Summary: No one is too sinful to be saved.
I begin with an excerpt from a Breakpoint commentary aired this week called, “Self-constructed, Build-a-Bear, Buffet-Style Christianity is no Christianity at All.” It’s posted on Sermon Extras if you’d like to read it.
In a pair of tweets that recently made rounds on social media, a young progressive woman issued her doctrinal creed: “I am a Christian and I believe proselytizing is violence…I am a Christian and I believe LGBTQ+ ppl are divine and should lead us…I am a Christian and I don’t go to church. I am a Christian and I don’t believe the Bible is the word of God.”
While one wonders why someone who already rejects church, evangelism, Christian morality, and Scripture would still want to keep the title Christian, this tweeter is merely a more extreme example of a very common approach to faith, including Christianity.
To be clear, this kind of self-constructed, Build-A-Bear, buffet-style belief acquisition works fine for some worldviews, especially the Westernized, New-Agey offsprings of Eastern pantheisms…“Christianity,” however, as a revealed worldview, has an objective definition. Christianity centers ultimate reality and, therefore, ultimate authority, outside (not within) the created order, locates it in a Divine Personal Being who has made Himself known through what He has made, through Holy Scripture, and ultimately made known Himself through Christ Jesus.
Today, we’re introduced to an enemy of the gospel, who had his own definition of Christianity until he came face-to-face with the reality of outside revelation and with the resurrected Christ Himself. In your copy of the Scriptures, please turn to Acts 9 where we will learn that no one is too sinful to be saved.
Since this antagonist of the faith was converted and became Christianity’s most ardent advocate, we cannot just pick and choose our beliefs like a spiritual smorgasbord.
In order to help us understand and apply this passage, I’m going take on the character of Saul, later known as the Apostle Paul. I’ll come back out of character at the end as we seek to pull out some principles and application.
My Hebrew name is Saul, which means, “tall.” BTW, my Roman name is Paul. I was actually named after the first king of Israel, who was tall…and ruggedly handsome. I was born in a Roman town called Tarsus, so I understood pagan culture, but I was raised to be very religious.
At an early age, I studied under a famous rabbi named Gamaliel, who was a much sought-after teacher. I was from the tribe of Benjamin and later became a Pharisee. My religious resume was resplendent, but I was also self-righteous, spiritually smug, and filled with rage against a new religious sect, a group of fanatics who called themselves members of the Way.
I became obsessed with obliterating those who followed the cult of Christianity. When Stephen, one of their leaders, was arrested and stoned to death, I applauded his assassination. In fact, in order for the executioners to be unencumbered when they pitched their rocks, they took off their jackets and laid them at my feet. You can read more about it in Acts 7.
I was glad Stephen was dead, but something snapped in me that day. Perhaps my conscience was trying to speak but instead, I became enraged. Looking back, I was suppressing the truth which only filled me with anger and bitterness. Can anyone relate? From that point on I began persecuting Christians. Acts 8:3 understates it: “But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.”
The word for “ravage” was used of wild animals tearing into their prey. I saw this as a fulfillment of what was said about Benjamin, the leader of my tribe, back in Genesis 49:27: “Benjamin is a ravenous wolf, in the morning devouring the prey and at evening dividing the spoil.” I thought I was simply living out my destiny.
In Galatians 1:13, I summarized my efforts this way, “For you heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.” In my mind, believers in Jesus were blasphemers and heretics. If I could eradicate this new religion, maybe God would bring the “real” Messiah to Israel.
When persecution caused Christians to flee to Damascus, the capital of Syria, I made plans to chase them down. I was on a murderous mission, acting much like the head of the Gestapo or KGB. I was so angry, I could feel heat radiating from my face as I hissed with hatred. Acts 9:1 says, I was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” With every breath I cursed Christians and sought new ways to slaughter them. I didn’t care if they were men or women and it didn’t bother me to see mothers being separated from their children. I knew there were about 30 synagogues in Damascus and that’s where the followers of Jesus were congregating.