Before he became a committed follower of Jesus, the Apostle Paul was a Pharisee. He captured and killed Christians. So how did a fierce persecutor of the Church become a powerful preacher of the Gospel?
We'll find out today on Truth for Life. Alistair Begg is continuing his study in Chapter 3 of the book of Titus, but we begin today with a look at a passage in the book of Acts in chapter 9. Paul is warning the people in Philippi about folks who are suggesting to them that they have to engage in all of these external things in order to have confidence before God, in order to be accepted by God. And so Paul says, if that were the case, then there would be nobody who had a greater sense of confidence that God would accept him than me.
And then he rehearses his background. And if you turn back a little more to Acts and to chapter 9, let's just look at the transformation that grace brings about in the life of Paul. He was Saul of Tarsus. And in verse 1 of Acts 9, Luke tells us that he was continuing to breathe out threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. And on his way to Damascus, he was seeking to do that, when suddenly he was arrested by a light that flashed from heaven. And he heard a voice, Luke tells us, saying, Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Saul would have said to himself, I don't understand the question. I'm persecuting the followers of Jesus Christ.
And then it suddenly dawned on him. Jesus is actually the head of the church, his body. To persecute them is to persecute him. And he says, Who are you? Lord? And the Lord said, I'm Jesus, whom you are persecuting. So, you see, what happened to Saul was that he encountered Christ, and he realized that he was offending against Christ, and that this Christ, this Messiah, had actually come to seek him out—that he needed grace. He was now finding grace or mercy, and then he was going to become the preacher of that same mercy.
But he could not preach mercy until he knew mercy. And so, when he says, But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, referencing the incarnation of Christ, he surely could not miss the fact of the appearance of Jesus—of, if you like, his own personal epiphany on the Damascus Road, when Jesus Christ appears to him. And suddenly everything is changed, and the persecutor becomes a preacher. He discovers that Jesus is Lord. He discovers the mercy that is provided in Jesus.
He discovers the fact that he is now part of the very people that he was persecuting. And so look at verse 20. And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, He is the Son of God. Did you see verse 1 of chapter 9? Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest for letters and so on, so that he might go to Damascus and arrest them. Here you have him in verse 20 and immediately proclaiming Jesus in the synagogues—in the synagogues—that Jesus is the Son of God. How did this come about?
How does it ever come about? By nature, we don't go out and declare that Jesus is the Messiah. We may not actually believe that he is the Messiah. We may have lived all of our lives saying, I'm sure he was a good man and a great man, but the idea of him being an incarnate God, I could never swallow that.
That might have been the kind of thing you once said. But if you've been converted, if you've been changed, if you've been saved, then you have an entirely different view of Jesus. Now your view of Jesus is that he actually is the Messiah of God. And so Luke tells us—look at verse 22 or 21—"And all who heard him were amazed and said in Jerusalem, Isn't this the guy who made havoc of those who called upon this name?" Isn't this the fellow that was here to kill Christians?
Am I hearing things correctly? He's actually declaring—and notice it says in verse 22—"But Saul increased all the more in strength, and he confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ." What had happened to him? The goodness and loving-kindness of God had appeared to him. When he wrote to the Corinthians—and it's on the front of our bulletin this morning—he summarized it in one verse, didn't he? If anyone is in Christ, he's a new creation.
The old is gone, the new has come. I was once totally convinced that my righteous deeds would be acceptable to the God that I worshipped until I met Jesus. When I met Jesus and realized that I was persecuting Jesus, that all of my rebellion against God and all of my insults in relationship to him were against him, then I was confronted by this. And when I laid hold of him as a savior and as a friend, then I was changed.
I used to be a persecutor. Now I'm a preacher. You see, Jesus is the one who turns us upside down. He's the one who turns us inside out, changes us from the inside. And this, you will notice, according to his own mercy. According to his own mercy. Not because he found us desirable, not because we were particularly attractive to him, because we weren't, but because of his own mercy.
The hymn writer says, chosen not for good in me, and wakened up from wrath to flee. When Paul writes to the church at Rome, he says, Would you show contempt for the kindness of God our Savior, for his mercy to you? You see, until I realize my offense against God, that I am in the wrong with him, then the story of his mercy means little to me. But when I realize that the punishment that is due to the sinner has been born in Christ, that if I were to get my just desserts for who and what I am, then I deserve to die, for the wages of sin is death. But the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord. So, Jesus saves us.
We don't save ourselves. That's what he's reminding Titus of, so that he will preach it in Crete and so that I can preach it in Cleveland. We take a sidestep to notice that this story is not arm's length theology for Paul, but it is actually simply emblematic of his own encounter with Jesus. And then we return to the text to notice the way in which he uses these theological words to explain the comprehensive nature of what it means that he saved us. He did so according to his own mercy, notice, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior. What is this regeneration?
