him to stay close to the Resurrected One because He was the One who had rescued Paul from himself and had transformed him into someone who was willing to live for God and others. That thorn reminded him that without God he could only do what he could do, but with God, he could do beyond anything he could personally ask or think (Eph. 3:20). Paul went from someone who willingly inflected pain on other people to being willing to endure pain for the sake of the Gospel. That is an amazing transformation!
So the road to transformation . . . are you on it? Have you been confronted personally with the person of Jesus Christ? It’s not about what your grandparents, parents, or spouse believes, it’s about what you believe. And if you believe, are you acting on that belief? Are you willing to accept the people into your life that God wants to use to help shape you or are you still trying to go it alone? What cross has Jesus asked you to carry in His name and is it in your hands or have you set it down for a while? Would anyone be able to say that your life proves that Jesus has been resurrected? How conspicuous is Jesus’ life being lived out through yours? What part of the road to transformation, if any, are you on?