At first, it was hard for me to believe that he had really given up coffee. I was skeptical, and thought that it wouldn't be long before he'd be back to his old ways, but I was wrong. His determination is strong. Seeing my Dad make such a drastic change overnight impressed me and reminded me of something I've always believed: a person can do almost anything they want to--if they really want to.
Back in the first century, there was a man by the name of Saul of Tarsus who made an extremely radical change in just a few days. He ceased being a Pharisee and persecutor of Christianity and became a penitent, purified preacher. Allow me to elaborate on his transformation briefly.
Saul lived according to the strictest sect of Judaism as a Pharisee (Acts 26:5). He believed that Christianity was a false religion that ought to be snuffed out of existence. Thus, he labored diligently as its chief persecutor. He imprisoned many, and gave his approval whenever a Christian was executed. He was a scourge to followers of Christ in many places, and he compelled some to blaspheme their Lord (Acts 26:9-11).
But, something happened to Saul that motivated him to change. Jesus Christ spoke with him on the road to Damascus (Acts 9:1ff). Saul was blinded by light that was brighter than the noonday sun. Although he could not see physically for several days, he started seeing things more clearly spiritually than he ever had before. He realized that he was wrong and needed to change. Contrary to what many affirm, Saul was not saved on the road to Damascus. He was led into the city and therein he fasted and prayed fervently for three days (9:9,11). At that moment, Saul was a penitent believer, but he was still in his sins. How do you know that, Stephen? The wording of Acts 22:16 is clear enough. It was only after he was baptized to wash away his sins that he became purified (9:18). Saul, the zealous man that he was, did not stop at merely becoming a follower of Jesus. After his conversion, he immediately started publicly preaching Jesus as the Son of God (9:20), and he never turned back to his former way of life. Saul, who was later known as Paul, changed radically and permanently.
But, how did others view Saul of Tarsus? I suspect the first century Christians viewed him as someone who would never change. Surely the one who imprisoned Christians and had them put to death would never be converted to the Lord, would he? The hesitation Ananias manifested in Acts 9:13,14, when divinely instructed to go to Saul, seems to imply this thought. Additionally, the reluctance of Christians to accept Saul into their fellowship after his conversion shows the doubt that was prevalent in the minds of most (9:26). It was difficult for them to believe that a man like Saul could change. It seemed more reasonable to think that this was a trick and part of his persecution plans. However, thanks to men like Barnabas, who believe that people can change, Saul was eventually recognized and embraced as a genuine disciple (9:27ff).
I wonder if any of the early disciples speculated who would have the greatest impact for the cause of Christ in that era. Probably most would have named Peter or John. None of them would have suggested that it would be Saul of Tarsus. It was difficult for them to see the potential that Saul had for the church. It was hard to imagine him making such a dramatic change. But friends, let us never forget that God's word has power to transform lives for good. It is true that some will never change and submit to the Lord, but, in these circumstances, it is not that the person cannot change; rather they simply will not change. The gospel, when believed and obeyed, is God's power to save man (Rom. 1:16). That includes men like Saul of Tarsus, the worst sinners of our day, and even people like you and me.