But the Lord said to him [Ananias], “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” (Acts 9:15-16, ESV)
Have you ever known someone who was just too sinful to be saved? I once met a lady who said she and her husband were so deep in sin that no one would invite them to church. They were considered a hopeless case. As she told her story, all I saw was the sweet, godly lady standing before me. Obviously, someone had overlooked God’s power to transform lives. Thankfully, God sees beyond “what is” to the “what’s possible with Me.” No one is beyond hope.
A seemingly impossible case? Meet Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of those who followed Jesus. Acts 8:3 tells us he made havoc of the church. He was doing his best to stamp out every trace of what he perceived as falsehood. He was radical in his zeal—until the very One he fought against stopped him on the road to Damascus.
And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting.” (Acts 9:5, ESV)
When the Lord instructed Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, to visit the blinded Saul and lay hands on him for his healing, the man was reluctant to go. He knew the evil Saul had done to the saints in Jerusalem. But the Lord assured Ananias that Saul was a chosen instrument to carry His name to many.
Saul (later Paul) had been a very zealous oppressor, but now the Lord used those same qualities to make him a tireless soulwinner. Immediately following his conversion, he began to preach Jesus in the synagogues. It wasn’t long before the persecutor became the persecuted. To save his life some of the disciples in Damascus let him down over the wall in a basket (Acts 9:22-25).
Just as the Lord said in Acts 9:16, Paul endured many hardships during his more than thirty years of ministry. He may have suffered, but he did not give up.
Five times I received at the hands of the Jews the forty lashes less one. Three times I was beaten with rods. Once I was stoned. Three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I was adrift at sea; often on frequent journeys, in danger from rivers, danger from robbers, danger from my own people, danger from Gentiles, danger in the city, danger in the wilderness, danger at sea, false brothers; in toil and hardship, through many a sleepless night, in hunger and thirst, danger from without food, in cold and exposure. And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches. (II Corinthians 11:24-28, ESV)
Perhaps you were one of those so deep in sin, or perhaps you’ve met someone who seems “unsavable.” Remember that Paul, the preacher, was once Saul, the persecutor. When we become a new creature in Christ, the possibilities are limitless. The next great soulwinner, Sunday school teacher, pastor, or missionary may be standing right before you. Look beyond what you see now and envision what they can become in Christ. Reach out to them with love and compassion.