Testing a Transformation

Testing a Transformation

Acts 9:1-31 is a story about a person named Saul, who was very influential in Jerusalem. He was a Pharisee, a Roman citizen, a member of the Sanhedrin, and most of all, a persecutor of the followers of Jesus Christ.

Saul, with his misguided zeal for God, was trying to destroy the Church. He was going from house to house arresting the followers of Jesus. That persecution caused the disciples to flee to different places, but Saul continued to pursue them. Saul asked the Jewish high priest for letters of authority to arrest the disciples of Jesus in Damascus. He got the letters and headed to Damascus to arrest Christians and bring them to Jerusalem.

As Saul and his posse were approaching Damascus, suddenly, a light from Heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

Saul replied, “Who are you, Lord?”

The voice said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! Now stand up and go to the city, you will be told what you must do”.

Notice that Jesus made no distinction between Himself and His church. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth. Jesus did not say, “Why are you persecuting my church?” He said, “Why are you persecuting Me?” Meditate on that. (It could be another sermon.)

The men who were with Saul were speechless; because they heard the voice talking to Saul but didn’t see anybody. Saul got up from the ground but could not see anything even though his eyes were open. His companions led him to the city of Damascus. Saul didn’t see, eat, or drink for three days. He was in prayer and a complete fast. God had already started the work of transformation in his life.

Transformation is work of God that He initiates. God wants to initiate that work of transformation in our life. Are you willing to be transformed? It is not just an event, but also a life-long process. God uses His Word, people, and circumstances in that process of transforming us.

For example, in Damascus, there was a disciple of Jesus named Ananias. Jesus spoke to him in a vision saying, “Ananias”!

He replied, “Here I am, Lord”.

The Lord said, “Get up and go the street called ‘Straight’ and there at the house of Judas look for Saul, a man from Tarsus, who is praying. He has seen a vision that a man named Ananias would come and lay hands upon him that he would see again”.

Then Ananias said, “Lord, I have heard about the harm this man has done against your followers in Jerusalem and he is here with the authority from the high priest to arrest your followers”.

The Lord said, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name to the Gentiles, kings, and the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my Name”.

So Ananias departed and reached the house of Judas where he found Saul. He placed his hands upon Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus appeared to you on the road and He has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately, something like scales fell off his eyes and he could see again. Then he got baptized, and after eating food, he gained strength.

As the result of his transformation, Saul immediately started proclaiming in the synagogues, ‘Jesus is the Son of God’. People who heard him were amazed. They were saying, “Isn’t this man here with the authority from the high priest to arrest the followers of Christ?” But Saul was more and more passionate to prove that Jesus is the Christ to the Jews in Damascus. He divorced himself completely from his old life. So total was his commitment and transformation, he even changed his name to Paul.

If a transformation has truly happened in our life, we will not attempt to be “secret” Christians. We will not try to keep our old “friends” and continue our old lifestyle. Instead, we will be passionate about telling others the Good News of Jesus Christ and what He did for us. We will seek new friends and stay away from those who would encourage us to go back to our old ways—even if they are close relatives.

For years, Saul had been the greatest threat to early Christianity. Financed by Jerusalem’s leading priests, he passionately pursued Christians from one city to another, flogging them until they renounced their faith in Jesus. Those who remained firm in their faith, he sent to prison…or consented to their stoning. He was no less a religious terrorist than the Muslims beheading Christians in the Middle East today. That was his reputation.

Not many of us have committed crimes so violent or vicious. Yet, like Paul, our reputation is full of sin. We lost our temper. We stole from others. We got high on drugs or drunk on alcohol. We followed the crowd. We broke our promises. We lusted. We viewed pornography or read trashy novels. We lied. We coveted. We demanded our way.

