Would you consider Paul’s Damascus road experience a call, conversion or both?
When reading this weeks Journal question the first thing that stands out to me is that what Paul would have called his Damascus experience is probably much different than what I would call it, mainly because of several personal, temporal and spatial limiting factors. However, hoping to shed some light on the subject (hope you caught that pun), I think it is necessary to also consider the question from how Paul might consider it or stomach being told that his experience was a conversion/call. In this regard, I believe Paul definitely converted from doing and believing in certain things to new and that he would consider his Damascus road experience a conversion and most definitely a call.
Even though I feel Paul would consider his Damascus road experience a call and a conversion, I do not see the word conversion going over easily in Paul’ mind. Conversion conveys to me that Paul changed from one substance to another. Chemically speaking, one element cannot change into another without a physical change by using nuclear energy. This conversion changes the chemical makeup of the original substance and inevitably seizes to exist in its original form, because it in itself has found a new physical makeup and indeed is a new element and substance. So, albeit one element has changed into another, creating an entirely new element, many of the same atoms (or pieces) are still there maintaining similar relationships that they had before (attached in similar ways). Nevertheless, having changed the substance of the thing, converting it from one form to another, in essence, everything has changed.
This is because some atoms have bonded to new things or in our Damascus road experience a Holy Spirit thing. This Holy Spirit thing, being apart of Paul’s new makeup has changed Paul’ substance (Gal 1:16), which has changed Paul completely. God Himself catalyzed this conversion and Paul will not change back to his original self afterwards. The significance of this conversion cannot be understated and Paul’s new state or being has led him to a new call.
This does not mean that Paul has completely abandoned his old self, because he has converted to a new self. No, a part of Paul is still there some of his old substance was required to make his new substance and that will not go away, nor should it. This is why I think Paul would grimace a bit when hearing the word converted. Although I believe he would agree that he was converted, Paul would point out that he has not and in fact cannot completely abandon a part of himself that is still there and is required for the make-up of his new self. Paul is indeed a converted and new substance with God through the Holy Spirit, but much of his old self is necessary and even essential to fully realize the existence and call of his new self. In other words, without the past and the present, Paul would have no direction on where to go, simply being a blind guide to others without sight (which may have a to do with his temporary blindness by God). So indeed, Paul’s new self requires both old and new self, but moving ahead ahead with an entirely new being, filled with the Holy Spirit. Confused yet?
Let’s use an example. In Paul’s famous Philippians 3:8 line, “what is more, I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, which I may gain Christ,” Paul puts forth on the surface that everything has changed. In so doing, he goes even further and says his old self was a complete loss and that he is now onto new things with and in Christ. Considering Paul is calling his old self and ways of life garbage (or dung, which in Greek is skubalon, likely a derogatory word in the 1st century which is rarely found in text, but not uncommon for Paul to use such words), in so doing he is calling out his old self and using it to explain his new completely changed existence and calling. This is a part of him that is still there and essential to explain his new self, but while coin so acknowledging his completely converted catalyzed by the Holy Spirit new self in Christ.
This is why I think Paul would have hesitation if he heard someone tell him that he was a converted being. He would consider this to be true, but point out that much of his old self is still present in his new, but lived out in enlightened and new ways. In fact, this is Paul’ call and with his call, he takes pride in aspects of his past. Even declaring that a part of it, is a part of his present call and is indeed essential for moving Gods call ahead into the future (Gal 2:15, Phil 3:8-9, Rom 1:16-17). This is the call that Paul preached: to build up the church and to personally support the church, which is its people, our people in Christ. This is what Paul did, preaching about the “crucifixion, resurrection and the coming of the Lord Jesus Christ (Longenecker and Still, 2014).” Like Paul, Jesus talked of being transformed and like Paul, today, throughout the world, Jesus is using His past to redeem the present.