Grace Changes Everything

This week’s eNewsletter feature
was written by Rev. Ray Hylton,
FPCE senior pastor.

Dear friends,

Even after reading through the Bible every year, for many years now, I continue to uncover nuggets of truth and insight through the Holy Spirit.

For example, I am reading through Acts and focusing on Paul’s trials before Felix, Festus, and King Agrippa with fresh eyes. Paul defends his very life before these powerful leaders. He shares personal testimonies about his life, religious training, and how Jesus met him and changed him on the road to Damascus.

Being late to the party, I am sure I am the only person on the planet who didn’t fully grasp his words in Acts 26:9-11: Indeed, I myself was convinced that I ought to do many things against the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And that is what I did in Jerusalem; with authority received from the chief priests, I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, but I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death. By punishing them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme; and since I was so furiously enraged at them, I pursued them even to foreign cities.

Much of what he discloses about his life before Christ, I knew. I also knew that he was present and complicit in the death of Stephen, the Church’s first martyr for Christ. But what I didn’t fully realize was the hard heart of this statement: I not only locked up many of the saints in prison, I also cast my vote against them when they were being condemned to death.

I could be wrong, but doesn’t that sound like he was involved in more than Stephen’s murder? Paul had a direct hand in the death of many Christians.

Before meeting Christ, Paul was an unwitting tool of the Devil’s strategy to destroy Jesus’s church. But because of God’s great mercy and grace, Paul was transformed from agent of death to minister of life — all by God’s intervention in Grace (see Acts 9).

A dangerously, evilly powerful man given the power to do miraculous good — spreading the Word that has endured and saved souls for more than two millennia since.

Becoming a Christian implies becoming like Christ in character, a heart changed by and preoccupied with Jesus. But this radical change of nature is impossible to maintain by an act of sheer will, or by self-imposing moral restraint upon the fundamental drives of the human heart. It takes a supernatural work of the Holy Spirit that comes when the overwhelming love of God rewires one’s mind and electrifies the soul through the Gospel.

When we grasp that we are unworthy sinners saved by an infinitely costly Grace, it destroys both our self-righteousness and our need to ridicule or “better” others. No wonder Paul never fails to thank God for changing his life:  For I am the least of the apostles, unfit to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.  But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me has not been in vain. (1 Corinthians 15:9-10)

A sinner saved by Grace,

Pastor Ray

P.S. – Join us online Sunday for our final sermon in our series “Lessons from the Wilderness.” We meet at 10 a.m. at https://live.firstpresevanston.org/ and invite you and all you know and love to join us.