The Conversion of Saul

Richard Thetford

The book of Acts chapters 9 and 22 tell us of the conversion of Saul, known later as the apostle Paul. By learning about Saul and his conversion we can learn what we must do in order to be a Christian. What kind of man was Saul? When he was talking to young Timothy and explaining that Jesus came into the world to save sinners he added: “of whom I am chief” (1 Tim 1:15). He clearly admitted that he was beyond a doubt a sinner before God. Before we can be converted to the Lord, we must first recognize as Saul did that we are a sinner (Rom 3:23). Saul knew he was a sinner even though he came from a very good ancestry (Phil 3:5), and had a great education (Acts 22:3). So just because we might have a wonderful family background and a great education, that alone can’t save us. No matter how well known our family is and no matter how much college and other schools we have attended and completed, we still must acknowledge we are in sin and need God.

What Was Saul’s Great Sin?

But what was Saul’s great sin that moved him to tell Timothy that he was chief among sinners? He explains in Acts 22:4 that he was involved in persecuting Christians. There it says: “I persecuted this Way to the death, binding and delivering into prisons both men and women.” He felt bad that he had delivered Christians up to be killed and thrown into prison. He did this, but he did this ignorantly. He told Timothy “although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief” (1 Tim 1:13). Saul’s mistake was in regard to religion, he thought that he was right, but in fact he was very wrong. In Acts 26:9 he said: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities.” Paul later admitted before anyone that would listen that he was wrong in what he did. He further stated that when he was doing these things contrary to God’s will that “I advanced in Judaism beyond many of my contemporaries in my own nation, being more exceedingly zealous for the traditions of my fathers” (Gal 1:14). And all the time that he was zealously persecuting Christians he did so in all GOOD CONSCIENCE (Acts 24:16). What can we learn from Saul’s great sin? We should learn that a person may think he is right, be zealous, have a good conscience and yet still be WRONG! Until we are willing to open up the Word of God and read what we MUST do in order to be saved, with an honest and open heart, then we too might very well be guilty of doing sin, yet in good conscience. Remember “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Rom 10:17). We will never know what it is that we are SUPPOSED to do if we do not read it. We can never gain Bible faith, if we don’t read it!

Saul Becomes an Apostle and a Christian

Let’s take a moment to carefully distinguish between the things that made Paul an apostle and the things that made him a Christian. The things that transpired in Acts 22:6-9 is what allowed Paul to call himself an apostle. The text says: “Now it happened, as I journeyed and came near Damascus at about noon, suddenly a great light from heaven shone around me. And I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? So I answered, 'Who are You, Lord?' And He said to me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you are persecuting. And those who were with me indeed saw the light and were afraid, but they did not hear the voice of Him who spoke to me.” In this reading we can understand that Jesus appeared specifically to Paul (verse 9), not to any other. He understands and explains that this event happened because he was chosen to be a “witness” for Christ. The scripture says: “Then he said, 'The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard” (Acts 22:14-15).

Saul became a Christian when he OBEYED the voice of the Lord. In Acts 9:6 it says: “So he, trembling and astonished, said, "Lord, what do You want me to do?" And the Lord said to him, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Why did the Lord tell Saul to go to Damascus and see a man named Ananias? Because that work had been committed into the hands of men. Why was it that Ananias did not tell him to believe? Because Saul was already a believer at this point. Why didn’t Ananias tell Saul to repent? Because he was already penitent. So what was it then that Saul was told to do? In Acts 22:16 it says: “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Saul was not saved, was not a Christian, until he was baptized into Christ (Gal 3:27). That is the only way his sins could be washed away. The very same way that the sins were washed away (forgiven) on the day of Pentecost when Peter preached the first sermon. At that time Peter commanded the people: “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).

We can learn a valuable lesson from Saul. When he learned the truth - he OBEYED and was baptized. Have you learned the truth, OBEYED, and been baptized? Tomorrow may be too late!