By Jeff Szabo
The account of Saul, the great persecutor of the church, is one of the most interesting accounts found in the New Testament. We see a man persecuting the church with all of his might, totally committed to this cause, and then converted, turning around 180 degrees, teaching Christ – a man’s teaching he had hoped to destroy.
Saul’s change was a drastic one. A man strongly entrenched in his own religion, believing it strongly enough to defend it physically and mentally. He had letters to do so from the high priest; he had authority to bind all followers of “the way” and bring them into Jerusalem.
This was his goal as he journeyed toward Damascus. Then his life made a sudden and dramatic turn – a turn that would lead him on another journey; a journey in which he would be teaching against all that he had stood for in the past; a journey that would bring him much hardship and pain and consume his total life. This journey would also ultimately lead to his death at the hands of his oppressors.
Saul saw many things on that journey to Damascus. Saul (known after his conversion as the apostle Paul) changed because of what he saw and understood on that journey. Today, I want to look at some of the things he saw and show you, by God’s word, that every person can understand these things exactly as Saul did by opening his heart to the will of God.
1. Saul Saw That Jesus and the Church Were Inseparable. We do not read of Saul persecuting Jesus, but the church (Acts 8:1-4). Jesus had already died in the flesh and been raised from the dead. But, Jesus said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting” (Acts 9:4, 5).
We know that Jesus saves us (John 8:24; Acts 4:12). We are reconciled to God by Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). But, we are reconciled in one body (Eph. 2:16) and the body is the church (Col. 1:18). Since we are reconciled in Christ and reconciled in the body and the body is the church, we are then reconciled to God in the church.
Christians are the body of Christ, many members yet one body (Rom. 12:4, 5). They are governed by one head, Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23). Christians are all of the one faith (Eph. 4:5), not members of the faiths as the religious world teaches, but individuals making up one body (one church) (1 Cor. 12:27). The many members are not the many denominations controlled by many heads which teach contradictory doctrines. God is not the author of confusion (1 Cor. 14:33). All denominations teach that they are of Christ but, the Bible teaches of one church (Matt. 16:18), one body (Col. 1:18), and one head, Christ (Eph. 1:22, 23). The body will only be directed by the will of Christ, its head, as our body will only be directed by the will of our head.
The church is Christ’s body as the Bible plainly teaches and is singular in nature. The saved were added to it (Acts 2:47) and reconciled in it. Those outside of the church were aliens to God and without hope (Eph. 2:11-13). But, those in it were fellow citizens and those of God’s household, the church (Eph. 2:18-20; 1 Tim. 3:15).
2. Saul Saw That One Could Not Follow His Conscience Safely In Matters of Religion. Many today teach that it does not matter what you believe; that if you follow your conscience, you will still go to heaven. Yet, these people will not follow their conscience in all matters of secular life. They will follow maps on trips and take medicine, not by their own conscience; but, by the exact instructions prescribed by the physician, etc. God created both the natural and spiritual laws and they must both be followed to the letter.
Saul persecuted the church and consented to the death of Stephen (Acts 7:58-60; Acts 8:1-3). He thought he was right, religiously and morally, by doing so. He would use threats and murder to accomplish his task (Acts 9:1). Saul thought he was with God, as Jesus had taught many would think (John 16:2). But Saul was wrong. Christ’s teaching was from God (2 John 2:23), because Christ is God (Matt. 1:23). Saul was against the Father, being against the Son (Matt. 12:30); but, Saul thought that he was right (Acts 26:9-11) and his conscience had not bothered him (Acts 23:1).
Many religious people are of this attitude today. They think they can do many things in the name of religion; even when God, through His word, opposes their actions. They change, add, or subtract from God’s word, ignoring His warnings of destruction by doing so (Gal. 1:6-9; 2 Thess. 1:6-9; 2 Peter 3:14-16). They would rather support their salvation on the thinking of other men than on that of Christ, the Son of the living God and the author of eternal salvation (Heb. 5:8, 9). How sad this is when His word is so easy to obey.
