The Need For Personal Change


Pastor Jerry Gillis - January 15, 2023

Community Group Study Notes

Have someone in your group give a brief recap of Sunday’s message, highlighting the primary Scripture passages and main idea of the message.

How did this message strengthen, confirm and/or correct your previous ideas about the need for personal change and Jesus’ power to change anyone?

If you haven't yet shared your story of how Jesus changed your life, share it with your group. If you've already shared your grace story, describe a situation in which you witnessed a change in the faith and life of a family member, friend, co-worker, or neighbor. Did their change influence your faith or steps toward personal obedience?

Interact with this statement: “Saul needed to be blinded and to sit helpless for three days to understand who Jesus truly is.” When was the last time you minimized distractions and busyness in your life to sit and hear from Jesus? What step can you take to be reminded of your full dependence on God?

Discuss the acts of obedience Saul took in response to the change in his life when he encountered Jesus. How is your story of personal change and obedience in response to faith in Jesus similar to Saul’s? Are there any steps of obedience you need to take?
Commit to take a step of obedience this week in response to this message. Spend time in prayer for each other as you prepare to take this step of obedience.  

Action Step

What step of obedience do you need to take? What small habit can you commit to in this step of obedience? Write down this habit and associated action steps and share your commitment with a friend.

Consider these examples:

Habit: Read my Bible for 15 minutes at the end of the day

“After I make my bed, I will put my Bible on my pillow”
“I will print out a reading plan and put it in my Bible”
“After I brush my teeth, I will read one Bible chapter”

Habit: Pray for a family member, friend, or neighbor every day

“After I make my coffee, I will pray for [name]”
“After I arrive at the office, I will send a message to [name] to encourage them and then will pray for them”


