Do you regret things you have said or done? I have memories that sometimes I wish I could erase. We all have! Regret isn’t merely an outcome of consequences. Certainly some regret comes from our poor decisions while others are imposed on us from another’s actions. For believers, regret can be an indication of growth; it can be Godly sorrow. If anyone reading this has an open sore, please know God loves you and will see you through it. He doesn’t like our pain and because of His character, we can trust in the goodness of God. Let me share what I’ve learned about this.
Recently I was walking in the woods and praying with a mix of emotions swirling through my mind. My thoughts wandered between concern for remaining in the centre of God’s will regarding some decisions; wondering about what lays ahead; and, oddly enough while praying, feeling guilty about the quality of my prayer life. You see, sometimes we can allow doing things for God to compete with spending time with Him. While God wants both, I know God prefers devotion to Him above service for Him. As I poured out my heart to the LORD, a spiritual whisper echoed within me saying “Acts 9”, and so I returned home to read the chapter.
As God’s Word minister to me, these overarching themes became apparent to me and they will serve to outline this message based on the apostle Paul’s life: (1) the chosen’s scars are foreknown; (2) the chosen’s scars are a reminder for motivation; (3) the chosen’s scars are part of a big picture.
First: The Chosen’s Scars are Foreknown
There are 3 passages describing Paul’s spiritual regeneration: Acts 9:1-22; Acts 22:3-21; and Acts 26:15-23. It’s a great place to start because we see how he began his journey. The passage in Acts 9 starts like this:
- Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem. As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. (Acts 9:1-3)
We learn from Acts 22:3 that Paul was raised and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel. Thayer’s Greek Lexicon and Strong’s Definitions state the Gamaliel was a Pharisee and doctor of the law with great influence in the Sanhedrin; he died eighteen years before the destruction of Jerusalem. With such a great mentor, Paul was well trained in Jewish laws and customs. Paul had a great zeal to honour God in every way, although in his reflection years later, he implied that his initial zeal (like his teachers) was without experiential knowledge of God:
- For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. (Romans 10:2)
Paul had witnessed and completely agreed with the execution of Stephen in Jerusalem because Stephen preached Jesus was the Christ. In Acts 8:1-3, we read that a great wave of persecution started against the New Testament Jews in Jerusalem that day. Paul believed he was doing a great service to God by searching house to house to imprison men and women who believed in Jesus Christ as the risen Son of God. This is a great example of zeal without knowledge.
As Paul experienced a revelation of the ascended Christ, he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him:
- “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 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.
In Acts 26:14, we learn that Jesus was speaking to Paul in Hebrew and He called his name twice. This is so informative! It tells us that God speaks to us in a language that is familiar to us and knows us by name. Jehovah called Abraham (Genesis 22:11), Moses (Exodus 3:4), and Samuel (1st Samuel 3:10) by repeating their names twice as He did with Saul. In addition, Jesus used a modern saying which Paul would understand. In Greek writings, an iron goad was used for urging on oxen, horses and other beasts. Therefore, the LORD was telling Paul that his efforts to prevent others from following Jesus were in vain and Paul’s resistance would do nothing more than result in self-inflicted pain.
Our eternal, omnipresent, omniscient, loving, gracious and merciful LORD, sovereignly intercepted Paul knowing exactly where he was going to be and manifested Himself to Paul in a way that could not be disputed or rationalized away by Paul. Paul suddenly experienced the power of the immanent LORD that humbled him most lovingly. Consider these points:
- Paul understood that the God he studied had said to Moses: “You cannot see My face; for no man shall see Me, and live.” (Exodus 33:20);
- He knew the Psalmist wrote, “O LORD my God, You are very great: You are clothed with honor and majesty, Who cover Yourself with light as with a garment, Who stretch out the heavens like a curtain. (Psalm 104:1–2);
- He would have also known of Habakkuk the prophet’s words, “His brightness was like the light; He had rays flashing from His hand, And there His power was hidden.” (Habakkuk 3:4)
What amazes me even more than this supernatural encounter is Christ’s love for His church. When Christ confronted Paul, He made it known to him that by pursuing and harming His believers, Paul was assaulting our LORD. Please notice that Christ’s followers were referred to as the Way at this time and the term “Christian” did not exist yet and initially many of them were Jewish.
