Recently I’ve had several students express concern, even despair, over the spiritual condition of friends and loved ones. These friends and loved ones seem to be a million miles away from ever becoming fully devoted followers of Christ. In fact, these prodigals are so antagonistic toward the gospel, it’s nearly impossible for my students to conceive of their ever coming to their senses and making a move toward the God of the Bible. 

My devotional reading in 1 Timothy 1 this morning, however, contained this inspiring testimony from the pen of the Apostle Paul:

I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me faithful, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus. 15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners–of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory for ever and ever. Amen. (1 Timothy 1:12-17)

Sometimes I shock my students when I refer to Saul of Tarsus as an antichrist. 1 John 2:18 refers to many antichrists who had already come into the world. In the most basic sense, an antichrist is anyone who stands in opposition to the true Christ–Jesus of Nazareth–and who seeks to make it difficult for others to follow him. Based upon this defintion, Saul of Tarsus certainly qualified as an antichrist. In the passage presented above Paul refers to himself as having formally functioned as “a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man.” Acts 9:1-2; 22:4-5; 1 Corinthians 15:9; and Galatians 1:13 all portray Saul of Tarsus as someone who had made it his life’s ambition to persecute the followers of Jesus, even to the point of having them imprisoned, tortured, and killed. Sounds kind of like an antichrist to me. Right?

On the one hand, it’s no wonder that Paul referred to himself in the past tense as the worst of sinners. On the other, we all know the rest of the story, how that Saul of Tarsus eventually became the Apostle Paul. The one who once persecuted the faith became it’s chief proponent! Such is the power of God: Jesus is big enough to convert even an antichrist!

Now, I could go on into more detail about how I believe God used the preaching and example set by Stephen, the church’s first martyr, in the process of Paul’s conversion, but, instead, I’ll just point out that in the testimony presented above Paul refers to God’s “mercy” and “grace,” and to Christ’s “unlimited patience.” Read the passage again. This is good news for anyone who feels like they know someone who seems to be beyond redemption.

So, don’t give up hope on your wayward prodigal. There is an amazing, transformative power in good preaching, a good example, and a bunch of sincere prayer offered on behalf of those who have yet to embrace the lordship of Christ. Though not all will be saved, unfortunately, it is not God’s will that any should perish (2 Pet 3:9). No one is theoretically beyond Christ’s ability to convert. Not even an antichrist!