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The Salvation of Saul (Acts 9:1-31)

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1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 So he said, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! 6 But stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.” 7 (Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.) 8 So Saul got up from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Leading him by the hand, his companions brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything.

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias,” and he replied, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 Then the Lord told him, “Get up and go to the street called ‘Straight,’ and at Judas’ house look for a man from Tarsus named Saul. For he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he may see again.” 13 But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call on your name!” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, his strength returned.

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God.” 21 All who heard him were amazed and were saying, “Is this not the man who in Jerusalem was ravaging those who call on this name, and who had come here to bring them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul became more and more capable, and was causing consternation among the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 Now after some days had passed, the Jews plotted together to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plot against him. They were also watching the city gates day and night so that they could kill him. 25 But his disciples took him at night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket.

26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took Saul, brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was staying with them, associating openly with them in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He was speaking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they were trying to kill him. 30 When the brothers found out about this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus. 31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers.1

Introduction2

When I study a passage, my first task is to read it over and over until I know what questions need to be answered. Then I continue to read the text and a few commentaries, meditate, and discuss it with others until the answers to my questions become clear. Our text in Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, who will eventually become known as Paul the Apostle. Luke has already recorded the conversion of a number of people in the Book of Acts, but no conversion account is as prominent as that of Saul. What is different about Saul’s conversion is that it is recorded three times in Acts, and in considerable detail. Noting this, I was able to articulate the questions which I needed to answer in order to adequately understand and explain this text. The questions are:

    1. Why is the conversion of Saul so important that it is repeated three times in Acts?

    2. What is unique about this conversion account?

    3. What does Saul’s conversion have to do with people today?

Of all the miracles recorded in the Book of Acts, the conversion of Saul is one of the most spectacular and one of the most significant. Let us look to the Holy Spirit, who was at work in the early church and who is likewise at work today, to enlighten our minds so that we might understand and apply this text which He inspired.

Stopping Saul in His Tracks
Acts 9:1-9

1 Meanwhile Saul, still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples, went to the high priest 2 and requested letters from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who belonged to the Way, either men or women, he could bring them as prisoners to Jerusalem. 3 As he was going along, approaching Damascus, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?” 5 So he said, “Who are you, Lord?” He replied, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting! 6 But stand up and enter the city and you will be told what you must do.” 7 (Now the men who were traveling with him stood there speechless, because they heard the voice but saw no one.) 8 So Saul got up from the ground, but although his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Leading him by the hand, his companions brought him into Damascus. 9 For three days he could not see, and he neither ate nor drank anything (Acts 9:1-9).

If Saul appears to be merely standing by when Stephen is stoned (Acts 7:58), this impression is quickly corrected as the Book of Acts unfolds. Just a few verses later, we read,

But Saul was trying to destroy the church; entering one house after another, he dragged off both men and women and put them in prison (Acts 8:3).

Now we read that Saul is “still breathing out threats to murder the Lord’s disciples” (Acts 9:1). Saul is not merely threatening murder, he is participating in it; indeed, he is instigating it. Saul appears to be the ringleader of the opposition to the church:

“I persecuted this Way even to the point of death, tying up both men and women and putting them in prison” (Acts 22:4).

“And that is what I did in Jerusalem: Not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons by the authority I received from the chief priests, but I also cast my vote against them when they were sentenced to death” (Acts 26:10).

The word “still” (Acts 9:1) is significant. It indicates that Saul has been “breathing out threats to murder” for some time. It indicates that Stephen’s death did not slow Saul down at all. Instead, it would appear that it fueled the “fire” of his zeal to crush Christianity. As I have said earlier, I believe that Saul is the ringleader, the driving force behind the persecution that has arisen against the saints.3

Initially, Saul’s activities seem to have been limited to Jerusalem,4 but as the church scattered, Saul’s activities became “international.” He received letters from the high priest which authorized him to go to the synagogues of other (foreign) countries:

I punished them often in all the synagogues and tried to force them to blaspheme. Because I was so furiously enraged at them, I went to persecute them even in foreign cities (Acts 26:11).