Family of God, have you ever considered that when we treat fellow believers poorly (regardless of denomination or classification) with our words or actions, we are abusing our Saviour? Now that thought ought to humble all of us and cause us to reevaluate how we have approached offense within the body of Christ.
- Jesus said to the disciples, “It is impossible that no offenses should come, but woe to him through whom they do come! (Luke 17:1)
Jesus went on to say in the Luke passage that even if people in the body of Christ sin against us multiple times in a day, we must forgive them. One of the principles here is that in this life, we are going to disagree with each other and even sin against each other; hopefully, the offenses are unintentional. Regardless though, Christ holds us to a higher standard for two reasons: (1) the Holy Spirit resides in us and loves each believer; and, (2) when we harm another believer, we are harassing the very one who chose each of us. Bear in mind that diversity refers to a singular thing (unity) where distinctions exist/remain; in the human race, there are individuals with an array of distinctions. In the body of Christ, there are different members. We are to be united by the Word of God because Scripture cannot be broken (John 10:35). This is by God’s design especially for the body of Christ!
As we move forward in the Acts 9 passage, we understand that the LORD did not single Paul out to repay him for his harmful actions to the church. Quite the opposite! It was to reveal himself to Paul, to correct him, and to call him.
- ” So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the men who journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice but seeing no one. Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened, he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (Acts 9:4-9)
Paul clearly understood that such a Divine illumination and correction necessitated a change in his actions and so he asked for instructions. When he arrived in Damascus Paul prayed. While he was praying, the LORD told a local disciple named Ananias about Paul’s vision of Ananias laying his hands on him for restored physical eyesight. Of course, Ananias was very hesitant knowing about Paul’s past in Jerusalem; how Paul had caused harm to many believers; and, that he had ventured to Damascus with authority from the chief priests. I love what the Lord told Ananias in response to his trepidation:
- … “Go, for he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel. “For I will show him how many things he must suffer for My name’s sake.” (Acts 9:15-16)
Our questions are answered in His time regardless of our feelings of urgency. We might as well learn how to wait.
The LORD will give direction but not argue with us about feelings; He may inform our attitudes.
Our LORD forgave Paul and called him His chosen vessel to bear His name! When we think about our lives or testimonies, do we see that God not only saved us from something, He saved us to something? We are to bear His name in front of those who God places in our vicinity, and it will cost us something. Matthew 10 is a very good chapter to read about the cost of being a follower of the Way, of Jesus. People can receive the gift of salvation without taking hold of all of God’s benefits. While the gift of grace is by His election, the benefits of the relationship are to the exclusion of some other relationships and the relationship grows with obedience.
Jesus told Paul that he was going to suffer but that his ministry would take him before gentiles, kings and Jews; and when Jesus tells you something, you can be certain it will happen. For Paul, he experienced great wait times in obscurity measured in years where he was waiting to be a preacher to the world. The Bible is silent about the details of those years when he waited. We have to assume that the LORD was working in him, preparing him, testing him, and healing him. Paul authored 13 epistles of the Holy Bible read throughout the world.
We may not be able to predict how, when, or understand why, but we can be certain of what He says to us. The LORD will bring to fruition His call for His purposes in His timing. Sometimes additional training and experience are needed and there are other people and circumstances that the LORD will align.
Paul knew this well and wrote this to the Galatians.
- But I make known to you, brethren, that the gospel which was preached by me is not according to man. For I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ. For you have heard of my former conduct in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it. And I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers. But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother’s womb and called me through His grace, to reveal His Son in me, that I might preach Him among the Gentiles, I did not immediately confer with flesh and blood, nor did I go up to Jerusalem to those who were apostles before me; but I went to Arabia, and returned again to Damascus. Then after three years I went up to Jerusalem to see Peter, and remained with him fifteen days. (Galatians 1:11-18)
Did you notice that Paul recognized that God had separated him from his mother’s womb for this purpose? Implicit in Paul’s statement to the Galatians is that his higher religious learning was part of God’s plan for his life specifically if God had set him apart before birth; the details of his life and who he was as a person were precursors to his appointment with the LORD and that appointment was initiated by the LORD.
