Conversion: How Christ Transforms Identity

June 12, 2022 ()

Bible Text: Acts 22:1-16 |


Conversion: How Christ Transforms Identity | Acts 22:1-16
Brian Hedges | June 12, 2022

I want to invite you this morning to turn in Scripture to the book of Acts. We’re going to be in Acts 22. If you’re reading one of the Bibles in the chairs in front of you, it’s page 931.

While you’re turning there, let me tell you the story of a man named Becket Cook. Becket Cook was a gay man who was a set designer in Hollywood in the first decade of the 21st century. He was a very successful man who worked with stars like Natalie Portman. He attended award shows and parties in the homes of celebrities like Paris Hilton and Prince.

But in September of 2009, Becket Cook was drinking coffee with a friend in a coffeeshop in L.A., and he noticed a group of young people who were sitting around a table with open Bibles. It aroused his curiosity, and they began a conversation. He was curious what they believed, and he fortrightly asked them what they believed about homsexuality. Without any apology, they said they believed that homosexuality was a sin. He appreciated their honesty; they continued the conversation, and then invited them to come to their church.

He came the next Sunday, he heard the gospel, he met Jesus, and his life was completely turned around. As Brett McCracken puts it in an interview with Becket Cook on The Gospel Coalition’s website, “Becket never looked back, trading his gay identity for a new identity in Christ.”

For many years since, Becket has now been proclaiming the gospel of Jesus Christ. He’s written a book about his experience and is unapologetic in his commitment to the message of Jesus, including the sexual ethics taught by the Scripture.

I think Becket Cook is a wonderful illustration of someone who, though he had defined himself by his sexuality, by his sexual orientation, when he met Jesus his identity was completely changed.

We’ve been in a short series for the last several weeks on identity. We’ve been talking about identity. What does it mean to be a human being, and who are we really? We’ve seen that we are facing an identity crisis in our culture, and this is especially true among young people who are very confused about their identity, especially when it comes to issues of gender, sexuality, and sexual orientation. Becket Cook’s story is a great story of the transforming power of Jesus Christ to bring someone out of darkness into light, to change their identity, and to give them a new identity in Christ.

That’s what I want to talk about this morning. So far in this series we’ve talked about creation, what it means to be a human being created in the image of God. We’ve talked about sin and idolatry and how our idols shape our identity and actually distort our understanding of who we are. Today I want to take the next step and talk about conversion.

Conversion is kind of one of those biblical, theological words. It’s a big word. We don’t always know what people mean when they say conversion, but essentially, to convert means to turn. So when we’re talking about conversion we’re talking about turning to Christ. We might define conversion as that grace-given experience of turning to Christ in repentance and faith. It’s what happens when someone meets Jesus in a powerful, transforming, saving way, and his life is turned around.

This morning what I want to do is talk about the most famous conversion in all of history, and that is the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who met Jesus on the Damascus road, and whom we now know as the apostle Paul.

One church historian has noted that apart from the death and the resurrection of Jesus, there is no event that receives more space in the New Testament than this, the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. The story is actually told for us three times in the book of Acts: in Acts 9, as Luke narrates Saul’s conversion, but then Paul himself tells us the story both in Acts 22, where we’re going to look this morning, as well as in Acts 26, and then numerous times in his letters. Just read Galatians 1, 1 Timothy 1, Philippians 3. Paul alludes to this over and over again. It was such a life-changing experience for him, and of course, it led to him becoming the apostle to the Gentiles, so that he took the gospel to the uttermost parts of the earth. We today are Christians, many of us, in part because of the testimony of the apostle Paul and because of the things that he wrote that are recorded for us in Scripture.

It is the most important conversion in all of history, and while there are some things about Saul or Paul’s conversion that are unique, things that pertain only to him, I think it’s also true that his conversion is something like a pattern for all of us, because there are certain things that happen in his life spiritually that happen in every conversion story. So what I want to focus on this morning are those things that should be true also in our lives, and can be true in any of our lives, if we really meet Jesus Christ.