Sin isn’t just criminal. It’s also subtle. It’s David viewing Bathsheba. It’s Adam accepting the fruit from Eve. It’s Abraham lying about Sarah. It’s Peter denying that he ever knew Jesus. It’s Noah, drunk and naked in his tent. It’s Lot, drunk and in bed with his own daughter. It’s the teenager in the backseat. It’s the boss touching his secretary’s hand. It’s the mother losing her temper, the father abandoning his children, the gambler losing his money, and the Christian acting in the flesh instead of the Holy Spirit.

The symptoms may be different, but the sickness is the same—sin. Thankfully, Jesus offers the cure for our sin-sickness. That’s what we see Paul proclaiming in the second segment of his story. Paul testifies to his salvation, then he tells others how to be saved. This brought persecution upon him, but he willingly suffered for the Name of Christ. In the end, his faith in Christ cost him everything, but he found Jesus to be worth it all.

Philippians 3:7-16 But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own. Brothers, I do not consider that I have made it my own. But one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to what lies ahead, I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Let those of us who are mature think this way, and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal that also to you. Only let us hold true to what we have attained.

When we commit to Jesus the way Paul did, a transformation takes place. Jesus takes our sin-stained heart and replaces it with His own. You might call it a spiritual heart transplant.

Ezekiel 36:26-27 I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you; I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. I will put My Spirit within you and cause you to walk in My statutes, and you will keep My judgments and do them.

But initially, not everyone believed this transformation had taken place in Paul until they heard and saw his faith in action for a period of time. Paul had to earn their trust, and that requires consistent obedience to the Word of God and bearing the fruit of the Holy Spirit (love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control).

After 3 faithful years had passed, Barnabas took Paul to Jerusalem to meet the apostles. While there, Saul attempted to join with the Christian community, but was spurned at first.

Acts 9:26 And when he had come to Jerusalem, he attempted to join the disciples. And they were all afraid of him, for they did not believe that he was a disciple.

Like Ananias, they knew his reputation and could not believe that such a fervent enemy could now be a Christian brother. They probably thought that his new attitude of friendliness was only a trick to get into their fellowship, so he could have them arrested.

Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles and declared to them how on the road he had seen the Lord, who spoke to him, and how at Damascus he had preached boldly in the name of Jesus.

Paul had a reputation and a history that caused people to initially doubt his conversion and transformation. Barnabas had spent enough time with Paul to vouch for him. Paul writes about this experience when he returned to Jerusalem.

Galatians 1:18-24 Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to visit Cephas (Peter) and remained with him fifteen days. But I saw none of the other apostles except James the Lord's brother. (In what I am writing to you, before God, I do not lie!) Then I went into the regions of Syria and Cilicia. And I was still unknown in person to the churches of Judea that are in Christ. They only were hearing it said, “He who used to persecute us is now preaching the faith he once tried to destroy.” And they glorified God because of me.

So, what made people eventually believe Paul’s transformation? The same things that will convince people today of our transformation.

1. Faith in Jesus Christ. When a man puts his faith in Christ and is born again of the Spirit, he is a new creation. A noticeable change occurs. But then there is a process of growing and maturing after salvation. This process works through many tests and trials. And if we respond to them with faith in Jesus—doing what He would do instead of what our flesh used to do—people will see our transformation and begin to believe it.

2. Fervor in prayer. The transformation was apparent in the life of Saul when he began immediately to fast and pray fervently. If we are transformed, this fervor in prayer will continue to be our lifestyle, not something we hide or are afraid to do publicly.

3. Faithful in Service. Saul immediately proclaimed Jesus Christ and told others what Jesus had done for him. No Christian is ever saved to live a secret “Christian” life. Like Saul, every Christian is saved to serve God and be an ambassador of Jesus Christ.

4. Filling of the Spirit. The filling of the Holy Spirit is a part of the transformed life. The evidence that we are filled with the Spirit is that we are controlled by the Spirit, have the power of the Spirit, and produce the fruit of the Spirit. The filling of the Spirit always empowers us to be Christ’s witness and ambassador in this world. The Holy Spirit equips us with gifts and grace for some kind of service to others in the Body of Christ.

