Discovering Your Destiny
THE BIG IDEA: The two greatest questions that we can ask to discover our destinies are: “Who are you, Lord?” and “What do you want me to do?”
“Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners. It is a very surprising thing—a thing to be marveled at most of all by those who enjoy it. I know that it is to me even to this day the greatest wonder that I ever heard of, that God should ever justify me. I feel myself to be a lump of unworthiness, a mass of corruption, and a heap of sin, apart from His almighty love.” (Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace).[i]
Do you doubt or question that God loves you? Do you think because of all of the wrong things that you’ve done in your life, that God would never accept you? Or maybe you know and believe God loves you, but you struggle with grasping that God truly has something unique and special for you. If any of those statements apply to you, then Saul’s story will bring you encouragement.
“Yet I could have confidence in myself if anyone could. If others have reason for confidence in their own efforts, I have even more! For I was circumcised when I was eight days old, having been born into a pure-blooded Jewish family that is a branch of the tribe of Benjamin. So I am a real Jew if there ever was one! What’s more, I was a member of the Pharisees, who demand the strictest obedience to the Jewish law. And zealous? Yes, in fact, I harshly persecuted the church. And I obeyed the Jewish law so carefully that I was never accused of any fault.” (Philippians 3:4-6, nlt).
Before Saul became a Christian, he was the classic example of a man who lived a religious life. But he didn’t know God personally.
We are first introduced to Saul in Acts chapter eight, where he was present at the stoning of Stephen, consenting to his death. Immediately after this, “Saul made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” (Acts 8:3). That word havoc means to ravage, devastate, or ruin.[ii] In Eugene Peterson’s words, “Saul just went wild, devastating the church.” (msg). Saul was an evil, sinful man! Even though he was externally religious, devoutly obedient to the Jewish faith, he was also a murderer. He made it his life mission to persecute thechurch ofJesus Christ, going into homes of Christians and hauling them off to jail. Saul was a terrible sinner, until the day he had a life-transforming encounter with Jesus.
“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9:1-2).
What a striking picture Luke gives us of Saul. He was spewing out venomous, murderous threats against Christians. He was an angry man who hated the church. He was a terrorist who killed Christians for fun.
In our post 9-11 world, we know about terrorism. When we think of terrorists, do we think that they could ever be saved? We find it hard to imagine them coming to faith in Jesus because they’re so evil. The Christians in the first century church probably felt the same way about Saul. They were terrified of him. When the Lord told a disciple named Ananias to go and pray for Saul, his response was: “But Lord, I’ve heard about the terrible things this man has done to the believers inJerusalem!” (Acts 9:13, nlt). “When Saul arrived inJerusalem, he tried to meet with the believers, but they were all afraid of him. They thought he was only pretending to be a believer!” (Acts 9:26, nlt). No one thought Saul could ever be saved.
Thank God for this amazing, hope-filled story. Here is a wicked man, who was religious and legalistic, whose life was changed on the day that he met Jesus. Look at what Saul later wrote about himself, after becoming a Christian:
“This is a true saying, and everyone should believe it: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – and I was the worst of them all. But that is why God had mercy on me, so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:15-16, nlt).
Why did Jesus save Saul? It wasn’t just so that he could go to Heaven. It wasn’t just so that the early church could have peace from all of the persecution and terror. God saved Saul so that every sinner in the world can have hope that regardless of what they’ve done, they can be saved. If you have a loved one you think is too far gone, don’t lose hope. Saul’s story was written to encourage you with God’s patience and longsuffering towards even the most terrible sinners in the world.
If you are a sinner, it doesn’t matter how far away from God you are. God has given us this precious promise in His Word: “Therefore He is able also to save to the uttermost (completely, perfectly, finally, and for all time and eternity) those who come to God through Him, since He is always living to make petition to God and intercede with Him and intervene for them.” (Hebrews 7:25, amp). It doesn’t matter how far into addictions, bondages, rebellion, immorality or depravity you may be, Jesus is mighty to save.
Don’t give up on your lost friend or family member. There is always hope in Jesus! Through Jesus, there is forgiveness of sins, freedom from worries and fears, and victory over every kind of addiction. The answer is not in latest psychological fad or the newest best-selling self-help book: the answer is Jesus the Savior. And yet, you can go to church your whole life and never experience the joy of sins forgiven through salvation. Just attending a church won’t save you, but knowing Jesus personally as your Lord and Savior will. That’s what happened to Saul on theDamascus Road.
Saul’s Salvation Story:
Saul’s story is perhaps the most important conversion story in the Bible. It is recorded three times in the Book of Acts. After this event took place, Saul shares on two other occasions how he met Jesus on the road toDamascus. I have told the story of my own salvation dozens, if not hundreds, of times. Everywhere I go, I tell people about what happened in August 1989, in a farmhouse outside of Lacombe,Alberta– the day that I received Jesus as my Savior. Saul was no different. He had to tell everyone about the day his life was transformed by the risen Christ.
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:3-4).
I love the suddenlys of Scripture. All of a sudden, Jesus appeared to Saul and talked to him. Can you imagine how this religious terrorist must have felt on that day? Saul loved to strike fear in the hearts of men, women and children; his very name would cause others to cringe in terror. Then one day, a bright light from Heaven, and the voice of Jesus spoke to him: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”
Jesus didn’t say, “Why are you persecuting my church?” Jesus is so passionately in love with His church, the people of God, that He said, “Boy, you don’t mess with my bride. You don’t touch my church! When you persecute my church, you’re persecuting me!” Aren’t you glad that we have Jesus on our side? God is for us, not against us. “God blesses those who are persecuted because they live for God, for theKingdomofHeavenis theirs. God blesses you when you are mocked and persecuted and lied about because you are my followers.” (Matthew 5:10-11, nlt). Saul knew he was in trouble. For the first time, the terrorist experienced terror and the fear of the Lord.
