Saul of Tarsus was a devout man, zealous in the service of God. He was a pharisee, taught by Rabban Gamaliel, grandson of Hillel the Elder and the most renowned Jewish teacher of his day. Saul scrupulously obeyed the teaching that he received and counted himself to be faultless in keeping the Jewish laws.
His desire to serve God filled him with zeal to eradicate all aberrant forms of the Jewish religion, especially the one that was based on the life and teachings of a certain Jesus of Nazareth. He was still a young man when he witnessed with approval the stoning of Stephen, but soon made a name for himself as the most ferocious enemy and persecutor of the followers of Jesus. His fame extended far beyond Jerusalem, even to Damascus in Syria.
As Saul saw firsthand how threats and persecutions could not make the followers of Jesus deny their loyalty to Him, his conscience must have begun to question whether his zeal was truly from God. When he met Jesus in a supernatural encounter on the road to Damascus, Jesus told him “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.” In that moment Saul knew that his zeal had been misguided, that he had been fighting against God, not for Him. Addressing Jesus as Lord, he asked “What wilt thou have me to do?”
The answer to that question transformed Saul, the self-righteous Pharisee into Paul, the sinner and apostle of Jesus Christ. Later, he would say that all the things that he had counted on as righteousness while a pharisee were nothing but dung.
Now he saw himself in the light of day: “ For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh,) dwelleth no good thing” (Romans 7:18). “ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief” (1 Timothy 1:15).
Paul the apostle carried this awareness of his sinfulness the rest of his life. He had nothing more to boast of but the grace of God. And that was enough.
Is it enough for Christians today? We have been given much, but let us remember who gave it and why we needed to have it given. We cannot claim any credit for our heritage, the things we have been taught, the way we live. It is all a gift from God. As soon as we think we have some merit of our own, an odour of dung clings to us and people try to keep a certain distance upwind.