Apart from Jesus, no individual was more influential in the early days of Christianity than the apostle Paul. Originally named Saul, he was born into a Jewish family and grew up to become a strict member of an extremely religious sect in Judaism called the Pharisees (Philippians 3:4-5). During these early years, Saul believed he could earn his way to God through good works, and nobody was outpacing him in this pursuit (Galatians 1:14).
The transformation of Saul the religious Pharisee to Paul the loving Christian is the most radical story of personal transformation in the New Testament. After observing the death of the first Christian martyr, Saul traveled to Damascus to find and arrest more of Jesus’ followers. On this road, Saul had a supernatural encounter with the resurrected Jesus. This pivotal moment forever changed his heart, his mind, and his life purpose. To commemorate the transformation, Jesus even changed his name to Paul (Acts 9)!
Initially, the early Christians found it hard to trust a man who had been so opposed to them, but his genuine conversion soon became evident. Paul set out on missionary journeys to bring the good news of Jesus’ death and resurrection to cities such as Corinth and Ephesus (Acts 13-21). In each city, Paul would preach about salvation by grace through faith. He would then plant a church among those who believed and establish leaders within the church before leaving for another city. After his departure, Paul often wrote to these churches, or their leaders to explain the gospel and to provide encouragement. Many of these letters, including Ephesians, which we will study together, have been divinely preserved and are included in the New Testament we hold today.
Paul’s enduring obedience to Christ led him to stand before both kings and commoners, boldly urging both to believe in Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sin (Acts 26). Paul’s life would eventually be taken as a martyr, but not before God used him to plant the gospel in villages and cities across the known world. Paul’s entire life is evidence that God loves to unleash His grace in us so that He can unleash His grace through us!