The conversion of Saul is one of our favorites in the Book of Acts because it gives us the assurance that everyone is a prospect of the gospel of salvation, even the chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15). As one author put it, he was "the most zealous and unrelenting opponent of the gospel transformed into its foremost proponent." We have no doubt that Saul of Tarsus, persecutor and reviler of the church was saved from the sins of his horrible past; the question, is when was he saved?
He was not saved when he had the vision. In his defense before his Jewish brethren in Jerusalem, Paul related what he had seen on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:6). Some have told me in conversation that the Lord has appeared to them and has called them to be His disciple. Since it's difficult to convince someone what they have and haven't seen with their own eyes, I simply try to remind them that the Lord Himself said before His ascension that disciples are made by teaching and baptizing them (Matt. 28:18-20). Though Saul had seen and was made a believer in the resurrected Christ, he was still subject to His conditions of discipleship. He was not saved yet.
He was not saved when he found out he was a sinner. Saul learned that the voice from heaven belonged to Jesus, Whom he was persecuting, and he responded by asking, "what shall I do, Lord?" (Acts 9:10). If he was already saved by calling on the name of the Lord, he wouldn't need to do anything. But he had the same reaction that the Jews did on Pentecost when they were convicted of their sins; they cried, "men and brethren, what shall we do?" (Acts 2:37). The realization of sin brings about the need to do something about it -- either sweep it under the rug or make it right. Saul chose the latter but was not saved yet.
He was not saved when he prayed and fasted for three days (Acts 9:9-11). I can't imagine what must have been going through his mind during that time -- how he had scattered, imprisoned and executed innocent Christians and delivered damaging blows to the cause of Christ. He was so overcome with guilt and humiliation that he devoted himself to the purification of his body and the restoration of his soul through prayer and fasting. His outward expressions of repentance were certainly sincere and contrite, but he was not saved yet.
"How do you know", you
ask? Saul could not have been saved at any of these points because the Bible
says that he was still in his sins. Ananias came to him after his vision, after
his recognition, after his prayer and fasting and commanded him to "arise,
and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (Acts 22:16).
His belief was foundational, his realization of sin pivotal, his repentance
essential, but his iniquities were not erased until he was washed in the blood
of the Lamb. His salvation was then made possible because of his willingness
to submit to the divine terms of pardon. Saul was saved because he made an appeal
to God for a good conscience through which baptism now also saves you through
the resurrection of Jesus Christ (1
"Men and brethren, what shall we do? Peter said to them, 'Repent and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins'" (Acts 2:38,39).
By Bubba Garner via Gospel Power,
Vol. 12, No. 46, Nov. 13,
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