One such “foreign country” was Syria, with Damascus as its capital city. There was a large congregation of Jews living there, and the high priest’s letter seemed to give Saul the authority of extradition, so that he could arrest Christian Jews and take them back to Jerusalem for punishment. The journey to Damascus was approximately 150 miles, which shows how serious Saul was in his opposition to Christianity.

Paul was traveling to Damascus when he was divinely intercepted. It was high noon, but he was smitten by a light far brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13). It drove Saul and his companions to their knees (Acts 26:14). All saw the light and heard the voice, but they did not understand it (Acts 22:9); only Saul understood. Luke gives more detail in chapter 26:

13 “About noon along the road, Your Majesty, I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining everywhere around me and those traveling with me. 14 When we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in Aramaic, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? You are hurting yourself by kicking against the goads’” (Acts 26:13, emphasis mine).

One thing is clear to me: God was not seeking to save anyone but Saul here. All saw the light, but only Saul saw our Lord. All heard the voice, but only Saul understood it (Acts 9:7). And what was said was addressed specifically to Saul, and not to the rest. It is clear that our Lord intercepted Saul to save him, and this He did.

In this account, Saul asked but one question:5Who are you, Lord?” (Acts 9:5) You can imagine the impact of the words spoken in answer to this question: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!” (Acts 9:5) Our Lord then instructs Saul to enter the city, where he will be told what he should do. How ironic that Saul is now being led to Damascus by others, just as he must have led believers to their trial and their death in Jerusalem. Saul is being led to Damascus, when he had planned to lead others out of Damascus. The letters in Saul’s hand no longer have any authority. Now he is following orders from Jesus.

Saul got up from the ground, but without his sight. He had been blinded by the great light. He was led into Damascus, where he must have been met by someone appointed by the Lord (see Acts 9:6). He was taken to the house of Judas (see verse 11), where he neither ate nor drank (nor saw anything) for three days. I believe this was a very significant time for Saul. He had been well trained in Judaism. He knew the Old Testament well, and he thought he was serving God by persecuting the church. Now he knew that the One whom he opposed, the One he thought to be dead, was alive. Saul likewise learned that his persecution of the church was really persecuting Jesus.

Saul had a great deal of knowledge, but this encounter with Jesus changed everything. Saul had been wrong on one crucial point: Jesus was not a heretic or a revolutionary; Jesus was Israel’s Messiah. This one fact forced him to rethink and to rearrange all of his theology.

Let me attempt to illustrate it this way. Suppose that I had made a map. On it, I had the names of various countries, cities, rivers, and so on. As I was following this map to a certain destination, I got lost, and then someone pointed out that I had reversed north and south. This would require me to rearrange everything on the map. That is the way it was with Saul. For those three days, he had to rethink his understanding of the Old Testament and of the preaching he had heard from men like Stephen. If Jesus was the Messiah and He had risen from the dead, Paul had been completely wrong, and he must now set aside his religious beliefs for something very different (and yet based upon the same Old Testament facts).

Two Visions6
Acts 9:10-19a

10 Now there was a disciple in Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias,” and he replied, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 Then the Lord told him, “Get up and go to the street called ‘Straight,’ and at Judas’ house look for a man from Tarsus named Saul. For he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and place his hands on him so that he may see again.” 13 But Ananias replied, “Lord, I have heard from many people about this man, how much harm he has done to your saints in Jerusalem, 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to imprison all who call on your name!” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, placed his hands on Saul and said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came here, has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, his strength returned (Acts 9:10-19a).

We find Saul at the home of a man named Judas. Was Judas one of those Saul intended to arrest? I would think that Ananias must have been a target. Ananias was a highly respected Jew, but he was also one who believed in Jesus as the Messiah. Luke describes the process by which our Lord brought Ananias and Saul together. Once again, it is clear that our Lord is specifically seeking out Saul.

The Lord spoke to Ananias in a vision, instructing him to go to the house of a man named Judas, where he would find Saul of Tarsus.7 Ananias was told that Saul was praying and that he had been given a vision that a man named Ananias would come and restore his sight. Ananias was a good and godly man, but it seemed inconceivable to him that Saul could ever be converted to faith in Jesus. And so he reminded the Lord that Saul was a man who had done great harm to the saints in Jerusalem. He was also aware that Saul had come with authority from the chief priests to seize Christians and take them back to Jerusalem.