5. Fellowship with the saints. Salvation and transformation requires a new fellowship. It means you no longer walk in the council of the ungodly. It means you no longer are unequally yoked with unbelievers. It means that you move in the fellowship of Christ.

1 John 1:3 We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ.

When God saves us, He saves us for fellowship with His Son and His church. The Church is the Body of Christ on earth. It is very hard to believe that somebody is transformed when they are not in the fellowship of others who love Jesus.

1 John 3:14 We know that we have passed from death to life, because we love the brethren.

Saul had to turn away from his contacts and friends. The people that he formerly hated became his friends, and the people he formerly associated with became his enemies.

Acts 9:23 And after that many days were fulfilled, the Jews took counsel to kill him.

These are the same Jews that gave Saul authority to arrest Christians. All of a sudden everything's changed. Saul is in a new fellowship and the Jews are after him.

You see, if you've really come to Jesus Christ and have been transformed, you desire a new fellowship. The Church will accept you, forgive you, encourage you, and fellowship with you. However, like the Church did with Paul, it will take some time to trust you. If the transformation is genuine, it will be evident to all and that time will be short. It may take longer if you historically repented several times before and then backslide each time.

6. Following His Word. To become more like Jesus, we must have that initial encounter with Jesus. But also, we must have daily encounters with Jesus so that the Holy Spirit is able to transform us into the image of Christ.

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.

One of the ways we encounter Jesus on a daily basis is by meditating on His Word. The Word of God is powerful and will transform our minds and our way of life as we obey it. If we just read it and don’t obey it, we will deceive ourselves and remain unchanged.

One of my biggest concerns is that you will listen to this message, leave, and rarely give another thought to what you’ve heard. It is possible do the same thing when we read the Bible. There is no transformation without hearing and doing. Hearing means more than just hearing something audibly; it means hearing with an intent to follow through. This is why Jesus would say, “He who has ears to hear, let him hear.”

A genuine encounter with Jesus and a subsequent transformation means that we hear Him, we listen with an intent, and we do what we heard. Saul’s encounter with Jesus transformed everything about him. Therefore, whatever we think we believe, if it doesn’t make its way into our behavior, it is just mental recognition—it is not faith. Faith acts on what we believe. We are deceived if we say Jesus is the Son of God and don’t obey Him!

Did you know that Satan believes that Jesus is the Son of God? He knows that more than anyone else and he trembles! But he still rebels. His mental assent that Jesus is the Son of God has not transformed who he is and what he is doing. And that is the condition of so many “Christians” this morning. We believe in our minds, but it does not transform us.

Are you being transformed by God? Test yourself. Do you have a strong faith in Jesus Christ? Are you fervent in prayer and faithful in service? Are you filled with the Holy Spirit and producing His fruit? Are you consistently fellowshipping with the Body of Christ? Are you following His Word?

It took a lot of courage for Paul to boldly preach the name of Jesus in a place where he had originally gone to arrest Christians. It takes a lot of courage to publicly stand up before people you have hurt and disappointed many times, seeking their forgiveness and testifying about Jesus transforming your life.

In the beginning, we will face a lot of skepticism because we have a reputation. But if Jesus has truly transformed our life, we will remain faithful to proclaim Him and obey Him regardless of what people think. Paul understood what God had called him to do, and no matter what people thought nor the consequences, he was determined to be faithful.

Ephesians 4:28-32 Let the thief no longer steal, but rather let him labor, doing honest work with his own hands, so that he may have something to share with anyone in need. Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Are you ready for Jesus to transform you? If so, believe and publicly confess that Jesus Christ is the Son of God who atoned for your sin on the cross. Act on your belief. Repent of your sin and give your life to Jesus by following Him in baptism. Then you will be born again of the Holy Spirit, who will progressively transform you into the image of Christ.