We’re going to read the story of Saul’s conversion, and we’re going to read it somewhat through this lens of identity. What I want you to see are three things from Acts 22: first, identity before Christ—we’re going to see that in the life of Saul; second, a transforming encounter with Christ—what does that look like, and what happens when someone meets Jesus Christ in a life-changing way? And third, new identity in Christ—that’s a result of that life-transforming meeting with Jesus. Those are the three points this morning, and we’re just going to read the text as we go with each point.

1. Identity before Christ

Point number one is Saul’s identity before Christ. We reflect on identity before Christ in general, and we’re going to see that in verses 1-5. Verses 1-2 are setting the context, as Paul here is giving a defense of himself and of his gospel to a mob of people who are ready to kill him in Jerusalem. So that’s the context here; he’s speaking to a mob of people in Jerusalem, and he shares his testimony.

We begin in Acts 22:1. Paul is speaking. He says:

“‘Brothers and fathers, hear the defense that I now make before you.’

“And when they heard that he was addressing them in the Hebrew language, they became even more quiet. And he said:

“‘I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city, educated at the feet of Gamaliel according to the strict manner of the law of our fathers, being zealous for God as all of you are this day. I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering to prison both men and women, as the high priest and the whole council of elders can bear me witness. From them I received letters to the brothers, and I journeyed toward Damascus to take those also who were there and bring them in bonds to Jerusalem to be punished.’”

Stop right there. This is really the introduction of Paul’s speech, and in this introduction he is telling these Jewish people before him that he himself is a Jew, and he’s reflecting on who he was before he met Jesus Christ. We might summarize his identity before Christ with just three statements. He was Saul the Jew; that was his racial identity, his ethnic identity. He was also Saul the Pharisee. He talks about his education at the feet of Gamaliel, who was a famous rabbi and was a member of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish council, and was one of the leading Pharisees; and Saul himself was trained up as a Pharisee. So this is his education and his religious identity.

Then he tells us that he was zealous for God and was a persecutor of the church. “I persecuted this Way,” that is, the way of Jesus Christ, the way of the Christians. “I persecuted this Way even to death.” He had a zeal for God, but it was a zeal for God that had actually led him to opposition against Jesus Christ and again his disciples. His religious identity had become sinful.

So, he is Saul the Jew, he is Saul the Pharisee, and he is Saul the persecutor. That’s who he was before he met Jesus Christ.

He describes this in somewhat more detail in Philippians 3:4-6, which just precedes the passage I read a few minutes ago where he talks about how the things he once counted as gain he now counts as loss. Well, he describes what those things were in Philippians 3:4-6. He says, “If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more—circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.” That was his identity before he met Jesus.

Here’s what I want you to see. This is what he did, and I think what all of us do, with identity before we come to know Jesus Christ. Before Christ, we always over-identify with some aspect of our lives. That’s what Paul did. He over-identified with his Jewishness; he over-identified with his education, his religious commitments as a Pharisee, his law-keeping, his morality, his national identity—all these things. These things became so central to who he was that led him to actually persecute and to hurt others. When we over-identify with things like this we treat lesser things as more important than they are; we see ourselves as superior (or maybe even as inferior) to others, but we’re constantly comparing ourselves with others; and we fail to see ourselves in relationship to the most important person in the universe, namely Jesus Christ.

That’s what Saul did in his identity before Christ. That’s what we do as well. You can see this in stories of many people’s conversions.

I’ve already mentioned to you Becket Cook. Becket Cook, before he came to Jesus Christ, he identified himself primarily by his sexual orientation and by his sexual practices. He identified himself as a member of the gay community. That was central to who he was.

Here’s another example: C.S. Lewis. C.S. Lewis is in the middle picture there. C.S. Lewis, before he came to Christ, was an intellectual, right? He was an agnostic. He was someone who had abandoned the Christianity within which he was raised, and as an intellectual he opposed Christianity, and he was this agnostic intellectual, a professor at Oxford. That’s who he was before coming to faith in Jesus Christ.

