People Can Change

Saul went to the High Priest in Jerusalem and got letter to the synagogues in Damascus so that if he found any Christians, he could take them as prisoners and haul them back to Jerusalem for trial.
On his way to Jerusalem, a light from heaven flashed around him and he fell to the ground. He heard a voice ask him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
Saul responded by inquiring about the identity of the voice. The voice identified itself as belonging to Jesus and that Saul was persecuting him. Then the voice told him, “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

The men traveling with Saul stood around speechless, hearing the noise but not seeing anyone. When Saul got up from the ground, he opened his eyes and discovered that he was blind. They led him by the hand on into Damascus, where he remained blind for the next three days.

Meanwhile, a Christian by the name of Ananias had a vision. “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

“Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
“Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem. And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
So, Ananias went and found Saul just where God told him he’d be. Once there, he put his hands on Saul, and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”

Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength. Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?”

Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled everyone who knew him: the man who had persecuted Christians, had suddenly become one.

And it wasn’t just his former colleagues who had a hard time accepting that he had changed. Those who had been persecuted by him were even slower to accept the transformation.

Without exception, we find it hard to accept that people can change, that “old dogs” can learn “new tricks.” And yet, it does happen. In the Bible, Saul is the prize example of the unexpected metamorphosis: of a bad man becoming good. Charles Colson had served Nixon during his presidency, and had been heavily involved in the Watergate cover-up. He was notorious for all the bad things he had done. Many people remained skeptical of the change that he underwent when he became a Christian, even after he devoted the remaining decades of his life to Christian ministry, specifically working with the incarcerated and their families. There were many of his political opponents that never accepted the change and even to this day, refuse to accept that anything good could have actually come out of him.

Paul doubtless faced similar doubts his whole life, both from former colleagues, as well as those who had become his new colleagues.

We marvel at changed lives; we applaud those who turn their lives around. And yet, unlike God, many of us will continue to doubt–or will watch carefully, waiting for them to fail, so we can chortle and tell people, “see, I told you so.”

How do we walk the line between not being fooled or conned–of being too naive and trusting–and refusing to accept genuine repentance? How do we tell the difference between the con and the real thing? And how many people don’t believe that real change is possible, that redemption can happen?

As a Christian, we should recognize the transformative power of the Holy Spirit–and we should accept it when it is real, even if the person transformed is not a person we like or entirely agree with.

Abraham Lincoln is quoted as saying that the best way to destroy your enemy is to change him into your friend. We need to learn to recognize when that happens.

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About R.P. Nettelhorst

I'm married with three daughters. I live in southern California and I'm the interim pastor at Quartz Hill Community Church. I have written several books. I spent a couple of summers while I was in college working on a kibbutz in Israel. In 2004, I was a volunteer with the Ansari X-Prize at the winning launches of SpaceShipOne. Member of Society of Biblical Literature, American Academy of Religion, and The Authors Guild
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