Conversion: The Conversion of Paul

By Cecil Willis

For many weeks we have been studying the plan of salvation; studying faith, repentance and baptism from different viewpoints. After having studied each of these commandments from its different aspects, for the next few weeks we want to study the application of these rules as they are applied in the lives and conversions of different individuals as recorded in the book of Acts.

The books of Acts is a history of the growth of the church, and involved in the growth of the church must be the conversion of certain individuals. One of those individuals who was gained into the fold of the saved as the church enlarged was a young man named Saul. We want to notice what is said concerning the conversion of this young man, and then see how it corresponds with what the Bible teaches about the necessity of believing, repenting and being baptized.

Persecuter of the Pious

The first time the Bible mentions this young man who in later life was to exert such a tremendous influence upon both the church and the world, is at a mob gathering in which a Christian evangelist is called in question concerning his preaching. In the city of Jerusalem, Stephen, the evangelist was questioned about his preaching. He rose to explain what he was declaring and to defend himself. After he had discoursed quite at length on Jewish history and had told them how the Jews had always rebelled against God, and had killed the prophets that God had se ‘ nt to warn them, the Jews were angered. Finally he charged that those Jews to whom he was speaking were no better than their fathers, and that they had killed the prophets. It Was then that the mob rose up against Stephen and stoned him to death. As Stephen preached, “they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and rushed upon him with one accord; and they cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their garments at the feet of a young man named Saul” (Acts 7:57-58). This is the first time that the Bible mentions this young few, and here he is taking care of the coats of the men that killed the speaker for God, Stephen. Luke, the writer of the book of Acts adds, “And Saul was consenting unto his death,” showing that Saul was not only the coat keeper, but that he gave his sanction to the incident.

Saul was not satisfied to kill only the evangelist, Stephen, but he then set in motion a wave of persecutions which carne over the church in Jerusalem, that eventually led to its dispersion abroad. The Scripture says, “And there arose on that day a great persecution against the church which was in Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles. And devout men buried Stephen, and made great lamentation over him, But Paul laid waste the church, entering into every house, and dragging men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:1-3). In the first two verses of Acts 9 more is recorded about this man Saul and his efforts to destroy the church of the Lord. “But Saul, yet breathing threatening and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, and asked of him letters to Damascus unto the synagogues, that if he found any that were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” This was his attitude toward Christians.

As Paul later spoke of his own previous activities, and how he had so diligently, and fervently fought to suppress the cause of Jesus of Nazareth, he told other details of his persecutions. In Acts 22:4,5 he said, “and I persecuted this Way unto the death, binding and delivering unto prisons both men and women, As also the high priest doth bear me witness, and all the estate of the elders: from whom I received letters unto the brethren, and journeyed to Damascus to bring them also that were there unto Jerusalem in bonds to be punished.” In Acts 26:9-11, Paul said further, “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. And this I also did in Jerusalem: and I both shut up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, and when they were put to death I gave my vote against them. And punishing them oftentimes in all the synagogues, I strove to make the blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities.”

This is the story of the persecutor, Saul, told in his own words years later, when he had himself become a member of that cause which he formerly fought. He bad done almost all that any persecutor, regardless of how vicious, or barbarous, could have done. He had had a part in the stoning of Stephen, scattered the church abroad, committed men and women into prison, sought to make them blaspheme the name of God, and finally, when they were put to death, Saul spoke his word against them.

All during the time that he was so violently opposing the Christian cause, Saul had no compunction of conscience about doing the things he did. Saul did not feel that he was doing wrong when he went out to hunt down Christians like they were wild animals, for he thought that Jesus was an imposter, and a blasphemer, and therefore, he felt responsible to do everything that he possibly could to liquidate those that followed Christ. In Acts 26:9, he said, “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” Paul felt no sense of guilt as he went out to kill the disciples of the Lord. He said, years later, as he stood before the council, “Brethren, I have lived before God in all good conscience until this day” (Acts 23:1). Even though he was a murderer of Christians, and his conscience did not condemn him for it, still he says that he was the chiefest of sinners. Pan] said, “Faithful is the saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief” (1 Tim. 1:15). And he also declared that they could not say that while lie persecuted the Way of Christ, that he was insincere, for he was a respectable worshiping Jew at the time. He said if any man could trust in his attainments of the flesh, that lie was that individual. He declared “though I myself might have confidence even in the flesh, if any other thinketh to have confidence in the flesh, I yet more: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews: as touching the law, a Pharisee; as touching zeal, persecuting the church; as touching the righteousness which is in the law, found blameless” (Phil. 3:4,5).

If there was ever anything that completely exploded a doctrine, this is one instance in which that is done. Today there are many teachers, and adherents of the theory that says if a person thinks that he is right, or if one is sincere in his religion, he will be acceptable to the Lord, Paul says that he lived in all good conscience before God even while he was persecuting the church. lie further says that all the time that he lived in this good conscience before God, he was the chief of sinners. Here is a chief-sinner who is living with a good conscience, and therefore it should be admitted by all that conscience is not a safe guide, for this man followed his conscience, and it led him to be a chief sinner. Only God’s word is a safe guide.