Sermon Transcript

- I am imagining that when you read a book, maybe your favorite piece of literature, or maybe when you are watching your favorite piece of cinema, watching a movie, that you have probably a narrative arc that you have a tendency to resonate with. You know, the kind of story that's being told, a narrative arc. And within that narrative arc, there are character arcs in books and in movies, and that's kind of the story within story. It's how that particular character is contributing to the overall story and what's happening in their life. And if there's one maybe character arc that everyone generally speaking seems to resonate with and seems to identify with, it's when a villain actually gets redeemed in a story. That's one of those where we're all cheering for that to happen. It makes perfect sense around Christmastime with the cultural Christmas stories, not the true one, but the cultural Christmas stories that we hear and that we read about, have at least a couple of the famous ones in our modern cultural Christmases have something to do with that. In fact, if I showed you these two pictures here, you'd see Ebenezer Scrooge, and you'd see the Grinch, and you'd probably realize, oh, yeah, that's kind of what happens, because you've got a guy like Scrooge who is, you know, unkind, miserable, greedy, horrific to his employees, a generally just sour guy that you don't want to be around, right? And what happens? Well, some ghosts of Christmas past and future and all of that show up, and then he comes to his senses, and you know, he's a completely different guy by the end. And everybody's like, yeah, it can happen, right? Or the Grinch, right? Who's sour and mean and just a villain. He's a thief. He steals all of Whoville's present, right? He's got termites in his teeth. It's true, it's true. He's got a rotten tomato for a heart. Splotchy, moldy purple spots. I don't even remember the song, but it's something like that, right? He's got all of that, right? And he's befriended by Cindy-Lou Who, the little girl, right? And she shows him kind of that Whos aren't so much about all the presents and all the festivities and all of that stuff. They actually can rejoice even when they don't have the presents, and then he's overcome by that, and he had a problem anyway, his heart was two sizes too small, but then he sees all of this and his heart grows three sizes that day, and then he ends up returning all the presents. Not that they needed them for their happiness, but he returns all the presents and everybody's happy. And we're like, "Yeah," right? So even in those, they're cultural stories that have a narrative arc of villains that somehow are redeemed, and for some reason, we are a part of that, and we resonate with that because, in our minds, we just want to believe and hope for that even they can be changed, even them. That's what we hope for and that's what we long for as much as anything, that even they can be changed. And the thing is, is that these are the reason that these stories resonate for us, but when real life happens to us, we start to think to ourselves, is that really true? Real life is complicated and it's heartbreaking, and we've seen a lot and we've been around a lot of people, and we hold out this hope inside of us that change is possible for everyone, but real life sometimes just makes us doubt that, that can there really be change in someone? Can there really be change for someone like me? Well, if there was ever a real historical story that had a character arc of a villain that was truly and completely changed, Luke the doctor writes it up for us in the book of Acts, and you'll find it in Acts chapter nine, and we'll be there in just a moment. It's a remarkable story, a remarkable true, historical story that we can learn from. Now, if you were tracking with us as we started this series, we opened up in Acts chapters six and seven, and then just a little bit into chapter eight, where we talked about the life of Stephen. Stephen was the first martyr of the church, and Stephen was used by God to really be a catalyst for what God wanted to do in his mission in the world, how he wanted to change the world. And God will do whatever it takes, he'll change what he needs to change to accomplish his purposes in the world. And we saw that story of Stephen, where he got stoned to death for standing up for Jesus, right? But if you remember, the villain made an appearance in that story. Here's what it says, as Luke records it for us in Acts chapter seven. It says, "While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, "Lord Jesus, received my spirit." Then he fell on his knees and he cried out, "Lord, do not hold this sin against them." When he had said this, he fell asleep. And Saul approved of their killing him. On that day, a great persecution broke out against the church in Jerusalem, and all except the apostles were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. Godly men buried Stephen and mourned deeply for him, but Saul began to destroy the church. Going from house to house, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison." Now, you do not have to be a literature scholar, you don't have to have any particular special insight to be reading along in this story in the book of Acts, this historical event and seeing what happened to Stephen and then seeing Luke insert, and there was Saul approving of their killing of him, and there was Saul dragging men and women out and persecuting them and seeing the persecution that was happening in the church. It's clear from what Luke is sharing with us, that there is a villain in the story, and his name is Saul. And after chapter eight, where he explains a couple of other things that are going on in ministry through the church of Jesus Christ, he picks back up with this villain in Acts chapter nine, and here's how it begins. In verses one and two, it says, "Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples. He went to the high priest and he 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." So what we're told is that this Saul who was there when Stephen was stoned to death and the persecution began to go out in Jerusalem, and now disciples are being scattered everywhere, this Saul was still breathing out, listen to what he said, murderous threats. These are not, "Hey, you better knock it