The conversion accounts of the apostle Paul, who at the time was called Saul, are sure to be among the greatest of conversion accounts ever recorded. The records of his obedience to the Gospel directly destroy several denominational positions which inherently teach against obeying the gospel. In this article, we will look at four of those positions, as well as several passages on each side of the argument. The Bible is crystal clear on these matters. Paul wrote that he was “set for the defense of the gospel” (Phil. 1:17), and his conversion records heavily continue that defense. Therefore, let us begin with reading two of the three records of that event as recorded by Luke:
And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem. And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and 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: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do. And the men which journeyed with him stood speechless, hearing a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink. And there was a certain disciple at Damascus, named Ananias; and to him said the Lord in a vision, Ananias. And he said, Behold, I am here, Lord. And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the street which is called Straight, and enquire in the house of Judas for one called Saul, of Tarsus: for, behold, he prayeth, And hath seen in a vision a man named Ananias coming in, and putting his hand on him, that he might receive his sight. Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name. But the Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel: For I will shew him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake. And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized (Acts 9:1-18).
And it came to pass, that, as I made my journey, and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from heaven a great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a voice saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest. And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but they heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I do, Lord? And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it shall be told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I could not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that were with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, Came unto me, and stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same hour I looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen thee, that thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear the voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord (Acts 22:6-16).
Belief Only Position
The vast majority of the denominational world will say that Paul (Saul) was saved on the road to Damascus. When Saul asks the Lord, “What wilt thou have me to do?”, the denominationalist will say this is proof that Saul believed and he was therefore saved. Then they use passages such as John 3:16 and Romans 10:9 as “proof” that all you have to do is believe. Further, they will run to Ephesians 2:8-9 to negate any work to be done on our part. However, is this what these passages teach? Do they teach that we don’t have to take any action to be saved—except to believe? Let’s dig into these.
John 3:16 states, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” Notice that the person who believes “should not perish,” implying that they still could. The immediate context also teaches that a person must be born of water and of the Spirit (v.5). What does this mean? In Acts 2:38, Peter told the Jews to “be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” Water is present (baptism) and the Holy Ghost, just as it is in John 3:5. Paul tells us, in Titus 3:5, that salvation is “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Again, water is present (washing) and the Holy Ghost. In each of these a parallel teaching is present, that by water we are born again, baptized for the remission (pardon) of sins, and saved by the washing of regeneration. Further, the context of John 3 speaks of “doing” truth (v.21). John 3:16 does not help the “faith only” crowd with their misapplication of it to the conversion of Saul.
Romans 10:9-10 doesn’t do them any justice in their error either: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” Notice that “confession is made unto salvation.” First, confession is in addition to belief and therefore it is not belief alone. Second, the confession is made unto salvation, not into salvation. As is belief, confession is a step in the process of salvation—towards that goal of being saved. This context certainly does not help those who hold that Saul was saved by belief alone.
Ephesians 2:8-9 is just as detrimental to their case: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” In the context of Ephesians 2, Paul is giving assurance to the newly converted gentile Christians that they need not keep the Old Testament law to be saved, as some of the Jewish Christians were attempting to shame them into holding the old law. This can be seen by the derogatory term the Jews were referring to the Gentiles by—“the Uncircumcised” (v.11). The works of the old law are the works in view here, not the commanded works of God of the New Testament plan of salvation. The context of the passage itself of Ephesians 2:8 does not at all teach that we are saved by our belief only. In fact, belief is not explicitly in this passage at all! Please observe: between the words “through faith” in Ephesians 2:8, any interlinear Bible will reveal there is a word not translated—τῆς, pronounced tês. This word is the definite article “the.” Reading the passage with that Koine Greek word translated, gives us “through the faith.” That makes the meaning quite clear that we are saved through “the faith”—the system of faith which Christ laid down for all of mankind—the New Testament. “Belief only” is not in this passage.
He Called Jesus Lord
Some also contend that Saul’s salvation on the road to Damascus was evidenced by the fact that he called Jesus “Lord.” We see that Saul called Him Lord after he knew He was Jesus (Acts 9:5-6). The denominationalist will say that it is impossible for anyone to call Jesus Lord except by the Holy Spirit, and they cannot speak by the Holy Spirit unless they are saved. Then they will reference 1 Corinthians 12:3: “Wherefore I give you to understand, that no man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus accursed: and that no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost.” Is that what this passage teaches? Do the denominationalists have a point here?
