Spiritual Transformation: on the road to Damascus

Self-denial 2 2018

Today is the second of our 3-week series of Prayer and Self-Denial to raise money and awareness of the missionaries gone from NZ to South and South East Asia under TRANZSEND.

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The theme this week is that of a new perspective. I want us to look at the ways our thoughts and attitudes change as we allow ourselves to be guided by the Holy Spirit.

Acts 9

Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest 2 and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So, they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

Let me relate a similar event in the life of Sadhu Sundar Singh:

Sundar Singh was a Hindu born in 1889 in India and he similarly was hostile to the gospel, but he too had a dramatic encounter with the Risen Lord, like Saul. He too went on to be one of the greatest Christian evangelists to come out of India.

[Read his account…][1]

Paul and Sundar Singh are the classic dramatic conversion, but regardless whether they are Damascus Road type conversions or lower key conversions, all conversions have the same ingredients. 3 elements exist: Sin is confronted, there is transformation and there is a world view change

Let’s look at each of these 3 separately

Confronting Sin

Saul was met by God in the most unexpected and confronting way. There is nothing more attention grabbing than a blinding light and the appearance and audible voice of Jesus.

Bill Hybels wrote that some people will only be reached when they are confronted courageously and straightforwardly with their sin and their need to repent. [2]

 

Saul in his encounter with the Risen Christ on the road to Damascus did not find a new God to worship, but he discovered that he was in rebellion against the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob by refusing to acknowledge Jesus as the Son of God and Messiah. His persecution of the disciples, by which he sought to destroy the church, meant that he was actively opposing God’s saving purpose for Israel and the nations.[3]

Sin is not only the preserve of the unconverted though. We also need to face up to the standards of attitude and behaviour that God has set down.

But no matter what stage of our journey with Christ we are in, whether at the start or well down the journey, we find it difficult to be made aware of our wrong attitudes and doings.

We are great at justifying our thoughts and actions.

I was told this week of some pastors in another city finding out that one of their pastor mates was committing adultery. They confronted him about it and he admitted it, saying that he was such a loving man that he had so much love to give out and he could see no wrong in what he was doing. He was blinded by his own justification of his sin.

So many of us are positionally and potentially new creatures in Christ, but practically we are still doing the old things, still wandering in the wilderness and getting nowhere.[4]

We avoid any place where we might have to confront our sin.  And that happens in churches. How many times people will say to themselves, I can’t go up to the front and get prayer because everyone will think I have a problem. And the longer you have been in a church, the less likely you are to come up the front for prayer. Does that mean that you are more sinless? I doubt it.

Fear of being confronted by one’s sin is a stumbling block that prevents some from being welcomed into the family of God and that same fear forces many people to leave the family of God too. They don’t want to be confronted with their sin.

And when people go from one church to run away from correction, they are destined to repeat the cycle of church hopping every time the new church gets close to confronting their sin.

No one likes their sin exposed, but God says give it to me voluntarily before I must expose it publicly.

We need to confront our own sin before the external spotlight bears down on us.

Transformed but not perfect

For Saul, the active persecutor became an even more active preacher and evangelist, and he who made others suffer for his calling upon the name of Jesus came to suffer himself for the sake of that name.[5]

Unlike Saul, for most of us transformation of the Spirit is a gradual and continuous process.

It seems that many modern Christians are more likely to expect a microwave instead of a Crockpot approach to transformation.[6]

Oswald Chambers wrote: When we are born again the Holy Spirit begins to work his new creation in us and there will be a time when there is nothing remaining of our old life.[7]

Colossians 3:10 Put on your new nature and be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him.

Let me highlight a bit there we may skip over: be renewed as you learn to know your Creator and become like him. It is a process!

We cannot expect to be mirror images of Christ from the minute we confess our sins and believe.

Ephesians 4:23-24   … let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. 24 Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy.

Transformation takes many shapes and forms

Let us not assume there is no transformation just because it does not look like our transformation or our expectation of what it looks like.

Saul/Paul had that issue when he was presented to the disciples after his transformation.

Acts 9:26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple.

The same grace which brings a person new birth is able to transform him or her into Christ’s image

2 Corinthians 3:18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

World view changed

Saul’s attitude and understanding of the world and of God changed -  Changed from chasing down and ferreting out the heretic Christian sect to becoming one of that group. 

He turned from anti-Christian Judaism to Christianity.

We are talking about his worldview. A world view is our pre-existing ideas and assumptions that largely determine what we can see, hear, or otherwise observe.[8]

All people see the world, not as it is, but as they are[9]  through their own lenses.

No matter what our cultural background is, our worldview needs to change when we encounter Christ.

Romans 12:2 Don’t copy the behaviour and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.

God defines our entire life and worldview[10].

And if we adopt the God worldview (which we must if we are to be called Christian) we will find that we are going against the grain and living outside social norms.

1 Peter 4: 4 They are surprised that you do not join them in their reckless, wild living, and they heap abuse on you. 5 But they will have to give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead. 6 For this is the reason the gospel was preached even to those who are now dead, so that they might be judged according to human standards in regard to the body, but live according to God in regard to the spirit.

The mission field can be a very difficult place to live when an individual’s world view is dramatically different from that of the people they are serving.

And that is applicable whether the mission field is Thailand or here in Glengarry.

We need to support transformed people in their growth, just as we would expect to be supported and encouraged in our growth.

f we go back to the story again in Acts 9.  Saul was converted, baptised and eventually accepted into the disciples group. The Jews were out to kill him but his new brothers and sisters in Christ protected him

Acts 9:23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.

Not only did they physically shield him, they also went into bat for him when the sceptical disciples queried whether he was a convert – first Ananias then Barnabas:

Acts 9:27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus.

The question I leave with you is this: how are encouragers and supporters of our fellow Christ followers, both here in these church, and new converts in foreign lands?

 



[1] F F Bruce The Book of Acts 196

[2] Bill Hybels Honest to God – Becoming an Authentic Christian 127

[3] David Peterson The Acts of the Apostles 303

[4] John E Hunter Limiting God 19

[5] Peterson 303

[6] Gary Moon & David Benner Spiritual Direction and the Care of Souls: A Guide to Christian Approaches and Practices Loc. 174-75

[7] Oswald Chambers 101 Days in the Epistles with Oswald Chambers 138

[8] Dallas Willard In Search of Guidance 75

[9] Stephen R Covey The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People 277

[10] R C Sproul The Holiness of God 212