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Sermon: Acts 9:1-19a

Easter 3 – May 5, 2019 – Rev. Steven J. Radunzel

So if I ask you, “Are you converted?” what would you say? Some of you might ask, “What do you mean converted?” And I would answer, “Are you converted from an unbeliever to a believer in Jesus Christ?” Some of you might be a little offended by that question because you might interpret the question to mean that I’m questioning whether you have faith in Jesus Christ or not.

The point of my question isn’t really to question your conversion or your faith. The point of my question is to get all of us to examine what it means to be converted and what the ongoing significance of our conversion and faith in Jesus Christ means for our lives each day and for eternity.

Today we’re going to consider what is probably the most famous conversion of anyone to faith in Jesus Christ, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, or, as we know him better, the Apostle Paul. Paul’s conversion teaches us a lot about what it means to be converted, how we’re converted, and how our conversion to faith in Jesus Christ should make a big difference in our lives. Therefore, today we ask the question,

ARE YOU CONVERTED?

The basic meaning of convert is to change or turn around. In the theological or religious realm we use the word convert in a couple different ways. Some people will say that they converted from one Christian denomination to another. So a person might say, “I converted from Catholicism to Lutheranism” or “I converted from being a Baptist to being a Lutheran.

But in the case of the Apostle Paul, and for our purposes today, we’re strictly speaking about a person’s conversion from no belief in Jesus to belief in Jesus or conversion from some non-Christian religion to Christian faith.

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the Apostle Paul, is extraordinary. Paul was a vicious opponent of Jesus Christ and anyone who was a believer in Jesus. It hadn’t been long, perhaps a year or two, since Jesus ascended back into heaven. The number of disciples and believers in Jesus was increasing rapidly in Jerusalem. The opposition to the Christian message was growing rapidly too. It was becoming increasingly violent as well. A young faithful Christian man named Stephen was stoned to death for confessing faith in Jesus. Saul of Tarsus stood by giving approval to this gruesome death.
Saul, or Paul, was given orders to travel about and find Christians, arrest them, and put them in prison. Paul was no doubt responsible for many Christian arrests, persecutions, and deaths.

One day he was traveling with his men to the city of Damascus in Syria to carry out what he thought was work for God, to destroy this sect of people who believed that Jesus was the Messiah. That’s when it happened. Paul’s conversion. And it was extraordinary. It was dramatic. Suddenly there was a light that flashed around Paul. He fell to the ground and heard a voice, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And Saul asked, “Who are you?” The voice answered, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city and you will be told what you must do.” For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

How would you have felt if you had been Paul? How would you have responded? It’s interesting that Paul doesn’t have much to say. After his question, “Who are you, Lord?” Paul doesn’t speak again in this entire account. Paul must have been absolutely stunned. His religious faith was firmly rooted in fulfilling the Law of Moses. For Paul Jesus was an imposter. He was not the Messiah. And if the Law of Moses and the faith of Judaism was to be upheld, then this message about a false messiah named Jesus had to be destroyed.

Suddenly what he believed was turned upside down. Jesus himself spoke to him. Jesus, the risen Christ, appeared to Paul and spoke to him. His message to Paul was simple: “You’re persecuting me and my followers. But now you’re going to stop that. You’re going to follow me. And not only are you going to follow me, you’re going to preach my name to the Gentiles for the salvation of people in many nations.”

Was your conversion like that? Mine wasn’t. I would point to my conversion on March 15, 1952 at my baptism in a little white church in Wisconsin. Except for the miracle that takes place in baptism, I assume it wasn’t too eventful. I didn’t fall to the ground. Jesus didn’t speak audibly to me. Just some water poured on my head in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. I just know that as far back as I can remember into my very young childhood, I believed in Jesus, testifying to the fact that I had been converted to faith in Jesus at that baptism, which the Apostle Paul would one day call “a washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”

I would guess that most of you, along with millions of Christians down through the centuries, could relate a similar experience involving your baptism as an infant or as a very young child. But there are many people whose religious conversion to faith in Jesus Christ was a little more dramatic. They heard about Jesus and came to believe in him later in their life and clearly remember the day when they went from not believing in Jesus to believing in him.

