Flawed Yet Mercifully Found

By Marcy Barthelette

For that which I do I allow not: for what I would, that do I not; but what I hate, that do I. Romans 7:15

I recall being in a Sunday School class a few years back when this scripture was read by a young man who had difficulty reading it even with advanced practice. Ken and I looked at one another and just shrugged. What in the world did he just say? I think most of the class thought he had misread it. It was only recently, when I read the same verse from The Message, that it made perfect sense to me.

What I don’t understand about myself is that I decide one way, but then I act another, doing things I absolutely despise…it happens so regularly that it’s predictable. Romans 7:15 & 21a)

The scripture goes on and on, basically repeating the same message about wanting to do what is right and always being tempted to make a bad decision. We all know that temptation lies just around the corner in wait, hoping to reel in an unsuspecting participant.

And Paul, the author of the scripture, was no stranger to bad deeds. He was born near or shortly after the birth of Jesus and grew up in his Jewish family. He was recognized early on as being intellectual ahead of his peers and trained zealously under the Pharisees and, indeed, became a leader in the group. As such, it was his duty to persecute Jews and he did so with relish. While he was well-educated, he is not thought to have been a member of the elite crowd. He had to work for a living and found his livelihood in tent making. His skill took him to many communities enabling the persecution of countless Jews. And remember, he enjoyed it!

Until that is, he encountered God on the road to Damascus. He was en route to the city for the express purpose of taking Jewish prisoners.

As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground  and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied.
Acts 9:3-5

Whoa! This is serious business. A flash from heaven and a voice from seemingly nowhere who claimed to be  Jesus. In the message, Saul was told to go into the city to learn what he should do, but when he tried to move, he was blind and his companions had to help him make the journey.

Meanwhile in Damascus, a disciple named Ananias was instructed by the Lord to go to a place appointed in a dream to find the man from Tarsus, Saul, and restore his sight. Ananias was arguably dubious toward this idea because he had heard that Saul was headed into town to round up Jews and take them to prison and he told the Lord of his reluctance. But the Lord said:

Go! This man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel. I will show Him how much he must suffer for my name. Acts 9:15-16

Once Ananias placed his hands on Saul and affirmed that Jesus truly had sent him, Saul regained his sight and was baptized, whereupon his preaching ministry commenced. He preached that Jesus is Lord in every town or city he visited. He no longer sought to punish Jews for their disobedience nor flaunted his lavish education of the law but, instead, sought to introduce as many Gentiles to Jesus as his time would allow. It’s very possible that his tent-making skills gave him access to the common people. It would be easy to attract a crowd to just sit, talk, and casually introduce Jesus. He made many enemies as a result of his teaching and often lived a harsh life but he never gave up the message that no matter who we are, Jesus is waiting to welcome us into the family of God.

After his baptism, Saul became known as Paul, and there is a great deal of discussion about why this occurred but that’s a subject for another time. Though Paul was a completely devoted disciple of Jesus and is credited with being second in importance only to Jesus in the New Testament and with having written or provided resources for thirteen of the twenty-seven books within that portion of the Bible, he always wrestled with the concept of right and wrong, as witnessed by the confusing scripture at the beginning of this story. Now we get to the really good part:

I’ve tried everything and nothing helps. I’m at the end of my rope. Is there no one who can do anything for me?  Isn’t that the real question? The answer, thank God, is that Jesus Christ can and does. He acted to set things right in this life of contradictions where I want to serve God with all my heart and mind, but am pulled by the influence of sin to do something totally different. Romans 7:24-25

What a message and what a promise! God wants all of his children to come to him, even the ones we may deem unworthy. If a guy like Saul could do a one-eighty and become Paul, a force for good, yet still need to wrestle the human forces within himself, who are we to say no when Jesus calls us to Him? It doesn’t matter how flawed we have become, where we’ve been, or how far into the well of despair we’ve fallen, He finds us, reaching His hand of mercy down into the well to pull us out. All we have to do is reach up!

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