In the ongoing theater of human history, the contest unfolding on the American stage of governance right now is more dramatic and intense than any we have witnessed. The hyper-contentious atmosphere prevailing in the land has spawned conflicts and confrontations in nearly every category of human contact. Unknowns abound and new questions create another frantic search for answers on a daily basis, but one question seems to overshadow them all . . . Who’s going to win?
Other Haunting Questions ~
It’s impossible to overstate how much is riding on the answer to that question. Not knowing the answer to that question gives rise to others, like, “Who seems to be winning now?” Who’d be likely to win if votes were cast today?” “Is the adage that cheaters never win reliable?” And, some may even dare to ask a more significant question, “What does winning really mean?” That profound question invites us to turn our attention to another contentious time in the Church’s history. A man whose concept of winning underwent a dramatic and eternal alteration has some lessons worth sharing.
Saul of Tarsus was a fighter, but not just an average, run of the mill contender. He was determined to achieve victory at any cost. That was evident in his rise, as a young man, to a position of leadership and authority among the Pharisees of his day. That couldn’t have happened if he hid away from contention and conflict. His zeal and combative spirit were also evident in his response to theological challenges or those he considered to be dangerous heretics. Saul was not just a fighter. He was a winner, and willing to do anything necessary to vanquish any opponent, whether that opponent came in the form of an ideology or the people promoting it.
A Threat Emerges ~
To this ambitious young Pharisee, the explosive birth of the Church of Jesus Christ on the day of Pentecost posed an existential threat. It’s claim that the simple application of repentance and faith in Jesus could free people from sin’s condemnation and break the chains of guilt and fear was deeply disturbing to a man like Saul. He saw its reasoned reconciliation with oppressive Mosaic legalism amounted to a wholesale refutation of the Pharisees’ religious, judicial, and social system. Saul had devoted his life to enforcing its burdensome rules, and those exuberant followers of Jesus were contradicting everything he had worked for all his life. To him, the budding movement amounted to open rebellion and could not be allowed to continue. It had to be crushed before they could multiply any further, and Saul had both the will and the authority to carry out that mission.
Attacks against Jesus’ followers by both civil and religious authorities began almost immediately and soon resulted in the Church’s first martyr. As a leading figure among the Pharisees, Saul gave official assent and approval to Steven’s assassination. But instead of soothing his boiling religious indignation, overseeing Steven’s assassination only fanned the flames. Luke’s report reveals the devastating impact of his rage and notes that Saul made havoc of the Church (Acts 8:1-3). Believers began to scatter to avoid being arrested and incarcerated or killed. In his battle against the Church, Saul’s tactics were working, and he appeared to be winning. But something was about to happen that would change both his perspective on winning and what was needed to accomplish it.
One Meeting Changed Everything ~
The story is familiar. On his way to Damascus to hunt down and persecute more of Jesus’ followers, Saul’s journey was interrupted by the Lord Himself. Though his physical eyes were temporarily blinded in that encounter, the spiritual truth he saw that day changed everything, including his understanding of what it means to be the winner. He was introduced to life with a different objective and the kind of victory that has the power not only to change lives, but to transform nations. Solomon encapsulated it in a simple, but profound, observation.
The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, And he who wins souls is wise. Proverbs 11:30 (NKJV)
Lasting peace, prosperity, and relational stability aren’t achieved individually or nationally by simply winning arguments, debates, or elections. Every generation in our lifetime has declared victories in those arenas, but in spite of all that we claim to have won, we find ourselves immersed in a moral, ethical, and informational swamp. We have won lots of contests, but fewer and fewer souls. As long as we fail to win in the mission we were sent to fulfill, the quagmire surrounding us will pull us even deeper downward. As vital as winning elections can be, and this one is more so than any that have preceded it, that’s not the mission we were sent to fulfill. Jesus dispatched us to win souls, not just elections.
From Persecutor to Persuader ~
After meeting Jesus, Saul was transformed from a maniacal persecutor to a masterful persuader. He realized that winning souls is the one victory that cannot be lost, and that a failure to win hearts and souls makes every other victory shallow and temporary. On the other hand, winning the people ensures that we will eventually win everywhere else. Nations are not blessed with lasting peace and prosperity by administrative victories alone. That can only happen when people find a basis for real hope. When the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented by our words and His principles are demonstrated in the way we live, the impact is powerfully persuasive and the outcome can be a victory that lasts forever.
It has never been more important that we encourage everyone we know to vote as this intense electoral battle concludes, but winning this election won’t automatically produce the changes we desperately need. The lasting peace, prosperity, and social stability we long for require winning in a different contest. The vital role we have in our nation’s future can’t be carried out by simply casting our ballot or encouraging our neighbors to cast theirs. The winning that will lift us out of the chaos and re-establish the values that made us great begins by revisiting our commitment to Jesus Christ. Then, if our faith in Him is more than just a religious formality, the next move is to invite the Holy Spirit of God to use us from now on as an instrument of persuasion and a winner of souls. If we do that, there’s no way we can lose no matter what unfolds in November.
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“Nations are not blessed with lasting peace and prosperity by administrative victories alone. That can only happen when people find a basis for real hope in the gospel of Jesus Christ.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“When the gospel of Jesus Christ is presented by our words and His principles are demonstrated in the way we live, the impact is powerfully persuasive and the outcome can be a victory that lasts forever.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
“If our faith in Jesus Christ is more than just a religious formality, the next move is to invite the Holy Spirit of God to use us as an instrument of persuasion and a winner of souls.” @GallaghersPen (Click here to Tweet)
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