What does it mean? It means spiritual rebirth. Spiritual rebirth. It is an instantaneous change, performed by God in the soul of a man or a woman. It is something that God does. That's why in John 1 you remember it says that we are born again in John 3, that we're born again not as a result of a human decision or of a husband's will, but born of God. So that this transformation that is brought about is a God-ordained transformation. It is performed by the Holy Spirit as we are renewed. It is portrayed in baptism, a picture of washing, and Paul uses a word which was at least in some measure understandable by the people of his day. It's not an entirely Christian word, regeneration. Because within a relatively short period of time, some of the Hellenistic philosophers had begun to use the very same terminology. But what they were looking for when they used the word regeneration was a quest for the natural world to experience periods of restoration and regeneration, to be renewed. They were looking, if you like, for a transformation of their world. And understandably so, because there was so much of it that was marked by that which is in need of fixing. Well, you say that seems a long way away from our day and age, does it not?
Not if you're reading your newspaper, it doesn't. The world was treated to pictures from Times Square this week on the summer solstice. The Daily Telegraph carried a picture of all of these hundreds of people in a variety of poses, engaging in a quest for whatever as they gathered in Times Square. There were dramatic pictures—I went and looked at them again as I was thinking about them—reaching out for something, reaching out for someone. Welcome to the land of the brave and the home of the free. Here is twenty-first century America, the summer solstice, celebrated by the druids in Stonehenge and celebrated by the contemporary pagans in Times Square. Now, before we get on our high horses in judgment in relationship to these things, let us acknowledge the fact that these individuals are longing and hoping for something better than they presently have.
And you may be here this morning, and that is exactly your situation. That you would like to live in a new world, in a better world, in a clean world, in a green world, in a just society. If, like me, you listen to NPR, you know it just rings in your mind. And this was brought to you today by the John D. and Catherine MacArthur Foundation, one of the largest foundations, philanthropic foundations, private ones in contemporary America.
And they always have a little byline about it. It says this foundation is committed to things like international peace, to conservation, to juvenile justice, and so on. Well, I understand that, don't you? I understand why men and women looking around on our world today would be interested in all of these things. We'd be looking at the predicament of humanity, unfixed by example, by education, and by experience, and saying to themselves, I wonder if there is a place, or if we can create a place, in which things will be put to right, in which things will be fixed.
And of course, C. S. Lewis addressed that in his day, didn't he? Classically, if I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world. So I want to say to my friends who are gathering in Times Square and reaching out for someone or for something, I understand. There's nothing very new. Roger Whittaker, the whistling singer with the twelve-string guitar in the late sixties and early seventies, he was singing about a brave new world in the morning, wasn't he? Everybody talks about a new world in the morning. New world in the morning, so they say. And they refrain, and I can feel a new tomorrow coming on.
Really? How's that been going for the last forty years? How's the new world going? Well, it's new thought. It's new age. It's new world.
It's understandable. The human predicament is undeniable. It's the explanation of the human predicament that we long for. The Bible gives the explanation.
We were like this—hated and hating, living in envy, trapped, enslaved, messed up. Here's the gospel. But when the goodness and lovingkindness of God appeared, he saved us. It doesn't say he made us into religious people. It doesn't say that he took and transformed one set of external circumstances for another. It says that he regenerated us. We were born again. We were made new from the inside out. That is conversion.
Anything other than that is not conversion. The fixing of ourselves, the engaging in spiritual things, the turning over of new leaves can all be done by us, all day, every day. But only God can save us.
Only God can regenerate us. Only God can answer the deepest longings of our hearts. When we were at this conference together this past week, it was wonderful to have—I mean, a week past, past—it was wonderful to have the input from all over the place. And one of the speakers was describing the fact that Tolkien and C. S. Lewis—and how we would love to have been there for some of those conversations in Oxford—Talkian and C. S. Lewis engaged in all kinds of dialogue and banter concerning fairy stories. And Tolkien wrote a classic essay on the nature of fairy stories.
And Tolkien argues in that very strongly that the reason that fairy stories have such validity and such timelessness to them is because they address the longings of men and women, and in four particular areas. One, the longing for a supernatural realm. Two, for a love that is stronger than death. Three, for a good that triumphs over evil.
And four, for a closer relationship to nature. That explains for me, at least, why Avatar was the largest grossing movie in the history of moviemaking. Because it is a gigantic fairy tale about trees and gardens and the supernatural and the transformation of time and a new world somewhere. And the fairy tales that we read have an abiding power because we wish they were true. Don't you wish they were true? I do.