Or take another example, John Newton. John Newton’s the famous author of the greatest hymn in the English language, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound / That saved a wretch like me!” We all know that by heart, right? But do you know what John Newton was before he met Jesus Christ? He was a slave trader. He was literally involved in the African slave trade aboard an English ship, at times even a captain of an English ship, where he was trading in human lives. That’s who he was. He was a blasphemer; he was an immoral, ungodly man, and he was absolutely defined by those sins in his life.

This is always the case with people before they come to meet Jesus Christ. It may be that you over-identify with something that’s essentially a good thing in your life. There’s nothing wrong with your racial background or your ethnicity, or your family, or education. Those are good things, but if we over-identify with those things we begin to look down on others. We view ourselves as superior to others. We begin to have a tribal mentality, right, where we’re looking at ourselves in contrast to others or in opposition to others.

It’s only when we meet Jesus Christ that we really begin to understand the sinfulness of over-identifying with those things and we begin to see who we really are as subjects of Jesus Christ, and we receive a new identity in and through him.

2. A Transforming Encounter with Christ

This is who Paul was before meeting Christ, and then something happened. He met Jesus. He had a transforming encounter with Christ. We see that in verses 6-9 (this is point two of the sermon).

“‘As I was on my way and drew near to Damascus, about noon a great light from heaven suddenly shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” And I answered, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said to me, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.” Now those who were with me saw the light but did not understand the voice of the one who was speaking to me.’”

Amazing. Saul of Tarsus, the enemy of Jesus Christ, meets Jesus on the road to Damascus. He met Christ, and it completely changed his life.

I think when we look at what really happened here we see two ingredients to a life-transforming encounter with Christ—two ingredients to conversion. These are the two things that must happen, and they must happen in all of our lives for us to really be changed by the gospel, to really be transformed by Christ. Two things.

(1) Number one is a powerful experience of grace. Conversion really begins with that. It begins with grace.

What is grace? Grace has often been defined as unmerited favor, and that’s a good definition. Grace is God’s favor that’s given to those who don’t deserve it. But we might even go further than that and say that grace is God’s favor that is given to those who actually deserve the opposite.

It’s nowhere more clear than with the apostle Paul. Before conversion, who is he? He’s the enemy of Jesus! He’s the adversary of Jesus. He’s the persecutor of Christians. Jesus when he meets him says, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” You see, in persecuting the Christians Saul is showing his opposition to Jesus himself. He’s actually persecuting Christ himself.

When you read the stories of Saul before he came to Christ, you begin to see just how awful this was.

One of the other narratives recording this is Acts 9. Just listen to the first two verses of this, Acts 9:1-2. It says, “But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” He’s breathing threats and murder!

In Acts 26 he describes himself as being in a “raging fury” against the Christians that he persecuted.

In other words, he wasn’t looking for Jesus! He was hunting down the followers of Jesus so that he could imprison them, and perhaps even lead them to execution. That had already happened, when Stephen, the first martyr in the Christian church, was stoned to death in Acts 7. Do you know who’s standing by, consenting to the death of Stephen? Saul of Tarsus.

Here’s a man who is filled with hatred, he’s filled with antagonism, he’s filled with hostility towards Jesus and towards the followers of Jesus; and Jesus comes to him. He wasn’t seeking God, but God was seeking him.

Friends, that’s grace. That’s grace, and that’s always the case in our lives. It’s not that we’re seeking him first, it’s that he is seeking us. It was A.W. Tozer who said in his classic book The Pursuit of God, “Before a man can seek God, God must first have sought the man.” God was seeking Saul of Tarsus.

C.S. Lewis recognized this in his own conversion. C.S. Lewis, by the way, was not a Calvinist by a long shot, but he is my favorite Arminian! In his spiritual autobiography he has a chapter that’s called “Checkmate,” and he likens God to a chess player who is systematically outmaneuvering him, to the point where he’s in a corner and has to face the truth about Jesus Christ. There’s a place at the end of the chapter where Lewis says, “Amiable agnostics will cheerfully talk about man’s search for God. To me, as I then was, they might as well have talked about the mouse’s search for the cat.” He wasn’t searching for God, but God was searching for him. This is always how conversion happens: when God seeks the man, when Christ seeks the man.