Just as the LORD knew the date that He would save Paul, the LORD knew Paul would bear both physical and emotional scars. Without going into the circumstances like shipwrecks and imprisonments, we see
Physically he was:
- beaten with rods;
- 5 times he received 39 stripes;
- often sleepless and hungry;
- naked and weary;
- and, was given a thorn in his flesh.
Emotionally he was:
- betrayed by false brethren;
- persecuted by both Jews and Gentiles;
- extremely concerned for all of the churches;
- recalling and sharing his past. (2nd Corinthians 11:24-28; 2nd Corinthians 12:7-10; 1st Corinthians 15:1-10)
God who fashioned our beings, assignments, and days (Jeremiah 1:5; Psalms 139:16; Ephesians 4:11) will equip us to be successful in the work He gives us to do. He aligns all circumstances, people, resources and education to see to it. The LORD equipped Paul with the strength to endure all things and he could say:
- For I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us. (Romans 8:18)
- Therefore I endure all things for the sake of the elect, that they also may obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory. (2nd Timothy 2:10)
I firmly believe that if God has called us to endure hardship, He will give us the grace to do so joyfully. His goal is to be united with us eternally and His love for us desires that our joy will be full.
- Now may the God of peace who brought up our Lord Jesus from the dead, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you complete in every good work to do His will, working in you what is well pleasing in His sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen. (Hebrews 13:20-21)
- And God is able to make all grace abound toward you, that you, always having all sufficiency in all things, may have an abundance for every good work. (2nd Corinthians 9:8)
Second: The Chosen’s Scars are Reminders for Motivation
Paul’s physical scars were obvious but the emotional traumas Paul experienced may have not been so apparent to others. Frequently individuals who have Holy Spirit boldness, courage and strength are assumed to have fewer emotional obstacles. I wonder how often Paul reflected on the portion of his life when he tried to obliterate the church he came to love so dearly.
We know his transformation was immediate and diametrically opposite to his prior position about the Way. Paul immediately testified and then desired to be with others who loved the LORD. The change in his behaviour, attitude, and beliefs was a powerful part of his testimony. While we know he was honest about his past, I can only presume that he experienced deep remorse about it. When someone grows deeper in the love and fear of the LORD, they despise sin, especially their own. Sin is direct opposition to the One we love; the One who loved us and gave His life’s blood to redeem us. When we have an appropriate view of God’s goodness and grace, remorse for unregenerate deeds is felt deeply regardless of the extent of the sin.
I recently read this wonderful passage in Zechariah that amazed me and I’d like to share it with you.
- Then he showed me Joshua the high priest standing before the angel of the LORD, and Satan standing at his right side to accuse him. The LORD said to Satan, “The LORD rebuke you, Satan! The LORD, who has chosen Jerusalem, rebuke you! Is not this man a burning stick snatched from the fire?” Now Joshua was dressed in filthy clothes as he stood before the angel. The angel said to those who were standing before him, “Take off his filthy clothes.” Then he said to Joshua, “See, I have taken away your sin, and I will put fine garments on you.” … (Zechariah 3:1-4 NIV)
The prophet Zechariah was shown a picture of grace based on election. Satan was accusing the high priest of having filthy garments, for being unclean. The LORD did not deny that Joshua was filthy. He simply cleaned Joshua up giving him His robes of righteousness; and, He rebuked Satan for accusing one of the branches that God chose to spare. This burning stick that was snatched from the fire was used as a firestick/a log poker. It had a purpose and it did get burned, but the LORD elected to snatch it and save it from being devoured by flames. Then He promised the coming of the Branch, the Messiah (Jeremiah 23:5; Jeremiah 33:15; Zechariah 6:12).
