KOTOR – When the Jedi and the Sith are two sides of the same coin (1 Cor.9:20-23)

It is time… time to discuss what I hold to be the single greatest video game of all time – Star Wars:  The Knights of the Old Republic.  To those of us who have played this classic, it is spoken of in hushed tones by the simple acronym “KOTOR”.  I will alert you in advance that this will be particularly SPOILER heavy, so proceed at your own peril.  This incredible story takes place long before any of the Star Wars films existed, in an era where the Jedi and the Sith, the two opposing forces of good and evil in the Star Wars universe,  were both equally numbered and in a very open war with each other.  You start the game under attack on a giant space cruiser, with no memory of who you are or how you got there.  As the story progresses you realize that you are a talented warrior with the ability to use the Force, and you follow the path to become a Jedi and join their cause, waging war against the evil Sith.  Sounds pretty predictable so far, right?

…you were deceived and used by all of the friends you had trusted

Only this game turns your entire universe on its ear at the end of the second act, when you realize that the Sith Lord named Darth Revan, the fierce enemy leader you have been chasing and attempting to thwart throughout the game, is actually YOU.  Yes, that’s right.  After spending most of the game tracking down Darth Revan and following in his footsteps, you find out that you were him all along.  Captured and brainwashed by the Jedi “good guys”, you were deceived and used by all of the friends you had trusted so they could find out what you had been up to.  This incredible turn of events spins you on your ear, and as your whole world collapses on you a choice must be made.  Do you continue to follow the path of the Jedi, knowing that they deliberately manipulated you into assisting them?  Or do you become Darth Revan once again, feared and powerful enemy of the Jedi, now that you know who you truly are?

I will confess that I am a massive Star Wars fanboy, and this game in particular touches on one of my favorite themes in the Star Wars universe – how truly different are the Sith and the Jedi?  Are they polar opposites of good and evil locked into a mortal battle for what is right, or are they simply two sides of the same coin?  While I do not have the space to launch into a full treatment of one of my favorite “nerd fight” topics, this does lead me into a fascinating character study of the arguably most influential apostle in the New Testament – the apostle Paul.  Or is it the rabbi Saul?  Let’s find out…

What if you could completely change your name and your prior identity?

For much of my life, I was taught that Saul of Tarsus, the one-time “Christian hunter” and infamous persecutor of all who followed the teachings of Jesus, was confronted by God on his way to imprison the Christians of Damascus and struck blind.  A devout and brave Christian named Ananias was led by God to pray for Saul, and upon the restoration of his sight Saul changed his ways and became a follower of the very path he had been trying to destroy.  Saul, the Jewish rabbi, the man whose very name struck fear into the hearts of the believers, was changed forever.  But here is where what I was told, and what I find in the Bible, differs greatly.  See, all that I have told you so far is true.  So where does the name “Paul” come into play?

I believed for many years that Saul changed his name to Paul after his conversion, or perhaps God gave him a new name to signify his change of heart.  And I always thought that seemed a little convenient.  How nice would it be if after you gave your life to Christ that you got to completely change your name and your prior identity?  Start over new, with none of your old friends holding you back, get a new job that is customized around your newly found faith, and all of the debts that you built up over the years were erased?  But that is not reality.  Your bills are still due, your kids may still misbehave, and your family will still call you by that nickname that you wish everyone would just forget.  So then why is Saul called Paul throughout the New Testament?  The answer lies in such a simple place, that I don’t know why I didn’t see it sooner.

He was both simultaneously

Saul IS Paul.  Paul IS Saul.  He always was.  Up until Acts 13, he is referred to as Saul exclusively.  During this time, after his conversion, he has been preaching and teaching the ways of Christ for years.  Acts 13:9 carries this small phrase that marks the name change that will follow for the remainder of the New Testament, “Then Saul, who is also called Paul…”  And that is the transition, small and almost completely missed. Not because God changed his name.  Not because he was running from his past and what the name Saul was identified with.  No, it is something much, much more simple.  Saul was also called Paul.  Saul was a Jew, and Saul was his name in Hebrew.  However, Saul was also born a Roman citizen.  The name Saul in Roman?  You guessed it – he went by Paulos, or as we write it in English, Paul.  And now, the mystery is solved.  When he traveled in his native country, he used his given name of Saul.  But since he was the apostle sent to the Gentiles, the countries under Roman rule, he was known by the Roman variant of his name, which was Paul.

So why does this matter?  Saul/Paul by any other name is still the same man.  Darth Revan, the protagonist of my favorite Star Wars story ever, was still the same person and was simply on the other side of the same conflict, with both eyes now fully opened.  Let me share a verse from the Bible that is of great significance to this subject.  1 Corinthians 9:20-23 contains an often misquoted verse of scripture in which Paul tells us that in order to reach the world with the Gospel of Christ, he becomes all things to all men so he can reach them.  To the Jews he became a Jew, and to the Gentile Romans he became as a Roman.  But here is the interesting fact – Saul/Paul was both Jew AND Roman.  He didn’t have to BECOME either one.  He was both simultaneously.  The actual word in that verse is misinterpreted as “become”, when it actually means “was” in the Greek, which is how it is interpreted every other time it is found in the New Testament.  Paul didn’t say he “became” a Jew or Roman… he is telling us that when he was with the Jews he was a Jew, following their rules and traditions to keep from offending them.  When he was with the Romans, he spoke to them on their level, on what they had in common.

Consider that you already carry within you the very aspects He intends to use!

What does this mean to us?  A great deal, actually.  In my circumstance, I have been called to follow Jesus Christ and the book that God has given us to learn His plan for our lives, the Bible.  But I am also a gamer, a fan of science fiction entertainment, and a total geek who is completely aware of that fact, and okay with it.  I am both of these, one and the same, and God has called me exactly as I am to reach people.  God has the same calling for you – the person you are is EXACTLY what He wants.  There will be many changes He has in mind for your life, and as you grow in your relationship with Jesus you will find that your interests, conversations, priorities, and so much more will change.  But if he called you as an athlete, you are now an athlete for Christ, and He will use you to reach other athletes in your life.  If you love comic books, he will use those as a pathway to talk to fellow comic aficionados about your faith in Christ.  It isn’t about becoming someone that you are not – it’s about God using you for exactly what you are!!

So, when you wonder what God’s plan for your life is, consider that you already carry within you the very aspects He intends to use.  Your strengths and interests, your challenges, and even your personal tragedies are the very ministries that He will use to reach others.  Nothing has ever happened to you that He cannot use later in your life as a way to reach others.  Are you divorced?  Then you are in the best place to help guide others through this painful path.  Are you a gifted orator?  Then you are ideal for God to use in a teaching capacity. As we learned with Saul/Paul and Darth Revan earlier, even those things that were at one time used against the forces of good were later turned into a powerful weapon for what is right.  In Revan’s case, he turned the tide of the battle and defeated the evil Sith.  And in Saul/Paul’s case, a man who had formerly attacked the church with passion and zeal now served that very church as their most famous ambassador for the remainder of his life, reaching the world with the message that Jesus came to seek and save all people.  Surrender all that you are to your Creator, and watch what amazing things He will accomplish through you!

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