Thursday, January 19, 2012

The Sovereignty of God on the Damascus Road: Saul's Past

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The Sovereignty of God on the Damascus Road: Introduction

What was Saul like before his conversion?

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.  ~Acts 9:1,2

When reading the narrative account from Acts chapter 9, we would do well to remember where Luke got this information. The Apostle Paul himself would have recounted these events for Luke to record, so in a sense Paul describes his own assessment of who and what he was before the day he met Christ. Let's begin this study by looking at the first part of verse 1:

“But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord,”

Those self righteous folk can get reeeaally angry... really.

This account begins by revealing what is in Saul's heart by describing his actions. He hates Christians. The word “still” makes an important distinction about Saul's demeanor towards believers, that is his attitude towards them on this day is just a continuing action from the past. He has been “breathing threats and murder” against them for some time now. Saul is first introduced in the seventh chapter of the book of Acts at the stoning of Stephen...

But they cried out with a loud voice and stopped their ears and rushed together at him. Then they cast him out of the city and stoned him. And the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul.  ~Acts 7:57,58

The very next chapter Luke relates Saul was not only present at the murder of Stephen, but he was in agreement with it and inspired by it for more...

And Saul approved of his execution. And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. Devout men buried Stephen and made great lamentation over him. But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house, he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.  ~Acts 8:1-3

The very idea of “breathing threats and murder” is how Paul would describe his own attitude towards Christians before his conversion. Threats and murder are what he drew his breath from and it sustained him. Finding and putting to death Christians is what got Saul out of bed in the morning! So then let it be noted on the day Saul met Christ while traveling the Damascus Road, before he repented of his sin and trusted Jesus Christ as Savior, his heart was filled with a hateful and murderous desire for Christians. Even up to the very moment of his conversion Saul was totally depraved, totally unable to know God on his own. Again, Saul's own words...

For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it.  ~Galatians 1:13

Saul had the heart typical of any unbeliever. Later, many years after his conversion, he wrote a letter to Christians in Rome and in it he describes every man, woman, and child before salvation...

What then? Are we Jews any better off? No, not at all. For we have already charged that all, both Jews and Greeks, are under sin, as it is written:

None is righteous, no, not one;
no one understands; no one seeks for God.
All have turned aside; together they have become worthless;
no one does good, not even one.
Their throat is an open grave;
they use their tongues to deceive.

The venom of asps is under their lips.
Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness.
Their feet are swift to shed blood;
in their paths are ruin and misery,
and the way of peace they have not known.
There is no fear of God before their eyes.

Now we know that whatever the law says it speaks to those who are under the law, so that every mouth may be stopped, and the whole world may be held accountable to God. ~Romans 3:9-19

Years ago when I began studying the Doctrines of Grace and whether mankind was totally depraved, I came across this clear statement made by the Apostle Paul...

The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. ~1 Corinthians 2:14

The point here is the “natural person” (unsaved) is incapable of accepting the things of God. It is not a matter of choice, but inability. In his book “What’s So Great About The Doctrines of Grace?” Richard Phillips said this...

Sin has corrupted man’s thinking in such
a way that people lack the ability to understand
the truth about themselves, God, and the world.
Saul was a typical man with an unsaved and unregenerate heart. He was ignorant of God and His Christ and in going about establishing his own fallen brand of righteousness, Saul lived for threats and murder of God’s people. What was Saul like before his conversion? He was totally depraved, totally unable to understand God and seek Him. Just like you... just like me.

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