He is their brightest star. Their up-and-coming champion. Trained at the feet of the master Gamaliel himself, and equipped with sterling educational credentials, Saul of Tarsus is truly a Pharisee of Pharisees.
And Saul is certain of his theology. Saul knows that Jesus of Nazareth can’t be the Jewish Messiah. After all, the Bible says so:
“…[A]nyone hung on a tree is under God’s curse.”
There you have it, chapter and verse. God said it, I believe it, that settles it. Those heretical followers of The Way can claim whatever they like. But as for Saul, he’s going to stand on the Bible.
So armed with arrest warrants signed by the high priest himself, Saul begins the long journey to Damascus. He’s heard reports of these apostates gathering in some of the local synagogues around town. Seething in righteous anger, he plans to bust up their meetings, detain and interrogate his suspects, and bring them back to Jerusalem to try them for blasphemy, for which the penalty is public stoning.
Saul doesn’t see himself as a persecutor. He certainly doesn’t consider himself a cruel man. Saul just loves the Bible. He’s taking a stand for biblical truth. So he travels to Damascus with an axe to grind, zealous for his God and ready to put these heretics in their place.
But somewhere along the way, a light brighter than the sun appears from the heavens, knocking Saul to the ground. And he hears a voice.
“Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
He responds, “Who are you, Lord?”
The reply comes, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”
When Jesus Changes Everything
This sudden encounter with Jesus shakes Saul to the very core. His entire life, Saul knew the answers. He knew God’s plan. He knew the Bible. He knew he had good, sound doctrine. And he was certain he was right. He absolutely knew it.
And now, the man who was certain of his rightness is rendered blind, groping in the darkness. And all of a sudden, things he was once so sure about…he’s not so sure about. His theological system is now in complete disarray. His psychological certitude is now totally dismantled. And he knows nothing
Except for one thing. He now knows that Jesus is risen from the dead, and that he is going to have to rethink everything. Thankfully, he doesn’t have to get rid of everything. In fact, he can hold on to most of what he’s learned. But he’ll have to rework everything in the light of Christ.
Spiritual progress is not always a matter of the addition of something new. Often the greatest growth happens through subtraction. In other words, before we can see, we’ve got to go blind. Things need to be un-learned, because sometimes we can take the pieces we have and put it together all wrong. And before real progress can be made, the whole thing needs to be pulled apart.Spiritual progress is not always a matter of the addition of something new. Often the greatest growth happens through subtraction. In other words, before we can see, we’ve got to go blind. Click To Tweet
If you’re genuinely committed to following the Jesus way, at some point along your journey you may very well find yourself in a season in which you’re saying things like:
“I used to have this all figured out.”
“Where is this thing headed?”
“I’m not so sure anymore.”
“And what do I do with all of these Bible prophecy charts I worked so hard on?”
What I want you to know is this is not a bad thing. Nothing’s wrong with you. Just stay on the journey. Though painful, this season of un-knowing is essential and quite necessary for real spiritual growth.Though painful, this season of un-knowing is essential and quite necessary for real spiritual growth. Click To Tweet
The Cost of Journeying Toward Jesus
This has been my own journey. And it’s the journey of anyone who wants to make authentic progress in the Jesus way. And like Paul, I needed some people to take me by the hand and lead me into a better framework. I needed the help of N.T. Wright to renovate my eschatology. I needed Fleming Rutledge to help me recover a rich theology of the cross. I needed Justo Gonzalez to awaken me to the beautiful diversity of the global and historic church. I needed Dallas Willard to help me detox from church growth philosophy and give me a vision for spiritual formation. And I needed the assistance of many other brothers and sisters along the way.
To be honest, this journey of un-knowing and re-learning has cost me dearly. I’ve had to give up my certitude. It’s cost me some friends. Friends who, like Saul, assumed they were standing up for biblical truth. And in the name of standing up for the Bible, they hurt people. This journey has required me to let go of lots of things that were once quite dear to me.
But I promise you, it’s worth it. You may lose some things along the way. But you’ll also gain a deeper, richer, more satisfying walk with Jesus that will become more precious to you by the day.