The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus

Jerry C. Brewer

One of the most devoutly religious men in the New Testament was a man called Saul of Tarsus. This is the man who later became Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ. But before he became an apostle, Saul persecuted the church of Christ, placing men and women in prison and putting many of them to death for their faith. One of those who died with his approval was Stephen (Acts 7:57-8:1). Of this act and others in which he tried to eradicate Christianity, Paul later said, “I verily thought with myself that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). Paul’s conscience did not condemn him for these acts because he thought he was doing God’s will and told the Jews that, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1).

Many people today believe that the correct guide in religion is the conscience. But if that is true, then Saul did not need to be converted. His conscience was clear, even while he was putting Christians to death. God’s word—not man’s conscience—is the guide for man in all religious matters. Soon after Stephen’s death, Saul obtained letters from the high priest in Jerusalem giving him authority to arrest Christians in other cities. With this authority in hand, he departed for Damascus with a company of men to arrest Christians in that city and bring them to Jerusalem for punishment. On his way to Damascus, as he drew near to the city,

…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? And he said, Who art thou Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest (Acts 9:3-5).

Saul could have truthfully said, “Why charge me with persecuting you? I never saw you before in my life.” But he must have understood that the relation between Christ and His followers was so close that to persecute Christians was to inflict the same on Christ.

The next question Saul asked was, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). But Jesus didn’t tell him what to do. Instead, He told him where he could find a man who would tell him what he must do. You know, a lot of people in times past thought they were saved if they saw a light in a dark place. But Saul had seen a light from heaven and was still told to arise and go into the city where it would be told him what to do. Why didn’t Jesus tell Saul he was saved and this light was proof of his salvation? Because neither Jesus nor His apostles ever taught that salvation comes through seeing a light. Why then did Jesus appear to him? Jesus answered that question Himself: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee” (Acts 26:16). He appeared to Saul of Tarsus not to save him, but to make him an apostle.

Although Saul had seen a light and Jesus had talked with him, he was still told to arise and go into the city and there it would be told him what he must do. The light had blinded Saul, so he had to be led by the hand into the city. There, he stopped at a house where Ananias was later told he would find him. Ananias was also told that Saul was praying (Acts 9:10-11). Saul of Tarsus had seen the Lord and was now praying, yet there was something necessary for him to do. But what did Ananias tell him to do? He did not say, “Pray on, Saul, God will save you in answer to your prayer.” Instead, he said, “And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). “But,” someone says, “He that calleth upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” That’s true and Saul called upon the name (the authority) of the Lord by obeying His command to be baptized. Notice that the Lord said Saul would be told what he must do, yet the only thing Ananias told him was to “arise and be baptized.” If one must do that, I would hate to tell others they do not have to be baptized to be saved.

Here’s another interesting question: Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark 16:16), so why didn’t Ananias tell Saul to believe? The reason is that Saul was already a believer in Christ, and had been for three days before Ananias came to him. Neither did Ananias tell Saul to repent as Peter did his hearers in Acts 2:38. Why not? Saul had already repented. That’s obvious from his three days of prayer and fasting during his blindness in that house in Damascus. So, there was but one thing left for Saul to do, and that was to be baptized so his sins would be forgiven through the blood of Christ.

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