Now, we might think from the story of Saul of Tarsus that this is always a sudden, dramatic, climactic encounter. But there’s another detail that’s recorded in Acts 26:14-15 that helps us see that this was actually the culminating point in a process in Saul of Tarsus’s life, and I think it will help us as we think about our own experience.

In Acts 26:14-15 we read these words. Paul now is talking to King Agrippa, giving his testimony there. He says, “When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?’” And then this extra sentence. “‘ It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.’”

Do you know what a goad is? Jesus said, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” What’s a goad? A goad was a sharp stick that was used to prod oxen or cattle, to prod them on. Think of a cattle prod today. It was a sharp stick that was used to steer them, get them moving in the right direction.

Jesus says, “Saul, it is hard for you to kick against the goads.” In other words, there have already been things in his life that Saul has been resisting, but which have been prodding him to Jesus, prodding him towards this moment.

We can only speculate about just what these goads for Saul were. They may have been things like questions he had about Jesus. Maybe there were some subtle doubts in his mind. Even as he was persecuting Christians, even as he was rejecting Jesus as the Messiah, it may have been that he was just wondering, “Is this really true? Is it possible that Jesus really is the Messiah?”

It may have been his memories of Stephen, the martyr, when the stones were crushing against his body, when he was being beaten to a pulp by these stones, and yet he with bold confidence stood his ground and witnesses to the reality of Jesus Christ, his face shining in those moments leading up to his death.

It might have been a guilty conscience. In Romans 7 Paul talks about how he had these struggles with the law of God, and when the commandment came, he said, sin revived, sin came alive, “and I died.”

We don’t know what the goads were, but there were things going on in his life that had been leading him right up to this moment, that were goading him towards Jesus Christ.

If you think about your own experience, you could probably say the same thing, that there were things in your life that led you to the moment where you met Jesus. Or it may be that if you’re not a Christian this morning that there are goads in your life right now, things that have been happening, that have led you to this point, to this moment today—conversations you’ve had, questions that you’ve had, a deep sense of emptiness in your life or a deep desire for satisfaction in your life that has led you right to this point.

This was the case with Becket Cook. In answer to a question in this interview about what was going on in his life that made him ready to receive the seed of the gospel, he talks about how six months before this encounter with the Christians in the cafe in L.A., six months before that he was at a party in Paris, and he said, “I was overwhelmed with emptiness at this party. It was one of the most intense ‘Is this all there is?’ moments in my life.” It was that sense of emptiness that had tilled the soil and made him ready for a gospel conversation that led him to faith in Jesus Christ.

For C.S. Lewis it was this experience of deep desire. He called it “the inconsolable longing.” It was this stabbing desire in his heart. He called it “an unsatisfied desire which is itself more desirable than any other satisfaction.” These piercing moments of beauty, these glimpses of something beyond this world that made him long for more, and he’d experienced this his entire life, and it was only when he met Jesus that he saw that this is what he’d always been looking for.

With John Newton, it was sheer boredom that led him to read Thomas á Kempis’s book The Imitation of Christ—sheer boredom, as he was aboard one of these slaving ships. He read that book, and then some time later there was a terrible storm at sea, and he was fearful for his life, and he called out to God and asked God to rescue him, and the storm was calmed, and he said, “Now I knew that there was a God in heaven.” Those were the goads that were leading him to what eventually became a firm commitment to Jesus Christ and absolutely abhorring the life of sin that he had lived before, so that he became a real advocate for the abolition of slavery. But there were goads; there were things that were leading to that moment.

Friends, this should be really encouraging for us. If you have never had a dramatic “Damascus road” moment, don’t be overly concerned for that. Just ask yourself, can you see how God has strategically led you by his grace toward himself? Those were the goads, things that happened in your life. Especially if you’ve been raised in the church, it might have been a gradual process—conversations with parents, a sermon that you heard, reading the Bible, maybe reading a passage for the umpteenth time, but suddenly you understood. Suddenly you began to see, or gradually, over time, you began to see and understand who Jesus is.

