Saul was a celebrity among the Pharisees. He was circumcised on the eighth day as the Law demanded. Both of his parents were Jews, of the tribe of Benjamin. He was educated in Tarsus in the philosophy of the Greeks. He studied theology in Jerusalem under the brilliant religious scholar Gamaliel, one of the leading Pharisees. He memorized the Torah. He enthusiastically kept every detail of the Law. He lived a moral lifestyle—concerning the righteousness that is in the Law, he said he was “blameless.” Saul was so zealous for the Law that he called himself “a Hebrew of the Hebrews” (Philippians 3:4-6).
Because of his passion for the Jewish faith, the followers of Christ infuriated him. “That rabble rouser Jesus was crucified,” he said to himself, grinding his teeth, “Why do these people insist on saying he is alive?”
Saul developed a fearful reputation among the Christians. Everyone knew he stood by approvingly when Stephen was viciously murdered by stoning. The Council of the Pharisees gave him permission to hunt down all who belonged to the sect of the Christians. With enthusiastic energy, Saul pursued those who believed in Jesus. When he caught them, he imprisoned them, tortured them, and even killed them.
Right in the middle of his self-righteous crusade to bring justice to those who were breaking the Law, Saul had a divine encounter with grace. He was on his way to Damascus with letters from the high priest giving him permission to arrest and imprison believers there, when suddenly he was knocked off his horse with a bolt of lightning. He saw a great light and heard a voice say, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?” By asking this question, Jesus condemned the very act which Saul thought would give him merit before God. In this moment, Saul saw that what he did out of his understanding of righteousness was actually an act of gross sin aimed directly at God.
Overwhelmed, Saul asked, “Who are You, Lord?”
The voice replied, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” In that moment, Saul realized that Jesus was alive. The man of the Law met the King of Grace.
Due to his encounter, Saul was rendered blind. Three days later, Ananias, a Christian brother, came and prayed for him and Saul regained his sight. Immediately, Saul went to the synagogue and preached that Jesus is the Son of God. Later, Saul came to be known among the Gentiles as Paul. He eventually wrote two-thirds of the New Testament. His conversion from a self-righteous Pharisee into a Christian saved by grace is one of the greatest miracles in history.
Paul talked about grace because he had received grace. In the greeting of every letter he wrote, he talks about grace and in the last few words of every letter, he mentions grace again.
“The chief of sinners” knew where he had come from. He knew what he deserved. But, because of God’s grace, he became “an apostle of Jesus Christ.”