Paul was a young lieutenant in the US Army, leading a platoon in Vietnam in 1967, when he met Jesus during an intense battle at the Lang Vei Special Forces Camp. As men died all around him he thought death inevitable until Jesus appeared to him with a question. Without any church background, without a preacher leading the way, Paul chose faith in that moment and experienced incredible peace and transformation.
He went to ‘Nam a man full of pride and godless. He came home a changed man, as he says, “The old Paul died in that battle!” He remained in the military, reaching the rank of colonel. But, Paul Longgrear would tell you that his most important mission is serving Jesus Christ. (http://manleftbehind.christusfilms.com/)
The story of another Paul is told in the book of Acts. He was a Pharisee, a man who thought he was serving God’s purposes when he persecuted the first generation of Christians, trying to stamp out the ‘Jesus’ cult. He too met Jesus. “As he was nearing Damascus on this mission, a brilliant light from heaven suddenly beamed down upon him! He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, sir?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting! Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you are to do.” (Acts 9:3-6, NLT) Saul became the messenger of Jesus’ Gospel to the Roman world, known to us as Paul, the apostle, writer of about half of the New Testament.
The hymn, Amazing Grace, includes this line, “I once was lost, but now I’m found, was blind, but now I see.” John Newton wrote that as part of his own story. He went to sea in 18th century England and eventually became the captain of slave ships, a godless man. He, too, met God and was changed. Newton turned into a fervent opponent of the slave trade and committed himself to God’s service. He was ordained by the Church of England and was the parish minister at Olney, Buckinghamshire, for 20 years.
Have you been converted?
Let’s not confuse ‘church-going’ or ‘being religious’ with true conversion. There is a much good in going to church and practicing the ways of Christianity, but getting right with God is a heart issue. As Jesus explained to a leader of the Jewish people who came to inquire about Who He was and what He was doing. “In reply Jesus declared, “I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.” “How can a man be born when he is old?” Nicodemus asked. “Surely he cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb to be born!”
Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless he is born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born again.’ The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.” (John 3:3-8, NIV)
What wonder! What grace! We who are forgetful of God can be changed, turned into true saints, beloved of God, and in possession of eternal life! It is His work, a gift “that even while we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s special favor that you have been saved!)” (Ephesians 2:5, NLT) I ask you today, do you know the Savior? He is received by faith. Your conversion may not be as dramatic as those mentioned above, but it is every bit as amazing, from faith from first to last.
The word from the Word are Jesus’ words of promise. “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” (Luke 4:18-19, NIV) “God did not send his Son into the world to condemn it, but to save it. “There is no judgment awaiting those who trust him. But those who do not trust him have already been judged for not believing in the only Son of God.” (John 3:17-18, NLT)
Another of John Newton’s hymns
Glorious Things Of Thee Are Spoken
Glorious things of thee are spoken
He whose word cannot be broken
Formed thee for His own abode
On the Rock of Ages founded
What can shake thy sure repose
With salvation’s walls surrounded
Thou may’st smile at all thy foes
See the streams of living waters
Springing from eternal love
Well supply thy sons and daughters
And all fear of want remove
Who can faint while such a river
Ever flows their thirst to assuage
Grace which like the Lord the Giver
Never fails from age to age
Savior since of Zion’s city
I thro’ grace a member am
Let the world deride or pity
I will glory in Thy name
Fading is the world’s best pleasure
All its boasted pomp and show
Solid joys and lasting treasures
None but Zion’s children know
John Newton © Words: Public Domain