The Conversion of Saul of Tarsus

Throughout the book of Acts, there are different accounts of individuals that were saved. One such person was a man named Saul. We are first introduced to Saul near the end of Acts chapter seven. An angry mob of Jews were attacking the faithful preacher, Stephen. During that ordeal, the Bible records, “And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man’s feet, whose name was Saul” (Acts 7:58).

The next time Saul is mentioned is at the beginning of the eighth chapter of Acts. We find, “And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria, except the apostles” (Acts 8:1). Saul became an adamant supporter of those Jews that were trying to destroy the church of Christ. In fact, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3).

You might begin to think that such a man would never obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ. After all, Saul seemed convinced he was doing the right thing. Then we come to Acts chapter nine. At first, things are the same as they were before. Saul was still persecuting the church of Christ. “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” (Acts 9:1-2).

However, a certain event soon happened that changed Saul from that point forward. “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” (Acts 9:3-4)? This same event was described by Saul later. “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” (Acts 22:6-7)? Again, before king Agrippa, Saul mentioned, “At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (Acts 26:13-14).

After the initial discussion, it was then explained what was happening. “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” (Acts 9:5). This is repeated by Saul later as well. “And I answered, Who art thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou persecutest” (Acts 22:8). Likewise, Saul told Agrippa, “And I said, Who art thou, Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest” (Acts 26:15). Then, as Saul was speaking to Agrippa, it was explained that Jesus told Saul, “But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for 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; Delivering thee 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). Please take notice that at no time does Jesus pronounce Saul as forgiven of his sins, or that he has received salvation. Saul would receive such later. Also, when Saul called Jesus “Lord”, it was equivalent to you and I referring to someone as “sir”.

After Jesus identified Himself to Saul, we find, “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” (Acts 9:6). By his own explanation, Saul revealed, “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” (Acts 22:10). It is extremely important to understand that Jesus described that Saul “must do” “all things which are appointed for thee to do”. Without Saul’s submission and obedience, history would have been different from what occurred.

It was after that great event on the road to Damascus that we find, “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” (Acts 9:8-9). Later Saul explained, “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” (Acts 22:11). It is extremely important that the reader understands that Saul was going to hear what he “must” do after arriving in Damascus. Which brings us to his actual conversion.

“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 inquire 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” (Acts 9:10-12). Ananias was concerned about this command. “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” (Acts 9:13-14).

Before we are too harsh on Ananias, let us ask ourselves how we might have felt? Thankfully, the Lord never expects us to do that which we cannot. “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 show him how great things he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16). After being encouraged by the Lord, “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” (Acts 9:17). Saul later detailed this event when he said, “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” (Acts 22:12-15).

After his introduction and opening remarks, Ananias then made it abundantly clear that something had yet to occur that was essential to Saul being converted. Ananias told Saul what was “appointed”, or what he “must” do. “And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). This truth is also recorded as, “And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized” (Acts 9:18).

Even though Saul had seen the risen Savior, and had heard his voice, he was not converted from lost to saved until he was baptized. This truth is obvious when you notice that Ananias implied that Saul was still in his sins before his baptism. It was only by being baptized for the remission of his sins, that his sins were “washed away”.

It has yet to be stated, but that same Saul that persecuted the church, was later referred to as the apostle Paul (Acts 13:9). This man is a great example of conversion. Saul’s entire life changed as a result of his conversion. Instead of seeking the destruction of the church, Paul gave his remaining days to the enlargement and edification of the church of Christ (2 Cor. 11:28).

Friend, have you been converted to Christ? Are you a believer that Jesus is the Son of God (John 8:24)? Saul was. Are you willing to repent of your past sins (Acts 17:30-31)? Saul was. Are you willing to acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God? Saul was. Are you ready to be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38)? Saul was. Saul was converted a lost sinner to a saved saint. You can be too. Who knows the good that you can do for Jesus! Just look at all that Saul/Paul did!
~ Corey Barnette