Bible Study with Jairus – Acts 22

The Nature of Radical Conversion: Why Do Some People Change and Some Do Not?

Acts 22 tells us how Paul was radically converted after his encounter with the Lord. Saul had received a letter from the high priest Caiaphas, giving him permission to arrest the Christians in Damascus. But on the road, he encountered the Lord and was converted. His name changed to Paul. Saul, who formerly opposed the gospel, was now a powerful preacher of the gospel. The light of the gospel removed the veil from Saul’s heart.

However, the next chapter tells us that high priest of Israel was still blinded by the veil. He ordered his servant to strike Paul on the mouth. The High Priest Ananias was not converted. His attitude toward the gospel did not change, because the legalistic religious atmosphere of his day created a veil over his heart.

Jesus commanded Paul to leave the hostile religious environment in Jerusalem and preach to the Gentiles, because his testimony would not be accepted in Jerusalem. I believe that abandoning empty religiosity and receiving the light of Christ can help us get rid of the veil that blinds our hearts. It will help us experience a wonderful transformation in our lives.

Religiosity Is Like A Veil Covering Our Hearts

In Acts, there was a new high priest. The man in charge had changed, but the attitude of the priests toward the gospel had not changed. Both the old high priest and the new high priest persecuted believers. Why is this? It is because the atmosphere of empty religiosity was so strong in Jerusalem. This type of lifeless religiosity formed a veil that covered the hearts of the Israelites so they could not see Jesus’ glory or get to know God (2 Corinthians 3:14-16). It was a stronghold of the evil one.

Paul knew this very well. He said, “For the weapons of our warfare are not of the flesh but have divine power to destroy strongholds. We destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (ESV, 2 Corinthians 10:4-5).[1] Such strongholds must have existed among the Jews, and these strongholds prevented them from knowing God.

Our hearts are like mirrors. Because our hearts are contaminated, we cannot reflect God’s light accurately. So it is very important to get rid of empty religiosity and remove the veil from our hearts.

This removal involves two changes. First, we need to humble our hearts. But this is often difficult to do, because we are all influenced by the environment. It is very difficult to escape its influence. The religious atmosphere is like a dusty room. If the mirror is placed in this room, dust will accumulate and eventually cover the mirror, preventing it from reflecting light. The same is true of our hearts. When our hearts are constantly influenced by empty religious teachings, the dust of legalism will eventually cover our hearts.

In Acts 28, Paul told the Jews who did not believe in the gospel, “The Holy Spirit was right in saying to your fathers through Isaiah the prophet: ‘Go to this people, and say, “You will indeed hear but never understand, and you will indeed see but never perceive.” For this people’s heart has grown dull, and with their ears they can barely hear, and their eyes they have closed; lest they should see with their eyes and hear with their ears and understand with their heart and turn, and I would heal them.’” (Acts 28:25-27).

Paul said that their hearts had grown dull. There was a veil covering their hearts. Paul mentioned in 2 Corinthians 3 that when the Israelites read the Old Testament, the veil was still on their hearts. But when their hearts turned to the Lord, the veil was removed (2 Corinthians 3:15-16). The same thing can happen in any Christian community. When we accept too many traditional teachings, these teachings become a hindrance to our knowledge of God’s new leading and enlightened truth.

Staying Away From Empty Religiosity

In Acts 22:18, Paul said, “I saw the Lord say to me, ‘Make haste and get out of Jerusalem quickly, because they will not accept your testimony about me.’” Why did Jesus tell Paul to get out of Jerusalem quickly?

God is very tender-hearted and merciful. He is not only merciful to sinners, but also to those who are stuck in old religious mindsets. They are trapped inside old wineskins, afraid that the new wine will burst the old wineskins. Every new movement of God is often persecuted by those involved in the previous movement. But this does not mean that God will completely abandon the people He used in His previous movement. These people tend to prefer old wineskins; they don’t want new wineskins. But new wine must be put in new wineskins; otherwise the old wineskins will burst. In the same way, God will raise up new apostles and move to create new wineskins to store the new wine. This is why he asked Paul to leave Jerusalem, the place which was saturated with religiosity. He didn’t want him to be trapped in “old wineskins.”

