Are there people you desire to experience God’s forgiveness and salvation, but deep down inside you doubt they will ever turn to the Lord?
Perhaps you think, “He or she will never believe; He’ll never become a follower of Christ.”
An encouraging story
One of the most unlikely people to turn to Jesus Christ was Saul of Tarsus, (AKA., the apostle Paul).
- Here was a man who opposed Christians with a militancy comparable to radical Islamic hatred for Jews and westerners.
- Here was a man who said, “I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose the name of Jesus…And that is just what I did. I put many Christians in prison, and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. Many times I went from one gathering to another to have them punished and I tried to force them to blaspheme. In my obsession against them, I even went to foreign cities to persecute them” (Acts 26:9-11).
- Here was a man who admitted that he was once “a persecutor and a violent man” (1 Tim. 1:13). Here was a man who called himself “the worst of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15).
An unlikely follower of Jesus? An unlikely candidate for what he later became? Absolutely! Perhaps, the most unlikely.
He (like all of us) would have remained in darkness and unbelief if it had depended on his will. We cannot and will not turn to God by our own ability or willingness.
A powerful intervention
What will it take to change a heart turned against God? It will require something as powerful as a creative act of God to open our eyes to our great need.
This is the way the apostle Paul described it.
“When the God who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness makes His light shine in our hearts, (2 Cor. 4:6), He gives us the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ'” (2 Cor. 4:6).
He gives us “the right to become children of God” —“children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God” (John 1:12-13).
Unless God works in us …
It is not that God ignores the human will or coerces belief. God transforms our will to lead us to understand our need and turn to him.
Our wills are enslaved to self-serving commitments apart from God’s merciful and active love for us. Even our professed interest in God will be something we manipulate to serve our agendas.
We remain without hope unless God draws us to himself. Unless God forgives, cleanses, redeems, reconciles — saves.
Saul of Tarsus — the violent persecutor — who hated Christians and hated Jesus, later confessed that he was “apprehended by Christ Jesus” and (N.I.V.) “Christ Jesus took hold of me” (Philippians 3:12).
He explained his relationship with God this way: “I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his ‘unlimited patience’ as an example for those who would believe on Him and receive eternal life” (1 Timothy 1:16).
This unlikely candidate (Do you know people like this?) went from hostility toward Jesus to saying, “The life I live in the flesh, I live through faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me.”(Galatians 2:20)
Compelled by a powerful love
In his words, “… Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all…and therefore all died.” 2 Corinthians 5:14
What is it? Christ’s love—the love of Christ for me (synechein) “holds me in custody” (Phil. 1:23); “exercises restraining control over me”; “compels me”; N.E.B. “leaves us no choice”; “is the controlling factor in my life”
He was captivated by the love of Jesus Christ for himself — for the “worst of sinners.”
And this “love” was not based on a sentimental experience or subjective spiritual feelings. Rather, as he says, with great care: “Christ’s love compels us because we are convinced that one died for all…” “We” — it could be: “I am convinced”—“that one died for all.”
What a change!
Earlier he said, “I was convinced that I ought to do all that was possible to oppose everything associated with Jesus…” (Acts 26:9).
But because of God’s merciful and active love, he now says, “Christ’s love controls my life because I am convinced that His death was a sacrificial act of love for all.”
Can you make the same confession?