This should also encourage you if you’re praying for someone who isn’t yet a Christian. I think if I asked for a show of hands, every single one of us who are believers this morning would say, “Yes, I’m praying for someone who’s not a believer.” It may be a son or a daughter, it may be a spouse, a husband, or a wife; it may be a brother or a sister or maybe a close friend, but someone that you know is not committed to Christ. You can see the emptiness in their lives; maybe you even see the self-destruction in their lives. You’re burdened for them, you’re concerned for them, you’re afraid that they’re going to die, that they’re going to go to hell. You may wonder, “Is there any hope that this person can be changed?”

I want to tell you, if God could take Saul the persecutor and turn him into Paul the apostle, there’s hope. If God could take a gay man in the upper eschelons of Hollywood and turn him into an ambassador for Jesus Christ in the 21st century—if God could take a proud, agnostic, brilliant, intellectual man like C.S. Lewis and turn him into the greatest apologist of the 20th century—and if God could take the old blaspheming sea captain, slave trader John Newton and turn him into one of the greatest hymn writers in the English language—and if God could take you in your brokenness, in your darkness, in your sin, and he could change you—he can change anybody. Don’t lose hope; keep praying.

For all of us who have found Christ, this recognition of God’s powerful, saving grace should make us the most humble and the kindest of people. Newton said it well.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,
And grace my fears relieved.
How precious did that grace appear
The hour I first believed.

If you’re saved by grace, then you have nothing to boast in. This is the first thing that must happen: a powerful experience of God’s grace in and through Jesus Christ.

(2) Here’s the second thing: a personal confrontation with truth. You see this in Saul’s conversation with Jesus. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”

What’s Jesus doing? He is confronting Saul of Tarsus with the truth about himself, the truth about his sins, the truth about his life, and he’s confronting Saul of Tarsus with the truth about who Jesus really is. Those are the two things that have to happen. You have to come to recognize the truth about yourself.

Now, this always has to happen for meaningful change to happen in our lives. We all get in habits, we all get in ruts. We find ourselves in situations that it’s hard to break out of, and you don’t change without taking some inventory of yourself. If you’re trying to get out of debt, you don’t do that until you recognize, “Okay, this is how much income I have and this is how much I’m spending and this is how much debt I have, and this is budget.” You have to take inventory; you have to know where you are in order to make a change.

If you want to get healthy—if you want to lose weight, you have to step on the scale. You have to know where you are, you have to change something in your life—diet, exercise, those kinds of things—in order to become more healthy.

If you have an addiction, you have to get into a 12-step program or something like that, where you recognize that you are a slave to this desire, to this addiction, and you have to start on a different course in your life. That’s just true in human nature, and it’s especially true in the spiritual realm.

Saul had to come to this recognition that he was a persecutor, and that he was actually standing in opposition to God himself. He had to see himself as a sinner. This has to happen in each one of our lives as well.

C.S. Lewis, once again, is an example of this. He experienced this in his own life, and in the period leading up to his conversion he had begun to see himself more clearly. He said, “For the first time I examined myself with a seriously practical purpose, and there I found what appalled me: a zoo of lusts, a bedlam of ambitions, a nursery of fears, a harem of fondled hatreds. My name was Legion.”

John Newton had to see himself before he could come to Christ; Becket Cook had to see his sin before he could come to Christ; and this has to happen for us as well. You have to come to the point where you see that you are a sinner, justly deserving God’s wrath and displeasure and without hope save in his sovereign mercy. You have to be able to say,

Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.

You have to see the truth about yourself and you have to see the truth about God. “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting.”

What happened? Saul understood that the one he was persecuting was actually the Messiah. He was actually the Son of God. God was revealing himself to Saul in and through Jesus Christ. The light from heaven, the voice—all of that is language is theophany in the Old Testament, where people had a divine encounter with God, there was an appearance of God. This is what happened for Saul. This was important for him because, as the last of the apostles, he had to be an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ, so he needed to see Jesus, and he did.

While we don’t all have as dramatic of an encounter, Paul uses this language of the light, he uses that language to describe what happens to us as well. In 2 Corinthians 4:6 he says, “For God, who said, ‘Let light shine out of darkness,’ has shone in our hearts, to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ.”