You may think that's crazy, but I do. I like the idea of gnomes and creatures in my garden. Like, if I wake up at three in the morning, maybe they move around, and maybe they're doing things. I love the idea that I could live in that little world. I love the idea of hobbits and Middle-Earths and all these kind of places and badgers that talk and make cups of tea.
I mean, it's fantastic, isn't it? Well, see, this is what Tolkien was saying. He's saying, when you go to Jesus, you're not going to a fairy story. But when you go to Jesus, you're going to the underlying reality to which all of those fairy stories point.
The longing for a beautiful place. What is the story of the Bible? It's the story of a garden. It's the story of a garden in which Adam fouls it up, and thorns and thistles grow. And it is a story of a man who is taken to be the gardener by Mary on the back of the resurrection.
He isn't, but in a sense he is. Because he's making a beautiful new place in which dwells righteousness, a new heaven and a new earth, in which righteousness dwells. The longing for the supernatural, that God has invaded our time and our space in the person of Jesus, that he has come down to us. The longing for a love that conquers evil. The longing for a good that triumphs over bad. I don't know if you've ever considered this, but all of those longings—all of those understandable longings of the human heart—are answered in the gospel. That's what Paul is saying here. We were a dreadful mess, he says, but when the goodness and kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us.
He made us absolutely new. And he will save you today if you will call on him. Have you ever called on him to save you? All who call on the name of the Lord will be saved.
That's what the Bible says. People always ask me, What am I supposed to do? What do I have to do? Call on him.
Just call on him. Say, You made me. You've pursued me. I've met you in my friends, in their love for me.
I've discovered you in the story of the Bible. I need you. Save me. Otherwise, I'll be in Times Square.
Otherwise, I'll be looking to fix everything—unless you fix me. But if you're entirely contented where you are, you'll never call on him. Why would you ever call? 1965, June, Eric Burden and the Animals. What was the song? Actually, it was September in the United States. We gotta get out of this place if it's the last thing we ever do.
It was a big hit with the U.S. forces in Vietnam, understandably so. We gotta get out of this place. Maybe that's you today. You're saying to yourself, I've got to get out of this mess. I've got to get out of this predicament. I don't know what in the world is going on here. Call on the Lord. Call on the Lord.
Why do they need to get out of the place? Well, the line was, Girl, there's a better life for you and me. There's a better life for you and me.
Yes, there is a better life for you and me. It's the life that's found in Jesus. It's the life that's offered to us in the gospel. What was for Jesus a tree of death is for you, if you will call on him, a tree of life. Because the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior has appeared. Jesus saves us.
We don't save ourselves. It's good news. You're listening to Truth for Life. That's Alistair Begg encouraging us to call on Christ today to be saved.
We hope you'll keep listening. Alistair will be back to close the program with prayer in just a minute. If you'd like to know more about what it means to commit your life to Jesus, you can visit our website. Watch a helpful video that explains the story of salvation. As we just heard from Alistair, our good deeds and best efforts can't save us.
Only Jesus can. You'll find the video at truthforlife.org slash the story. We love sharing the gospel message here at Truth for Life and you're invited to join us in this effort. You can give your support by praying that God will use this program to convert unbelievers, to bring believers into a closer relationship with Jesus, and to build up local churches. You can also come alongside us by making a financial donation. All of our teaching is made possible because listeners like you give to cover the cost of distributing Alistair's messages. In fact, Truth for Life is entirely listener supported. So if you're looking for a way to share the gospel with others, know that your partnership with Truth for Life will help deliver biblical teaching to a worldwide audience.
You can make a donation online at truthforlife.org slash donate. And when you give, we want to invite you to request a copy of the book, Know the Truth. The author of this book gives a comprehensive overview of what Christians believe. This is a book that outlines what the Bible teaches on a wide variety of topics. Know the Truth has been used by believers for over 40 years as a helpful source for understanding Christian doctrine. The edition available today has been revised and updated with expanded discussion on topics like creation and providence, human nature and sexuality, the sanctity of human life, and a whole lot more.
Once again, you can request a copy when you give a donation at truthforlife.org slash donate, or you can call us at 888-588-7884. Now let's join Alistair in prayer. Father, thank you for your grace. Thank you for your mercy. Thank you for the love that drew the plan of salvation and brought it down to us in Christ. Come to our weary souls, our heavy-laden hearts. Come and smash the idols that are so compelling and yet at the same time so unsatisfying. And thank you that you reach down into our souls and save us. Do your work today we pray for Christ's sake. Amen. I'm Bob Lapeen. We hope you can join us tomorrow when we'll find out why salvation is a lot more than life improvement. It's a complete radical transformation. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
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