Downtown Cornerstone Media
Feb 7
2012

The Untamed God

Acts: The Story Continues, Media, Sermons, Uncategorized | by Pastor Adam Sinnett


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Summary

Today, in Acts 9:1-31, we have a historical record of the most famous conversion story in church history. The conversion of the Apostle Paul. In fact, Luke is so impressed with this story that he includes it three times in Acts (Acts 8,22,26). But, before the Apostle Paul was the greatest missionary the world has ever known, he was the angry, violent, self-righteous, Pharisee Saul. What brought about this change? That’s our topic today.

Introduction

This morning, we continue our study of the book of Acts. From the beginning, Christianity was not a set of teachings or ethical behaviors that you took up. It was a power that took you up. That power has always been described as conversion, that is, to be transformed from the inside out. Every single person in this city has a particular worldview that serves to answer the deepest questions of life (issues related to our purpose, meaning, value, identity, etc). To convert is to shift your worldview. To become a Christian, is to be converted to the worldview where Christ is at the center.

Today, in Acts 9:1-31, we have a historical record of the most famous conversion story in church history. The conversion of the Apostle Paul. In fact, Luke is so impressed with this story that he includes it three times in Acts (Acts 8,22,26). But, before the Apostle Paul was the greatest missionary the world has ever known, he was the angry, violent, self-righteous, Pharisee Saul. What brought about this change? That’s our topic today.

Who is this relevant for? Many of you may say, “I already follow Jesus. How is the topic of conversion relevant to me?” That’s a good question. Clearly, this is relevant for those who do not yet follow Jesus and want to learn what it means to be a Christian. Yet, it is also relevant for those that already follow Jesus. How? The same things that bring you to Jesus are what continue to deepen your relationship with Jesus. In one sense you get converted in an instant. In another sense you spend rest of your life being converted.

From the beginning, Christianity has always been a converting religion. Christians have always believed that every single person has sinned against a just and holy God. Yet, God, being rich in mercy, grace and love, became man in Jesus Christ to die once and for all in place of sinners. Given that, anyone who repents and trusts Him will be reconciled to God, forgiven sin and given gift of eternal life. Those that don’t will perish. Countless Christians, throughout history, have believed that the most loving thing in the world is to pray, live, speak, serve and share the gospel in such a way so as to persuade as many as possible to become followers of Jesus (i.e. Christians). That’s the primary reason we are planting this church. We want to see as many as possible know and grow in Jesus.

When we look at Paul’s conversion it is easy to get distracted by the details and think, “well nothing like this ever happened to me…” But, don’t forget this isn’t the only conversion account that Luke records for us. The majority do not involve lights, voices and blindness. What Luke wants us to see is what is common to them all. We’re going to look at four common elements of every conversion.

#1 Untamed God.

Prior to his conversion experience, Saul thought he knew what God was like and not like. He believed that God could not become man, Jesus was not God, and Christians were heretics. Surely he thought, “God is not like this!” In many ways, Paul believed in a God that he wanted to believe in, a God that fit all his views, a God who he wanted to exist. Then, suddenly, he met a God that had his own reality, that didn’t fit Saul’s pre-defined boxes. He asks, “Who are you?” This God isn’t a tame God. He doesn’t fit into pre-defined boxes.

In Seattle, people often say, “I believe in a God that accepts everyone no matter what they believe….” But, we have to also ask, “Why do you believe God is like that rather than something else?” If we’re honest, the only answer to that question is, “I believe God is like that because I want to believe God is like that.” In other words, in so doing, we create a god that we’ve designed, that fits our views exactly. In the short run, this might buy us some time and get rid of some knotty theological issues. But, in the long run this self-made god can never change and transform us.

Why not? Because a god that is the product of your heart can never change your heart. It can’t change you because it is the product of you. This is the main issue with the self-esteem movement that has established the self as self-made god. Example. Psychology Today. Jan/Feb 2011. Boom and Bust Ego. The deepest need of the human heart is something outside of our heart. 1Jn3:20 “When our hearts condemn us, God is greater than hearts.”
If your god always agrees with you, you likely have a self-made god on your hands. It might be your creation, but not the Creator. If you think about it, this makes sense.  We have to let God tell us things we don’t want to be true, if we accept the things we do want to be true (forgiveness, love, grace, etc). The more you get to know this untamed God, the less it will matter what you think of him and the more it will matter what he thinks of you.

