Example #1: SaulDevoutly mired in false religion, Saul was a declared enemy of the early Christian church. He witnessed and approved their martyrdom. He led in active persecution. "Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison" (Acts 8:3). "Breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord," Saul sought permission "so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem" (Acts 9:1-2). As Saul went on his journey of hatred, God dramatically confronted him with a blinding light and a voice from heaven. Saul was converted, and the one who "used to persecute the church of God beyond measure and tried to destroy it" became a devoted minister of God to "preach Him among the Gentiles"(Galatians 1:13,16). Renamed Paul, this man endured persecution to carry the gospel to many parts of the known world and authored half the books of the New Testament.
Example #2: John NewtonJohn Newton's life at sea began at age eleven. Newton went on numerous voyages and developed habits of profanity, drinking, and gambling. Newton himself admitted, "I sinned with a high hand, and I made it my study to tempt and seduce others." During his naval service, he attempted desertion and considered murdering the captain who punished him. To escape the navy, Newton joined a slave ship and spent several rough years in the slave trade, where he was ruthless and abusive. On one voyage, he was caught in a fierce and lengthy storm; his ship seemed doomed. This man, whose early childhood instruction about God had long ago vanished, found himself praying in desperation. While his words did not come from a heart that sought God, he later contemplated his prayer. He believed that God had intervened in his life; this incident, followed by further thought during a severe illness, led to his conversion. Newton went on to become a well-known preacher and hymn writer for several decades. His self-composed epitaph reads: "John Newton, clerk. Once an infidel and libertine, a servant of slaves in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, restored, pardoned and appointed to preach the Gospel which he had long laboured to destroy. He ministered, near sixteen years in Olney, in Bucks, and twenty years in this Church."
Example #3: Adoniram JudsonAdoniram Judson's father was a pastor whose devotion to truth continually brought conflict with weak churches. Extraordinarily intelligent, Adoniram was strongly encouraged to serve God. As a child he preached to his friends, and he entered college with thoughts of becoming a pastor. Ambitious for fame, Judson's free time was given more to social activity than religious practice. Judson befriended Jacob Eames, an outspoken unbeliever, and Judson's "Christianity" collapsed. Shortly after graduation, Judson left home, planning to associate with the theater in New York City. He hid the most unacceptable aspects of his plans from his parents, while revealing he no longer believed in God or the Bible. His trip to New York was disappointing. For a time he traveled with a group of actors who habitually left towns without paying their debts. Discouraged and disappointed, Judson left the group. Arriving at a small village inn, Judson took the only room available, next door to a dying man. Throughout the night Adoniram heard the tortured moaning; he wondered if the man was ready for death, sparking his own personal doubts. In the morning Judson learned that the young man, now deceased, was Jacob Eames. Tormented, Judson enrolled in seminary as a seeker of truth. He was soon converted and before long became the first American foreign missionary. His life was spent opening the country of Burma to the gospel; he faithfully taught and translated the Bible. It was ultimately stated, "Today, there are 6 million Christians in Myanmar [Burma], and every one of us traces our spiritual heritage to one man - the Reverend Adoniram Judson."
Example #4: every ChristianWhile individuals may not consider their own stories as dramatic as those listed above, every single salvation is an act of God's grace. Every person, no matter how moral he may seem, no matter what good deeds he may do, is an enemy of God by nature. "You were formerly alienated and hostile" (Colossians 1:21). Aside from his undeserving state, no one was saved because his heart was seeking God. "There is none who seeks for God" (Romans 3:11). It is God's grace that draws and invites sinners. "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him" (John 6:44). Every salvation is a divine act, brought about in spite of man's animosity and wandering. "But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us even when we were dead in our transgressions ... For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:4-5,8).
Before salvation, individual lives fall on a broad spectrum including prolific service, outward conformity, desire for acceptance, empty claims, curious questioning, spiritual disinterest, teenaged rebellion, wandering rejection, vicious attacks, and outright hatred. Whether one's background is false religion like Saul, limited Biblical training like Newton, or rich opportunity like Judson, the solution is always salvation by God's grace. This truth should fill every Christian with humility, gratitude, and amazement. The truth should encourage the unsaved; these testimonies answer the probing question "Is there ANYONE that God cannot save?" with a resounding "Absolutely not!"
"Amazing grace! How sweet the soundThat saved a wretch like me!
I once was lost, but now am found,
Was blind, but now I see." (John Newton)