The story of Paul’s conversion in the ninth chapter of Acts is one of the most encouraging events within the Scripture. Allow me to briefly explain. Humanity is prone to extremes (even this statement is extreme!). As we mature, we realize that often we waffle between extreme perspectives and positions until we attain a balance or harmony. Take for instance how we wrestle with the tension between grace and commands.
In the early days of our salvation we will either focus upon the expectations God places upon us (commands) or we will zero in on the freedom and liberty that is in Christ (grace). Heavy emphasis on the commands of God with minimal emphasis on God’s grace results in legalism. Heavy emphasis on God’s grace with minimal emphasis on God’s commands results in licentiousness and liberalism. Neither extreme honors God. Neither extreme leads people to Christ. Why is this relevant? Acts 9 reveals how God extends His grace towards two individuals while, simultaneously, placing His expectations upon them.
When God arrests Paul on the road to Damascus, He does so to convert (save) Paul. This was not God’s heavy-handed judgment; rather, this was a skillful demonstration of His grace. The Lord interacted with Paul in such a way as to capture his heart and affections. However, our Lord also placed a requirement upon Paul: “But get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” (Acts 9:6).
Similarly, when God speaks to Ananias, God commands him to go find Paul to be an obedient conduit for healing (vs. 11-13). However, Ananias balks at the command and informs God how bad of a dude Paul has been and is to the church (vs. 13-14). But God, in His grace, instructs Ananias of His plans for Paul and how He will glorify Himself through Paul’s suffering (vs. 15-16). In short, God chooses to comfort Ananias instead of disciplining or rebuking him. In this scene we see a second picture of God’s interaction with someone that harmoniously involves both His commands and His grace. Additionally, we see both parties embrace the grace of God and obey the commands of God.
What does this mean for us?
We must be careful not to pervert either God’s grace or expectations in favor of the other!
When I first came to salvation, I was in a faith tradition that placed immense priority upon our works of obedience. Because the grace of God was minimalized in favor of our obedience, I struggled to find security and joy within my salvation. However, as I continued to seek the Lord, I slowly found myself on the other side of the spectrum. I embraced a position of extreme grace (almost hyper-Calvinism) and found that this led to an almost disrespectful and irreverent form of worship. When I jettisoned the commands of God in favor of the grace of God, I found that this was an untenable position. Again, with further study and further working of the Spirit, I slowly crept towards a balance between the reality of God’s grace and commands.
Through the lovingkindness of God I’ve come to realize the danger of holding exclusive extremes. Though tension is not always comfortable, we lose focus of God when we disregard something He has disclosed to us! The Bible shows us a God that pours His grace upon us. The Bible also shows us that God is a sovereign King commanding His people. We must avoid the temptation to maximize one while minimizing the other. Instead, as the Bible clearly illustrates, we walk in the grace of God while obeying God. Stated differently, God gives us the ability to obey Him—this is an immense act of grace!
I hope this encourages you to seek the Lord today and to walk in His grace!