Saul thought his religion and practices were right. He was sincere, but still wrong. But, look at the contrast in him before and after his conversion to Christianity: “I thought” (Acts 26:9) and “I know” (2 Tim. 1:12). This is an important difference to consider when it depends on the salvation of your soul. Saul knew by the direct revelation of God (Gal. 1:11, 12). We can also know by the revelation of God, as revealed in the New Testament (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:2, 3).
Saul found that his conscience was not a safe guide in religion. We need to compare our thoughts to God’s word, and if they are wrong, we should change as Saul did.
3. Saul Saw That Obedience Was Necessary For Salvation (Acts 9: 6) – We Must Work the Works of God. Many teach that one is saved at the point of believing. Their definition of believing is the mental acknowledgment that Jesus is the Son of God.
We can recognize by the scriptures that accepting Jesus as the Son of God is required. But, the Bible in no way teaches that one is saved at the point of “faith only.” It is also strange that these false teachers say that if you believe you are saved; but, then they also require the person to repent and confess Christ. “Faith only” excludes anything else. If you are saved by faith only, repentance, confession and even grace are not needed because “only” excludes everything else! They do not recognize the true meaning of Bible faith.
Mental acknowledgment of Jesus is not enough. We read in James 2:19, that by believing in God we do well; but, that the demons also believe and believe so strongly that they tremble. Ask yourself, “Will the demons be saved?” They believe! The Bible clearly points this out! The chief rulers of the Jews believed in John 12:42, 43; but, they would not confess him lest they be put out of the synagogue. They loved the praises of men rather than the praises of God. Is that a saving faith? As we can plainly see by these passages, mental acknowledgment alone is not enough.
Saul, in Acts 9:6 was told, “but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” Saul obeyed and became the servant of Christ (Phil. 1:1), doing what Christ told him to do. A servant of God, though unprofitable, does what the master commands (Luke 17:10). He does the work of the master, not the works of himself that he can boast about (Eph. 2:8-10). Belief in God is not a work of man, but a work of God (John 6:28, 29). If you are not saved by doing any works as some religious teachers teach, then you do not need to believe because belief is a work as John 6:28, 29 plainly teaches. And if this is true, God is a liar because he told us that we must believe or die in our sins (John 8:24).
True faith is a working active faith (James 2:14-26). It is a trust in God that if we do what he says, we will gain heaven (Heb. 11:1). Men of old gained approval by it (Heb. 11:2). They gained approval by trusting God and accomplishing what he told them to do. Read the whole chapter of Hebrews 11 and see if this is not true. Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17). Keeping the words of Jesus truly makes us His disciples (John 8:31). We show our love for Him by keeping His commandments (John 14:15). If we keep His words we will never see death (John 8:51) because He is the author of eternal salvation to all those that obey him (Heb. 5:8, 9).
Saul was told to go into the city, (Acts 9:6). He went. He was to be a witness of what he saw and heard (Acts 22:15) and to bear the name of Jesus to the Gentiles (Acts 9:15). He went, but not before he was told to be baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). He did what God commanded (Acts 9:18). His working faith, by doing the will of God, saved him (2 Tim. 4:6-8). Yes, Saul saw that obedience was necessary for salvation.
4. Saul Saw That He Could Not Pray Through For Salvation. The idea of praying through for salvation is totally foreign to God’s word. As we have seen, Saul was told to go into the city, and there he would be told what to do (Acts 9:6). Saul went and prayed, not eating or drinking for three days (Acts 9:9-11). He was never told to pray through or even pray. He was told to wait and then he would be told what to do. The preacher, Anaias, told him what to do (Acts 22:11), and Saul did it (Acts 9:18).
If anyone was able to pray through, Saul would have been! He had been chosen by God (Acts 9:15). But, he did not pray through. And if he could have, what would he have prayed for? And what should any alien sinner pray for?
(1) Not for God to love him (John 3:16).
(2) Not for spiritual light and understanding (Psa. 119:130).
(3) Not for the Spirit (John 14:16, 17).
(4) Not for Christ to come unto him (Matt. 11:28).