The Lord’s answer to these concerns was to indicate that Saul’s conversion would literally turn his life upside-down. Saul was God’s “chosen instrument.” He would carry the name of Jesus to Gentiles, to kings, and to the people of Israel. How much more radically could Saul’s life change? From being a persecutor of the church to becoming a preacher of the gospel, that is what our Lord had in store for Saul. But there was more. The one who had brought so much suffering to the saints would himself suffer greatly for the name of Jesus.

This was enough to convince Ananias. He left to go to the house of Judas, where he found Saul just as the Lord had indicated. Placing his hands on Saul, Ananias told him that he had been sent to restore his sight and to bestow the Spirit on him. At that moment, the scale-like impediments to his sight fell away, so that Saul could see again. Saul got up, was baptized, and then ate to regain his strength.

Preaching in Damascus and the First Fruits of Opposition
Acts 9:19b-25

For several days he was with the disciples in Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “This man is the Son of God.” 21 All who heard him were amazed and were saying, “Is this not the man who in Jerusalem was ravaging those who call on this name, and who had come here to bring them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul became more and more capable, and was causing consternation among the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Christ. 23 Now after some days had passed, the Jews plotted together to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plot against him. They were also watching the city gates day and night so that they could kill him. 25 But his disciples took him at night and let him down through an opening in the wall by lowering him in a basket.

What an amazing time this must have been, with Saul enjoying the fellowship of other believers in Damascus. And remember, these are the very ones he had intended to identify, arrest, and carry off to Jerusalem. This is surely a miracle, and it is followed up with yet another miracle: Saul immediately went to the synagogues and began to preach that Jesus is the Son of God. These synagogues were expecting Saul – expecting him to come and rid them of those troublesome followers of Jesus. Instead, Saul came as a follower of Jesus, and he preached it. No wonder folks were amazed at what they heard. Paul’s reputation preceded him, so that they knew who he was and why he had come.

It wasn’t long before some unbelieving Jews had heard enough of Saul’s teaching. After a few days, they plotted together to kill Saul. But Saul heard of their plot and knew that they were waiting for him to leave the city so that they could capture him. Saul already had some “disciples,” some who had come to faith as a result of his preaching. These disciples took Saul in the cover of darkness and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall, so that he escaped.

Journey to Jerusalem
Acts 9:26-30

26 When he arrived in Jerusalem, he attempted to associate with the disciples, and they were all afraid of him, because they did not believe that he was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took Saul, brought him to the apostles, and related to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had spoken out boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 So he was staying with them, associating openly with them in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He was speaking and debating with the Greek-speaking Jews, but they were trying to kill him. 30 When the brothers found out about this, they brought him down to Caesarea and sent him away to Tarsus (Acts 9:26-30).

Initially, I supposed that when Saul arrived in Jerusalem he attempted to meet with the twelve, but the term “disciple” is not used of the apostles in Acts. These “disciples” are the new believers in Jerusalem, the kind of folks that Saul sought to arrest and to kill. No wonder they were apprehensive about welcoming Saul into their fellowship. Saul’s efforts to meet with them had all the earmarks of a trap, the kind of trap Saul would have used before his conversion.

To my knowledge, Barnabas and Saul had never met until now. Barnabas is a man who is true to his character, as described in Acts 11:

20 But there were some men from Cyprus and Cyrene among them who came to Antioch and began to speak to the Greeks too, proclaiming the good news of the Lord Jesus. 21 The hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. 22 A report about them came to the attention of the church in Jerusalem, and they sent Barnabas to Antioch. 23 When he came and saw the grace of God, he rejoiced and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with devoted hearts, 24 because he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith, and a significant number of people were brought to the Lord. 25 Then Barnabas departed for Tarsus to look for Saul (Acts 11:20-25).

