A quirky story caught my attention as I listened to the news. John Hinckley Jr., the man who tried to assassinate President Ronald Reagan, has begun posting love songs on YouTube. The songs are amateurish, but they’re a big improvement over attempting an assassination.
Then the anchor said something that struck me to the core, something to the effect of, “He can’t change who he is. He’ll always be the guy who tried to kill a sitting president.”
Maybe you’ve heard the saying, “A tiger can’t change its stripes.” Yeah, we all know that’s true. (Insert sarcasm here.) Ask the apostle Paul, previously known as Saul.
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” . . . At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.—Acts 9:1-4; 20-22
Paul had been a terrorist when he encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus. We first meet Paul in Acts 7 as he stood by approving the martyrdom of Stephen. Paul’s training taught him to hate and seek to destroy those who preached Jesus as the promised Messiah. This became his singular mission.
But everything changed that day for Paul—his heart, his understanding of Scripture, his career path, his associations, his priorities. For a long time, people distrusted him, and for good reason. But then they saw his fervency for Christ. They saw the man who once sought to destroy him begin to destroy arguments against Jesus as the Messiah. And the onetime terrorist became history’s greatest evangelist and the author of the bulk of the New Testament.
As for John Hinckley, he doesn’t profess to be a believer. He’s not using social media to proclaim the gospel. But that’s not the point. Who he was doesn’t define who he is or who he will be. The salvation God makes available to us through Jesus is equally available to him. God’s grace is greater than our sin, no matter how grievous the transgression. And until we leave this mortal coil, it’s not too late to accept God’s free gift of salvation.
Take a step back the next time you see someone you deem hopeless. No matter how depraved that person may be, remember that the arm of the Lord is not too short to save. Where there is life, there is hope for eternal life. And God is generous. He offers that hope freely, even to the worst of sinners—the term Paul used to describe himself.