“For you are not a true Jew just because you were born of Jewish parents or because you have gone through the ceremony of circumcision. No, a true Jew is one whose heart is right with God. And true circumcision is not merely obeying the letter of the law; rather, it is a change of heart produced by the Spirit. And a person with a changed heart seeks praise from God, not from people.”
Romans 2:28-29 NLT
The writer of the Roman letter, Saul of Tarsus, later to be called Paul, had a change of heart one day. It was a dramatic, cataclysmic event that totally changed his life. But it wasn’t just his heart that was changed. The narrative starts in Acts 8, with a mention of a man called Saul witnessing the murder of the first Christian martyr, Stephen. And Saul was so incensed by what he perceived as a dangerous threat, posed by the early Christians who were referred to as “the Way”, to the sanctity of the Jewish religion, that he started to persecute them. We read in Acts 8:3, “But Saul was going everywhere to destroy the church. He went from house to house, dragging out both men and women to throw them into prison”. Dramatic stuff. The story continues in the next chapter. We read in Acts 9:1, “Meanwhile, Saul was uttering threats with every breath and was eager to kill the Lord’s followers. So he went to the high priest”. Equipped with letters of authority, Saul headed off to Damascus to create mayhem there. But on the Damascus Road, something even more dramatic happened. We read in Acts 9:3-5, “As he was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” Blinded by the light in his vision, and after a few days, Saul was baptised, publicly declaring his conversion to become a follower of Jesus. That encounter with the risen Jesus totally upended Saul’s life. But then something equally as dramatic occurred. We read in Acts 9:19b-20, “… Saul stayed with the believers in Damascus for a few days. And immediately he began preaching about Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is indeed the Son of God!”” A “change of heart“? I would say so!
For us pilgrims, we too had a “change of heart“. It may not have been so dramatic as Saul’s, on that Damascus Road. But it would have been real nevertheless. That point in our lives when we turned around, from a life of evil and wickedness, and instead turned towards Jesus, bringing our sins to the foot of His cross at Calvary. And there we received the forgiveness that our spirits yearned for. Through God’s on-going grace and mercy, the offer remains.
But following his “change of heart”, Saul became Paul and one of the most effective evangelists this world has ever seen. We too have a mission. The manifestation of God’s grace through Jesus in our lives cannot be suppressed within us. We have to shout it out. Especially in these last days as the persecution of Christians increases day by day, drip by drip. We may feel that there is no persecution of Christians in our Western societies, but just this week the Scottish Government approved legislation allowing 16-year olds to self-certify which gender they wanted to adopt, in the process cutting right across the God-given order of gender and sexuality. That’s persecution. And in another instance, a woman was arrested in England this week for silently praying outside a closed abortion clinic. It appear that she was not allowed to think her prayers. That’s persecution.
The early Christians didn’t care about persecution and neither must we. In these dark days we can only keep praying for those in our families and communities, that they too may experience a “change of heart” assuring and ensuring their salvation. And we pray too for our countries. Please join me in praying for Scotland, and particularly for those who have been badly let down by deluded Scottish politicians who, rather than help young people face their challenges with compassion, instead enable them, even encourage them, to embark on a ruinous journey of personal confusion that will not end well before God’s throne.
Father God. We ask for forgiveness for all those who are intent on disrupting Your ways. In Jesus’ name. Amen.