Barnabas was a man who was both “full of the Holy Spirit” and full “of faith.” He had the faith to believe that Saul could be saved. And so when Saul arrived in Jerusalem, somehow the paths of these two believers crossed. He not only knew the story of Saul’s conversion, but also had heard the reports of how Saul had boldly proclaimed Jesus in Damascus. (Had some of the saints in Damascus accompanied Saul back to Jerusalem?) From this point on, Saul was welcomed into the fellowship of the saints in Jerusalem. He also began to proclaim Jesus and was engaged in debate by the Greek-speaking Jews (who seem to have taken over the cause of opposing Christianity). Soon, these unbelieving, Greek-speaking Jews were seeking to kill Saul. It was the only way they could silence him! His fellow-believers learned of those who were seeking to kill Saul. They took Saul to Caesarea and sent him from there to Tarsus, his home town, where he would be safe.

Peace
Acts 9:31

Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee, and Samaria experienced peace and thus was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and in the encouragement of the Holy Spirit, the church increased in numbers (Acts 9:31).

Here is another one of Luke’s “progress reports” in the Book of Acts. What makes it interesting is that it immediately follows the account of Saul’s conversion, not to mention his retreat to Tarsus. Two questions come to mind. First, “What is the connection between Saul’s conversion and the peace Luke describes in Judea, Galilee, and Samaria?” The second is, “What is the relationship between Saul’s conversion and his retreat to Tarsus and the continued growth of the church?”

I don’t mean this unkindly, but in Acts, I don’t see much peace when Paul is present. He is something like a burning match at a fuel spill. This was certainly true when Saul was opposing the church as an unbeliever. He would go from place to place, seizing saints and dragging them off to Jerusalem for trial and punishment (Acts 22:4; 26:10-11). When Saul was converted, this was undoubtedly a massive blow to those Jews who opposed Christianity, for Saul seemed to be their inspirational leader. But Saul was just as aggressive in bearing witness to Jesus as Messiah as he was in opposing Him. Thus, he was forced to flee from Damascus (Acts 9:20-25) and then from Jerusalem (Acts 9:28-30). The truth is that peace came only after Paul’s departure from a certain city. It is true in our text, and it is true elsewhere as well (see Acts 13:50; 14:5-6, 19; 17:10, 14; 19:20—20:1). Saul’s conversion resulted in a period of exile,8 and this contributed greatly to the peace which returned to Judea, Galilee, and Samaria.

Conclusion

Having studied our text, we must now return to the questions which we raised at the beginning of this message:

    1. Why is the conversion of Saul so important that it is repeated three times in Acts?

    2. What is unique about this conversion account?

    3. What does Saul’s conversion have to do with people today?

We will begin by addressing the first two of these questions together.

(1) First of all, this is a dramatic conversion. I’ve heard many wonderful testimonies as to how our Lord has drawn an unbeliever to faith, but none can match the incredible sequence of events surrounding Saul’s conversion. How many Christians can claim that they were saved as the result of a face-to-face confrontation with the risen Lord Jesus?

(2) The conversion of Saul depicts the elements of conversion that are common to every believer. Consider, for example, the obvious fact that Saul was not seeking God but was actively opposing Him. Salvation is not the result of lost men seeking God, but of God seeking lost men:

No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:44, emphasis mine).

You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that remains, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name he will give you” (John 15:16, emphasis mine).

9 What then? Are we better off? Certainly not, for we have already charged that Jews and Greeks alike are all under sin, 10 just as it is written:

“There is no one righteous,
not even one,
11 there is no one who understands,
there is no one who seeks God
.
12 All have turned away,
together they have become worthless;
there is no one who shows kindness, not even one”
(Romans 3:9-12, emphasis mine).

1 And although you were dead in your transgressions and sins, 2 in which you formerly lived according to this world’s present path, according to the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the ruler of the spirit that is now energizing the sons of disobedience, 3 among whom all of us also formerly lived out our lives in the cravings of our flesh, indulging the desires of the flesh and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath even as the rest… 4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of his great love with which he loved us, 5 even though we were dead in transgressions, made us alive together with Christ – by grace you are saved! – 6 and he raised us up with him and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, 7 to demonstrate in the coming ages the surpassing wealth of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. 8 For by grace you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God; 9 it is not from works, so that no one can boast (Ephesians 2:1-9).