This is what happens. You see yourself as a sinner, you see your need for Christ, and you also see Jesus more clearly. You see who he is. You understand the truth about who he is, how he has revealed himself to be in Scripture. You see his sufficiency, you see his glory, you see his beauty. You see that he is the Lord, that he is the King of kings, he is the Lord of lords. So you surrender yourself to him. It’s a transforming, life-changing encounter with Jesus Christ. That’s what happened to Saul of Tarsus; he was converted, he was changed, and this led to his new identity in Christ.

3. New Identity in Christ

Point number three, very briefly—I want to show you from verses 10-16 the immediate changes that happened in Saul’s life. I’m going to go through this quickly, but next week I’m going to talk more extensively about new identity in Christ. What does it mean to be a new creation in Christ, to be a new person in Christ? But there are things we can see right here in verses 10-16. Let me read it. Saul continues,

“‘And I said, “What shall I do, Lord?” And the Lord said to me, “Rise, and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all that is appointed for you to do.” And since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me, and came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing by me said to me, “Brother Saul, receive your sight.” And at that very hour I received my sight and saw him. And he said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the Righteous One and to hear a voice from his mouth; for you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”’”

It’s an amazing passage, these first moments and days following Saul’s encounter with Jesus Christ. I think if you break this down you can see four things. There are four things that are true of a new identity in Christ, four things that you get. You can see it in Saul’s life.

(1) Number one, you get a new Lord or a new master. You see it in verse 10. “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’” Or in the old King James, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” The Lord Jesus gives him direction.

This is the fundamental thing that happened with Saul of Tarsus: he recognized that Jesus Christ was Lord, that he was the Messiah, that he was the King, that he was the Lord of the world. This has to happen in our own lives. I think most of us, before conversion, we essentially view ourselves as our own lords and masters. You remember that old poem that says, “I am the master of my fate; I am the captain of my soul”? That’s basically how we live. But when you come to meet Jesus you recognize that he’s the Lord; you answer to him. You submit to him. You recognize that he is the Lord who is invested with all authority in heaven and earth, but he’s also the Lord who loved you so much that he gave his life for you, so you trust yourself to him. You get a new Lord, you get a new master.

(2) Number two, you get a new family. In verses 12-13, Ananias, this Jewish man, and we know from Acts 9 that the Lord had actually spoken to Ananias and told him to go to Saul of Tarsus. Ananias knew he was a persecutor of the church, but the Lord told him, “Behold, he is praying.” Here’s a man who’s changed; he’s praying. “Now go to him; go to this street, the street called Straight, and you’re going to meet this man, and you’re going to tell him what he will suffer for my sake.”

We see it right here in verses 12-13: “Ananias came to me and, standing by me, said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight.’”

I love those words, “Brother Saul.” Here’s a man who had been his enemy, here’s a man who had been persecuting the Christians, and Ananias comes to him after he meets Jesus and he says, “Brother Saul.” He’s part of a new family now; he’s part of a new community.

Isn’t it interesting that the very first thing that Jesus does for Saul of Tarsus after he meets him on the Damascus road is he connects him to other Christians? I want to say to you this morning, if you are a new believer, if you are a new Christian, young in your faith, you need the church. You need other Christians. I’m glad you’re here, you need Sunday morning; but I mean beyond that. You need a mentor, you need someone to disciple you, you need to get connected to a small group. You need to develop new friendships with people who can help you to mature in your faith in Jesus Christ.

(3) He got a new master, he got a new family, and then number three, he got a new story. Look at verse 16. Ananias is speaking, and he says, “And now, why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.”

What an amazing command. “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Why does Ananias tell him to do that?

Well, what is baptism? Baptism is the initiation into the body of Christ, the initiation ceremony into the church. When we are baptized, we’re baptized in the name of Jesus, we’re baptized in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit. It is a public identification. In fact, we might say it is a way of proclaiming or confessing our new identity in Christ.

