Turning from Sin (Acts 9:1-9)
This past week, a guy stopped me at the gym to ask me how I’ve lost so much weight, so I explained my diet and exercise routine. He was rather disappointed, and he told me he had seen me buy some drinks at GNC recently; he wanted to know what I was drinking to melt the fat away. I hated to tell Isaiah, but I had purchased some protein shakes to drink before my workouts, but they don’t melt the fat away. Instead, it’s a matter of the hard work of change—changing eating and changing activity level.
You’ve needed to make changes before, haven’t you? Maybe you needed to make changes to what you eat because of diabetes or weight or cholesterol or allergies. Maybe you changed your spending habits because you were going deeper and deeper into debt. Maybe you changed your career because you had trouble finding employment. Maybe you hit rock bottom with an addiction and worked hard for sobriety. Maybe you had to change your calendar because you were doing too much.
Regardless of what you have changed, you must change the sin in your life. Saul’s example shows: “Repentance requires radical transformation.”
Far too many people in our culture don’t make a radical transformation when they come to Jesus. In our culture, we typically—whether or not we were raised in the church—weren’t involved in “big” sins before we became Christians. We weren’t committing adultery or embezzling or murdering folks.
You need to understand, however, that your heart is sinful. “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick” (Jer 17:9). There is sin in your life:
- “None is righteous, no, not one” (Rom 3:10).
- “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
Because there is sin in your life, you need repentance which leads to radical transformation.
Scripture (Acts 9:1-9)
Saul was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” “Threats and murder” was the attitude around Paul—it was what he lived for.
Saul went to the high priest to ask for letters to the synagogues in Damascus. Saul took the initative—he went to the high priest instead of waiting for the high priest to come to him. It was extremely common in that era for people to carry a letter of introduction from some well-known person to give their mission authority.
Damascus was about 135 miles from Jerusalem. At average walking pace, the trip would take about six days. This shows just how dedicated Saul was to persecute Christians.
In the Old Testament, God often appeared to people surrounded by light; that’s the first clue for Saul that this was a divine encounter.
In the Old Testament, when folks were confronted with an angel or divine representation, they would often fall down. Saul’s falling down is an indication that he understood a divine Person was speaking.
Saul heard a voice from heaven; that’s the second clue for Saul that this was a divine encounter.
In the Old Testament, God often repeated a person’s name when he wanted that person’s attention; that’s the third clue for Saul that this was a divine encounter.
Jesus asked Saul why he was persecuting him. Since Jesus closely identifies with his people, in persecuting the church, Saul was persecuting Jesus.
Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” “Lord” can mean something like the English “Sir.”
However, “Lord” means “God” here. Jesus has appeared to Saul just as God often did in the Old Testament. Being the excellent student of the Old Testament he was, Saul surely understood Someone divine was appearing to him.
Yet, Saul was confused. He’s been convinced he was doing right in persecuting Christians, but he was confronted with a divine voice saying Saul was persecuting him.
Saul was blind. In the Old Testament, God often struck people blind to keep them from harming others or to punish them. It’s certainly possible both ideas are in this text—Saul’s blindness would prevent further persecution and was a divine punishment.
Three days was a common time for fasting in Saul’s day; however, it’s dangerous to go without water for that long because of dehydration. Yet, I doubt Saul cared—his life has been turned upside down, and he has just realized he needed to repent in a way which would result in radical transformation.
“Repentance requires radical transformation.” Saul’s conversion led to radical transformation. Saul was traveling to Damascus to persecute Christians. Yet, Saul became a Christian in Damascus. While in Damascus, Saul “proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20). He spent his life proclaiming the good news of Jesus and willingly suffered martyrdom.
You need to make the same transformation, for without that transformation, you will be lost. “Unless you repent, you will all . . . perish” (Lk 13:3, 5). “Repent . . . , and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out” (Acts 3:19).
How can you repent and make a radical transformation? You follow Saul’s example.
Examine the SIN.
In other words, you need to know what sin lives in your heart. In Acts 9, Saul’s sin of persecution is laid bare: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4-5). Saul clearly needed to transform his persecution of God’s people.
To repent of your sin, you need to know your sin. Throughout Scripture, God plainly revealed sin. If you don’t have a good grasp of what sin is, spend time in Scripture.
But I imagine the overwhelming majority of you know the sin in your life. Carefully think back over the sins you’ve committed over the past couple of weeks, and see your sin.
Examine the SAVIOR.
Saul repented and made radical transformation because he learned about the Savior. Saul didn’t know Jesus when he was persecuting the church. After Jesus spoke from heaven, Saul asked, “Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5). When Saul learned the truth about Jesus of Nazareth, he repented and made radical transformation.
To make a radical transformation, you need to examine the Savior. You know Jesus is Lord; therefore, he has every right to tell you how to live and demand your repentance when you sin. However, if you want to be motivated to make a radical transformation, examine the Savior on the cross.
Read through the Gospel accounts of Jesus’s betrayal, trial, and crucifixion. With your mind’s eye, see his agony as he prayed in Gethsemane, see Judas’ kiss, see Jesus mocked in that purple robe, see the Lord blindfolded and slapped, see the soldiers’ spit running down Jesus’s face, see the lashing open up the flesh on the Lord’s back, see Jesus struggle under the weight of the cross, see the nails in his hands and feet and the spear in his side, see Jesus hoisted up on the cross, see him struggle to breathe, hear the jeering cries of the mob, and see Jesus bow his head and give up the ghost. Understand he endured that torture to cleanse you from sin.
How can you keep from transforming your life when you look at the Savior?
Examine the SUFFERING.
Saul suffered for persecuting the church. “For three days he was without sight” (Acts 9:9); as I previously mentioned, God often struck people blind as punishment. The blindness surely got Saul’s attention and led to his repentance and radical transformation.
Examine the suffering your sin brings. What consequences have you faced for recent sins? Guilt? Loss of self-respect? Loss of the respect of others? A consequence you really don’t want anyone else to know? Think about the consequences sin brings in this life and be motivated to repent and transform your life.
Think, too, about the suffering of eternal hell. Think about an eternity shut off from God’s presence and from the glory of his might. Think about the intense agony in those flames. Think about all the regrets of refusing to repent and transform your life. Examine the suffering of hell and be motivated to transform your life.
Examine the SORROW.
Saul, when confronted with his sins, was sorrowful—he went three days without eating or drinking.
You need true sorrow for your sins. Genuine sorrow for sin will lead you to repentance and transformation: “Godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret” (2 Cor 7:10).
You need to grieve over your sins. Two things can help you sorrow over your sin.
One: Understand sin breaks God’s heart.
“The LORD saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, . . . and it grieved him to his heart” (Gen 6:5-6). If you want to break God’s heart in a million pieces, live in sin.
Two: Understand Jesus’s suffering was for your sins.
I’ve already encouraged you to consider all the suffering Jesus endured for you. You need to look at Jesus’s cross and realize you are responsible. When you look at the suffering Jesus endured because of your sinful heart, your heart should break in a million pieces.
Are you grieving over your sins? Is that godly sorrow leading you to repentance? Do you need to transform your life this morning?