THE CONVERSION OF PAUL
Your attention is directed to a study of “The Conversion of Paul”. He is sometimes referred to as Saul which was his Hebrew name. Paul was one of the chosen apostles of Christ but differed from the rest of the apostles in that he was a fanatical opponent of the Christian religion before his conversion. Paul said in I Corinthians 15:8,9, “And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, that am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.” What caused this fanatical persecutor to become a Christian? The story begins in the city of Tarsus located in the Roman province of Cilicia. Here Paul was born and spent his earliest days in the shelter of a home which was Hebrew in spirit as well as name. Referring to his boyhood days Paul said in Philippians 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.” Being the son of devout Israelites he was carefully instructed in the facts of Jewish history and the law of Moses. In addition to this religious instruction, he was taught the trade of a tentmaker. Paul decided to pursue the study of religion, and early in his life was sent to Jerusalem to study under a famous religious teacher named Gamaliel. He spoke the following words in the city of Jerusalem, “I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city of Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manners Of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as you You are all this day(Acts 22:3).
Under the teaching of Ganaliel, Paul'sknowledge of the law of Moses was enlarged, his zeal for it inflamed, and his Pharisaic prejudices intensified. In fact, Paul became a prominent religious leader in the city of Jerusalem. He said in Galatians 1:14, “I advanced in the Jew's religion beyond many of mine own age among my countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers.” During the very height of his career, the Christian religion was established on earth in 33 A.D. in Jerusalem. Paul sincerely believed that Jesus of Nazareth was an imposter and was convinced that this new religion was in direct violation of the law of Moses. Nevertheless, the Christian religion enjoyed a fantastic success in Jerusalem. Between five and ten thousand Jews became Christians in Jerusalem and the result was a head-on collision between these two religions. A bitter persecution was launched against the Christians under the leadership of this man Saul. He was one of the men responsible for the murder of Stephan, the first Christian martyr. It is said of Stephen, a noted preacher among the early Christians, “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 7:58). These words indicate that Saul was one of the leaders of the mob that stoned Stephen. Acts 8:1 says, “And Saul was consenting unto his death.” His fame as an inquisitor and persecutor of Christians became known far and wide. Acts 8:3 says, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and dragging off men and women, committed them to prison.” Paul himself affirmed that he treated Christians outrageously. Acts 26:11 says, “And I punished them often in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them unto strange cities.” The bloodshed and suffering was so great that large numbers of Christians were forced to leave Jerusalem to save their lives. But when they left the city they went
preaching the word and new congregations of the Church of Christ were established in every direction. When the church in Jerusalem had been Scattered abroad, Paul doubtless thought that he had effectually destroyed the new religion; hut the news began to come back that the scattered Christians had new congregations in all direction. The Christians had been very congregations in all directions. The Christians had been very
successful in the. city of Damascus, the chief city of Syria to the north of Palestine. After nearly wrecking the church in Jerusalem, Paul decides to take to the road to hunt Christians. He obtains a letter of authority from the High Priest to arrest any Christians in Damascus and return them to Jerusalem for punishment. How he hated Christians!
