By Philip W. Martin
The conversion of the Apostle Paul is one of the most striking accounts in the book of Acts. The details of the account are not given in one place, so to fully understand it we must consider all of them (Acts 9:1-18; 22:1-16; 26; 1 Tim 1:12-17). To begin to understand the conversion of Saul, we must first examine what we know of his life prior to our knowledge of him. Paul (Saul) was a Roman citizen (Acts 22:26), a Pharisee (Acts 23:6), a student of Gamaliel, a Jew (Acts 22:3), someone who had attained a certain amount of respect in the Jewish community of that time.
When Stephan was martyred, he was there to hold the cloaks of those involved for he was in agreement with what they were doing (Acts 7:58-8:1). He persecuted the church with zeal unmatched in the New Testament (Acts 8:3). So much so that he went to other cities to stop what he saw as the destruction of the nation of Israel by what he saw as heretics.
It is on this trip that we begin to see the conversion of Saul. “And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me?” (Acts 9:3-4). One of the first things that I notice when I look at this moment when the gospel was being introduced to Saul is who the speaker was; it was our Lord and Savior, the very one Saul was persecuting. Who else could have had such a chance? Anyone else who would have tried to talk to him surely would have been put to death and imprisoned. He had persecuted others many times before.
So Saul was lead by the hand to Damascus so that he might hear what he must do. For three days he neither ate nor drank and it would be safe to say that he had plenty of time to consider what past sins he had committed. While there, Ananias was sent to him and he was told what he should do: “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). Is there any doubt as to what Saul should do so that he might be saved? So simple is the command and great the reward. Saul displays the nature of faith plainly; God said it and he believed it. Right away Saul begins to preach and teach about the Christ, that Jesus was indeed the Messiah saying, “He is the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). After growing in strength and confounding the Jews in Damascus for some time, they were seeking to kill him so he left for Jerusalem where he joined himself to the disciples there.
Saul’s life gives us a unique opportunity to look at a Christian and his behavior in close detail both before and after his conversion. Saul epitomizes the nature of true repentance. After he heard the words that would help lead him to salvation and obeyed those words, he from that point forward becomes one of the staunchest defenders of the faith. At the close of his days he had the moral fortitude to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim. 4:7). Earlier it was said, “Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem” (Acts 9:13). Saul completely turns his actions around and protects this cause he once hunted.
In an old hymn we hear the words sung from time to time, “Did you repent, fully repent of your past sins, friend?” Of this Paul could have answered with a resounding yes!
We can look at Paul’s life and his work to see how he used this new found salvation. He goes from a time of being the persecutor to a life of persecution. In the book of 2 Corinthians he gives a small listing of some of the things he had endured: “Of the Jews five times received I forty stripes save one. Thrice was I beaten with rods, once was I stoned, thrice I suffered shipwreck, a night and a day I have been in the deep, in journeyings often, in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils by mine own countrymen, in perils by the heathen, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false bretren, in weariness and painfulness, in watchings often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness” (2 Cor. 11:24-27).
This messenger of God inspired and guided by the Holy Spirit even received abuse by his fellow Christians (2 Cor. 10:10). All the while he learned to be content in whatever situation he was in (Phil. 4:11).
We can learn many important things from the life and conversion of Paul. He was one who understood and lived the simple life of a Christian in a tough and trying time, obeying the simple commands given unto him and placing his ultimate trust in God. He was open and forthright with his faith never shirking or hiding from it. Paul would rather have let his own freedoms be curtailed than to even risk offending his brother in Christ. But he was not one to hide from controversy or let sin and worldly ways invade the church. We would do well to reconsider our own ideas and actions and see if we truly are the example Paul wanted Timothy to be. “Let no man despise thy youth; but be thou an example of the believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity” (1 Tim 4:12). Possibly one day we too can have the faith to say, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith” (2 Tim 4:7).