#2 Radical Grace.

One of the many things we see in this story is the absolute, stunning, unexplainable, radical grace of God. God takes a wealthy, educated, self-righteous, ambitious, violent man and makes Him his primary delivery vehicle of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the world. That’s how God works. God’s radical grace moved him to radical mission.

Prior to his conversion, you’d look at him and say “He’ll never get saved.” Yet, this is the very same guy that Jesus goes after with his radical grace. Do you know what that means? That means that no one, anywhere, under any circumstances is beyond the read of God. It doesn’t matter how wealthy, educated, religious, ambitious someone may be. God can reach anyone, anywhere with the good news of the gospel.

If you believe that God can and still does this, you will never look at people the same again!No one is too lost, too hard, too skeptical, too scarred, too violent for God to reach. Believing this will change the way we pray, speak, feel towards those around us.

Look closer at what Jesus says to Ananias, “rise … go … he is a chosen instrument of mine”. Jesus is saying, “I know what he was done. Remove that label. Give him a new one. He is now a chosen instrument of mine.” This is true of all who are in Jesus Christ. What label is attached to your life from the past? You have a new label now. You are not that person any more. You are not who your past or parents say you are. You are who God says you are. What label looms over your life? What label have you placed on lives of other people?

You cannot out-sin the grace of God. No one is too hard, too evil, too far from God for him to reach. Saul did not decide for Christ, Christ decided for him. This is the ultimate example of God’s initiative to save his enemies. No one, anywhere, under any circumstances is beyond the reach of the gospel.

#3 Historical Resurrection.

This is easy to miss. Paul did not have a subjective experience. His encounter with Jesus was real, physical, tangible, objective, historical. It is something that really happened and it is something that we all must make a decision about. He describes it this way in 1 Cor 15:

“For I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more that five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me. For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” 1Cor 15:3-9

Christian conversion is not merely a response to an experience, but an unyielding, stubborn, historical fact. Namely, that Jesus Christ raised physically from dead nearly 2000 years ago. 100’s saw him. His mother worshiped him as God. His half-brother James became an apostle and ultimately gave his life believing his brother, Jesus, was God.

But, note this. Did Paul have lots of objections to Jesus? Yes. Does the average Seattlite have a lot of objections to Jesus? Yes. But, when Paul encountered the resurrected Lord on the road everything changes. He sees Jesus alive. Guess what? Everything Jesus said and did must be true. He may not know the answers to all his objections, but there he is. If Jesus is risen there must be answers, he just doesn’t know them yet.

If you’re exploring Christianity, start here. Was Jesus raised from dead? If so, you have to believe. If not, you have other problems. Like, coming up with a historically possible explanation for all the witnesses and, ultimately, how Christianity started. You may not want to believe in resurrection of Christ. That is understandable, but you do have to somehow come up with an explanation. The point is this: There he is.

#4 Perfect Union

Jesus asks, “Why are you persecuting me?” It was a question that would forever alter how Paul understood God’s relationship with his people: perfect union. This gets to the very heart of what it means to be a Christian, to be in union with the living God, Jesus Christ.

Rom 6:4 “We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life.”

Eph 2:6 “raised us up with him and seated us in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus…”

Col 3:3 “For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God…”

Christianity is not achieved, it is received. When you realize that it changes everything. What is true of him is true of you, in Christ. Do you understand the honor of being a Christian? You are personally, deeply united to the God of Universe. If you get that, you’ll never feel poor, ugly, worthless, lonely or insignificant. You’re in union w/ Jesus. Do you realize that this means Jesus suffers with you? How do I know he cares.  Do you see this is also a call to be deeply committed to a local church? If Jesus is that bound to us, we should be that bound to one another.

When you put these together you get the gospel message, in short. An untamed God, offering radical grace through the historical resurrection of Jesus Christ that results in a perfect union. As we believe and spread this news together, we too will experience peace, being built up, in the fear of the Lord, in the comfort of the Holy Spirit – and multiplying. (cf 9:31) Let’s do that and see what God will do, in our city, and the cities of the world.