I had no control over where I was born or who my parents are. God's grace got me to where I am now. Some might say that since I was raised in the southern Bible belt of the United States by Christian parents, it was inevitable that I would still love Jesus today. Sadly, I know countless stories of people raised in Christian homes who have left the faith as adults.
Paul’s conversion to follow Christ strayed from his upbringing as well. His father was a Roman citizen with favored status. He also grew up as a Pharisee who studied the law of Moses. Paul strove to keep the law and forced his fellow Jews to do so also. When Paul heard about Jews converting to Christianity, he was livid.
Instead of displaying curiosity to know who this Jesus was, Paul traveled around imprisoning and killing Christians. No one would expect him to become God’s chosen conduit to bring the gospel to the Gentiles.
Yet, God likes to surprise us. He uses the foolish things of the world, the weak and fallible, so that His glory shines through these jars of clay called humans. If we were great and mighty, we probably would seek the accolades for ourselves instead of praising God for His goodness.
To demonstrate just how gracious He is, God used the most unlikely person as His special vessel. On the road to Damascus, Jesus radically changed Paul’s life trajectory. Instead of killing Christians, Paul suffered greatly himself while conducting several missionary journeys to spread the good news to the Gentiles.
Paul describes himself this way in 1 Corinthians 15:9-10, “For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace toward me was not in vain; but I labored more abundantly than they all, yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me” (NKJV).
Paul knew his roots, but he didn’t let it hold him back from following God. He gave all the glory to God for his changed life. Paul knew without his radical intervention; he would have remained on a path of destroying believers in Christ.
His lesson reminds us that no matter how tainted our past, God can use anyone. God has used the areas where I’ve had my biggest struggles and turned them into ministry opportunities later in life. God won’t waste our pain if we let Him transform it into glory for His name.
Also, I remain humbled by Paul’s admission of achieving all he had done solely because of God’s grace towards him. Sometimes, I get ahead of myself and credit my actions to my own efforts. However, none of my accomplishments are possible apart from God’s generous grace towards me. I can’t even create air for my lungs to inhale my next breath. There is no life or hope apart from Christ, but in Him is the abundant riches of living in the light of His glory and grace.
May we always ascribe to God the glory due His Name, knowing we are who we are by the grace of God alone and not by any works of righteousness we have done.
Joanna Eccles has led Bible studies for over ten years and completed the year-long C. S. Lewis Fellows Program. She is passionate about discipleship and helping people know God better. Joanna enjoys coffee, traveling, and reading, and currently lives in Florida.