Saul’s salvation was not the result of his religious striving, but the result of being sought and subdued by the saving grace of God:

1 Finally, my brothers and sisters, rejoice in the Lord! To write this again is no trouble to me, and it is a safeguard for you. 2 Beware of the dogs, beware of the evil workers, beware of those who mutilate the flesh! 3 For we are the circumcision, the ones who worship by the Spirit of God, exult in Christ Jesus, and do not rely on human credentials 4 – though mine too are significant. If someone thinks he has good reasons to put confidence in human credentials, I have more: 5 I was circumcised on the eighth day, from the people of Israel and the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews. I lived according to the law as a Pharisee. 6 In my zeal for God I persecuted the church. According to the righteousness stipulated in the law I was blameless. 7 But these assets I have come to regard as liabilities because of Christ. 8 More than that, I now regard all things as liabilities compared to the far greater value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things – indeed, I regard them as dung! – that I may gain Christ, 9 and be found in him, not because I have my own righteousness derived from the law, but because I have the righteousness that comes by way of Christ’s faithfulness – a righteousness from God that is in fact based on Christ’s faithfulness (Philippians 3:1-9).

Saul’s conversion was not the result of his seeking or striving; instead, it was the sovereign work of God, so that He might display His wondrous mercy and grace:

12 I am grateful to the one who has strengthened me, Christ Jesus our Lord, because he considered me faithful in putting me into ministry, 13 even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor, and an arrogant man. But I was treated with mercy because I acted ignorantly in unbelief, 14 and our Lord’s grace was abundant, bringing faith and love in Christ Jesus. 15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life. 17 Now to the eternal king, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever! Amen (1 Timothy 1:12-17).

Saul’s conversion, like that of every believer, is a dramatic change of mind with regard to the person and work of Jesus of Nazareth. Salvation is all about Jesus:

Jesus replied, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6).

10 (The one who believes in the Son of God has the testimony in himself; the one who does not believe God has made him a liar, because he has not believed in the testimony that God has testified concerning his Son.) 11 And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in his Son. 12 The one who has the Son has this eternal life; the one who does not have the Son of God does not have this eternal life (1 John 5:10-12).

Saul was confronted by our Lord Jesus. He learned that his opposition to the church was ultimately opposition to Jesus. He learned that Jesus was God, and that He had been raised from the dead. He was convinced that Jesus was the promised Messiah, God’s only provision for eternal life. That is what every person must acknowledge who comes to saving faith:

8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation (Romans 10:8-10).

My point in all this is that while Saul’s conversion was spectacular, it was not really unique. It served to dramatically illustrate what happens whenever anyone is drawn to faith in the Lord Jesus.

(3) Saul’s conversion is a strong message and object lesson to unbelieving Jews (as well as to unbelieving Gentiles). Paul’s account of his conversion in Acts confronts unbelieving Jews with the gospel, the same message which they must embrace if they are to enter into the blessings promised to Abraham and his descendants. Paul was as Jewish as one could get, and yet he was not saved. His Jewish zeal did not and could not save him. He would later write:

9:30 What shall we say then? – that the Gentiles who did not pursue righteousness obtained it, that is, a righteousness that is by faith, 31 but Israel even though pursuing a law of righteousness did not attain it. 32 Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but (as if it were possible) by works. They stumbled over the stumbling stone, 33 just as it is written, “Look, I am laying in Zion a stone that will cause people to stumble and a rock that will make them fall, yet the one who believes in him will not be put to shame.”

10:1 Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God on behalf of my fellow Israelites is for their salvation. 2 For I can testify that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not in line with the truth. 3 For ignoring the righteousness that comes from God, and seeking instead to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. 4 For Christ is the end of the law, with the result that there is righteousness for everyone who believes. 5 For Moses writes about the righteousness that is by the law: “The one who does these things will live by them.” 6 But the righteousness that is by faith says: “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?’” (that is, to bring Christ down) 7 or “Who will descend into the abyss?” (that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). 8 But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we preach), 9 because if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For with the heart one believes and thus has righteousness and with the mouth one confesses and thus has salvation. 11 For the scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” 12 For there is no distinction between the Jew and the Greek, for the same Lord is Lord of all, who richly blesses all who call on him.