The journey which Paul made from Jerusalem to Damascus is one of the most famous journeys ever undertaken. The events of that journey have been related to millions of people, and I would like to tell you about it in this message. The distance from Jerusalem to Damascus was 140 miles, and when Paul started the journey he was breathing out threatenings and slaughter against Christians. But just a short distance from Damascus something happened which made his blood run cold. Suddenly a blinding light was shining on him from heaven, greater in brightness than the sun. He fell to the ground like a man would swat a fly. A voice in the Hebrew tongue said unto him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Saul said,: “Who are you Lord?” And the voice said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. Saul then looked into that blinding light and saw Jesus Christ. Until this moment he had thought Jesus to be an imposter cursed of God and man. But now this person that he had hated and fought is revealed to him a blaze of glory. The evidence of his eyes and ears could not be doubted. There, Jesus appears bathed with the light of heaven saying, “I am Jesus..” Then Saul said, “What will you have me to do?” Paul wanted to know what he must do to be saved and to receive forgiveness for the terrible things which he had done. The Lord answered him by saying, “Arise, and to into the city, and it shall be told you what thou must do” (Acts 9:6). Paul had to do something to be saved, but Jesus did not tell him what it was. He was informed that it would be told him in the city of Damascus just what he would have to do in order to become a Christian. Jesus said that he must do something but did not give him the information, and this left Paul in great distress of mind. This could only mean that he would have to wait until he arrived at Damascus to make his life right with God. While he was still prostrate on the ground Jesus also said to him, “But rise, and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto you, delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me”(Acts 26:16—18). After this the light suddenly disappeared, and when Saul arose from he ground he was blind. Saul is an example of what would happen to us if we tried to look at God with physical eyes. The great persecutor was now blind, and it took a miracle to get his sight back. What a frightening way to learn that Jesus really exists and is alive in heaven! The first step in Paul's conversion was to believe in Christ, and his faith was produced by the personal teaching of the resurrected Christ. The blind Saul was led into the city of Damascus like a helpless child. His blindness continued for three days and during this time he refused food and drink. Jesus commanded him to go there and wait to be told what he must do to be saved. God lest him to himself for three days
to meditate on the sins he had committed against Christ and Christians. These were days of repentance when Paul was filled with godly sorrow for his sin, changed his mind about Christ, and determined would follow Christ whatever the cost. However, no message had come that his sins were forgiven. And there could be no happiness or enjoyment of food for Paul until his soul was right with God. At the end of the three days Jesus sent a preacher to Saul whose name was Ananias. The first thing Ananias did was to open his blind eyes and then said to him, “And now why are you waiting, Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). This was the first offer of forgiveness from heaven and was the message he was waiting to hear. The words of the preacher, “Why are you waiting? were suggested by the unusual delay of baptism after believing in Christ. Ordinarily, people were baptized immediately after learning about Christ and experiencing repentance. The expression, “be baptized and wash away your sins,” is a reference to the forgiveness of sins which takes place in baptism. This scripture connects baptism with the washing away of sins, and the scripture cannot be broken. He was to wash away his sins by undergoing that baptismal washing in which God forgives them. Sins are forgiven by God in the baptismal act. Paul was not saved on the Damascus road because no one is saved until God forgives. Moreover if Saul s sins had been forgiven on the Damascus road, the preacher s words to Paul would have had no meaning. The preacher told him to wash away his sins by submitting to baptism. How could the inspired preacher have told Paul to wash away his sins in baptism if they had been forgiven three days before? This confusion does not come from the word of God. The word of God clearly teaches that Paul was still a sinner three days after he met Jesus on the Damascus road. The Bible in this place corrects a popular misconception in the world. It is widely taught that God forgives the sinner the very moment he believes in Christ and accepts him as Savior. But Paul was not saved at that time. In fact Paul went on and repented of his sins after accepting Christ as Lord and Savior and still was not saved. We learn from the conversion of Paul that it is a mistake to equate salvation with faith and repentance. Faith and re pentance are both necessary but God requires baptism as the climaxing act of conversion. We also learn from Paul's conversion that baptism is not for a aved person. Baptism is for a lost person who wants to be saved. No one is a Christian before baptism. After Paul sins were washed away in baptism, then he was a Christian and not until then.