off. Hey, we don't like what you're doing. Hey, you should stop commenting on Facebook about that." This is not that. This is, "I'm gonna kill you if you're a follower of Jesus, if you're a follower of the way." He's breathing out murderous threats, and he's actually gone to the high priest and he's asked permission, this is how serious he is, that these disciples who have been scattered in the persecution and they've gone all over the place, he says, "I'm gonna track them down in Damascus. There are those disciples from Jerusalem in the persecution that have fled, and I want permission from the high priest to go track them down." And he said, by the way, he's not just chasing men, he's chasing men and women. He didn't care. If you're a follower of Jesus, he doesn't care if you're a man or a woman. He's tracking you down. He's breathing out murderous threats, and this is what you end up with. This is Saul. But then there's a turn in the story, and here's what it says beginning in verse number three. "As Saul neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless. They heard the sound, but did not see anyone. 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. For three days he was blind and did not eat or drink anything." Now, this is where the story really takes a turn, doesn't it? Saul's breathing out his murderous threats. He's tracking people down. He's on his way to Damascus. He's got some men with him, probably the temple police sorts of guys, right? Because Saul's gonna go in there, he's gonna round up people, and he needs muscle, right? You know, I mean, he needs muscle, so he brings muscle with him, right? And they're all traveling to Damascus, and then this extraordinary light shows up that Saul sees. We don't really have a full explanation of this. Luke just tells us that it was a light from heaven. All that we know about this light from heaven is that it forced his eyes closed and that he fell to the ground. That's what happened to Saul when this light from heaven that was extraordinarily bright came upon him. And then he hears a question. He hears a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Now obviously, this was Jesus who was speaking to Saul at this moment, and he says, "Why do you persecute me?" Now what we don't have is we don't actually have any historical record from Luke or from anyone else, that Saul was actually involved in persecuting Jesus while he walked on the earth. In fact, when Saul was there at the stoning of Stephen, it makes a reference to Saul, and it references him as a young man. Now, they were contemporaries, Paul and Jesus. Jesus was probably a little bit older, but nonetheless, they were alive at the same time, and Saul certainly was studying in Jerusalem under a famous teacher named Gamaliel. My guess is, is that he not only knew who Jesus was, but probably, I'm not saying this for sure, but probably had heard him teach, probably. I can't say that for sure. We do not have any documentation to tell us that, but the likelihood is, is that he knew who Jesus was and maybe had even heard him teach in Jerusalem, because Paul had been, or Saul, Paul, right? Same guy. Saul had been there a number of different times. Jesus had been there a number of different times, and my guess is that's probably the case. But it's interesting, we don't have any direct revelation that Saul persecuted Jesus himself while he walked on the earth. Yet Jesus' question is this. "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Isn't it interesting that Jesus so closely aligns himself with his people, that when the people of Jesus are being persecuted, Jesus says, "You're persecuting me." It's just a reminder, my brothers and sisters, just a reminder that we ought to go easy on the bride of Jesus. Just a reminder that when the world wants to crucify the people of Jesus, that it's actually Jesus himself that is being persecuted. Jesus so closely aligns that. He says, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" Now, it's interesting, because there's a follow-up question, and Saul asks it and he says, "Who are you, Lord?" That sometimes sounds funny to us, doesn't it? That would be like somebody coming up to me and going, "Who are you, Jerry?" But it makes perfect sense, right? It makes perfect sense, because I don't think that Saul, I don't think he's confused as to who's speaking to him. I think he knows. I think he's really asking that question to basically say, "Who are you? Right? I knew you as this teacher that got crucified, and then there were these stories about how they couldn't find your body. I knew you that way, but this, this is a different thing. Who are you, Lord?" Have you ever had somebody act around you so out of character, and I mean, they're close to you. Like we've done it with our kids before, you know? Tanner one time was like, we were on vacation, and he suggested getting up like at 5:30 or something to go see the sunrise on the beach, and we were like, "Who are you? Who are you?" You wanna sleep until the crack of noon every day and you wanna get up and go see a sunrise, right? So you just, that I think is more along the line of what Saul is asking. "Who are you, Lord?" And Jesus answers with just his name, "I'm Jesus." You know, Jesus was a really common name, by the way. It'd be like going, "I'm Dave," right? "I'm Jesus." But he didn't need any extra, it was just, "I'm Jesus, who you are persecuting." It's really a remarkable answer. And there were the men that were traveling with Saul, and here's what's interesting. They didn't see what Saul saw in this blinding light. They heard, but they didn't hear everything. They heard something, but they weren't sure exactly what they were hearing. Maybe they were hearing Saul talking, but maybe unsure of what was going on. But then they ended up taking the now-blinded Saul on into the city of Damascus, where he would be there without food and without drink and would actually be praying during that time. Here's how the story goes on in verse number 10. "In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias, and the Lord called to him in a vision, "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord," he answered. The Lord told him, "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 holy people 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 proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. I will show him how much he must suffer for my name." Now we can identify with how scared an Ananias was, can't we? We can identify with him just being a little bit freaked out because here's what happens. First of all, he gets a call, you know, I don't know, middle of the night or whatever, and it's Jesus. That's enough, right? That's enough. "Ananias!" "Yes, Lord." "Here's what I want you to do. I want you to go to the guy who's threatening to kill everyone, and I'd like you to put your hands on him and pray for him." And Ananias is so scared, he tries to educate Jesus on who Saul is. "This guy's got authority from the priests to come, and... He's the one who's been persecuting your people," as if Jesus didn't know, right? He's so scared, he's trying to educate Jesus on who Saul is, and Jesus finally just says, "Go!" Now, he didn't actually have to offer any additional explanation. Jesus owed Ananias nothing. He just told him what to do, and Ananias needed to do it, but he's so kind. He says, "Go! I've chosen this man, and he is gonna proclaim my name. He's gonna forward my mission to the Gentiles and to their kings, and even to the Jews in Israel. He's gonna have to suffer for my name, but I want you to go." So here's what Ananias did, verse 17. "Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he 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. And he got up and was baptized, and after taking some food, he regained his strength." What a remarkable thing here. Ananias actually does what he's told, and God does what he promises. Jesus does what he promises as soon as Ananias does what he's told. He restores Paul's, Saul's physical sight and spiritual sight. It's really a remarkable, a remarkable story. What we witness in this story, this true historical story, is we witness the villain being completely changed. Now, not everybody's story is the same as Saul's story, right? Everybody's story is not written exactly the same way. We're not all blinded by a light that comes, a heavenly light. Not everybody's story is the same, but there are some elements of the story that should be the same for everybody, everywhere if we are genuinely changed. Let me see if I can unpack a handful of those for us, all right? Here's the first. Everyone needs to hear and see who Jesus truly is. If we want to experience the change that he brings, then every single one of us needs to hear and see who Jesus truly is. Look back with me in verse number three. "As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and he heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Who are you, Lord?" See, what's interesting about this interaction that Saul has here with Jesus is that he actually never sees Jesus. He never sees him. So this isn't a vision where he sees Jesus. He's actually blinded by a heavenly light. He doesn't see him, he hears him. He's blinded. Most of the time, by the way, when we talk about somebody being radically changed, listen to this, and we even sing about it this way, and it's still, it is true. I was blind, but now I see, right? But you know what's true about Saul? He was blinded so he could see. He was blinded so he could see, so that he would know who Jesus truly is. Saul's pride in his ability to understand the Old Testament and be zealous for the law of God and to persecute all those who he felt were enemies of that, his pride was overwhelming. His activity and his busyness were, bar none, incredibly high. It was extraordinary how busy, and his reputation in Jerusalem, he had a significant reputation. He studied under Gamaliel. He was a superstar in terms of his intellect. All of those things are true about him, and what happens? Jesus allows him to leave Jerusalem, and blinds him so that he'll not be in Jerusalem where he can stay busy and still has a reputation and all of those things. Nope, he's gonna be blind and alone in Damascus. Why? Because he was gonna learn dependence. He was gonna learn about himself, but mostly he was going to learn who Jesus truly is. Imagine his thoughts during this time. You're blind for three days. He's heard the voice of Jesus say to him, "I'm Jesus, who you are persecuting," and he now is sitting with that for three days in darkness, not eating, not drinking. He's praying and he's thinking. This is not a man who did not have an ability to think about the Old Testament. This man knew the Old Testament far better than you and I. He knew all about the prophecies related to the Messiah. He was a Pharisee of Pharisees. He was not a Sadducee, he was a Pharisee. The Pharisees believed in the resurrection. So now here's Saul, who's thinking about all of the prophecies relative to the Messiah, and also someone who believes in the resurrection and now is sitting with those thoughts and putting together that this Jesus, when he asks, "Who are you?" What he's coming to realize is that he is the long-promised Messiah who has conquered death and has resurrected from the grave. This is what had to happen in his life so that he could understand who Jesus was. He needed to be blinded so he could see. It's a really remarkable thing, and I would just suggest something to each of us. Distraction and busyness and pride are all enemies to keep us from seeing Jesus. They are enemies of our culture. They are enemies of our neighbors. They are enemies of our own souls. And the only way that we can really be changed is to see and to hear Jesus, and some of us need to be unplugged. Some of us may need to go through some horrible circumstance so that he has our attention, because we are so busy and so prideful and so concerned about our own reputation and so distracted in the world that we live in, that we don't give enough time to ponder, "Who are you, Lord?" Because, my friends, people that haven't pondered who he is say things like this. Ah, he was a good teacher. No, he wasn't. In fact, he would have been a terrible teacher if he wasn't who he said he was, because he said he was the Son of God who had come to die for the sins of the world, who rose from the grave, that he is the only way to the Father, that he's the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him. If he's not all of that, he's a terrible teacher. But if he is, he's not just a good teacher. He's not just an inspiring example of humanity.

