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Paul's Conversion

About this article

This 70 minute session explores how Paul's life was dramatically changed as a result of his experience of the risen Christ.

Background for the Teacher
This session focuses our attention on Paul's conversion experience. Using a hard-boiled egg and a raw egg as focusing symbols, the young people reflect on the meaning of conversion. Then two or three of the participants do a dramatic reading of Paul's conversion story from the Acts of the Apostles. Following the reading the young people use the Scriptures to investigate Paul's behaviors and attitudes before and after his conversion. The participants present their findings in a short speech, as if they were introducing Paul at a major conference.

The session concludes with a prayer service on conversion and journal time used to stir the young people's imagination.

Because this session contains a lot of hands-on Bible work, be attentive to the young people's comfort level in looking up passages. Be prepared to help.

Preparation
Materials Needed

Other Necessary Preparations
Prepare to lead this session by doing the following things and checking them off as you accomplish them:

  • For step A. Make an x on a raw egg with a marker. Recruit and prepare two (if you plan to read a part yourself) or three participants to read the scripted version of Acts 9:1-22 from resource 1-A, "The Road to Damascus" (PDF).
  • For step B. Prepare to present the summary points on Paul's conversion, using the information presented in step B.

Opening Teacher Prayer
Before the session find a quiet place to center yourself. Call to mind any worries or concerns that trouble you. Place them in God's hands as you pray the following:

Loving God, send your spirit to help me in my weakness, to carry my prayers to you when I do not have the words to pray, or do not even know what to pray for. For I trust that all things will work together for good for those who love you, who are called according to your divine purpose. If you are for me, who can prevail against me? If you did not withhold your own son, but gave him up for all of us, will you not give me everything else that I need? Who should I be afraid of? I need fear no person, for it is you who justifies, and I believe that Christ Jesus, risen and victorious, intercedes for me at your right hand.

What can separate me from your love? Will hardship or stress or persecution or joblessness or busy calendars or sickness or even death? No, in all these things we are already victorious through Jesus who loved us. Let me be as confident as Paul that neither death nor life, neither spiritual nor worldly powers, neither present nor future events, truly, no force in the universe can separate me from your love in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen. (Based on Rom. 8:26-39)

Procedure

Step A: Dramatic Presentation: Paul's Conversion (15 minutes)
Before the session. Make an x on a raw egg with a marker. Recruit and prepare two or three young people to read the scripted version of Acts 9:1-22 from resource 1-A (PDF). (You will need only two student readers if you plan to read a part.)

1. Pass two eggs around the group, one hardboiled and one raw. Ask the young people to guess which egg is which. After they have had a chance to guess, casually toss the hard-boiled egg to someone across the room for effect. Then break the raw egg into a bowl to prove it is raw. Tell the group that when an egg is heated, it turns from a liquid to a solid. This change in the physical nature of the egg might be called a conversion. Explain that people also undergo conversions, although unlike the physical change in the egg, a personal conversion usually involves changes in beliefs or behaviors. Invite the group into a brief discussion on conversion with the following questions:

  • What kinds of conversions do people experience? [Some of the areas of life in which people experience conversion are religious beliefs, political beliefs, moral behavior, and health or lifestyle behaviors.]
  • Can you name some similarities between the egg's conversion experience and a human conversion experience? [In both cases the change might not be easily identifiable from outer appearances. An outside influence started the conversion. Both happen when "heat" is applied.]
  • Do you know anyone who has gone through a conversion experience? How did he or she change? Have you experienced anything like a conversion yourself?

2. Explain that Saint Paul experienced an important conversion that is referred to several times in the Christian Testament. In the Acts of the Apostles, his experience is told in a dramatic fashion, but the author, Luke, may have embellished the story to emphasize its importance. In his own writings, Paul mentions his conversion with much less detail. In any case we need to appreciate the importance of Paul's conversion experience and its effect on his beliefs and behaviors. Announce that some group members are going to give a dramatic reading of Paul's conversion story from the Acts of the Apostles. Invite the group to listen prayerfully while the young people you recruited earlier read the scripted version of Acts 9:1-22 from resource 1-A (PDF).

Step B: Scriptural Activity: Paul's Conversion (35 minutes)
1. Ask the young people to pair up--preferably with someone other than their partner before the break. Tell them you want to take them back in their imagination almost two thousand years. They will be attending the first Jerusalem Christian conference and have been asked to introduce Paul before he receives the Outstanding Evangelizer of the Year Award. In order to properly introduce him, they need to do a little research. Give each participant a copy of handout 1-B, "How Paul's Conversion Changed His Life" (PDF). Direct the pairs to find and read the Bible passages listed on the handout. After reading all the references for a category, they should make some notes for that category about Paul's behavior and beliefs before and after his conversion. Based on these notes, they will then write their speech introducing Paul at the conference. The speech should emphasize how Paul's conversion changed him. They will have 20 minutes to complete all this.

