The apostle Paul was one of the least likely people to become a man of God. He began as a precursor of God’s people, dragging them to prison for their faith. Until God called out to him. What was Paul like before this miraculous encounter? How did he change? Let’s take a closer at the apostle Paul’s redemption story.
What Did Paul Do before He Became Christian?
Paul, who was also called Saul, appears in Acts 7. The Sanhedrin was upset with Stephen, a deacon for the Christian faith. He performed signs and miracles and was charged with blasphemy. A usual practice consisted of stoning the accused to death. Enter Saul. While the stoning occurred, witnesses lay their coats at his feet. Acts 8:1 says “And Saul approved of their killing him.”
Matthew Henry further explains the meaning of this verse. He states, “Stephen’s death rejoiced in by one—by many, no doubt, but by one in particular, and that was Saul, who was afterward called Paul; he was consenting to his death, syneudokon—he consented to it with delight (so the word signifies); he was pleased with it. He fed his eyes with this bloody spectacle, in hopes it would put a stop to the growth of Christianity.”
God’s people mourned Stephen’s death, but not Saul. Acts 8:3 states, “Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison.” Henry goes on to say Saul did everything he could to stop the Christian mission. He broke into homes and put people in prison where they could be tried and put to death for their faith. It was a war against the Christians and Saul led the pack.
What Did Paul Do after He Converted?
Saul continued his mission to siege Christians, traveling to Damascus. On the way, a bright light appeared, and he fell to the ground. A voice resounded, questioning why Saul persecuted him. After asking who it was, God answered “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” Jesus told him to get up and follow his instructions. Saul stood, but could not see anything. He was blind for three days going without food and water.
In Damascus, God instructed one of his disciples, Ananias, to place his hands on Saul’s eyes. Ananias obeyed, restoring Saul’s sight. After regaining his strength, Saul was ready to walk in his new life with Christ. Instead of prosecuting the disciples, he spent time with them. Instead of dragging church-going men and women to prison, he preached the word of God. Instead of plotting to kill others, he was the one being prosecuted.
Acts 13:9 mentions Saul’s other name, Paul. Barnabas and Paul were traveling together to complete God’s work. When they arrived in Paphos, they met a false prophet and sorcerer named Bar-Jesus. He tried to stop their work but was blinded by the power of the Holy Spirit for his trickery and deceit. Barnabas and Paul continued on their journey, teaching and proclaiming the name of Jesus.
What Books of the Bible Did Paul Write?
The New Testament consists of 31 epistles, letters written on scrolls and safely delivered to their recipients. 13 of these epistles were written by Paul including Romans, 1 and 2 Corinthians, Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, 1 and 2 Thessalonians, 1 and 2 Timothy, Titus, and Philemon. Paul believed God appointed him to write these letters. Peter confirmed Paul’s writings were divine in nature.
Paul spent two years on house arrest in Rome after arriving there in 60 AD. During this time, he wrote four of the letters called the Prison Epistles. These consist of Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians, and Philemon. The writings were words of encouragement to local churches. He shared about forgiveness and grace, imparting God’s truth on others.
4 Lessons We Can Learn from Paul's Life
God meets us where we are.
Jesus spoke to Paul in the middle of his prosecution journey. He didn’t wait for him to have a change of heart first. While Paul traveled the dusty dirt roads with filth covering his feet and heart, God called out to him. God meets us where we are too. We don’t have to get cleaned up before we can meet our Savior. While we’re lying in filth, we can call out to our sweet Jesus.
Do you feel like you’re too far down the road to turn to Jesus? That’s not true. Paul traveled 136 miles from Jerusalem, the place of Stephen’s death, to Damascus. Whether you feel like you’ve been traveling a dangerous road for 136 hours or 136 years, you’re not too far from Jesus. God will meet you right where you are, ready and able to change the course of your path.
God performs miracles.
After Paul’s conversion, the people were amazed. The same man who had hunted down Christians now called people to follow Jesus. How could that happen? Only with the power of Christ. Jesus revealed himself to Paul and Paul accepted him for who he was, all within the same chapter of the Bible. The bright light was miraculous. The blindness was miraculous. The change of heart was miraculous.
Do you need a miracle? God performed them then and he performs them now. While God’s purposes and plans aren’t always clear to us, God can do anything he decides to do. You can pray for a miracle in your life. God doesn’t always answer our prayers how we’d like, but he is all-knowing and has plans and purposes beyond our comprehension. The same God who changed the hardened heart of a murderous man still lives and performs miracles today.
God can use anyone for his purposes.
Paul was the least likely candidate to spread the Gospel message. He’s stood by while Stephen, a man doing just that, was stoned death. He persecuted Christians himself, wanting to extinguish the light of God. Acts 9:15 says, “But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel.” God chose Paul to proclaim his name. Out of all the “cleaner” and more righteous people he could have chosen, God picked him
No matter what we’ve done or gone through, God can use us too. Paul had a compelling story. He went from one extreme to the other. God can use us and our baggage for his purposes. Acts 9:21 states, “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?” Paul made more of an impact because of his baggage. The people saw his weighty past transformed into a powerful present.
God wants us to share the Good News.
Paul was grateful for the salvation he received through Christ, and he wanted others to share in the Gospel message. The Holy Spirit filled Paul after his conversion, empowering him to share the Good News. He walked the earth proclaiming the name of Jesus and sharing his story. His story illuminated God’s miraculous nature and ability to redeem.
We also have a story to share. Others can benefit from hearing our tales of conversions, how God has worked out painful situations in our lives for God. God wants us to share these stories, teaching others about Christ and his salvation. We have the same Holy Spirit Paul had. We can use this power to bring others to Christ.
There’s a lot to learn from the apostle Paul and his transformation. From a murderer to a preacher, Paul’s story shows that any life can be redeemed. Wherever we are, God can meet us, change us, and use us to impact his kingdom.
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Jenna Brooke Carlson is an elementary dual language teacher in the Chicago suburbs. As a member of American Christian Fiction Writers and Word Weavers, she enjoys spending time with other writers and perfecting her craft. She recently signed a contract for her first young adult novel, A Big Hot Mess, with Elk Lake Publishing. Along with writing, she’s pursuing her dreams of creating a community of brave young women, who she can encourage to live out their dreams amid challenges and imperfection. Her days are busy, but she’s determined she can conquer anything with a fuzzy blanket and a hot cup of tea. To find out more about Jenna, visit her website at jennabrookecarlson.com.