CONVERSION OF PAUL
The churches of Christ Greet You (Romans 16:16)
turn in your Bibles to Acts chapter 22. Beginning with verse one we
together Paul's account of his own conversion, as he gave it to a mob
his life: “Men, brethren, and
hear ye my defence which I make now unto you. (And when they heard that
spake in the Hebrew tongue to them, they kept the more silence: and he
I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia,
brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according
perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God,
as ye all
are this day. And I persecuted this way unto the death, binding and
into prisons both men and women. As also the high priest doth bear me
and all the estate of the elders: from whom also I received letters
brethren, and went to Damascus, to bring them which were there bound
Jerusalem, for to be punished. And it came to pass, that, as I made my
and was come nigh unto Damascus about noon, suddenly there shone from
great light round about me. And I fell unto the ground, and heard a
saying unto me, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? And I answered,
thou, Lord? And he said unto me, I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom thou
And they that were with me saw indeed the light, and were afraid; but
heard not the voice of him that spake to me. And I said, What shall I
And the Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus; and there it
told thee of all things which are appointed for thee to do. And when I
not see for the glory of that light, being led by the hand of them that
with me, I came into Damascus. And one Ananias, a devout man according
law, having a good report of all the Jews which dwelt there, Came unto
stood, and said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And the same
looked up upon him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath chosen
thou shouldest know his will, and see that Just One, and shouldest hear
voice of his mouth. For thou shalt be his witness unto all men of what
hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized,
wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
We will now read some remarks that Paul made about his conversion, a great many years afterward, when addressing the young man Timothy. Please read with us from First Timothy chapter one, verses twelve to seventeen: “And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me, for that he counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry; Who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might shew forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting. Now unto the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only wise God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.”
We have gone over the details of three of the cases of conversion which are recorded in the book of Acts to indicate how God turns sinners to Christ; to indicate how the sinner himself turns to the Lord and obtains salvation; and now we add a fourth, that of the great Apostle Paul. The record of his conversion is not all given in one place. A part of it is found in the ninth chapter of Acts, a very brief account. Another account given by himself, mentioning some of the details which had been omitted in the ninth chapter, is found in the twenty‑second chapter, which we read above. And still another account given by himself to King Agrippa, furnishing some details omitted in both of the others, is found in the twenty‑sixth chapter of Acts. We should put all of these together and use them all when we are endeavoring to form a conception of the event as it really transpired.
Pursuing the same method as in the other instances let us look a moment at this man just previous to the time that he was turned to the Lord. He himself declares in the passage just read from First Timothy that he had been a persecutor, a blasphemer, injurious; the very chief of the sinners of his day. All this is confirmed by the previous accounts; for Luke's description of him when he started from Jerusalem to Damascus is that he was yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of Jesus (Acts 9:1). He had already given his consent to the murder of Stephen. He had gone, at the head of a body of armed men, all through Jerusalem, seizing and dragging to prison both men and women, because they were following Christ; and he says to King Agrippa, "I punished them often in all the synagogues, and I strove to make them blaspheme." "When they were put to death, I gave my vote against them;" "and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto foreign cities" (Acts 26:10-11).
He scattered the church in Jerusalem until there were no more meetings there; no more preaching there; and he verily believed that he had killed the first church. However, not content with this, hearing that there were some of these scattered disciples at work in Damascus (one hundred and fifty miles from Jerusalem), he obtains authority from the chief priests to go down there and seize and drag back to Jerusalem every one of them for punishment. He is on that journey at the time he is turned to the Lord.
In this instance, no angel is sent from heaven; no preacher is sent to him from earth; but the Lord Jesus Christ Himself comes down from heaven, and in a light, as Paul himself says afterward, that was brighter than the sun at noon. You and I have never seen such a light. The light that was brighter than the sun shone around them and they all fell to the ground. Only one of the company heard his name called, and that was Saul. We do not know whether the voice was very loud or not, but it arrested him. "Saul, Saul; why persecutest thou me?" Was it Stephen speaking to him? Was it some one of those other preachers who had been put to death in Jerusalem by him, reappearing to speak to him? Who could it be? "Who art thou, Lord?" is the natural question that broke from the lips of Saul.
