Saul of Tarsus, later known as the apostle Paul, has a most interesting experience to relate. During his own lifetime he was called upon more than once to give his testimony. He did so fearlessly and frankly, concealing nothing of the depth of his depravity, defending himself in no way and offering no worthy excuse at all for his life. For the complete story of his change from persecutor to proclaimer, from defamer to defender of the faith, we must take the three accounts (Acts 9, 22, 26) and, combining them, gain the whole picture.
After his conversion, Paul began immediately to preach Christ, the Son of God, to the Jews of Damascus. Such a total change in any man's life would be interesting; in Saul it presents one of the most thrilling stories in the history of the race. What are some of the lessons to be drawn from this account?
Lessons From Saul's Conversion
First. This man Saul was an educated man who had attained to a high degree of learning in the religion of his fathers, that is, the law of Moses. His zeal for this law was such that it caused him to press on 'to exceed many of his own age. He tells us, "I advanced in the Jews' religion beyond many of mine own age among 'My countrymen, being more exceedingly zealous for the tradition of my fathers." (Gal. 1:14) This zeal and religious training prompted him even to commit murder, thinking 'he was doing the Lord's service. Yet, in spite of his crime, the gospel was for him. Christ came to save sinners. 'Saul was a sinner. In spite of his religious zeal and fervor, in spite of his devoutness in the Jew's religion, he was a sinner. It is possible to be religious, belong to a church, be exceedingly devout, yet, like Paul, be on the wrong road. Zeal and devotion are not enough; it takes also truth.
Second. When Saul discovered his error, he was man enough to make the necessary changes. Past prejudice, position, friends, criticism, or anything else could not sway him from the truth. There are doubtless many today who have heard and learned the truth about becoming a Christian, but are letting friends, business, social position or some other consideration hinder their obedience to the Lord. Not so with Saul.
Third. When Saul was told what to do, he acted. He did not reply with the age old excuse, "I would like a little more time-" This was the course later of Felix, the governor before whom Paul appeared. He said, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." But, so far as we know, the convenient season never came. Some in our day, being confronted with the truth, say, "I would like to talk to my preacher, or my parents, first." In contrast to this was the attitude of Paul. He says, "Immediately; I conferred not with flesh and blood; neither went up to Jerusalem to them that were apostles before me," (Gal. 1:16-17) Obedience to God is a personal matter, a decision that only the individual can make. Once the truth is known, we must accept it immediately.
Fourth. Paul did not let his past sins stand in the way of his becoming a Christian. Some insist that they are "not good enough" to become Christians, If that were so, then surely Saul would not have been "good enough''. But this is far from the truth, Jesus said, "I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance." (Matt. 9:13) Also, "The Son of man is come to seek and to save that which was lost." (Luke 19:10)
Fifth. As soon as Paul was converted, he began to teach the truth to others. Every Christian knows enough to teach another person how to become a Christian. In appreciation for the blessings enjoyed, and because of the hope that is in every Christian, it is his duty and obligation, as well as his pleasure, to help others to the same blessings.
But now to some observations related more specifically to the matter of how Paul became a Christian:
1. There was divine operation. Christ personally took a hand in the experience, appearing to Saul of Tarsus.
2. Though Christ did appear to him, he did not tell Saul what to do 'to become a Christian- This was done, as always, through a human medium. The medium this time was Ananias.
3. Saul believed in Jesus, as is evidenced by his desire to know what to do,
4. Repentance is not mentioned specifically, though Saul's action demonstrated that he was penitent.
5. Confession is not mentioned in the immediate connection, though we must remember that it was Paul who later wrote, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved." (Rom, 10:8)
6. Saul was baptized to wash away his sins, even as the people on the day of Pentecost had been "baptized unto the remission of sins'.
7. His remorse and misery were not allayed until he had 'conformed to the act of baptism.
8. If belief alone had been all that was necessary to save him, why was he so miserable until he was baptized?
9. Saul was praying. Certainly a penitent sinner seeking forgiveness would be a prayerful man. His sins weighed heavily upon him. His praying, however, did not remove the guilt or the burden of sins. It took obedience to the gospel to do that.
From the story of Saul's conversion it is evident that the Holy Spirit has made absolutely plain and clear the way of eternal salvation. No man in the final judgment can stand before God and plead that the way was not plain
Ralph L. Starling, Brownsville, Texas