“And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ Then the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads’”(Acts 9:5, NKJV).
Although Saul’s persecution of the early church begins rather inconspicuously (as he only holds the coats of Stephen’s executioners), it quickly intensifies (see Acts 8:1–3; 9:1, 2, 13, 14, 21; 22:3–5). Several of the words Luke uses to describe Saul paint a picture of a wild, ferocious beast or a pillaging soldier bent on the destruction of his opponent. The word translated “ravaging” in Acts 8:3 (ESV), for example, is used in the Greek translation of the Old Testament (Ps. 80:13) to describe the uncontrolled and destructive behavior of a wild boar. Saul’s crusade against the Christians was clearly not a half-hearted matter of convenience; it was a deliberate and sustained plan to exterminate the Christian faith.
Look at the three descriptions of Saul’s conversion (Acts 9:1–18, 22:6–21, and 26:12–19). What role did the grace of God have in this experience? In other words, how much did Saul deserve the goodness that the Lord showed toward him?
Saul’s conversion, from a human perspective, must have seemed impossible (hence the skepticism that many expressed when they first heard about it).
The only thing Saul deserved was punishment, but God extended grace to this fervent Jew instead. It is important to note, however, that Saul’s conversion did not happen in a vacuum, nor was it forced.
Saul was no atheist. He was a religious man, though gravely mistaken in his understanding of God. Jesus’ words to Paul, “ ‘ “It is hard for you to kick against the goads” ’ ” (Acts 26:14, ESV), indicate that the Spirit had been convicting Saul. In the ancient world, a “goad” was a stick with a sharp point used to prod oxen whenever they resisted plowing. Saul had resisted God’s prodding for some time, but finally on his way to Damascus, through a miraculous encounter with the risen Jesus, Saul chose to fight no longer.
Think back about your own conversion experience. Maybe it wasn’t as dramatic as Paul’s (most aren’t), but in what similar ways were you the recipient of God’s grace? Why is it important never to forget what we have been given in Christ?