The only true Jew is the Jew who embraces Jesus as the Messiah, by faith receiving the salvation He accomplished at Calvary:

“For I tell you, unless your righteousness goes beyond that of the experts in the law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:20).

13 For the promise to Abraham or to his descendants that he would inherit the world was not fulfilled through the law, but through the righteousness that comes by faith. 14 For if they become heirs by the law, faith is empty and the promise is nullified. 15 For the law brings wrath, because where there is no law there is no transgression either. 16 For this reason it is by faith so that it may be by grace, with the result that the promise may be certain to all the descendants – not only to those who are under the law, but also to those who have the faith of Abraham, who is the father of us all 17 (as it is written, “I have made you the father of many nations”). He is our father in the presence of God whom he believed – the God who makes the dead alive and summons the things that do not yet exist as though they already do. 18 Against hope Abraham believed in hope with the result that he became the father of many nations according to the pronouncement, “so will your descendants be.” 19 Without being weak in faith, he considered his own body as dead (because he was about one hundred years old) and the deadness of Sarah’s womb. 20 He did not waver in unbelief about the promise of God but was strengthened in faith, giving glory to God. 21 He was fully convinced that what God promised he was also able to do. 22 So indeed it was credited to Abraham as righteousness. 23 But the statement it was credited to him was not written only for Abraham’s sake, 24 but also for our sake, to whom it will be credited, those who believe in the one who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead. 25 He was given over because of our transgressions and was raised for the sake of our justification (Romans 4:13-25, emphasis mine).

(4) Saul’s conversion is the basis of his apostleship. You will remember that when the apostles chose a replacement for Judas, they required that this person must have seen the risen Lord (Acts 1:21-22). Saul’s conversion experience on the road to Damascus was his encounter with the risen Lord:

7 Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8 Last of all, as though to one born at the wrong time, he appeared to me also. 9 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God. 10 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace to me has not been in vain. In fact, I worked harder than all of them – yet not I, but the grace of God with me. 11 Whether then it was I or they, this is the way we preach and this is the way you believed (1 Corinthians 15:7-11, emphasis mine).

It is important to note that in his conversion experience, Saul not only saw the risen Lord, he was given a very specific commission. You might call it Saul’s “Great Commission”:

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, because this man is my chosen instrument to carry my name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name” (Acts 9:15-16).

12 A man named Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well spoken of by all the Jews who live there, 13 came to me and stood beside me and said to me, ‘Brother Saul, regain your sight!’ And at that very moment I looked up and saw him. 14 Then he said, ‘The God of our ancestors has already chosen you to know his will, to see the Righteous One, and to hear a command from his mouth, 15 because you will be his witness to all people of what you have seen and heard (Acts 22:12-15).

15 So I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord replied, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16 But get up and stand on your feet, for I have appeared to you for this reason, to designate you in advance as a servant and witness to the things you have seen and to the things in which I will appear to you. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you 18 to open their eyes so that they turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a share among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:15-18).

(5) Saul’s conversion is yet another witness to the fact of the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. Jesus spoke to Saul, and he spoke to Jesus. Jesus was (and is) alive; His body was not decaying in a Jerusalem tomb (see Acts 2:24-36). Those with Saul could testify that something unusual, even supernatural, took place, but they were not privileged to see all that he saw. They did not see the risen Lord Jesus.

(6) The conversion of Saul is a turning point in the Book of Acts and in the history of the church. Things would never be the same after Saul came to faith. In Acts, Saul (Paul) is the key figure in the evangelization of the Gentiles. In the epistles, Paul is the key New Testament author to explain God’s purpose for the evangelization of the Gentiles (see, for example, Romans 9-11; Ephesians 2:11-22).

(7) Saul’s conversion is a key to understanding Paul’s theology in the New Testament. F.F. Bruce has written:

“Few of Saul’s distinctive insights into the significance of the gospel cannot be traced back to the Damascus-road event, or to the outworking of that event in his life and thought.”9

Paul writes not only from a deep and profound knowledge of God’s grace, but also from a deep and profound experience of God’s grace. When you read Paul’s teaching on divine election (see Ephesians 1 or Romans 9), or the miracle of being transported out of death and into eternal life (Ephesians 2:1-10), you can see how his conversion illustrates these truths.

