Saul of Tarsus (later would be known as Paul the Apostle) was full of himself.
He believed he was right; people called him a Pharisee of the Pharisees. His religious life was flawless. He thought what he was doing was perfectly aligned with God’s will. He even felt his responsibility for keeping everything and everyone right. He never allowed any blasphemous deviations to happen.
Even he described himself as a Hebrew of the Hebrews.
Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.Philippians 3:4-6
He was a perfectionist. As a Pharisee of the Pharisees, as a Hebrew of the Hebrews, he believed early Christians were dangerously blasphemous in his days when he called himself Saul of Tarsus. He was never hesitant to persecute them. He was one of the typical self-righteous, religious persons.
When early Christians were in the persecution, Saul was one of the leaders in the side of the accusers. In fact, he was standing nearby Stephen’s death, the first martyr among early Christians.
And cast him [Stephen] out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul. And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.Acts 7:58-60
For Saul, it was a war for justice. He never pitied Stephen. He continued his act of God’s justice with his full enthusiasm.
And Saul was consenting unto his [Stephen’s] death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judæa and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.Acts 8:1-3
When we believe we are right, ironically we can be cruel without any sense of guilt. Rather, we are satisfied, even feel better. Saul of Tarsus was like that. He was so self-righteous and religious, keeping the laws perfectly, praising and worshiping God enthusiastically, believing his action was God’s will.
Saul of Tarsus was full of himself.
At the hype of his religious life, however, executing his act of God’s justice, suddenly he encountered the complete self-denial. It was not his ascetic effort of self-denial. It was a stunning, trembling experience that he never expected; never imagined.
And as he [Saul] journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven:
And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.
And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink.Acts 9:1-9
On his way to Damascus, he suddenly heard the voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” After this incident, for three days, he had no sight, neither ate nor drank. What Saul was thinking for those three days?
It must be Saul’s near-death and ego-death experience.
Through such experience, he had to completely deny what he thought of right as God’s will. He had to deny himself. Denying himself, however, seems too late. He had already persecuted a lot of Christians.
His self-denial was not enough. Even killing himself was not enough. For the first time in his life, the deep sense of guilt, regret, and despair had overwhelmed him. He was ready for the true repentance.
Arriving at Damascus, Saul met Ananias.
And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost.
And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.Acts 9:17-20
Being blind for three days, he met Ananias and restored his eye sight. The truth was, however, he had been blind for many years in his self-righteous, religious life. After being blind for three days, he was able to gain not only his sight but even his spiritual eyesight.
He started calling himself Paul (I am little; Παῦλος), not Saul (I desire; Σαῦλος) anymore.
Image by Robert Cheaib