(5) Not for God to be reconciled to him (2 Cor. 5:20).
(6) Not for grace (Titus 2:11).
(7) Not for pardon (Isa. 55:7).
(8) Not for conversion (Psa. 19:7).
(9) Not for salvation or saving power (Acts 11:14; James 1:12; Rom. 1:16).
(10) Not for a new birth or to purify their souls (1 Pet. 1:22, 23).
(11) Not for God to purify their hearts (Acts 15:9).
(12) Not for freedom from sin (Rom. 6:17).
(13) Not for God to accept him (Acts 10:35).
(14) Not for remission of sins (Acts 2:38).
(15) Not to be made clean (John 15:3).
(16) Not for repentance (Acts 17:30).
(17) Not for mercy for (Prov. 28:13).
(18) Not for God to be willing to save him (2 Pet. 3:9; Ezek. 18:32).
In fact, should an alien sinner pray at all? Read John 9:31; Prov. 1:24-28.
Prayer must come in faith (Col. 3:17). Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:17) and walking by it is saving faith (Heb. 5:8, 9). God’s word will save (Rom. 1:16) and is all sufficient to do so (2 Tim. 3:16, 17; 2 Pet. 1:3). Saul did not receive salvation by prayer, but heeded the word of the gospel, “And why do you delay? Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
5. Saul Saw That Baptism Was Essential For Salvation. Many people today do not see what Saul saw concerning baptism. As we know, Saul was physically blinded and saw a miraculous vision. The Lord told Anaias that Saul had been chosen by Him (Acts 22:14, 15). However, still Saul was commanded to be baptized (Acts 22:16) and obeyed (Acts 9:18).
A miracle never saved a man’s soul in the New Testament age. Receiving the Holy Spirit miraculously never saved a man’s soul. Saul was chosen (the reason for the vision) and was still commanded to be baptized by the preacher Ananias.
Many today teach that Saul was saved when he saw the vision. Being saved constitutes forgiveness of sins. If this was true, then why was he told to not delay and arise and be baptized to wash away his sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:16)? If he was saved on the road to Damascus, why was it necessary for him to be baptized to wash away his sins? I asked that question to a Baptist preacher who teaches that false idea; he said he did not know! No, Saul was not saved on the road to Damascus when he saw the vision. He was saved after he obeyed the voice of the Lord spoken by Ananias (Acts 22:16).
The house of Cornelius received the pouring out of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44, 45). Yet, they were commanded to be baptized with water by the Apostle Peter (Acts 10:47, 48). Peter also said baptism also saves us (one of many things including blood, hope, grace through faith, etc). And how did these people show their belief? They responded to the gospel and part of that response was baptism. They responded to Peter’s command in Acts 2:38. Those who gladly received the word were baptized in Acts 2:40.
Paul taught on his journeys what he learned about baptism. In Acts 16:14, 15, we read that Lydia responded to Paul’s teaching by being baptized.
The jailor in Acts 16 was told to believe in the Lord Jesus and he and his household would be saved. How did they believe? Was it just mental acknowledgment? Read Acts 16:30-34. He washed their stripes (repentance) and he and his whole household were baptized, having believed in God with his whole household (v. 34).
Paul taught the same in his epistles, “For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus, For all of you who were baptized into, Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Gal. 3:26, 27).
We are to declare the whole purpose (council) of God (Acts 20:27). Part of that purpose is baptism. Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mk. 16:16). To teach he that believes and is not baptized shall be saved is plainly contrary to the teaching of Jesus. Why do you not do as Saul did? “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Paul saw many things on that trip to Damascus. 1 believe that you can see the plainness of the teachings of God on these subjects. We can determine God’s will on every subject by opening our bibles, God’s word, and studying what he wants of us; and, with an honest ear we will obey God rather than man (Acts 5:29).
“And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and the books were opened; and another book was opened, which is the book of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death an Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one of them according to their deeds. And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire” (Rev. 20:12-15.).
Truth Magazine XXIII: 27, pp. 444-446
July 12, 1979