Saul’s conversion is a watershed event in the New Testament. No wonder we find three different accounts of his conversion in the Book of Acts. One can hardly overestimate the impact Paul has had on Christianity.

The final question which I raised at the beginning of this lesson is this: “How does Saul’s conversion relate to evangelism today?” Let me suggest some ways in which Saul’s conversion in our text should impact Christians today.

Saul’s conversion should serve to greatly encourage Christians today to evangelize. What an encouragement for us to pray for the salvation of the lost! To press this even further, our text should prompt us to diligently pray for those who seem least likely to be saved. Would you not admit that many of us have a certain number of people whom we consider “least likely to be saved”? It may be a relative, an associate at work, or a friend to whom we have witnessed over a long period of time, but seemingly in vain. Paul was hopelessly lost. He not only rejected Christ, he actively opposed Him. But God intercepted Saul and stopped him in his tracks, dramatically saving him and radically transforming his life. God can do that to anyone. The more impossible a particular person’s salvation appears to be, the greater the glory that goes to God when that person is saved. Ultimately, it is not our logic or our persuasiveness that saves men, but God’s Spirit who drives the truth of the Word home, convicting sinners of their sin, and opening their darkened eyes to see the truth in Jesus:

8 “And when he comes, he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment – 9 concerning sin, because they do not believe in me; 10 concerning righteousness, because I am going to the Father and you will see me no longer; 11 and concerning judgment, because the ruler of this world has been condemned” (John 16:8-11).

Salvation is “of the Lord” (see Jonah 2:9; Psalm 3:8). It is ultimately His doing. We do not have to move men’s hearts or to out-argue them. We need only petition the God who finds no pleasure in the destruction of the lost, but delights in the salvation of lost sinners.

1 First of all, then, I urge that requests, prayers, intercessions, and thanks be offered on behalf of all people, 2 even for kings and all who are in authority, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. 3 Such prayer for all is good and welcomed before God our Savior, 4 since he wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

The Lord is not slow concerning his promise, as some regard slowness, but is being patient toward you, because he does not wish for any to perish but for all to come to repentance (2 Peter 3:9).

We must pray much more for the salvation of the lost, and then ask that He will use us as He draws sinners to faith.

The account of the conversion of Saul is a great text for those who have not yet come to faith in the Lord Jesus. We read that Saul came face-to-face with Jesus of Nazareth. Someday every unbeliever will come face-to-face with Jesus as their Judge:

42 “He commanded us to preach to the people and to warn them that he is the one appointed by God as judge of the living and the dead. 43 About him all the prophets testify, that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:42-43).

30 Therefore, although God has overlooked such times of ignorance, he now commands all people everywhere to repent, 31 because he has set a day on which he is going to judge the world in righteousness, by a man whom he designated, having provided proof to everyone by raising him from the dead” (Acts 17:30-31, emphasis mine).

And just as people are appointed to die once, and then to face judgment (Hebrews 9:27).

3 For the time that has passed was sufficient for you to do what the non-Christians desire. You lived then in debauchery, evil desires, drunkenness, carousing, drinking bouts, and wanton idolatries. 4 So they are astonished when you do not rush with them into the same flood of wickedness, and they vilify you. 5 They will face a reckoning before Jesus Christ who stands ready to judge the living and the dead (1 Peter 4:3-5, emphasis mine).

When He returns to this earth, our Lord will judge those who have persecuted His saints:

3 We ought to thank God always for you, brothers and sisters, and rightly so, because your faith flourishes more and more and the love of each one of you all for one another is ever greater. 4 As a result we ourselves boast about you in the churches of God for your perseverance and faith in all the persecutions and afflictions you are enduring. 5 This is evidence of God’s righteous judgment, to make you worthy of the kingdom of God, for which in fact you are suffering. 6 For it is right for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, 7 and to you who are being afflicted to give rest together with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels. 8 With flaming fire he will mete out punishment on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. 9 They will undergo the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his strength, 10 when he comes to be glorified among his saints and admired on that day among all who have believed – and you did in fact believe our testimony (2 Thessalonians 1:3-10).