Although prostrated by the amazing sight, he was not frightened out of his wits; he knew what he was about. He was a bold man, not afraid of anything on earth. "Who art thou, Lord?" "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest." It is very difficult for us to realize what a revelation this was to Saul. The men who believed that the Jesus whom the Jews had crucified was the risen and glorified Son of God, and were honoring Him as such, Saul was putting to death. He thought every man ought to die who propagated that belief. And now, here appears before his eyes, in a light that shines from heaven above the brightness of this noonday sun, a glorified being, who says to him, "I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest."
What shall I do? What shall I think? Is there any possible escape from the truth and reality of what I hear? None! It did not take him a thousandth part of a second to see that there was no way of escape from the fact. "Here He is, alive, speaking to me; just come down from heaven! I have been wrong. He is the Christ; He is the glorified Son of God; I have been wickedly fighting against my King and my Redeemer." When this conviction came upon him, how did he act? What more had he to say? Just one question more: "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" That is all.
Well now, what a wonderful thing it was, to take this persecutor and blasphemer and injurious man, and to lay out plans of work like this for him the rest of his days, before he had the slightest faith in the Lord! Paul afterward had it revealed to him that God had had that purpose concerning him from the day he was born ‑ that from the very day of his birth God had intended to make out of him the great apostle of the Gentiles (Gal. 1:15-16). He had that purpose, and this is the way He brings it about. God intended it because He knew what would be developed in that child when it was born. He knew what the man would be. He knew the time would come when that great and mighty soul would receive the truth and love it, and would be willing to labor and suffer for it as no other man has ever labored and suffered. He laid out His plans accordingly.
What was the answer to the question, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Was it left unanswered? There are some preachers so ignorant in these days, that they are constantly exhorting sinners to go to the Lord and ask Him what to do to be saved; urging them to pray the Lord saying, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" Saul was excusable for putting forth that question, because he had had no good chance to learn; but every sinner who has ever heard the answer that was given to Saul, ought to know that that answer is the one for himself. What was the answer? "Arise, and go to Damascus, and there it shall be told thee of all things that are appointed for thee to do." He told him what He was going to do with him in his future life, but as for his immediate duty, in order that he might obtain forgiveness of the awful sins of which he was guilty, “Go there, and it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.”
There is another great lesson taught right here. Suppose that a man is directed to go to the Lord, and pray, saying, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" and the Lord should actually appear and answer him; what would the answer be? Would He tell him what to do? No. Would He not say, Arise, go to Damascus with Saul of Tarsus; learn what he was told to do, and do the same thing? Arise and go to some man who has been taught how to direct sinners, ask him what to do, and then do it. So Saul arose, and being led by the hand of some of his companions, he went into the city.
Now we wish to pause awhile before we go further with the story, and ask, how much progress has this wicked man made toward becoming a Christian? Does he believe in Christ now? Yes, he does ‑ with a faith that never wavered from that moment to the end of his life. Why, my brethren, it seems to me Paul could have said, as he afterwards did say, "I know whom I have trusted." I saw him; I heard him. It was more nearly a matter of absolute knowledge with Paul, than a matter of belief. Oh, how strong his faith in Christ from that moment on!
No man ever had more reason for agony of soul, and no man, therefore, ever more bitterly repented than Saul repented in those three days. There cannot be any doubt about his faith, or about his repentance. He himself said afterward in the Epistle to the Romans, "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God" (Rom. 5:1). A great many persons have supposed him to teach that the very moment a man believes, he is justified by faith and has peace with God; but Paul was a believer for three days and three nights, and instead of being justified as yet, he was in an agony of guilt and condemnation, and had no peace with God. Consequently, if you interpret that language in the light of his own experience, you see at once that the conception of it that we have just given, is a mistaken one. Now let us proceed with the story.
During those three days, the Lord Jesus, looking down, allowed him to continue in his agony. Maybe He thought the man deserved it. Maybe He thought it would be good for his soul to writhe in that agony for three days and nights. But at the end of that time, He appeared to a Christian in the city by the name of Ananias, and told him to go to Saul. He would find him in a certain house, and find him praying. Ananias knew how to direct such a man to peace and rest in the Lord, so he went to the house. One of the very men whom Saul had come up there to seize, and put in chains, and carry back to Jerusalem, and who was afraid to go when the Lord first told him to go, goes in and finds him there prostrated, worn out, pale and nervous, still in agony, still in prayer.