- We are so busy and so prideful and so concerned about our own reputation and so distracted in the world that we live in, that we don't give enough time to ponder, "Who are you, Lord?" Because my friends, people that haven't pondered who he is say things like this. "Ah, he was a good teacher." No, he wasn't. In fact, he would have been a terrible teacher if he wasn't who he said he was, because he said he was the Son of God who had come to die for the sins of the world, who rose from the grave, that he is the only way to the Father, that he's the way, the truth, and the life, and no one comes to the Father except through him. If he's not all of that, he's a terrible teacher. But if he is, he's not just a good teacher. He's not just an inspiring example of humanity. He is the perfect human being, the perfect God-man, yes, but he's not just an inspiring example of humanity. There are many of those, not on the same level as Jesus, but there are many inspiring examples of humanity. This is the resurrected Son of God who has a claim on every single life, who holds in his hand the power of life and death, the one who, before all things ever started, was the agent of creation of everything. In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us, and we beheld his glory, the glory of the only begotten of God, full of grace and truth. That's Jesus, that's Jesus. If we don't get to a place where we can unplug ourselves, get undistracted, get unbusy, put our pride aside and recognize who he is and see Jesus for who he truly is, we can never be changed. Saul did that. But secondly, what's also true of all of us is that everyone needs to understand their own lostness. Everyone needs to understand their own lostness. Look again with me, verses four and five. "Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting." Do you think that Saul thought, when he was breathing out murderous threats to the followers of Jesus, do you think that he thought he was persecuting the Messiah? Of course not. He thought he was the good guy. He thought he was doing what God wanted. He thought everything was fine, but he was the villain. We are not prepared in this culture to see ourselves as the villain. We are conditioned to be the heroes of our own stories. We are told and conditioned that we can be self-saviors. We are the villains, and until we recognize that, we cannot be saved. You can't get found if you don't know you're lost. Saul realized it. He thought he was the good guy, but in fact, Jesus says, "You're persecuting me, me." We have to come to a place to recognize our own lostness. We're not self-saviors. And do you know that Saul, who was writing under his Greco-Roman name a little bit later, Paul. He had two names. You probably figured that out, right, one that's a Jewish name and one that's a Greco-Roman name, because he was a citizen of Rome but was born a Jew. When he's writing to the church at Rome under the name Paul, listen to what he says to them in Romans chapter three. "What shall we conclude then? Do we have any advantage because we're Jewish? Not at all! For we've already made the charge that Jews and Gentiles," non-Jews, "all alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: "There is," who? "No one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one. Their throats are open graves; their tongues practice deceit. The poison of vipers is on their lips. Their mouths are full of cursing and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; ruin and misery mark their ways, and the way of peace they do not know. There is no fear of God before their eyes." Do you see who he's including in that? Everyone. Jew, Gentile, every single person, and do you know what he does in that passage in Romans chapter three? He hearkens back to the Old Testament. He quotes Psalm 14, Psalm 5, Psalm 140, Psalm 10, Isaiah 59, and Psalm 136, in that order, and then he would write a few verses later in Romans 3 these words. "There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus." Everyone is lost, and the only way everyone can be found, whether Jew or Gentile, is through the redemption that comes through Jesus. You see, everyone needs to hear and see who Jesus truly is, but everyone also needs to understand their own lostness because understanding who he is is the recognition that he is the Savior, we are not, that we are lost in our sin and we cannot save ourselves. This is imperative. It is impossible to be found when you don't know you're lost, and Saul realized that when Jesus initiated with him. This is the beauty of this story. Everyone needs to hear and see who Jesus truly is. Everyone needs to understand their own lostness, and everyone who is truly changed shows it by obeying Jesus. Everyone who's truly changed shows it by their obedience to Jesus. Look again in verse four through six. It says, "Saul fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" "Who are you, Lord?" Saul asked. "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," he replied. "Now get up and go into the city and you'll be told what you must do." There's an expectation of obedience for those who are changed, for those who are transformed, and that's exactly what Saul did. He went into the city and waited to be told what he needed to do. And of course, Ananias comes and prays over him, and his sight is restored, not just physically, but he's got spiritual sight at this point. And notice a few things, a few elements of his obedience, like you see 'em if you just pay attention as the story progresses. There was an obedience to baptism. Notice what it says, verse number, what is it? 18. "Immediately something like scales fell from Saul's eyes and he could see again. And he got up and was baptized." Why would he know about this? Ananias. Ananias told him. Ananias probably also baptized him. Ananias comes, and when he puts his hands on him, he calls him brother Saul, and he prays for him, and the scales fall from his eyes, and what does he do? He takes that first step of obedience, saying, "I want to identify with the death, burial and resurrection of the Jesus who stopped me cold on the way to Damascus and has transformed who I am." He takes that step of obedience. Have you? Have you taken that step of obedience where when your life was transformed, that you did what Jesus commanded? He didn't suggest it. He commanded it. The New Testament, the early church knows nothing of unbaptized believers, doesn't know anything about that. That's how you identified with Jesus, how you identified with the local church. It is a picture of obedience. He was also obedient to the mission. If we look at him telling this story in a different place, later on in his