Saul of Tarsus
This is the third article in a series of lessons on New Testament examples of conversion. We have seen that each example illustrates obedience to the same basic commands. At the same time each example demonstrates a new aspect of the propagation of the gospel. The gospel was preached first in Jerusalem (Acts 2); but after severe persecution arose, it quickly spread throughout Samaria by the preaching of the scattered Christians (Acts 8:4). The conversion of the Ethiopian man in Acts 8 illustrated the beginning of taking the gospel to all nations and all races.
The next conversion is given in Acts 9, and it involves a man who was quite zealous in persecuting Christians. We met him first in Acts 7:58 and 8:1, where he was promoting and consenting to the death of Stephen. As we begin reading in Acts 9, we see a Saul who is still "breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord." He later describes himself as the chief of sinners for persecuting the church but stated that he was an example of how Christ Jesus could not only save the worst but also make that person into one of the most influential of Christians (1 Tim. 1:15-16).
While Paul later saw that his persecution of the church was wrong, he did it with a good conscience (Acts 23:1). This demonstrates that we can honestly believe that what we are doing is right; and yet, if done ignorantly and in unbelief, it is still wrong (1 Tim. 1:13) .
Note that later in the New Testament Saul is called Paul (from Acts 13:9 on). He is the author of the many epistles to the churches.
Who Are Thou Lord?
The conversion of Saul was different, and some have seized on this difference in an attempt to make it the standard. Let us examine this case carefully to see what Paul was required to do.
Paul was on the road to Damascus when he was miraculously struck blind by God. He heard a voice identified as that of Jesus. A careful reading of Acts 9:1f shows that Paul was not converted on the road to Damascus. Instead, Jesus commanded him to get further instruction in Damascus. The experience on the road was to convince Paul that his zeal for God was misplaced.
Paul obeyed Jesus and was led by the hand into Damascus, where he spent three days waiting without food or drink. At this point a faithful Christian, Ananias, came to Paul at the direction of the Lord and preached to him the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In compliance with the commands of Jesus, Paul heard, believed, repented of his sins, was willing to confess his belief, and was baptized for the remission of his sins. In this regard, his conversion was identical to those on Pentecost and the Ethiopian.
Paul retold the story of his conversion before his countrymen after returning to Jerusalem. From Acts 22:12-16: "And one Ananias, a devout man according to the law, well reported of by all the Jews that dwelt there, came unto me, and standing by me said unto me, Brother Saul, receive thy sight. And in that very hour I looked up on him. And he said, The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, and 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."
From this we learn that Paul was still in his sins when he got to Damascus. It also confirms what we learned in Acts 2:38, that baptism is for the remission of sins, or to "wash away" sins.
Clearly there are aspects of Paul's conversion that apply to us and those that do not. God does not strike everyone blind, but He does expect us to obey those commands that He has given to us today.
Ye often hear it said ...
"Once you are saved you can be baptized into a local church."
but Ananias stated (Acts 22:16):
"And now why tarriest thou, arise and be baptized and wash away your sins?"
The concept that we are "baptized into the fellowship of a local congregation" is foreign to the Bible. No local church existed for the Ethiopian whose baptism was recorded in Acts 8. Paul's baptism did not involve a local church either, as Ananias baptized him immediately without consulting anyone else. The local church is not essential for baptism and it need not be consulted.
The Bible teaches that we are baptized into the universal body of Christ, which is the Lord's church (Rom. 6:3, 1 Cor. 12:13, Gal. 3:27, Col. 1:18, Eph. 1:22-23). The baptism that Jesus commands is for the remission of our sins, or as it says above, to "wash away your sins." If Paul were saved prior to baptism, he would have been saved while still in his sins. Baptism is between the individual and God. By definition, those who are baptized in obedience to Christ become members of His church. At that point it is their responsibility to associate with a local church that is both teaching truth and working/worshipping according to the truth (Heb. 10:25).
You Find the Answers
These Bible study questions provide assistance to you in studying and teaching God's Word. The answers are quite clear, and they prove that we can have the same understanding as the apostles had by reading what they wrote (Ephesians 3:4). We challenge you to open your Bible and establish the truth.
"... HE AROSE AND WAS BAPTIZED." (Acts 9)
1. Why was Paul going to Damascus? (1-2)
2. What did Jesus ask Paul? (3-4)
3. What did Jesus command of Paul? (5-6)
4. Was the gospel something that could be told? (6)
5. Did the miracle strike Paul blind? (8)
6. How long did Paul wait for instructions? (9)
7. What did the Lord command of Ananias? (11)
8. Was Ananias afraid of Paul? Why? (13-14)
9. What was Paul a chosen vessel for? Would he suffer? (15-16)
10. Was Paul to be filled with the Holy Spirit? (17)
11. What was the first thing that Paul did in response to Ananias? (18)
12. Did Paul immediately associate himself with Christians? (19)
13. What was the evidence of Paul's repentance? (20)