Saul’s conversion was a sovereign act of God’s grace. Saul wasn’t looking for Jesus, Jesus was looking for him. We have the wrong idea that people have a God-shaped hole in their heart, and that they’re looking for that missing piece. We think people are looking for God but they just don’t know where to find him. That’s not how the Bible describes our state before coming to Christ. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, their first response wasn’t, “There’s a God-shaped hole in my heart now. Something is missing, so I better go looking for God. We’ve disobeyed Him, and we’re sinful now, so let’s make things right.” That’s not how it happened. The very first thing they did when they sinned was to go and hide. They became fugitives. Our sin nature doesn’t cause us to run towards God, it causes us to run away from God.
Saul wasn’t looking for Jesus on the Damascus Road. He wasn’t trying to get saved. He was persecuting the churchof Jesus Christ. Jesus said, “You did not choose me, but I chose you.” (John 15:16). Later on in his life, Saul himself would write: “He chose us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before Him in love, having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will.” (Ephesians 1:4-5).
We have this idea that God loves good little boys and girls, but He hates bad little boys and girls. We think that if we’re going to become Christians, then we need to clean up our acts and get all of the sin and junk out of our lives to make ourselves presentable to God. That’s not the Bible order of things.
“For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:6-8).
God didn’t wait for us to get our lives together before sending Jesus to die for our sins. He came looking for us first. We see a beautiful picture of this in the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve sinned, “they heard the sound of the Lord God walking in the garden in the cool of the day, and Adam and his wife hid themselves from the presence of the Lord God among the trees of the garden. Then the Lord God called to Adam and said to him, “Where are you?” (Genesis 3:8-9). God didn’t say, “I knew you guys would blow it. You turkeys ate the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil!” God’s first words to fallen, sinful humanity were, “Where are you?” God came looking for them. That’s the Gospel.
Are you familiar of the story of the prodigal son? “He told his father, ‘I want my share of your estate now, instead of waiting until you die.’ So his father agreed to divide his wealth between his sons. A few days later this younger son packed all his belongings and took a trip to a distant land, and there he wasted all his money on wild living. When he finally came to his senses, he said to himself, ‘At home even the hired men have food enough to spare, and here I am, dying of hunger! I will go home to my father and say, “Father, I have sinned against both heaven and you, and I am no longer worthy of being called your son. Please take me on as a hired man.” (Luke 15:12-13, 17-19, nlt). What did the father do when his son returned home? Did he say, “One moment, son. Get yourself cleaned up first. I want to hear the penitent speech you’ve been preparing, and if it’s good enough, I might let you back home.” No. The son returned home to his father. “And while he was still a long distance away, his father saw him coming. Filled with love and compassion, he ran to his son, embraced him, and kissed him… His father said… We must celebrate with a feast, for this son of mine was dead and has now returned to life. He was lost, but now he is found.” (Luke 15:20-24, nlt). That’s the heart of our loving Heavenly Father.
This is the Good News of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, though it doesn’t make sense to our natural minds. The idea that God chooses and accepts us with all of our mistakes, failures, and sins is offensive to our human way of thinking. We don’t understand that kind of love.
There is a modern thought that says human beings are born basically good, but when children grow up and are exposed to sinful behavior around them, that’s when they become bad. This is not what the Bible teaches. God’s Word says that we are born with a sin nature.
“Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, And in sin my mother conceived me.” (Psalm 51:5).
“As it is written: “There is none righteous, no, not one; There is none who understands; There is none who seeks after God. They have all turned aside; they have together become unprofitable; there is none who does good, no, not one.” (Romans 3:10-12).
Any parent knows that this is true. When a child is born, they don’t have to wait until they grew up to learn how to sin. They were born with a sin nature, and it came naturally to them. Children don’t need to learn how to be bad. God’s Word tells us: “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23).
Saul was totally depraved, and there was no goodness in him. Therefore, God’s election of Saul was unconditional. God didn’t choose Saul because he was better than anyone else around him. He was worse than anyone else around him! But God still chose him. Isn’t that amazing? King David exclaimed, “Blessed is the man You choose, and cause to approach You, that he may dwell in Your courts. We shall be satisfied with the goodness of Your house, of Your holy temple.” (Psalm 65:4). You can’t understand the choices of the chooser by looking at the one chosen. I think this is what Thomas Merton meant when he said, “A saint is not someone who is good, but someone who experiences the goodness of God.”[iii]
This story from my life is a great illustration of God’s grace. I wasn’t very athletic as a child, but I tried out for a little league baseball team called the Huskies. All my friends from school were trying out, and I wanted to play baseball too. I was a scrawny little kid, but somehow I made it on the team, but not because of any natural talent, that’s for sure. I got on the team because my best friend’s dad was the coach. God chooses us to be adopted into His family, not because of any goodness within us, but simply because our Best Friend’s Dad is the coach. “So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God – all because of what our Lord Jesus Christ has done for us in making us friends of God.” (Romans 5:11, nlt).
Saul’s conversion was entirely a work of sovereign grace from start to finish. “God showed how much he loved us by sending his only Son into the world so that we might have eternal life through him. This is real love. It is not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:9-10, nlt).
Pastor Chris Jordan
[i] Charles Spurgeon, All of Grace. (Moody Publishing, March 2009).
[ii] The New Testament Greek Lexicon.
[iii] Thomas Merton, quoted in The Ragamuffin Gospel by Brennan Manning.