2. When the pairs are finished, invite volunteers to choose one section of their speech to read to the group. Make a positive comment on some aspect of each presentation and invite the entire group to do the same. After you have heard comments that cover each section of the handout, open the floor to anyone who has further insights to offer. Make sure the following points are made clearly, either in the speeches or in your comments about them:

  • Paul's conversion marked a radical change in his attitude toward Christ and the people who were Christ's followers. Before his conversion Paul believed that the disciples of Christ were a threat to the Jewish faith. He went so far as to work with other Jewish leaders to violently stamp out this "cult" of heretics. (Early Christians kept their Jewish ties and were initially seen as a Jewish cult.) Paul's conversion experience convinced him that Jesus Christ was indeed the Son of God, the Savior the Jewish people had been waiting for. Paul turned from being a fervent persecutor of Christians to being one of history's most passionate defenders of the Christian faith.
  • As a Pharisee, Paul would have been rigidly committed to following the Law (the name given to biblical laws in the Hebrew Scriptures and all the customs and traditions based on them). His conversion experience convinced him that salvation was a free gift that could not be earned. Perhaps this happened when he realized that his commitment to the Law had not prevented him from persecuting innocent people. After his conversion he was steadfast in preaching that salvation did not come through following the Law, but through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • After his conversion Paul had a passion for preaching the Gospel to the Gentiles (the Jewish name for people who were not Jewish). His passion for their salvation can be partially attributed to his experience of living in the Greek and Roman worlds. Because of Paul's revelation that salvation did not come through following the Law, he insisted that Gentiles did not have to adopt all the Jewish laws and customs (including circumcision) in order to become Christians. This was not a popular view at the time, and Paul even challenged Peter and other important leaders of the early church on this. Because of his commitment to the salvation of the Gentiles, Paul is sometimes called the Apostle to the Gentiles.
  • Paul's moral life was also changed by his conversion experience. Before his conversion Paul was filled with hate and was willing to condone violence toward his perceived enemies. Afterward he came to understand Jesus' teaching of love for one's enemies. Even though his writings indicate that he could still get angry with those he felt were hindering the spread of the Gospel, he never resorted to the hatred and violence he had demonstrated before his conversion.
  • Not everything about Paul changed with his conversion. He still loved the Jewish people and his Jewish faith. He still was passionate about what he believed. He still was influenced by contemporary cultural attitudes, as is evidenced by his attitude toward women and slaves.
  • We cannot be sure exactly what happened at the time of Paul's conversion. Though it is presented dramatically in the Acts of the Apostles, Paul's own writings never mention the supernatural details. No doubt his complete understanding of the experience gradually became clearer over time. We do know that after his conversion, he spent several years in Christian communities--time that Paul spent learning the stories and teachings about Jesus Christ.

Closing Prayer (20 minutes)
Before the session. Set up the prayer area with a small table; a tablecloth; a large candle; a vigil candle for each participant; and a large, attractive Bible in a modern translation to use as a group Bible. Put a bookmark at 2 Cor. 4:1-6 in the Bible.

1. Invite the young people to move into the prayer area and form a circle. Pass out blank paper. Ask the young people to spend a few minutes writing a response to the question,

  • What is one area in my life where I need--or want--to experience change or conversion?

2. When the writing time is over, dim the lights and light a large candle in the center of the group. Place the group Bible near the candle. Ask the young people to cross their arms over their chest as you begin the prayer. Explain that this closed expression indicates the areas in their life where they are closed to God's love and power.

3. Turn to the young person on your right and gently open his or her arms, saying as you do so, "[Person's name], may you be open to Christ as Paul was." Invite the young person to do the same to the person on his or her right. This ritual action is to continue around the circle.

While this is happening, begin lighting vigil candles and passing them around the circle until every person has one. Do not rush this; allow time for the ritual opening of each person's arms.

4. When the ritual action has been completed and everyone has a lighted candle, read 2 Cor. 4:1-6. Conclude by praying,

  • May God bless us in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Acknowledgments

This session is adapted from the Horizons book, Paul: The Man and the Message by Brian Singer-Towns. Copyright © 1997 by Saint Mary's Press. Permission is granted for this activity to be used for classroom or campus ministry purposes. These activities may not be republished in any form without written permission from Saint Mary's Press. To order these books, contact Saint Mary's Press at 800-533-8095, or visit our online catalog at www.smp.org

Published July 24, 2008.