The difference is that when Saul stood before our Lord, it was so that he might be saved from judgment. When men stand before our Lord at His second coming, there will no longer be an opportunity for salvation, but only for judgment.

7 For the hidden power of lawlessness is already at work. However, the one who holds him back will do so until he is taken out of the way, 8 and then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will destroy by the breath of his mouth and wipe out by the manifestation of his arrival. 9 The arrival of the lawless one will be by Satan’s working with all kinds of miracles and signs and false wonders, 10 and with every kind of evil deception directed against those who are perishing, because they found no place in their hearts for the truth so as to be saved. 11 Consequently God sends on them a deluding influence so that they will believe what is false. 12 And so all of them who have not believed the truth but have delighted in evil will be condemned (2 Thessalonians 2:7-12).

Do not wait until it is too late, my friend. Trust in Jesus today. In this way – and this way only – you will find the forgiveness of your sins and the gift of eternal life.

1 Now because we are fellow workers, we also urge you not to receive the grace of God in vain. 2 For he says, “I heard you at the acceptable time, and in the day of salvation I helped you.” Look, now is the acceptable time; look, now is the day of salvation! (2 Corinthians 6:1-2)

If you think you are too good to need salvation, remember that Saul was zealous for his religious faith, but he was terribly lost and in need of salvation. Being good, apart from God, is really being bad. If you think you are too wicked to be saved, once again think of Saul, who tells us that he was the “chief of sinners”:

15 This saying is trustworthy and deserves full acceptance: “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” – and I am the worst of them! 16 But here is why I was treated with mercy: so that in me as the worst, Christ Jesus could demonstrate his utmost patience, as an example for those who are going to believe in him for eternal life (1 Timothy 1:15-16).

When God saved Saul, He saved the worst of sinners, so that every other sinner would know God’s offer of salvation applies to him. Trust Him today.


1 Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are from the NET Bible. The NEW ENGLISH TRANSLATION, also known as THE NET BIBLE, is a completely new translation of the Bible, not a revision or an update of a previous English version. It was completed by more than twenty biblical scholars who worked directly from the best currently available Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek texts. The translation project originally started as an attempt to provide an electronic version of a modern translation for electronic distribution over the Internet and on CD (compact disk). Anyone anywhere in the world with an Internet connection will be able to use and print out the NET Bible without cost for personal study. In addition, anyone who wants to share the Bible with others can print unlimited copies and give them away free to others. It is available on the Internet at: www.netbible.org.

2 Copyright © 2006 by Community Bible Chapel, 418 E. Main Street, Richardson, TX 75081. This is the edited manuscript of Lesson 14 in the Studies in the Book of Acts series prepared by Robert L. Deffinbaugh on February 5, 2006. Anyone is at liberty to use this lesson for educational purposes only, with or without credit. The Chapel believes the material presented herein to be true to the teaching of Scripture, and desires to further, not restrict, its potential use as an aid in the study of God’s Word. The publication of this material is a grace ministry of Community Bible Chapel.

3 Saul does not appear to have taken the advice of his teacher and mentor, Gamaliel (see Acts 5:34-40; 22:3).

4 For Paul’s activities in Jerusalem, see Acts 9:13, 21, 26.

5 In Acts 22:10, we learn that Saul also asked, “What shall I do, Lord?

6 It has been observed that there are some interesting parallels between the “two visions” of Ananias and Saul in our text and the visions of Cornelius and Peter in Acts 10. This may be worth further investigation.

7 Giving Ananias this specific information made this an exercise of faith for him. He knew all too well who Saul was, and what he had come to do.

8 We learn from Paul’s words in Galatians 1:15-24 that his absence from Jerusalem and Judea was not an unfruitful one. This was undoubtedly a time of spiritual instruction and growth for him.

9 F. F. Bruce, The Book of Acts, Revised Edition (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1988), p. 113.

Related Topics: Spiritual Life