One of my favorite forms of Bible Study is to do a thorough character study on someone from Scripture. Over the past few years, I have enjoyed studying people like Joseph, Moses, King Saul, David, young King Josiah, Paul, and more recently, Barnabas. These studies have not only helped me gain a better understanding of the Bible and how God used these flawed individuals but often these studies have also convicted me and pointed out specific areas in my life that need attention. Just a few months ago while studying Paul and his missionary journeys through the book of Acts, I came across this convicting passage.
The Bible says in Acts 8:3;
“As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.”
Have you ever wondered about these Christians who were cast into prison by young Saul before his conversion? What happened to them after Saul met Jesus and became the Apostle Paul, a faithful servant of Jesus Christ? The Bible doesn’t tell us what happened to these people — maybe Paul, after being saved, went back and helped them get released — it’s hopeful for us to imagine this happening, but we just don’t know what actually happened. Moreso, what were these Christian prisoners thinking when they heard that the very man that was responsible for them being cast into prison had now become a Christian missionary?
If you’re anything like me, then you too have perhaps come to the realization that you’re not always gracious when it comes to people who have changed. We like to hold things over others’ heads or remind those around us of that person’s past. Sometimes it’s hard for us to believe that a person really has changed and has turned his life around. My mind goes back to the verse above, and I try to put myself in all three positions.
If I were one of the Christians who were cast into prison by Saul —> I would be doubtful and critical of Paul’s change. (like the disciples were — see Acts 9:26).
If I were one of the new Christians in one of the cities that had heard the gospel from the apostle Paul years later—> I would be thankful for Paul’s change.
If I were Paul —> I would be discouraged when I thought of my past… And grateful for God’s ability to save my soul and change my heart.
There are two applications I want to point out to you. First, we all have been on Paul’s side of “change.” We all have experienced change in our own lives. Just a few weeks ago, I had a teen come up to me and say that he knew someone I went to high school with and had been told that I was a “different person” back then. My quick and probably unexpected response was, “He’s right!” Praise the Lord that I’m not the same person I was then. God has graciously and patiently helped change my heart over these last several years and best I can tell — He’s not finished!
Secondly, be gracious with others who have proclaimed change in their lives. We are sometimes slow to “let people up” from their past mistakes and shortcomings. I am so thankful that we don’t have a God who holds onto every mistake that we have made in the past; rather, He graciously and lovingly is patient with us as we mature. Can I encourage you — rather than being critical and doubtful of someone's recent change — expecting, almost waiting for them to mess up — consider being more like our Father. Be gracious with people and even pray for individuals who are trying to change. And remember, don’t underestimate the working power that God can have on someone’s heart. Not only can God save anyone, but He can also do a work to completely change a person’s heart. Be gracious and patient with change. I’m thankful that God is.