From the lips of man has never come a greater question than that above. It concerns the salvation of man’s soul. This question was asked by Saul when halted by the Lord on his way to Damascus to persecute the Christians there and make havoc of the church of Christ. Saul was a zealous persecutor and had been engaged in that business for some time. He believed that Christians were wrong and was making every effort to abolish Christianity.
Before beginning his journey to Damascus, he went to the high priest in Jerusalem, “And desired of him letters, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring the bound unto Jerusalem” (Acts 9:2).
On the way, the great persecutor was halted by the Lord. “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). It was while Saul lay prostrate on the ground that he asked the Lord this great question. He thought he was doing right in persecuting Christians (Acts 26:9). Realizing that he was wrong, he inquired of the Lord, “What wilt thou have me to do?”
The thing Saul wanted to know was what to do to be saved from his sins. The Lord did not tell him he was already saved, or that there was nothing for him to do to be saved. Christ told him to arise and go into the city and there it would be told him what he must do.
Was Saul a believer at this time? Yes. He had seen the Lord and heard Him say, “I am Jesus whom thou persecutest.” Was he saved the moment he believed? No. It was after this that he asked the Lord what He would have him to do. If Saul was saved the moment he believed—according to the false doctrine of salvation by “faith alone”—he had a “better-felt-than-told feeling of salvation.” But neither he nor the Lord mentioned such a thing in their conversation. Therefore he was not saved the moment he believed (Jas. 2:24).
Saul became a penitent man at this time. His purpose, or will, was changed. Before being halted by the Lord, Saul was thinking of what he was going to do. But now it is, “What wilt thou have me to do?”
But he was not yet saved from his sins. Jesus said, “Go into the city and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” The Lord did not tell him what he must do because the preaching of the gospel is committed to men (Matt. 28:18-20; 2 Tim. 2:2). Neither deity nor angels ever told a man what to do to be saved in the book of Acts.
Saul went into Damascus as directed and was there praying for three days and three nights and did neither eat nor drink, and was still in his sins. The Lord did not forgive him as a result of his prayer. There was still something for him to do. In a vision, Christ instructed Ananias, a disciple, to go to Saul for the purpose of telling him what to do to be saved from his sins. Ananias said unto him, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Do you think the Lord would have sent a man who would not tell him the truth? This is the only thing he was told to do. Therefore this is the thing Christ said he must do. Salvation is in Christ (Acts 4:12; Eph. 1:7; 2 Tim. 2:10). Saul was out of Christ, though at that time he was a penitent believer. Baptism is the door through which we enter into Christ (Gal. 3:27). Saul was baptized into Christ and saved from his sins (Mark 16:16).
Many people say if they are ever saved, they will be saved just like Saul of Tarsus. That’s true. One must take the same steps as did Saul, but one who expects the Lord to come and speak to him in a miraculous way and forgive his sins is sadly mistaken. The Lord did not do this for Saul.
If you will read Acts 26:16-18, you will learn the purpose for which Christ appeared to Saul. Christ never made such an appearance to anyone to save them from their sins.