“For you have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it; and I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries among my countrymen, being more extremely zealous for my ancestral traditions. But when God, who had set me apart even from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, was pleased to reveal His Son in me so that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately consult with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went away to Arabia and returned once more to Damascus.”
The conversion of Paul is one of the hallmarks of the New Testament exemplifying the miraculous power and grace of God. Paul was a Pharisee: a Jewish religious leader and teacher. He was zealous, he stood out amongst the others in his heritage, in his teaching and in his passion. He fully understood that the claims of Jesus to be God, if not true, were blasphemous and on that foundation he murdered Christians. He is named as present at the murder of the first martyr, Stephen (Acts 7-8).
But then we have the account of Jesus calling him out by name on the road to Damascus – while he was en route to bind and imprison Christians to bring them back to Rome to be killed. Jesus appeared to him, called him to repentance, and he was blinded for three days until a prophet named Ananias came and restored his sight and prayed over him to be filled with the Holy Spirit and establish the beginning of his ministry.
In his letter to the Galatians, Paul explains a bit about the timeline of his life post-Damascus Road experience. He went away for three years to Arabia to commune with the Lord, after which he went and met with Peter to compare notes. God called Paul to specifically minister to Gentiles – to anyone not of Jewish descent – so as to take the Gospel and salvation to the entire world.
But what stands out to me about his account of his own calling is that he said that God had “set me apart from my mother’s womb” (Gal 1.15).
Does that strike you? God set Paul apart from before he was born to be the apostle to the Gentiles. To be the key ambassador of Jesus Christ to the non-Jewish world. Before he was born. The election of God is evident and clearly taught throughout Scripture, but that means that his heritage of Judaism, working as a Pharisee and murdering Christians were all included in the perfect plan of God for his life.
God’s timing and plans are perfect and so far beyond our comprehension (Is 55.8). God is always going to do what is right:
“Shall not the Judge of all the earth deal justly?”
But sometimes it looks vastly different than you or I would imagine. Scripture says that the Church was “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus Himself being the cornerstone” (Eph 2.20). Would you build your following on one who had murdered those who followed you? God did.
He has established your path. Everything in your past has brought you to where you are today. So repent. Embrace your heritage. Cling to His grace poured out over you. Praise God for all things. And serve God. Serving “as one who is serving by the strength which God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ, to whom belongs the glory and dominion forever and ever” (1 Peter 4.11).