“… last of all He (Jesus) appeared to me also, as to one abnormally born. For I am the least of the apostles and do not even deserve 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 to me was not without effect.” 1 Corinthians 15:8-10a (NIV)
Paul was in the next wave of Christ followers. All the other apostles saw Jesus in the flesh when He lived among them and led them. But, it wasn’t until after His ascension into heaven that Christ appeared to Paul personally on the road to Damascus. Paul was traveling there with orders from the High Priest to capture and imprison Christ followers. When he encountered Jesus on that road, it transformed his life from a persecutor of the church to an apostle of the church! That’s the power of grace to fully restore a life!
Even though Paul had given his approval to stone Stephen to death for his faith in Jesus, he would experience grace from the risen Christ. It was so humbling, he never really got over it. In this passage, he calls himself the least of the apostles, not even deserving to be called an apostle. In another letter, Paul calls himself the chief of sinners. (1 Tim. 1:15) Paul wreaked havoc on the church, breathing out murderous threats! Because of his past, he knew better than anyone what forgiveness meant.
What an encouragement this is to you and me! No matter who we are or what we’ve done, no one is beyond God’s grace to restore their lives! Paul used his own life as an example. In 1 Timothy 1:16 he says,
“But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as an example to show everyone how patient He is with even the worst sinners, so that others will realize that they, too, can have everlasting life.”
Have you ever felt that you had messed up so bad that not even God could fix it? Not even God would forgive you? It was too late? You crossed the line of no return? Don’t believe it! As long as you’re occupying space and taking in oxygen, God’s grace is greater than your sin!
My favorite part of our key passage today is when Paul declares,
“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and His grace to me was not without effect.”
The word effect means to cause to change. Jesus changed Paul’s life! He can change yours! He didn’t appear to Paul to condemn or berate him for all the bad things he had done and people he had hurt. Instead, Jesus appeared to him, offering grace! He offers that same grace to you today, even to those who have hurt you. That’s what makes grace so amazing! Paul was restored by grace! That same restoring grace is available for you and me! Never write off anyone! If He can transform the likes of Paul, there’s hope for anyone! What’s your grace story? How has God’s grace restored you?