By Dennis C. Abernathy
To read the account of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus (better known as Paul) is a thrilling experience indeed. Outside of Jesus Himself, Paul is probably the most prominent man considered in the New Testament. There is much to be learned in the life of this great man (and a great man he truly was). Paul was truly great because he loved and served the Lord. We look to him and hold him in high esteem because he was a follower of Christ. “Be ye followers (imitators) of me, even as I also am of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).
As we observe the life of Saul, we find that he was a Jew in the strictest sense of the word. “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day” (Acts 22:3). Also we read in Phil. 3:5, “Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee.” Then in Acts 26:4-5 we read, “My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most strictest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.” Last of all, we read in Galatians 1:14, “And profited in the Jews’ religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.” It is evident from the foregoing scriptures that Paul was a very religious person (even from his youth up). He was a very strict Jew (mentioning his pure descent, his education under Gamaliel (a very eminent Jewish teacher), his being a Pharisee (noted for their strictness concerning the law), and not only that, he was more exceedingly zealous, which caused him to stand over and above many of his equals).
Now who would deny that Saul loved God and was trying to serve him? Certainly not I! This gives us some information about his up-bringing, but we notice something else about the life of Saul. While he was very religious, strict as to the law, very zealous toward God, at the same time we find that he persecuted the church! “For ye have heard of my former manner of life in Judaism, how I used to persecute the church of God beyond measure, and tried to destroy it” (Gal. 1:13). In writing to Timothy, Paul later said of himself that he was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and a violent aggressor” when it came to the church of the Lord. Saul did all that he could to stamp out the church of Christ. He opposed it with all his might. He imprisoned disciples (Acts 8:3; 22:4). He beat them (Acts 22:19). He compelled them to blaspheme(Acts 26:11). He voted to kill the saints (Acts 26:10; 7:58; 22:20). He was so “furiously enraged” at the saints, that he pursued them to foreign cities to bring them back and persecute them. How much worse could one be? Talk about sinners! Well Paul did not think one could be any worse than he was. He referred to himself as “chief of sinners” (1 Tim. 1:15). Paul was sincere and very conscientious, of which there is no doubt, for we read in Acts 23:1 “. . . Men and brethren, I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day.” Also in 24:16, he said, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.” And then again, we read in 26:9, “I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth.” So there we have it. Paul thought he was doing right, was sincere, and had a clear conscience. Do you suppose for one minute that he was pleasing to God in the condition? (Just here it would do some of our own brethren a lot of good to ponder Paul’s case. Will God simply overlook sins committed in ignorance while one is doing his best to do right? If He will, then Paul was pleasing to Him in his condition.) No, my friends and brethren, Paul was not all right in that condition, and he knew it when he heard the truth. I say this respectfully, but will say it nonetheless. If your “best” is not in harmony with the will of God, then it is not good enough.
We now have Saul on his way to Damascus to pursue the Christians with the authority and orders of the chief priests. As he later related the events of this journey, he said, “At midday, O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me” (Acts 26:13). Saul was overwhelmed by this and, having fallen to the ground, “heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ ” We learn, of course, that there was a special reason for this unusual happening in connection with Saul. We go to Acts 22:14-15 and find Ananias telling Saul, “The God of our fathers has appointed you to know his will and to see the Righteous One, and to hear an utterance from his mouth. For you will be a witness for him to all men of what you have seen and heard.” We read further in Acts 26, “But arise, and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to. the things in which I will appear to you; delivering you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I. am sending you, to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, in order that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me” (vs. 16-18). Read also 1 Cor. 9:1. Is it not clear then that Saul had actually seen and heard Jesus that day? Is it not just as clear why he did? There is no need for you and me to expect any such thing to happen to us, for it never so-happened again.
When the Lord showed Himself, and spoke to Saul, it surely made a believer of him. He was convinced that He was the. Christ and immediately he wanted to know “what shall I do Lord?” (22:10). I believe the person who is truly convinced that Jesus is the Christ will want to know what he must do to obey Him. Just here we might note that Saul was not saved simply because he believed. Those who have Saul saved from his sins on the Damascus road do err not knowing the Scriptures. The Lord emphatically told him, “But rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told thee what you must do” (9:6). May I strongly urge upon you that whatever would be told Saul, it was a must! He had to do it! He was not told something he “may do” or can do “if you want to.” I suppose some feel that if a person does all he knows to do (even though he does not do what he “must” do), it will be fine with the Lord! Not so. There are some “things we must do” today just as there were things Saul had to do. Never forget that!
It seems evident to me that Saul was in sheer agony for three days. No doubt his sins were “ever before him.” He had time to think of what he had been doing and to whom he had been doing it. Can you imagine the force of the Lord’s words? “Saul, why are you persecuting me?” No doubt Saul was sorry; repentance is shown. Acts 9:9 says, “And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.” Next we read of Ananias, the preacher being sent to Saul. At first he did not want to go (he knew the havoc this Saul had wreaked out on the church), but the Lord convinced him and he went. Saul was waiting just as the Lord told him to do. Ananias told him, “And why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name” (Acts 22:16). Chapter 9:18 informs us that “he arose and was baptized.”
Observe if you will, that baptism is for the washing away of sins. They are washed away in the blood of the Lamb (Rom. 6:4). That is why there was no delay to perform the act. When one understands that until he is baptized he is still in his sins, he will not delay. This is why some wait for weeks on end to get up a group of candidates for baptism and have a baptismal service. They do not believe that baptism is essential to the washing away of sins. But, my friend, Saul understood it; therefore, he did not delay!
How wonderful it is to see the power in the gospel. Paul could see it, for never again was he to be ashamed of it. He knew it to be God’s “power to save” (Rom. r :16). What a change the gospel wrought in the life of SauR He became a great hero of the faith, endeared to all of us, because of his humble obedience, strict conviction, and patient endurance. The hateful persecutor now became the persecuted (2 Cor. 11:23-28). He suffered for his Lord, as he had heaped suffering upon the saints before, and he did it gladly. “For this reason I also suffer these tl#ngs, but I am not ashamed; for I know whom I have believed and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him until that day” (2 Tim. 1:12). What wonderful harmony in the Word of God. Listen to the admonition of Peter, “Therefore, let those also who suffer; according to the will of God entrust their souls to a faithful Creator in doing what is right” (1 Pet. 4:19).
To you who are reading these words. Have you been obedient to the gospel of Christ? Have you done what Saul did? Why are you delaying? Arise, be baptized, and wash away you sins.
Truth Magazine XXII: 24, pp. 393-394
June 15, 1978