“Martin Luther, the renowned leader of the Protestant Reformation, struggled for years under the guilt of his sin, desperately wanting a relationship with God but never finding it through empty religion. Then…one night, alone at his bedside, he read from the book of Romans these penetrating words from the pen of Paul: ‘the just shall live by faith…’ (Rom. 1:17). And in that moment, a light suddenly shone brightly in the darkness of his heart. The living Savior broke into the chamber of despair and turned on the shining light of His grace.” (Chuck Swindoll, Paul: A Man of Grace and Grit Study Guide, p. 16)
If the definition of radical is “having a profound or far-reaching effect,” then what God did to Paul when He shined His light of grace on him was certainly radical. Not only was Paul’s life changed but also that of the entire world. To many former skeptics, the radical transformation of the murderous, anti-Christian Paul of Tarsus to Jesus’ joyful bondservant is one of the most concrete evidences of the reality of Jesus Christ and His gospel of grace.
The moment Paul accepted that Jesus was who He said He was, placing his faith in Him, a new Paul was born. The Holy Spirit transformed Paul, the enemy of God, to Paul, the forgiven child of God, one of God’s saints, totally loved and accepted by Him. That was Paul’s new identity. That is also the new identity each of us receives the moment we put our faith in Jesus Christ. Off we go on our new adventure with Christ. But, the transformation doesn’t stop there. The Holy Spirit takes all those character traits and advantages God has already given us and changes them or redirects them to serve a new purpose—becoming more like Jesus Christ as we follow Him. No miracle is greater than a life radically transformed through Jesus Christ! The Holy Spirit is certainly a radical blessing.
Read Acts 9:1-43 in one sitting to get the whole picture. As you do, read it prayerfully—the Holy Spirit has promised to help us understand it. Pray that God would open your heart to the truths He has for you from this text.
1. Discovering the Facts:
§ Why was Saul going to Damascus?
§ What did he see on the way?
§ In 9:4, Saul heard whose voice?
§ What question was Saul asked and to what was it referring?
§ What instructions were given to Saul?
§ What did his companions witness?
§ What happened next?
Now, read Acts 22:6-11 and 26:12-16 (Paul’s telling his own story). What additional facts do you glean from these verses?
Historical Insight: Paul’s targeting of Damascus (~150 miles from Jerusalem) shows Christianity had spread rapidly. Though not under the direct control of Jerusalem, at that time Damascus may have been under the Nabatean king, Aretas IV. In order to gain favor with the anti-Roman Jews, Aretas, who hated the Romans, would have conceded this favor to the high priest. This same king tries to capture the transformed Paul just a short time later (Acts 9:23-25; 2 Corinthians 11:32-33). (The Bible Knowledge Commentary, p. 375)
Scholars think this occurred ~5 years after Jesus’ resurrection and ascension. Paul was ~30.
Deeper Discoveries: In Acts 26:14, Jesus used a Greek proverbial phrase “kick against the goads” that referred to the goads used to prod oxen or other beasts of burden. To encourage his oxen to pull harder, a farmer would use a pointed rod to prod the hind parts of the beasts. In protest, the animals would often kick against that action. The result would be a painful reminder of who was in charge. John 6:44 and 12:32 remind us that God draws people to Himself in various ways. Looking back over chapters 6-8, in what ways was Jesus drawing Paul to Himself (prodding him) before this day? How did Paul kick against these goads?
2. Why do you think Jesus said, “Why do you persecute me?” instead of “Why do you persecute the believers?” See also Matthew 25:34-40.
3. What does Jesus tell Ananias that Saul is doing while waiting (v. 11)? Does this surprise you? Why or why not?
Scriptural Insight: Waiting on the Lord is an old and deep idea. Read Psalm 27:14 and Isaiah 40:30-31. Jesus gave His disciples the command to “wait” in Acts 1:4. The disciples spent that “wait” time actively meeting and praying together.
4. Share Your Life: The Lord allows Paul to wait for three days before giving him any further information. Paul spends that time fasting and praying, with an obviously submitted heart. Sometimes the Lord interrupts our lives to force us to wait. Are you waiting on the Lord for something now? Are you continually submitting your heart to Jesus in prayer concerning that issue? Share if you feel comfortable with your group and ask them to pray for you in the “waiting” time.
5. What was Ananias’s initial response to the Lord’s request? How did Jesus reassure him? Then, what did Ananias do? See Acts 22:12 for additional insight into Ananias’s character.
6. Share Your Life: Put yourself in Ananias’s place. How would you have felt on your way to Judas’s house? Has Jesus ever asked you to do something really hard or scary? Maybe something that just didn’t fit with the plans you had for your life? How did He reassure you that it would be okay if you followed Him?
7. What do you think might have been the purpose for Paul’s blindness for three days? What may have been God’s purpose(s) in using Ananias to restore Paul’s sight?
Think About It: “Saul could not escape God’s gracious pursuit. Ultimately, on a dusty thoroughfare north of Jerusalem, the Lord caught him, blinded him, and conquered his heart…The once self-avowed avenger of Judaism changed his course and humbly submitted to the Captain of his soul.” (Chuck Swindoll, Paul, a Man of Grace and Grit study guide, pp. 15-16)
What irony! The Hebrew of Hebrews would spend the rest of his life living among Gentiles and loving them!