ministry, Paul is actually in Jerusalem at a later point in his ministry, and he speaks to the people of Jerusalem and he recounts his testimony of how he was transformed. Listen to what he says in Acts chapter 22. "A man named Ananias came to see me. He was a devout observer of the law and highly respected by all the Jews living there. He stood beside me and said, "Brother Saul, receive your sight!" And at that very moment, I was able to see him. Then he said, "The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know his will and to see the Righteous One and to hear words from his mouth. You will be his witness to all peoples of what you have seen and heard. And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name." And do you know that's exactly what Paul did? Paul followed Jesus' prescription into the mission that he had designed for for Paul, and he walked it out in obedience. He was obedient to baptism. He was obedient to the mission. There was an obedience of his will. If you pay attention to how the story continues to unfold, watch this in verse number 19 of our text in Acts chapter nine. "Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. And at once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God." Could you imagine that? He's coming to Damascus to arrest all of these people, and now he's preaching in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. Could you imagine that this had to be a surrender of his will? He completely surrendered the power of his will, because your will and my will would be going, "I'm not going there. I'm not going there," right? But he did. There was an obedience of his intellect. You see that in the next couple of verses as well. Look at what it says. Verse number 21 and 22. "All those who heard him were astonished, and they 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 the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah." You know what he did? He surrendered his intellect to the Lord Jesus. Do you see how completely transformed we're talking about here? His will, his intellect. How about even his emotion? He was obedient in surrendering even his very affections and emotions. Listen to what it says when they're talking about him in verse 26 and 28. "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. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And 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," what? "Fearlessly in the name of Jesus. So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord." Now he's speaking fearlessly and boldly, even the surrender of obedience of his emotion. The change, my brothers and sisters, of Saul's life was complete and thorough and authentic. My concern is that for some, they practice who they are in the name of Jesus in name only. In Western culture, I get concerned that, that there are tons and tons of unregenerate people making up the people that fill the seats in houses of worship, that there has not been real repentance, real faith, real regeneration, real obedience. But I have hope because of Saul's story. Here's the hope that we should have. Because Jesus is who he is, he has the power to change anyone. Because Jesus is who he is, he has the power to change anyone. See, this is the beautiful truth that resonates with us deeply when we see stories like Ebenezer Scrooge and when we see the Grinch. What we're hoping beyond hope is that they could be changed. But let me let you in on the gospel story here. You are them. I am them. And here's the great news. We can be changed because of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done. This is the beautifully life-changing good news of the gospel. They're hoping, we're hoping when we see some of these stories that they're not too far gone, but we are them. That's why Paul's story to us is an example, and in fact, when Paul writes later on, under his name Paul, about his story, he says exactly that. In 1 Timothy chapter number one, here's what he says. "Here's a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason, I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example to those who would believe and receive eternal life." This is the great news of the gospel, that we have an example here in Saul's life. Thank God that the hero, Jesus, died for the villains, us. Us. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us, to redeem us, to change us. He died for the villains, like Saul and like us. But the great news of the gospel is this. The villains don't have to stay villains. Because of who Jesus is, anyone can be changed. Let's bow our heads together. We'll be dismissed in just a moment, but I want to appeal to you as strongly as I know how with the love of Christ to say this. If you have yet to put your true faith in Jesus, to repent of your sins, to see Jesus for who he truly is, to surrender your life in obedience to him fully, to be transformed, to be filled with his Spirit, to be made new. If you are not sure if that's actually ever happened for you. You may think to yourself, "Well, you know, I grew up in church." Walking into church does not make you regenerate. Seeing who Jesus truly is, understanding our lostness and inability to save ourselves, and that only he can do that because of his life, his death for our sins, and his resurrection from the dead. It is the only way we can be saved, friends. It's the only way. And maybe you have been overwhelmed by the distraction or the busyness or the pride of being associated with church, and you've met the pastor, but you've never met the Master. Only Jesus can save, only him. And if that's your need, when we dismiss in just a moment, there'll be some men and women that'll be down front down here, and I would like for you to just come and take one of them by the hand and say, "I need to receive Jesus. I wanna surrender my life to Jesus," and I pray that you will. And maybe there's other ways that you need to respond in obedience. In a moment, John's gonna tell you about that. Father, I pray that you would speak deeply by your Spirit to each of us, that we'd be reminded that our lives are to be lives of transformation because of what you've done, that you initiated this, you found us, you are the one who saves, and you call us to surrender all that we are to you, that the change may be thorough and deep and authentic. So if there are areas of our lives maybe that we haven't walked out in obedience, would you call us to those places? But would you speak deeply to us if we need. If anyone here under the sound of my voice needs to receive Jesus, I pray that you draw them to yourself by the power of your Spirit, for your own glory.

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