Paul Needed To Leave Jerusalem To Receive The Light Of God

I believe that God could have appeared to Paul while he was in Jerusalem, because His light is strong enough to pass through all veils and obstacles as well as all strongholds that prevent us from knowing Him. However, I believe the fact that Paul encountered Jesus while he was on his way from Jerusalem to Damascus is very meaningful. Despite the power of God’s light, I believe the strong religious atmosphere in Jerusalem still blocked God’s light to a certain extent. Galatians 2 tells us that Peter and Barnabas were influenced negatively by the atmosphere of religiosity. Peter used to eat with the Gentiles, but after the people from Jerusalem arrived, Peter was scared. He stopped eating with the Gentiles, and even Barnabas went along with Peter’s fear-based response. Clearly, religious culture had a great influence on them.

In the same way, it is difficult to break through the grime of tradition and receive the light of God while we are still stuck in a suffocating religious environment. One of the reasons is that long-standing religious teaching covers our hearts with a layer of dust. When we are stuck in one denomination, we are unable to see the light of God’s truth shining through other denominations. The teachings we receive may be partly biblical, but also partly based on man’s tradition. Human tradition becomes a factor that prevents our hearts from being illuminated by God. It is a grueling process to separate truth from error and to clean the grime off the mirror of our hearts.

I went through such a grueling process when I left a traditional evangelical church to study at a charismatic church. My traditions told me that some of the teachings and practices of the Pentecostal Movement were wrong. My church had unknowingly instilled in me the idea that my denomination’s teachings were most biblical. But in reality, the teachings of my denomination were a mixed bag. There was truth mixed with traditions and the teachings of man. These traditions and teachings of man greatly limited my thinking and left me unable to learn from and recognize the abundance of other churches. The pride in my own denominational teaching and the fear of being influenced by the wrong teachings of others kept me from stepping out bravely, learning and accepting the abundance of others.

But I was forced by my new environment to gradually learn new perspectives. I realized that each denomination has a different kind of abundance. These are all things that I slowly learned after I left my original church and started attending a different church. To supersede the limitations of thinking that one denomination teaches us, we must dare to leave that denomination. Going to another denomination will teach us different perspectives that will help us widen our horizons. I found that many brothers and sisters who did not have the opportunity to study outside their denomination are still stuck in the same mode of thinking and cannot go beyond its limitations.

Many denominations do not encourage believers to go to other churches to learn different teachings. They mainly use intimidation to prevent this from happening. They use threats to control believers. They lock believers into their own denominational sheepfold. However, just as plants need to be interbred, believers of different denominations also need to communicate with each other. We need to break down the barriers between us and supersede our denominational limits. We can learn from the abundance that God has bestowed on other members of His body. One day, the Lord appeared to me in a dream and specifically mentioned convergence. He told me that the different denominations should converge. I personally believe that this is His work in this age.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, many believers were unable to go to in-person church gatherings. This situation made it difficult for many Christians to understand God’s will. Gradually, many believers began to turn to online gatherings and started to listen to sermons from preachers of other denominations. Many heard messages they would never have listened to if they had been busy with in-person meetings. Christians began to listen to the messages and preaching of a variety of pastors. I was saved in the Local Church movement (LCM). Several LCM believers told me that during the pandemic, they privately listened to messages from Charismatic preachers on the baptism of the Holy Spirit and tongues. They even practiced praying in tongues in an attempt to be filled with the Holy Spirit and receive more vitality. Another believer from the LCM told me to send my doctoral dissertation on convergence to a leader of the LCM, hoping that God would inspire him to accept this vision.

I believe the Covid-19 pandemic is a big reset from God. God allowed this to come upon us to break the habits and routines the church had been stuck in for many years. At the beginning of the pandemic, many churches hoped that it would end as soon as possible, so that they could get back to normal. But gradually, they discovered they would never be back to normal. Recently, I heard that a Chinese church stopped all online gatherings and asked believers to return to church in person. But many Christians had already been exposed to the teachings of many different pastors during this period. Their eyes had already been opened. Churches may be worried about attrition, but that’s not what God is worried about. What God wants to do is to break down the walls between our denominations so that believers can accept convergence.