8. State Paul’s mission given in this passage and in Acts 22:14-16; 26:16-18. What evidence do you see of God’s sovereignty in it? See also Romans 11:13, Galatians 2:2-8; and Ephesians 3:8.
Deeper Discoveries: Research the city of Tarsus: economy, commerce, religion, education, and geographical location. What were the advantages of growing up there? The disadvantages? How did Paul’s life in Tarsus prepare him for the task to which Jesus called him?
9. Share Your Life: Paul received many advantages that set him apart from birth (Galatians 1:15) for the task to which Jesus called Him. What advantages have you received from God by your birth and rearing? What disadvantages? Nothing in Paul’s life would be wasted unless he refused to let God use it. Nothing in your life would be a waste unless you refuse to let God use it. Have you thanked Him for what you received from Him that sets you apart? Have you offered that to Him for His service?
Scriptural Insight: In Philippians 3:5, Paul calls himself a “Hebrew of Hebrews”, meaning that although living in a Greek culture, he was raised as a Hebraic Jew—attending Hebrew school at the Hebrew synagogue. Acts 23:16 reveals that Paul had at least one sister — a definite advantage!
10. Based on 1 Corinthians 9:1, how does Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus authenticate his apostleship? See also Acts 1:21-22, 1 Corinthians 15:8, and Galatians 1:11-17.
11. In a letter to Timothy, Paul gives his perspective on his life before knowing Jesus. Read 1 Timothy 1:12-16. What is Paul’s conclusion?
Think About It: Charles Wesley captured this in his hymn And Can It Be: “Long my imprisoned spirit lay fast bound in sin and nature’s night…I woke—the dungeon flamed with light! My chains fell off, my heart was free, I rose, went forth, and followed Thee.” Paul was set free from his ignorance and his sinful, murderous ways. His life is new, never to be the same! Scholar and historian F. F. Bruce calls Paul “the apostle of the heart set free.” What an appropriate description!
12. Share Your Life: Paul considered himself a trophy of God’s absolutely amazing grace to an undeserving sinner. Do you consider yourself a display of Jesus’ unlimited patience and abundantly poured out grace? Do you recognize the transformation in your life and in other believers around you? Now, read 1 Timothy 1:17 and repeat those words back to Jesus in praise.
Deeper Discoveries: Read the following scriptures and summarize what happens when a person believes Jesus Christ is who He claimed to be. How does knowing this affect your life today?
· Romans 5:1, 10; 6:18; 8:1, 17
· 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:11; 12:13
· 2 Corinthians 5:17
· Ephesians 1:5, 13
· Colossians 1:13, 22; 2:13
13. What has immediately changed in Paul (v. 20-22)? How does this demonstrate the radical transforming power of the Holy Spirit? See also John 14:26 and 16:13.
Think About It: “A radical faith is choosing to step out to fulfill God’s clearly defined will at great personal risk and sacrifice. If there is not risk, there is no faith.” (Chip Ingram)
14. Share Your Life: When you compare Paul’s mindset in Acts 9:1-2 with 9:20-22, Paul’s perspective has certainly changed! Has Christ ever radically changed your perspective on anything? If so, what was changed, and what/who did He use in your life to do so?
15. Many scholars believe there is a three-year gap between Acts 9:22 and 9:23. Read Galatians 1:11-24 and 2 Corinthians 11:23-27. Paul’s reception in Jerusalem differs markedly from his previous experiences there. What was told about Paul in Acts 9:16? How is this being fulfilled in vv. 23-30?
16. Notice who came to Paul’s defense. Remember that the Apostles had called Barnabas “Son of Encouragement” as they recognized his spiritual gift (Acts 4:36). How did the Holy Spirit use this gifted believer to benefit Paul at this time?
17. Share Your Life: Who has been the greatest encourager in your life? What difference has that gift made? Have you thanked him/her? Share with the group what part this person has played in your life.
18. Read Acts 22:17-21. Who else encouraged Paul during this time? What instructions did He give to Paul? After Paul left for Tarsus, what did the Holy Spirit continue to do for the church?
Scriptural Insight: There are other recorded New Testament instances of the resurrected Jesus appearing to Paul (Acts 9:5; 18:9-10; 22:17-18; 23:11, and possibly 2 Corinthians 12:1-10).
19. Discovering the Facts: Peter is continuing his tour of Samaritan and Judean towns (8:25; 9:32). Now he is in Lydda, a small town twelve miles from Joppa, a seaport on the Mediterranean. How is Dorcas described?
20. How did God show his power through Peter in this passage? What were the results?
21. A tanner was involved in treating the skins of dead animals, thus contacting something unclean according to Jewish law (Leviticus 11:24). So many despised the profession. What does Peter’s staying with Simon demonstrate about the Holy Spirit’s radical transformation of Peter? How might this prepare him for accepting fellowship with Gentile Christians in the future?
22. Share Your Life: We are told in 2 Corinthians 5:17 that the moment we trust in Jesus Christ as who He claimed to be, Jesus begins a radical transformation in us. The Holy Spirit comes to live in us permanently to enable that transformation. What radical changes has the Holy Spirit made in your life? Write a prayer of thanksgiving to Jesus for the work He has done in your life, and share this with your group.
Review the scripture passage covered in this lesson for evidences of the guidance and empowering of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers. What will you ask God to do in your life?