When Paul wrote on the theme of God's amazing grace, he drew on his own life as a self righteous, legalistic sinner. He had believed he would be saved by his works, thereby setting his life on a collision course with God. However, once grace entered the equation, everything changed and he repeatedly exposed the futility of such thinking. "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9) It is clear: we are saved not by our works, but by our faith, which comes to us by hearing the word of God. (Romans 10:17) Our response to Christ is faith, trust, belief. Faith and works are opposite, but faith and obedience are compatible.

Arise and Be Baptised

Paul spoke of his conversion to Jesus as "justification by faith." He had lived his life trying to justify himself, but to no avail. He needed to be forgiven by the one whom he had offended. Forgiveness was freely offered to him in Christ Jesus. Finally convicted of his sinfulness, and now believing that forgiveness is in the crucified Christ, he was told, "Arise, be baptised and wash your sins away, calling on his name." (Acts 22:16) In baptism, Paul called upon the Lord Jesus Christ to save. In baptism, he was identified, by his faith, with the saving event that secured the remission of his sins – the atoning death of the Lamb of God. In baptism Paul did not "do" something to be saved; it was a declaration that he believed in what Jesus' death accomplished for him. In baptism his faith was not in what he was doing; but in Jesus whose death secured remission of his sins.

An Example to All

The conversion of Paul demonstrates that no one is beyond the reach of God's love, mercy and grace. No one is so entrenched in their views that God is no longer able to reach them. We know people we do not regard as likely candidates to become disciples of Jesus. They are prejudiced, indifferent, entrenched and intolerant. But so was Paul. He was fanatical in his unbelief about Jesus. Yet God saved him and his conversion to the Lord is an example to help encourage us never to give up sharing the gospel, even with those we regard as the most unlikely people to believe. Paul says, "But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life." (1 Timothy 1:16)

We don't always know what God is doing in the life of a person. The persecuted church would not have believed God was working in Paul's life, drawing him to trust in Jesus. But he was. On the road to Damascus Jesus confronted Paul, saying, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14) Paul's resistance could not be maintained indefinitely. God was "goading" him, prodding, nudging him in the direction of Jesus. The truth of the gospel was drawing him and he would soon have to confess that Jesus is Lord. And he did.

Paul the legalist, the self-righteous Pharisee, the closed-minded persecutor of the church, converted to Jesus and became the greatest servant the church has ever had. There is hope for all.