I believe Paul’s memories of his prior behaviour were healed. Any scars that remained were to remind him of the injury of sin. I also believe that this is true for us as well; the scars are to be reminders that our guilt has been pardoned. While some memories come with remorseful emotions, we can rejoice at the same time because it is finished!
- But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, … Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching forward to those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. (Philippians 3:7-10, 12-14)
Paul left behind his former friends, tutors, comforts, and ambitions to press forward to his new Heavenly home. Paul understood that condemnation was not of God and conviction from the Holy Spirit was loving correction. Paul had the right perspective of who he was compared to the Saviour. Remembering who we were before meeting the LORD serves to remind us that we cannot boast in our improvements and accomplishments. All the glory belongs to Him.
- Seeing what He accomplished in us, motivates us to press on because He who was faithful to save us, is faithful to perfect us!
- Remembering who we were, reminds us to avoid the worldly patterns of thinking and motivates us to saturate our minds with His Word.
- And, KNOWING who we are in Christ Jesus helps us deal with the memories until the day when He wipes every tear away.
Scripture assures us that we will be entirely free of bad memories one day; we certainly will not need them when we are forever glorified with our God.
- “And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes; there shall be no more death, nor sorrow, nor crying. There shall be no more pain, for the former things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:4)
When Paul recalled his sin, he looked upward in praise and adoration of his Saviour and he gave glory to God for putting him into His service. When we love someone and recognize what they have done for us, we want to reciprocate. When we do, it enables us to have remorse over past sin, and have joy at the same time. Paul said,
- And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief. (1st Timothy 1:12-15)
The Chosen’s Scars are Part of a Big Picture
Family of God, we know we Christians are far from perfect! We deceive ourselves if we say we do not have sin (1st John 1:8). We are branches pulled from the fire and we have a purpose. Our garments have been soiled with the soot that rises from hell’s flames, but praise God, the LORD rebukes Satan when he tries to accuse us because we are His chosen branches that He clothes in His righteousness.
Our scars are indicators of prior trauma that has been healed. These memories are not intended to cause guilty feelings although feelings will come and go. Feelings can also lie to us. I have heard it said, “Guilt is a transgression of the law of God and everyone is guilty whether they feel guilty or not”. This is so true. The remedy for guilt is our LORD’s forgiveness and praise God that His forgiveness has nothing to do with our feelings. God has forgiven us for His good pleasure and we are objects of His forgiveness. If we have turned from sin, when memories surface, turn that memory into an opportunity to praise by thanking God that there is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus! (Romans 8:1). The way to silence the enemy is to declare the Word of God and believe it!
Paul’s life demonstrates that both his past and his sanctification journey had an eternal purpose. He said,
- … for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show all longsuffering, as a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him for everlasting life. (1st Timothy 1:16)
Like Paul, like Peter, like the woman at the well, like the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with fragrant oil, all believers are objects of God’s forgiveness. We are living examples that testify of His forgiveness, of His goodness and of His grace which gives God glory. Each time we experience something that wounded us, once heeled, these become patterns for others and a testimony.
God used murderers like Moses and Paul to write and interpret His declared laws; God used oath-breakers like David and Peter to establish the throne of David and the Church. God used Eve who doubted to reproduce life on earth; God used the virgin Mary (who would be doubted) to birth the Life that gives eternal life. Since our God does not change, just imagine what He might be doing first within you and then through you.
What do I do with my scars? I cry out to the LORD about how I feel and then..; I thank God for His nail-scarred hands, for His grace and election; I quote Scripture when the accuser tries to bring me down; and periodically, when the LORD prompts me to share them with someone who would benefit from knowing about them, I do so very carefully being guided by His Spirit knowing I can trust that everything will work out for my good. In the end, it’s not about me – it’s all about Him!
Thank you for investing this time meditating on what God’s eternal word says; and for considering how we can apply His wisdom to our lives daily. May our gracious, loving, and forgiving Saviour bless you as you cooperate with Him to deepen your relationship with Him! Amen and Amen.
Full parent audio episode of “What the Chosen do with Scars”
All Scripture used in this blog is from the New King James Version, unless otherwise specified.