Growing up, there was a phrase that teachers and pastors would say to us and still do to this day, “God can use anyone.” There will be stories from the Bible and testimonies from people that would tell you of this fact and it reminds us that no one is too far gone from the grace of God if they but turned. What I didn’t realize back then but I do now is that God can use anyone but He must transform them to be something that they are not in the process of being used by Him. Paul could not be used by God until He was transformed by God and in the process of being transformed fully into what God made him to be in Him. Yes, God can use anyone but who he uses must change in alignment with His will for God will use broken vessels but He will not leave them broken! Paul is giving his testimony before King Agrippa in today’s passage about His conversion experience and how God used even Him to do His work but before God can use Paul in a mighty way, Paul had to go through the mighty God to start a transformation process in Him.
Yes God can use anyone! But to the ones He uses, He changes for the better so that as they serve, they will be transformed into the glorious carrier of His presence that they were meant to be.
NOTES ON THE TEXT
5 They have known for a long time, if they are willing to testify, that according to the strictest party of our religion I have lived as a Pharisee. 6 And now I stand here on trial because of my hope in the promise made by God to our fathers, 7 to which our twelve tribes hope to attain, as they earnestly worship night and day. And for this hope I am accused by Jews, O king! 8 Why is it thought incredible by any of you that God raises the dead?
9 “I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things in opposing the name of Jesus of Nazareth. 10 And I did so in Jerusalem. I not only locked up many of the saints in prison after receiving authority from the chief priests, but when they were put to death I cast my vote against them. 11 And I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to make them blaspheme, and in raging fury against them I persecuted them even to foreign cities.
We will truly know how much we believe in the Gospel by how much hope for the people that society deems as hopeless. Do we believe that God transforms only “good” people or can we first realize that no one is good apart from Him and that EVERYONE has access to the salvation of God? Paul lived a life where his mission was to kill as many Christians as possible and he was good at it! Paul was extremely against God but one encounter TRANSFORMED him to be one of the greatest defender of God, to which he is on trial for in this passage. Paul is explaining that he is on trial for something that the twelve tribes of Israel have been hoping for, which is found in Jesus Christ. The hope of the OT was for man to be fully reconnected to God that was broken due to sin and nothing that they did was good enough to make that a reality yet Paul was saying through his testimony that the hope of Israel has indeed happened and that it is Jesus Christ crucified and resurrected!
It is important to remind ourselves that all the spiritual works, disciplines, and gatherings that we do as Christians is because of the relationship we have with God because of Jesus. The supreme goal is to not do good things but be good people with our good God. Goodness is attached and flows from God as it is His goodness that transforms us from hopeless broken people to connected whole people in Him. We should never be satisfied in just doing a lot of things without realizing who we are in Christ and that all of our motivations are simply to honor and serve the Lord in whom we have been loved on first so that we can love Him back in return.
16 But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you,17 delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’
In Paul’s testimony, we see God choosing Paul to be his servant. God can use whoever he wants to glorify His name but as we discussed in the beginning, whoever He uses, He transforms in the midst of service. As you serve Him you are working out your salvation and that is different from working for your salvation. What is the difference? When you are working out your salvation you are only producing and making a reality what you already have because God gave it to you. Working for your salvation starts from a place of emptiness and is working so that God can give you something but the realization is that you cannot work for a gift but must simply receive it.
When God chose Paul, he chose him with the particular task of “opening the eyes” of the people so that they can do the following:
Turn from darkness -------> light
Power of Satan --------> God, to which there is forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are being sanctified (being transformed) by faith in Christ.
What is interesting is that the Gospel opens people’s eyes because it opens them to the reality that life apart from God is death, isolation, and slavery. Notice how the direction goes from “power of satan” to “God.” Before the Gospel you were isolated and under oppression of Satan’s power and not even his presence but the Gospel brings you from a place of isolation to connection to a being. The Gospel doesn’t simply take you to a place, it brings you into the presence of a being and thus you move from isolation to presence and it is His presence that brings transformation! The forgiveness of sins is for the sake of togetherness with God. Sin and darkness only leads to isolation and we were never created to be isolated.
Our transformation occurs through an introduction and continuing presence of God and Paul’s testimony is telling the hope that he finally realizes that Jesus is the hope of the OT, which is the hope of connection with God that leads to our transformation.
Connection is the key!
May we remind ourselves of that everyday.