Paul tells King Agrippa what he did at Jerusalem and elsewhere: “Many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests. And when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them” (Acts 26:10).
He was devout, faithful, zealous. “After the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” (Acts 26:5). He thought he was doing God’s work.
We want to excuse Paul’s legally-sanctioned murders, because of what he became. But he had Christians killed for believing in Christ – and he thought God wanted that. There’s no way – and Paul didn’t try – to explain or excuse that grave crime down to a mere misdemeanor.
First: No wonder Paul speaks so often and so gladly of grace. He knew the limits of Law and works; he knew his own need for “the grace of God that bringeth salvation” (Titus 2:11). The zealous former Pharisee bid his own people, “Come boldly unto the throne of grace” (Hebrews 4:16). He did not dismiss obedience (see Titus 2:12), but he knew that our best, while necessary, is not even remotely enough. We are saved by grace – by the gift of unearned mercy.
Second: If God could, would, and did make Saul the murderous Pharisee into Paul the apostle, then my own flaws and sins – and yours – are certainly within the scope of God’s grace, love, and power.
Therefore, with Paul: “Grace be unto you, and peace, from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 1:1).