Saul/Paul is the testimony of a changed life. This man, before his conversion, would have been voted the least likely to ever follow Christ. He was a hard-core Hebrew, so dedicated to the purity of the faith and doing religion truthfully, right, and with integrity, that he was devoting his life to stamping out what he considered to be a blasphemous, degrading, cancerous tumor growing out of the side of his beloved faith. Christians trembled when Paul came to town; they didn’t make appointments with him for lunch to share what Jesus had done for them.
But when Paul got a better look at Jesus, the impossible happened. He made a choice to follow Christ, and his life was changed. Well, some of it.
The first thing he changed was his name, from Saul, meaning “asked for” (“You know how everybody but everybody wants me around…”) to Paul, meaning “small; little” (“I am less than the least of all the Lord’s people” Eph. 3.8). He changed from seeing himself as the big man on campus to the unworthy one saved by grace and made an heir in the Kingdom.
What changed for S/Paul was his goal and focus in life. He talks about that in Phil. 3.4-10. The focus of his gaze became his personal relationship (knowing in a personal sense) Christ, and making Christ his own. The words he uses paint a contrast between the former religion and the present relationship. He wants to be found in Christ—have a total union with Him—that is based in faith (a love relationship) rather than good behavior (earning one’s way).
Something else that changed for S/Paul was his perspective on Scripture and his understanding of the deity of Christ. The book of Romans, if nothing else, shows us clearly that now Paul saw that Scripture pointed to Jesus, and not to the misunderstanding of getting to heaven by being good. He saw that Jesus was God, not a blasphemous religion-wrecker.
But there are also things that did not change for Paul.
- His intelligence. He didn’t stop being smart or stop being a thinker just because he came to faith. Instead, he used his intelligence, analytical skills, debate techniques, and understandings of the Torah and the culture to deepen his relationship with Jesus.
- His focused fervor and aggressive commitment. Paul didn’t turn into milk toast when he turned to Christ. The same focused aggression that was part of his personality and behavior before Christ became focused assertiveness as he preached the gospel to the Gentiles. He didn’t give away his personify, but instead conformed it to his work for the Kingdom.
- His perseverance to the task at hand. As a persecutor of the church, he was not a quitter, but would pursue his goals to the ends of the world. As a Christ-follower, he was not a quitter, and through stonings, beatings, floggings, arrest, shipwrecks, and more he persevered to the corners of the empire. His faith didn’t steal his courage or his drive.
- His commitment to a cause. The man defined commitment. He was stoned, dragged out the city, and left for dead, after which he recovered, got up, and went right back to work. His sense of commitment never changed when he got saved; it became his driving purpose.
Yes, God brings change to life, but certain change. When he makes us new creations it doesn’t mean he obliterates our personalities. Instead he repurposes them, filling them with light to be used for his glory.