As we observed last time Saul has been converted and Ananias sent to him by the Lord in order to assist a new Christian. In a very short space of time Saul has been and will be learning many things about God and His forgiveness. He will also learn much about the church and the love believers have for each other.
Last time we considered the truth that even whilst Saul was dead in his sins Christ died for him. Today we will consider how Saul’s conversion affected him and learn from his experience what it means to be a Christian. Sometime after his conversion Saul became known by his Greek name Paul. Much later he wrote in his letter to the church in Corinth “if anyone is in Christ (is a Christian,) he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” (2 Corinthians 5:17) In this Paul says that conversion is much more than merely accepting Jesus and living a life that may or may not please God because Jesus has saved us. Paul tells us that a real and lasting change is made when a person is converted. There is no better example of this than the account of his own conversion and so this morning we will make some simple observations as to how Saul was changed and from these observations challenge and encourage each other as Christians to learn lessons in order that we might live our lives acceptably before God.
Being a new creation means that we:
- We will recognise the Lordship of Christ.
- We will pray.
Why is that?
The reason why Ananias was encouraged to go by this is that clearly God declared that Saul now prayed. There is a great difference between saying your prayers and actually praying. Formerly Saul said his prayers to God who he thought that he knew, but this episode in his life proves that Saul’s belief in God fell short of being acceptable. His prayers however good that they might have sounded did not really find their way into God’s hearing but now that has changed: Paul was praying and God was listening.
True prayer is proof of those that are a new creation, the old sinful state is gone and now the righteousness of Christ has come and even our prayers are heard and accepted by God.
We will learn that discipleship is costly.
In verse 15 God has informed Ananias that Saul had a special calling and that God would be instructing Saul of the personal cost that he would pay for following Jesus. Salvation comes free of charge as a gift of grace from God but to follow Jesus is a costly affair. In verse 16 Saul was told in no uncertain words what that cost would be for him. We know from the reading of Acts and Paul’s letters that he would have many delights and difficulties simply because he was a Christian. Saul did not enter into his Christian life with his head in the clouds and wearing rose coloured glasses, the Lord told him how difficult it would be for him to live a life glorifying to God.
Sadly much of our gospel preaching and witnessing ignores the truth that the Christian life is not a comfortable road. John Bunyan knew that full well when from a prison cell he wrote his Pilgrim’s progress which illustrates graphically the difficulties that Christian has whilst on his way to the celestial city or as we would say heaven.
Life for the Christian is glorious but it is not a bed of roses as some would have us believe but even though Paul had experienced the most difficult of situations he loved life whilst he had it. He recognised that to die was gain but whilst alive fellowship and the service of his saviour, the church and the gospel was all important.
Do we really live in such a way today?
Discipleship is costly but it is worth it!
We are filled with the Holy Spirit.
In verse 17 we are told that Ananias came to Saul with a two-fold ministry. Firstly he was to bring back Saul’s sight. The result of this was immediate and also obvious. There was no trickery here; the cataracts were on the floor to prove it. Saul no longer groped in the dark, now he could see perfectly well. A great miracle had taken place but that miracle pales into insignificance when we consider the effect of Ananias’ other ministry.
Ananias was also used of God to impart the Holy Spirit into Saul’s life. At this point we have to be very careful in what we say. We are considering an historical account that has been inspired by the Holy Spirit of God but there are many who take this incident far beyond the purpose found here. God was working uniquely through Ananias in the life of Saul, Saul was learning the lesson that Christians are used by God in very special ways to benefit the church and also that God works His wonders in many and diverse ways for individuals. This is not a passage that teaches us that in some way believers can at will impart the Holy Spirit upon others. God’s infilling of the Holy Spirit is His unique work in which at times He chooses to use Christians. Every conversion is unique and different but all who are converted are filled with the Holy Spirit. This is not a separate experience but is the seal of regeneration or salvation for all believers. Without the indwelling of the Holy Spirit a person is simply unconverted!
