“And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.” (1 Timothy 1:12-14 NKJV)
The name of Saul struck fear in the hearts of Christians, or could have been expected to. Ananias wasn’t too pleased when God called him to go see Saul and restore his vision and set him on the path he would later follow. When Saul showed up in Jerusalem, the apostles refused to meet with him, fearing a trick and then Barnabas came along and vouched for him. Because of those two heroes of the faith, Saul of Tarsus, persecutor of Christians and self-proclaimed chief of sinners, experienced the abundant grace of God and became the apostle known for writing most of the New Testament and spreading the gospel and building the Church in the early days. Paul makes it clear that it’s all about Jesus in this section and throughout the body of his missionary work. God counted him faithful in the first place because of what He saw Saul, later Paul, becoming. Paul noted that God put him into ministry in spite of his past life and gave him grace because he had acted ignorantly and in unbelief. Thanks be to God for His exceedingly abundant grace!
Ananias was skeptical, but obedient. The early apostles were skeptical and judgmental. Barnabas was skeptical, but extended grace. Ultimately, though it all goes back to God. Is there anyone whom God can’t save, or bring into a relationship with Himself? While people can reject God’s grace, anyone who turns to Him will be accepted by God. Now, as to other Christians, some of us will be skeptical, but obedient in sharing with them. Others of us will be skeptical and judgmental, ready to explain why this person can’t really be a new follower of Christ. Then, there will be those who will be skeptical, but show grace. One friend of mine said, in effect, “When someone claims to have come to Christ I’d rather rejoice with all my heart and then be heartbroken later if their conversion wasn’t real, than miss the chance to rejoice along with the angels that someone else has come to the kingdom of God.” Our job, when someone proclaims to be a follower of Christ, is to extend grace, welcome them into the family, and do all we can to help them grow. If judgment is needed, let’s leave that to God.
Lord, Saul was a pretty awful person, but You saw so much more in him and brought him into Your kingdom. We live in a world that has some pretty awful people today. Still, You can reach into their hearts and bring them into Your kingdom. Help me to welcome them as You do. Help me to show grace instead of judgment.