The answer to the above question is a resounding “no,” they do not have any legitimate point of fact made here. First, if everyone who called Jesus Lord were saved, why did Jesus Himself teach the opposite:
Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity (Matt. 7:21-23).
At the end of time, many will call Him “Lord, Lord,” but they will not be saved. Second, 1 Corinthians 12:3 does not teach that a person can only call Christ Lord by some direct operation of the Holy Spirit, as the denominationalist implies. Just as 1 Corinthians 12:13 teaches that by one Spirit’s teaching we are baptized into the one body of Christ—the church of Christ (cf. Eph. 1:22-23; 4:4-6), so 1 Corinthians 12:3 teaches that we can only call Christ “Lord” due to the teaching of the Holy Spirit—through the written word. The denominationalist does not prove Saul was saved on the road to Damascus by this contention.
He Prayed for Forgiveness
Some tend to focus on the fact that Saul prayed during his three days of blindness (Acts 9:11). In his stricken blind state, and understanding now it was the Messiah whom he had persecuted so hard, none would hardly argue that Saul was not praying for forgiveness. The “you-don’t-have-to-do-anything-to-be-saved” crowd (or more accurately, the anti-baptism crowd) will then use passages such as Romans 10:13 as proof for their position, stating “all you have to do is call on the name of the Lord as Paul did”: “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Some will even reach out to 1 John 1:9, and link the two: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.” Something is quite “off” here, and we will now see what that oddity is.
The passages so often used by the denominationalists as proof that praying for forgiveness is God’s way of salvation for the alien sinner, do not in fact support their position. In Romans 10:13, we should ask ourselves, “What does God mean by ‘calling upon the name of the Lord’?” As we have previously seen in Matthew 7:21, not everyone who calls out to the Lord will be saved. In fact, it is only those who do the will of God that will be saved. A part of Saul’s conversion account actually defines what “calling upon the name of the Lord” is. In Acts 22:16, Paul is told by Ananias, “arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” In this context, it is clearly shown that “calling on the name of the Lord” is submitting oneself to the authority of the Lord’s instruction—again, doing the will of the Lord. Here it is shown as baptism. The denominationalists shoot themselves in the foot by using Romans 10:13, as it has a direct reference to being baptized!
They cannot use 1 John 1:9 either, as the context shows John was writing to those who were already forgiven (2:12) and had overcome the wicked one (v. 14)—they had already been saved! Prayer for forgiveness is not meant for the alien sinner, but for those who are already saved who have backslid or fallen into a moment of sin. We see this pattern in Simon the former sorcerer. He obeyed the gospel in believing and being baptized (Acts 8:13) as Christ proclaimed for all to do (Mark 16:16). But Simon fell to temptation, as one who was already saved, and was told to pray for forgiveness (Acts 8:18-22). The denominationalist is wrong that Saul was saved when he prayed during his blindness.
He was a Recipient of Healing
Some will also claim that because Saul was healed from his blindness, this is evidence that he was saved (Acts 9:17-18). These apparently believe that a person has to have been saved if they were able to be healed. It all comes back to the idea of “faith only” salvation, as they claim that a person can only be healed if they have faith, and if they have faith, then they are saved. Oh the things man will devise to attempt to circumvent God’s will! Let us see how easily this is refuted by the Bible as well.
The position that Saul was saved because he was healed is just as weak as the rest of these unscriptural beliefs. Just because a person was healed does not mean they were saved. A case in point is Jairus’ daughter (Matt. 9:18-26). Christ performed the miracle of raising her from the dead—she wasn’t even conscious to have faith. The same is true for the widow’s son at Nain (Luke 7:11-15). For some, their choice of unbelief caused Christ not to perform miracles (Matt. 13:53-58). However, for others, the miracles were targeted towards those in unbelief (cf. 1 Cor. 14:22; Acts 8:5-12; 13:6-12; et al.). It has never been God’s plan to save man through “faith only” (Jas. 2:24).
With all of the preceding arguments brought forward, it is clear that the Bible, in various other passages, teaches that each of the denominationalists’ positions are in grievous error. However, the conversion accounts of Saul show an even greater force of refutation against these errors directly from the immediate context. Acts 22:16: “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Even after Saul had believed, called Jesus Lord, had prayed in penitence, and was healed of his blindness, he was still in sin! Only by being baptized would his sins be washed away. Let that sink in!