Act 9:13-15 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. (14) And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” (15) But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel.
Quite often when I tell people that abusers never change, they will ask about the case of Saul, later the Apostle Paul. After all, he was assaulting the early church and then the Lord appeared to him and converted him wonderfully. Should that not give us hope that even the worst domestic abuser could one day be born again?
My answer is, no. Let me show you why.
Saul of Tarsus was never an abuser. Remember now how we are defining abusers here. Who are the kinds of wicked people we are dealing with in this blog and ministry? They are people who have a remarkable sense of entitlement to the possession of power and control over their target, and who feel quite justified in using an arsenal of evil tactics in order to gain and maintain that control. We are not talking about just any sinful, even a very sinful, person who we want to present the gospel to and pray that they be saved. We are dealing here with domestic abusers, most of whom are wearing a “saintly” disguise, appearing as fine Christians in their local churches.
Now, who was the Apostle Paul before Christ appeared to him that eventful day? Paul tells us:
Php 3:5-6 circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; (6) as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless.
Paul had not been a hypocrite. He was what he was. He genuinely sought to serve God and he went all out in doing so. He was not one person in the synagogue and another at home. He was wrong, of course. But he was, shall we say, “sincerely wrong.” Listen to him again:
1Ti 1:12-15 I thank him who has given me strength, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he judged me faithful, appointing me to his service, (13) though formerly I was a blasphemer, persecutor, and insolent opponent. But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief, (14) and the grace of our Lord overflowed for me with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. (15) The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost.
I would like you all to think carefully about that phrase, “But I received mercy because I had acted ignorantly in unbelief.” Christ chose Paul. Christ saved Paul. Paul was radically transformed. It was all of mercy, but notice that this mercy was shown to a man who had acted ignorantly in unbelief. Paul was ignorant of the fact that Christ was the Messiah. He was blind to it. He zealously served God, he believed. He was unbelieving of the gospel message these early Christians were preaching, but his unbelief was in ignorance. Christ corrected that ignorance gloriously on the road to Damascus.
Now, think about the abuser. The kind who puts on the Christian facade. Is he acting “ignorantly in unbelief”? That is to say, is he convinced in his own mind that he is zealously serving Christ both at church and at home? I think the answer is plain to see. Of course not. He knows the gospel. He has even tasted of its goodness (see Hebrews 6:4-6) as he sees Christ in his wife or other genuine believers around him. But he doesn’t want it. What he wants is self-glory. He wants power and control. He wants to oppress. And, do not miss this, he knows full well what he is doing! He is not acting ignorantly in unbelief as Paul was. Paul was shown mercy. God does not show mercy to willful evil people who have heard the gospel over and over and yet only yield the thorns and briars of wickedness in their lives.
No, the Apostle Paul was not an abuser. His goal was not self-glory. His purpose was to be zealous for God, for God’s Law, for God’s people and Temple. He was wrong of course. But when Christ came to him and removed the scales from his eyes-
Act 9:18-20 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; (19) and taking food, he was strengthened. For some days he was with the disciples at Damascus. (20) And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.”
So I encourage everyone not to be misled in this regard. Many times victims will tell me that their pastor or Christian friends have told them that it is God’s will for the victim to remain in the abuse, because after all, they say, “Paul was an abuser once too.”
No, he was not.