Rigid Thinking and Refusal To Change

In Acts 22:1-21, Paul testified about how Jesus appeared to him. Paul told the Jews that the Lord told him to go to the Gentiles to preach the gospel. This made the Jews very angry. They threw off their cloaks and flung dust into the air (vs. 23). The Jews rejected the idea that Gentiles could be saved. They could not receive God’s light and new leading because of their rigid thinking.

In the same way, many believers are stuck in rigid thinking patterns. If someone criticizes or goes against their beliefs, they feel threatened. They will do everything in their power to prevent this. For example, I was blessed by some concepts I learned in the Pentecostal Movement, and I shared them with a brother in the LCM movement.

He told me, “God’s intention is one church, one city so it is wrong for you to leave the LCM to join the Pentecostal Movement.”

I told him, “There is much to learn from the Pentecostal Movement.”

But because of his rigid thinking, he was unable to accept my testimony. Instead, he condemned me. During my thirteen years in the LCM, I firmly believed in the “one church, one city” teaching. But upon reflection, I found that this teaching did not have the effect the LCM movement desired. The teaching of “one church, one city” did not actually lead to the unity of the body of Christ. Although this teaching is a beautiful ideal, it has not been practically effective. Yet this teaching is one of the most basic dogmas of the LCM as a Christian group. If they abandon this teaching, it may have very negative consequences for the group, and even lead to its collapse. But taking too firm of a stance on this issue will not give the believers the chance to be exposed to truths from other denominations. Such rigid thinking will greatly hinder people from accepting God’s new leading.

What God is doing in this age is convergence. Keeping the believers in the sheepfold through rigid thinking does not please Him, and will cause churches to lose the presence of the Holy Spirit. I personally think this is one of the reasons why the LCM has become more cold and spiritually dead in recent years.

In addition, some people think that “tongues are of the flesh” and that “spiritual gifts are useless”. Their rigid thinking patterns prevent them from learning from the truths revealed by God throughout the 100-year history of the Pentecostal Movement. I am not saying that there are no problems that need to be corrected with regard to the teaching and practice of the Pentecostal Movement. But I must say that the root cause of the division between the Pentecostal Movement and evangelicals is that the evangelical church has not been able to recognize God’s many new revelations about the Holy Spirit and his work and gifts. Some Evangelical churches are rigid in their thinking. If they systematically study the development of the Pentecostal Movement, accept the truths revealed by God through them, and then continue to critique and improve their Christian brothers and sisters, they will bring about the unity and growth of the church. Therefore, evangelical and charismatic churches must converge. The breakthrough lies in the humility of evangelical churches and their willingness to learn.

When we hear a testimony, we often have one of two reactions. If the testimony is thought-provoking, we may allow it to challenge our rigid thinking. Or we may choose to condemn and reject the testimony based on our rigid teachings. Some Jews accepted Paul’s testimony, while others rejected it because of their rigid mindsets. Although some people rejected my testimony, others took it into consideration and began to study spiritual gifts privately. God revealed to me in a series of dreams that the LCM would eventually receive the baptism and gift of the Holy Spirit. Let us pray for them to break free from rigid thinking and gain a vision for convergence.

Our Hearts Ultimately Decide Everything

All of these decisions are determined by our hearts. If our hearts are purely devoted to God, we will not be bound by fixed traditions. Instead, we will be open to bravely learning new things.

Although Paul once had a veil over his heart, he loved the Lord with all his heart, and God eventually removed the veil from his heart and brought him into His destiny. But the priests’ hearts had grown dull, so they rejected the testimony that God gave them through Paul. This reflects a heart problem.

We must test our hearts. Are we afraid of man or God? Are we afraid of going against tradition, or are we afraid of losing our share of God’s work in this current age? Our hearts ultimately determine our choices. God judges us according to what is in our hearts. May every Christian bravely break through the rigid thinking patterns handed down to them by their denominations. May we bravely take steps of faith, and not miss out on the greatest work of God in this age: convergence. The great revival is coming. Don’t be a part of the group who is opposing God’s work. Convergence will bring together the abundance that each denomination has to offer. It will prepare the church to be a vessel for God’s great revival. May God have mercy on us.

[1] All Scripture quotations are taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.