He says, "Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus who appeared to thee by the way, has sent me to thee that thou mightest receive thy sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." He laid his hands on him and said, "Receive thy sight." Something like scales dropped off his eyes, and he could see. Then Ananias goes on: "The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear a voice from his mouth. For thou shalt be a witness for him 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 his name." Saul arose, was baptized, and then they put some food before him, and he ate and was strengthened. His agony is over; he has received his sight; his sins are forgiven; he is filled with the Spirit of God; he is a Christian now; and this is the simple story of his conversion.
Well, in the other cases, there was some form of miraculous activity going along with the preached word; and there is like activity in this. If Saul had heard that voice coming out of the sky, but had seen no miraculous light, no evidence that it came actually from heaven, he would have regarded it as a mystery that he could not understand; but he could not have been convinced by it that Jesus is the Christ. But that word from the lips of Jesus was accompanied by that miraculous light, and the visible miracle proved that the voice came from heaven. This caused him to believe, and when he believed, his faith was that which threw him into the agony of repentance. Then, when he heard the word, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on His name," he does not stop to raise any questions.
thing of raising questions about the ordinances of the Lord had not
come yet ‑
why is it necessary to be baptized? Is it absolutely essential to be
Are our sins certainly washed away when we are baptized? This was a
simple faith. Men believed and accepted what the messengers of God
as they said it. That is faith. The very moment Saul heard the command,
arose from his prostrate position and was baptized. Now he is
agony is gone; he eats the food he had refused for three days and
And what is more, he goes straightway to the synagogue, as soon as the Sabbath comes, and stands up there to preach in the name of Jesus, to the amazement of the unbelieving Jews. They exclaimed, “This man came here to take to Jerusalem them who believe in the name, and behold, he preaches the faith that he came to destroy!” He "confounded the Jews that dwelt in Damascus," proving by the testimony of his eyesight, and the testimony of his blindness, and all these other events, that Jesus is the Christ (Acts 9:20-22). The statement that he "confounded" them, means that he shut them up so that they could not think of what more to say in opposition to his preaching.
Now this is the story of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus. Suppose that you, or some other sinner, is a great blasphemer and injurious to the cause of Christ. If such a man is brought to the conviction that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of the living God, repents of that sin, and all the sins of his life, and then, upon being told to arise and be baptized, he does it; can't that man eat food with joyfulness and gladness of heart too, and go to work in the vineyard of the Lord, and try to turn sinners to the Savior? Is not he a Christian too? Surely, if the Apostle Paul became a true disciple, was a genuine convert to the Lord, the man who walks in the same way, though he may be brought to faith in an entirely different manner, as the eunuch, and Cornelius, and Lydia were; yet if he has the faith, the repentance, and the obedience, he is a Christian as surely as they.
We do not suppose we are addressing anyone who ever had such feelings toward Christ and toward the apostles that Saul had. But my dear friends, you know that you are sinners. You know that you belong to that same great class who are without God, without Christ, without hope in this world; and the only hope is in Christ Jesus ‑ faith in Him; abandonment of sin from the heart; humble obedience to Him; walking in His ways. Are you willing to live and die in that class? There are yet two great classes into which Christianity divides the world - the sinner saved, and the sinner unsaved ‑ those who will be on the right hand in the judgment, and those who will be on the left hand. Without stopping now to raise any question about the awful fate of those on the left, are you willing to be one of them? We do not believe you are.
We do not believe there is an honest man or a woman who is willing to deliberately make the choice to die with those on the left hand (cf. Matthew 25). You have promised yourself that you will not remain there, though you are now. You have promised yourself that you will change, though you have not changed. You have said, “The time is coming when I will take the right stand and be with the people of God;” but the time has not come. Perhaps it has come and passed ‑ the time that you once thought you would ‑ and you have put it off to another day. That day has also come and passed, and if you continue thus you will find yourself suddenly in the face of death, when it is too late. You will need in that hour all the comfort that the Christian faith can give, to enable you to die in peace; and it is a bad hour in which to seek for that faith and to cry for that comfort. Why not, then, come now? You never saw a day or a night more suitable for obeying the Lord, than this blessed day (cf. 2 Cor. 6:2). You never will!
Then, in the name of the Lord Jesus, we ask you, we invite you, we urge you, if you believe these things, to come to the Lord….
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee,
Oh, Lamb of God, I come, I come."