How different are you because of Jesus? How different is your life? I ask the same questions of myself. How different am I? How different is my life because of Jesus?
These questions have two basic, overlapping, and interlocking dimensions. The one has to do with self. The other has to do with the world. (1) With respect to self, how different am I from the kind of person I was before Jesus grasped me in love and redemption? Or, how different am I from the person I likely would be apart from Jesus? (2) With respect to the world, how different am I from the world around me – that is, from the ideas and practices of a world which does not acknowledge Jesus as savior and lord? How different is my life from this world? I ask the same questions of you.
If we ask these questions of Saul (later, Paul), we find a fundamental answer to them. How different? Radically different! As clear from earlier in Acts (compare Saul’s presence at the stoning of Stephen and his subsequent mission to Damascus), Saul had fervently opposed the idea of Jesus as savior and lord and therefore harried the followers of Jesus. Then the living Jesus – not condemned but vindicated by God through resurrection! – confronted Saul on the road to Damascus, restructured divine and human reality for him, and remade Saul into a fundamentally new person. From zealous persecutor of Jesus’ followers to devoted disciple and evangelist of Jesus – within days, and for a lifetime, as we discover in today’s reading! Such was the radical difference Jesus made in Saul as a person, in the entirety of Saul’s life compared to what he had been and compared to the world around him.
With Saul in view, and Peter, and countless others from the early church to the present whose lives have been fundamentally turned around and transformed by Jesus, we come back to these questions for you and for me. How different are we? What difference has Jesus made in our lives, in the compass of our beliefs, perspectives, feelings, commitments, and behaviors? Because of Jesus, how different are we as people within ourselves and in relation to the world around?
Jesus loves us as we are, but he never leaves us as we are. We see this manifestly and paradigmatically in Jesus’ encounter with and transformation of Saul. But it is not only Saul whom Jesus loves and changes. He loves and wants to change you and me and the whole world. Are we, with Saul, willing to lay down our former life to receive totally new life from Jesus and live it boldly in the world around us?