Why Did God Let Paul Become a Murderer?

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Founder & Teacher, desiringGod.org

We know that before Paul was born God had set him apart for his apostleship.

He who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace, was pleased to reveal his Son to me, in order that I might preach him among the Gentiles. (Galatians 1:15–16).

And we know that Paul became a Christian-hating (Acts 9:1), Christ-persecuting (Acts 9:5), zealot (Philippians 3:6; Galatians 1:14) before  he was converted. Forever after he would call himself “the chief of sinners” because of these wicked days (1 Timothy 1:15; 1 Corinthians 15:9).

We also know that God broke into Paul’s life dramatically and decisively to bring him to faith (Acts 9:3–19). Which means that he could have planned the Damascus Road encounter before Paul imprisoned and murdered Christians. But he didn’t.

His purpose, therefore, was to allow Paul to become the “chief of sinners” and then save him, and make him the apostle who would write thirteen books of the New Testament.

Why? Why do it this way? Why choose him before birth to be an apostle? Then let him sink into wicked and violent opposition to Christ? And then save him dramatically and decisively on the Damascus road? Why.

Here are six reasons. The first two are explicit in the biblical text. The last four are clear inferences from the first two. God did it this way . . .

1. To put the perfect patience of Christ on display.

“I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

2. To encourage those who think they are too sinful to have hope.

“I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life.” (1 Timothy 1:16)

3. To show that God saves hardened haters of Christ, who have even murdered Christians.

4. To show that God permits his much-loved elect to sink into flagrant wickedness.

5. To show that God can make the chief of sinners the chief of missionaries.

6. To show a powerless, persecuted, marginalized church that they can triumph by the supernatural conversion of their most powerful foes.