The great miracle here is often overlooked by controversial doctrines; let us consider what was happening to Saul: the stony heart that was once full of arrogance and pride has been replaced with a new heart of flesh that beats in tune with God has now become the dwelling place of God’s Holy Spirit. God cannot dwell where sin reigns but yet He dwells not only in the heart of Saul but also in the hearts of all who are a new creation. Christians a miracle has taken place in your heart and God has made it to be His dwelling place in you. This had a great impact upon Saul, he was never the same again, for him to live was Christ from that time on; in fellowship with his God in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are no different but do we live in the full knowledge that God is with us at all times?
We must be obedient to God’s word.
Verse 18 tells us that Saul was baptized. This was a big thing for him, Peter had earlier said under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit that all are to repent and be baptised in order to be saved. That is God’s Holy command and Saul was obedient to it! This it seems was very soon after his conversion and so his Christian life began in obedience to the word of God. Just as good gold has a hallmark which authenticates the item so it is with Christians. The hallmark of a good Christian is obedience to the word and commands of God. Saul lived a life in obedience to God and his word do we live such lives? In his pre-converted days Saul opposed Christ and His church but post-conversion he loved and protected the church because he now was a new creation. Sadly many Christians are today living their lives contrary to God’s word and commands. Baptism is the first command to obey, are you baptized? But there are many other commands we are called to obey! But are we obedient to them?
We must belong to the Church.
In verse 19(b) we are told that Saul spent several days with the church and we know that he went from Damascus to Jerusalem where he joined the church and then later as an elder of the church at Antioch (which means he was committed to them) he was sent from there to take the gospel to the Gentiles. Paul belonged to the church! It has been said (Matthew Henry) that: “those who take God for their God take his people for their people.” That is demonstrated by Ruth’s confession to her mother-in-law Naomi when she said “your God will be my God and your people will be my people!” (Ruth 1:16)
God and His people come as a unity, they are inseparable!
Christians you cannot belong to God and not belong to His people! It is a lie of the devil that you do not need to go to church. It is true that going to church does not make you a Christian but as a Christian you MUST be in fellowship with and also belong to the church. You have been adopted by God into His family and so have we, therefore you belong to us and we in Christ belong to you.
Saul was introduced to the church by Ananias and he spent time with them and found in them friendliness and excellency! He now loved them and they loved him. They were enriched by him and he by them. That is how it is with all believers but if you take a back seat then we are impoverished and if I do the same then you are equally impoverished. We have a duty of care towards all of God’s people by being a real and vital part of them in both worship and service.
We must serve both God and His church.
In verse 20 we are told that Saul began to preach in the synagogue. He had all of the knowledge he needed beforehand and so as soon as he knew Christ to be the Messiah he was automatically equipped to declare the gospel and prove that Jesus is Lord. (vs. 22) We must again be cautious at this point, there are not many (if any) today with the knowledge that Saul of Tarsus had in order that they might preach accurately and as quickly as he did. We must be cautious with new converts; we must train them before releasing them for gospel work! Saul served the Lord through his gospel preaching, but he also served the church by his teaching and pastoral care. We are all called to be both servants of the Lord and of the church.
The more Saul preached the stronger he became, there is nothing like gospel work to strengthen a believer’s faith! Saul baffled his hearers with his new found faith and theology! They were beginning to see that Saul of Tarsus was now a new creation, the old enemy of the gospel was gone and the new Apostle had come!
Each one of us as Christians are a new creation; but are you?
Do you recognise Jesus as your Lord and Saviour?
Do you pray to God knowing that He is listening and is pleased with you?
Are you living knowing the cost of discipleship? Do you carry your cross for Jesus!
Are you filled with the Holy Spirit, if not then you are not converted.
Are you obedient to the word and command of God? Are you baptised?
Do you belong to the church?
Are you a servant of both the Lord and His church?
If you are failing at some or all of these then you are either a deficient Christian or as we
better know it a backslider or you are not yet converted. If you are not converted you must plead with God to work in your life. I would love to spend time with you if you need help.
If however you are a backslider then it is imperative that you come back to the One who has made you to be a new creation.