Acts 22:1-21 is Paul’s testimony to the crowds in Jerusalem and we see once again how conversion gives us a clear ‘before and after’ story. Paul’s life before his encounter with Jesus on the road to Damascus was exemplary from a Jewish point of view. His Jewish credentials were second to none, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, brought up in Jerusalem, a student of Gamaliel, an eminent Jewish teacher at the time, a ‘Hebrew of Hebrews’ as he puts it in Philippians 3:5. His zeal for God could not be faulted, as he arrested both men and women who followed ‘the Way’ and threw them into prison. (Acts 22:3-5) Yet everything changed when he met with Jesus and was chosen by ‘the God of our ancestors’ (i.e. the God of the Jews) to know His will, to see the Righteous One and to be His witness. (Acts 22:14-15)
The truth of the gospel is that Jesus changes us. Paul outlines the changes in Ephesians 2:1-9, talking of how we used to be dead in transgressions and sins, by nature deserving of wrath, but have now been brought near to God through His mercy, love and grace. The gospel is not a story of our effort or trying to be good to earn God’s favour; it is the story of God’s redemption and how He has done everything required to change us and bring us into relationship with Himself.
We may feel our conversion story is not as dramatic as Paul’s; a friend of mine, brought up in a Christian family, used to say wryly, ‘Mine was no road to Damascus story.’ She often felt that her testimony was less impressive than Paul’s or than the testimony of people who had done many visibly wrong things before encountering Christ. But all of us have a testimony if we have met with God, and all of us who are born again have been changed in the way Ephesians 2:1-9 describes. We are not what we used to be, and although all of us are still works in progress and are not yet what we will be in glory, we can give thanks that God has met with us, changed us and is continuing to transform us into the image of His Son. (2 Cor 3:17-18)