Baptism tells a story. It’s a picture, right, and it tells a story. What’s the story it tells? Just think about baptism. What happens? A person goes down into the water, down under the water, and then is brought up out of the water. What’s the story it’s telling? It’s the story of the gospel: death, burial, resurrection. When a person is baptized, they are saying, “I am buried with Christ; I died with Christ, I’m buried with Christ, and I am raised with Christ to walk in newness of life.” When a person is baptized, they’re saying, “I am counting on the story of Christ, on the history of Christ, on what Jesus Christ has done—I’m counting on that to change my life.”

We sang it this morning in this new song, and I know that when we learn a new song you’re thinking about how it goes; you’re thinking about the tune more than you’re thinking about the words initially. But I don’t want you to miss these words. It’s actually an old song from Horatius Bonar put to new music. Listen to this.

Upon a life I did not live,
Upon a death I did not die—
Another’s life, another’s death—
I stake my whole eternity.

I mean, that’s the heart of the gospel right there. That’s what you’re saying in baptism. You’re saying, “I’m counting on another’s life, on another’s death.” It’s the story, right? And it’s your story if you’re in Christ, if you come to Christ; his life, his death, his resurrection counts for you, changes your life.

(4) You get a new master, you get a new family, you get a new story, and then finally, number four, you get a new purpose. You see it in verses 14-15, the words of Ananias to Saul. He said, “The God of our fathers appointed you to know his will, to see the righteous one, to hear a voice from his mouth. For you will be a witness for him to everyone of what you have seen and heard.”

Then in verse 21, in another vision that happens a little bit later, Jesus comes to Saul and says, “Go, for I will send you far away to the Gentiles.”

His purpose in life before had been to persecute Christians, but he gets a new purpose, he gets a new mission, and now his mission is to be a witness to Jesus Christ, to the Gentiles, to go to all the nations of the earth. He becomes the first missionary to the Gentiles.

Now, we don’t have exactly the same mission as Paul, but if you are in Christ, if you come to Christ, you get a new purpose. You get a new calling, and that calling is to live for the glory of Christ, to love others in his name, to be a witness to the gospel, an ambassador for Christ in the world, to share with the world what Jesus Christ has done for your soul. You get a new sense of purpose in life. This is the new identity we get in Christ.

Let me ask you, has this happened to you? When you look at who you were before Christ and then you look at what happened when you met Christ, did it change you? Have you experienced, personally experienced, the power of his grace? Have you been confronted with the truth of your sin and the truth of who he is? Have you embraced Christ? Have you bent the knee to Jesus Christ as Lord, so that it’s completely changed your life, and you have a new identity in him?

Can you say with John Newton, “I am not what I ought to be; I am not what I want to be; I am not what I hope to be in another world; but still, I am not what I once used to be; and by the grace of God I am what I am.”

Can you say that? Has he changed you? Have you met him in a life-transforming way? If you haven’t, today can be that day. This moment, turn to Christ, look to him, trust in him, receive him as Savior and Lord.

Let’s pray.

God, we thank you this morning for your word, we thank you for the testimony of the apostle Paul. We thank you for the power of Jesus Christ, through the Holy Spirit, to bring change and transformation into our lives today. As we’ve reflected on the story of Saul’s conversion as well as some of these other conversion stories, our prayer is that this would be true for each one of us. For those of us who have come to Christ, we say thank you this morning. Thank you for your grace, thank you for saving us, for rescuing us. May we now live true to the new identity that we have in Christ. And for those who have never believed, who have never trusted in Christ, I pray that now would be the moment to turn to Christ and be saved, that my friends in this room would no longer kick against the goads, would no longer resist the ways that you’ve been working in their lives, but would make that commitment personal and final, that they would give themselves to you.

As we come to the Lord’s table this morning, may we come with humble hearts, as we think about the grace that saved us, the grace that changed us, that brought us to you. Lord, we have nothing to boast in. We’re not Christians because we’re better people, we’re Christians because by your grace you sought us out. So thank you for your grace; help us to live for your glory; help us to worship you in these moments. We ask you to draw near to us, in Jesus’ name we pray and for his sake, amen.