Penitent and Praying

After Paul had for some time punished the Christians in the Jerusalem area, he went to the high priest and secured permission to go to the North to the city of Damascus, and there bind all those that he found calling on the name of Jesus, and return them to Jerusalem to make them suffer. It was while on the road to Damascus, along with his traveling companions, that the Lord Jesus appeared unto him. As they were traveling toward Damascus, there appeared an extremely bright light, which Paul later described as being “brighter than the noon day sun'” and he fell to his feet. A voice out of heaven said, “Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?”, and Saul answered, “Who art thou Lord?” The Speaker, answered, “I am Jesus, of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest.” Paul answered, inquiring, “What wilt thou have me do?”

Here in the life of Paul has been made a change already. He realized that he has been in error all this time that he has been fighting against the cause of Christ, and no longer does he believe that Jesus is an imposter, but now he calls him “Lord,” and offers himself in a contrite disposition before the Lord, and proposes to do what the Lord would have him do

It should be pointed out how this event differs from the teaching of men. Most denominationalists who teach that one must receive the Holy Spirit personally and directly, teach that this experience is to save. Here even though Saul encountered Jesus, the experience was not to save him. If the experience through which he was going was for the purpose of salvation, when Saul inquired of the Lord what he must do, surely the Lord would have told him, “Saul, you do not have to do anything, for you are already saved,” But such was not the case. Christ told him to go into Damascus and there it would be told him what he must do. Whatever Christ required him to do in order to receive remission of his sins was to be told him after he arrived in Damascus. But we do know that this much had been done in the conversion of Saul. No longer, did he think of Jesus as a wicked and deceiving man, but now he knew Him to be the Son of God. He had now become a believer.

By the appearance of the light, and the power of God, Saul had been made blind, so his fellows led him into the city of Damascus. In Damascus he went into the house of one named Judus, and there he took no food. At the time that the preacher sent by God came to birn, he was praying. This indicated that he had changed his mind, which is repentance, Repentance is (he resolution to quit sin arid to obey God. Certainly Saul had done that. But still he was not saved. He was only a penitent believer.

In the meantime, God appeared to Ananias, a pieaclier there in the city of Damascus, and told him to go to Saul, and tell him what he must do. Because of Saul’s very severe persecutions against the brethren, his reputation was known far and wide, Consequently, Ananias was very hesitant to go to Saul. But God told him to go ahead, and speak to him, and that he would find him praying.

Ananias went to the appointed place and there he found Saul praying. He went in, touched him, and Saul received his sight. Then Ananias said, “Brother Saul, why tarriest thou, Arise, be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). When Saul had been back there on the road that went to Damascus, the Lord had told hirn to come to Damascus, and there it would be told him what lie must do. Now it is that he learns through the God-sent preacher what he must do. He is told to be baptized and wash away his sins.

Let us pause, and reflect on what Saul, the persecutor, did to be saved. First, when the Lord appeared to him, he became a believer; then he had a change of mind, for no longer was he seeking out Christians to slay them, but now he was waiting for the gospel preacher to come to him, and tell him what he must do to be saved from his wickedness. Finally, when the preacher came, he told him to be baptized, and wash away his sins. What did Saul do? He believed, repented and was baptized to wash away his sins. This is exactly the same thing that you or I must do to be saved.

When was Saul saved? Sorne have said that he was saved on the road. If so, was it when he fell to the earth? This could not be for this was before he even knew who the Lord was, for when Christ spoke to him, he asked “Who art thou Lord?” Certainly no one would contend that one could be saved by obeying Christ before he even knew who Christ was.

The main reason why men make an argument as to when Saul was saved is to fortify their contention that baptism is inessential to salvation, Was Saul saved before he was baptized? If he was, he was saved before he knew it, for he asked the. Lord while on the road, what he must do, and then when God told him through Ananias to be baptized, he readily obeyed. If he was saved before he was baptized, Jesus did not know anything about it, for he told him that he would have to do what would be told him in Damascus, and this commandment was for him to be baptized. He was saved before Ananias knew it, if he was saved without baptism, for Ananias told him to arise and be baptized and wash away his sins. If he was saved without baptism, he was saved before God knew it, for God sent Ananias the preacher to Saul to tell him what he had to do to be saved. If fie was saved without being baptized, he was saved before his sins were washed away, for Ananias told him that he was to be baptized in order to have his sins washed away

Saul was saved just like you and I will be. Saul believed in the Lord Jesus Christ as the Son of God, he repented of his sins, arid then he obeyed the commandment of God to be baptized and to have his sins washed away. You can be saved in no other way. If when this life is ended for you and me, and one day we enter the eternal kingdom of God, it will be because you and I obeyed God by believing, repenting, arid being baptized, and then living out lives in accord with the teaching of the word of Christ.

Truth Magazine XX: 43, pp. 675-677
October 28, 1976