Actually I sometimes think that a person who clearly remembers coming to faith in Jesus has some advantages. They remember what it means not to believe in Jesus. And now they clearly know what it does mean to believe in Jesus. That memory, that experience of coming to faith in Jesus, can be quite a motivating factor in living a new life as a Christian.

As a matter of fact there are many Evangelical Christians who say that unless you remember the moment of your conversion, unless you clearly made a conscious choice to believe in Jesus, you’re not really converted. You’re not really born again.

But the Bible doesn’t really say that. What the Bible does say is what conversion is and how it happens. Paul’s conversion tells us what a conversion is. He began the day on the road to Damascus not believing in Jesus. He ended the day in Damascus as a believer in Jesus. He went from unbelief to belief.

I don’t remember being an unbeliever. But I was when I was born. I was born dead in transgressions and sins. I was by nature an object of God’s wrath. We were all born that way. Spiritually dead. Conversion means that at some point, as infants, as teenagers, as adults, even as elderly adults, at some time, God forgave our sins and brought us to faith in Jesus.

And how did God convert us, what means did he use? In Paul’s case it was clearly the power of God’s word. Jesus spoke directly to Paul. And Paul’s silence and his obedience to Jesus’ words to go into Damascus and wait to be told what to do were evidence of his conversion.

Whether your conversion was as a little child in baptism, or as an adult, or maybe even a rather dramatic moment like Paul experienced, the cause of your conversion and my conversion or the conversion of anyone else is the same: the power of the gospel, the power of God’s word.

The Apostle Paul would one day write, “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ except by the Holy Spirit.” In other words we don’t choose or decide to believe in Jesus. Faith is not merely intellectual agreement with the gospel of Jesus. In any conversion it’s an absolute miracle of the Holy Spirit who turns an unbeliever to a believer in Jesus. When the Holy Spirit converts someone to faith in Jesus Christ, it’s as much a miracle as Jesus rising from the dead. And it really is.

In his letter to the Ephesians the Apostle Paul would one day write that we were dead in our transgressions and sins, “but because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ . . . .” Jesus died on a cross to take away the guilt of our sins. And the Holy Spirit has given us the faith to believe that truth. He converted us.

He converted us with the power of the gospel. We heard the gospel message preached. Or that message was applied to us in baptism. God told us our sins were forgiven, washed away, and he caused us to believe that our sins were forgiven and that eternal life was ours. He converted us to faith in Jesus.

So are you converted? Conversion means that life changes and continues to change until we leave this world to be with Jesus forever. Paul’s life sure changed. He did exactly what Jesus told him that day on the road to Damascus. He went to the house of a man named Judas on Straight Street. There a man named Ananias baptized him.

Paul went from an unbelieving persecutor and killer of Christians to being a Christian himself and preaching the gospel message ultimately to thousands from Jerusalem to Syria, all the way up into Greece, in Rome, and very likely into Spain – the end of the world in those days. He went from a person who thought he loved God, but really didn’t, to a person who truly knew and loved God. He went from a person who hated Christians, despised certain groups of people, to a person who loved all and desired the eternal salvation of all people.

Has conversion changed your life? Does conversion continue to change your thinking and behavior? It’s supposed to. And that’s where we all need to examine our lives honestly each day. Paul would one day write in his letter to the Romans, “We were therefore buried with [Jesus] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.”

Conversion, genuine faith in Jesus, continually makes itself evident in how we think, speak, and act. A truly converted person wants to think, speak, and act more and more like Jesus. Paul got to know Jesus very well. We want to learn to know Jesus more and more too through God’s word. We want to worship him. We want to be godly and obey his commandments. We want to love God. We want to love our neighbor. We want God to continually make us truly converted believers in Jesus. Amen.