This story impresses me with the fact that it is a foolish thing to refuse to
become a Christian. In Acts 9:5 Jesus said to Paul, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks.” This is a figure of speech and is an allusion to the ox goads”. The prick was a goad or long stick about 9 feet in length, sharpened at one end for poking oxen. When the ox was yoked and would not move, the herdsmen pricked him with this long rod that ended with an iron point. Often the animal would kick sending the icon deep into his own flesh. Kicking only hurt the animal, and the more he kicked the more it hurt. So go he must. He was in the hand of man who must and will rule the beast. Saul understood these words when Jesus said that be was like an ox kicking against the goad in his efforts to oppose him and the Christian religion. People will only hurt themselves by refusing to follow Christ. But one says, “I don t like religion.” What have you ever received by hating it? I will tell what some have received. They have red eyes sometimes on Sunday morning after the drunkeness on Saturday night. Others have a shattered constitution, and because of an undisciplined life they will have a weak and sickly body till they go to the grave. Others, by refusing Christ, are now in an early grave. Again I will put the question to you. Has anyone ever gained anything by opposing Christ? Has it ever made a family happier? Moreover, God has appointed Jesus Christ to be the judge of all men. He will make the final disposition of your soul and body at the resurrection of the dead. There is nothing to gain and everything to lose in opposing Christ. Another remarkable things about Paul's conversion is that there were some things which he never saw until he was blind. He learned that spiritual blindness is worse than physical blindness. Before losing his sight there were many things he could not see. He could not see any truth in the ristian religion and never discovered Christ. But after he met Jesus and experienced
three days of blindness, he saw some very important things for the first time. One thing he saw while blind was that sincerity was not a safe guide in religion. He had a good conscience even when he was putting Christians to death. The only safe conscience is a conscience safely guided by truth. He was sincere when he persecuted Christians but sincerely wrong. It was not until he was blind that he saw that God never intended for man to let his conscience alone be his guide. God's word is man's guide. He also saw that prayer alone will not save an alien sinner. After fasting and praying for three days. he was still lost. He could not “pray through” and receive salvation. He was not saved until he obeyed what God told him to do in order to be saved (Acts 22:16). When blind, he also saw that the religion of his parents was wrong. He had no disrespect for his parents but reached the conclusion that the religion of his parents was not good enough. He was willing to give up the religion of his parents for the truth of Christ, but he never ~aw that till he was blind. He had the courage and sincerity to admit his lost condition. Furthermore, as a blind man he saw that it was no disgrace to change when he was wrong. Honest and sincere people will change from error to the truth when discovered, or else they cease to be honest and sincere. One more thing he saw while blind is that ignorance is no excuse. Paul said in I Timothy l:l3, “Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious, but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief.” Paul's ignorance and unbelief nearly cost him his soul. Today many are as ignorant of the true church as Saul was of the true Messiah. Their sin is not a wilful and knowing antagonism to the truth but an unwillingness, like Saul, to fairly and impartially consider the claims of the religion of Christ and the church which he purchased with his own blood.
Finally, the Bible teaches that Paul's conversion is to be a pattern for all time. Paul said in I Timothy 1:16, “However, for this reason I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to everlasting life.” Your conversion can be just like his except in one particular. You cannot receive a miraculous appearance of Christ, and you cannot be miraculously blinded. There is one feature in his conversion which is not a pattern for us to follow today. Paul obtained his faith in a very unusual way. Jesus himself was the preacher. The word of Jesus, proclaimed out of the light from;heaven, made Saul a believer and brought him to repentance. Faith came to Paul as in all other cases from hearing the word of God. Paul got his faith directly from Jesus, but today we get our faith from the written word of God. The Bible says in Romans 10:17, “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” It was the miraculous intervention of God which caused Paul to believe and repent, but there was still something for Paul the sinner to do before salvation. And for this information, necessary for his salvation, the Lord sends him to Damascus instead of giving it himself! Jesus did not personally teach all of the gospel to Paul. While waiting for this information, Saul suffered the keenest pangs of remorse and poured out his soul in prayer because his sins were still unforgiven. The Lord sent a human messenger to tell the sinner what to do. Moreover, the human messenger helps him to do what he is told to do by baptizing him. God has intended that Paul's conversion be a pattern for others to follow. If you will take the same steps as Paul, you can rest assured that you will be added to God's family, the church. You will receive the forgiveness of past sins with subsequent treatment as holy in God's sight. If someone offered to spend his life serving you? If someone offered
to die in your place? If someone offered to live a perfect life, filled with temptation and trial, that you might have an example to follow? If someone offered you every good thing in life as a gift? If someone offered you strength to do all things? If someone offered you membership in the most powerful organization on earth, I am sure you would at least consider the offer. Jesus Christ offers you all these things and much more. Before you reject the offer, consider seriously the challenge and blessing of following of Christ. In Christ you can have happiness, peace of mind, a creative life, and feeling of belonging. Most of all you can have Christ as your Savior and best friend. All of these blessings can by yours if you will receive Christ and obey his terms as did Paul in the long ago. May God hep you to consider open mindedly the challenge of Christ.