Study 4 PAUL’S CONVERSION: AN EXAMPLE
PAUL’S FIRST LETTER TO TIMOTHY
by Francis Dixon
Scripture Portion: Acts 9:1-22
A subtitle for this study would be “What God can do with a man”, for in 1 Timothy 1:16 Paul speaks of his conversion as “an example for those who would believe on him…” The word ‘example’ is a very interesting one. The Greek word conveys the idea of a pencil sketch which an artist will draw before he settles down to produce his masterpiece, or a ’first proof’ which a printer will produce before he prints in quantity. Thus we see that Paul’s conversion was an example of what God accomplishes in the lives of all who are saved by His grace, and therefore all conversions are similar to his conversion. Consider, then, seven respects in which Paul was a model convert.
1. Paul’s was a model conversion in the factors that led up to it.
In the beginning of Acts 9 we have the record of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, and immediately we discover that something was going on in Saul’s conscience before the Lord met him on the Damascus road. We know this by our Lord’s words to Saul, “It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks” (KJV). The late Dr Campbell Morgan has suggested that these words mean, ‘Saul, there are forces playing about you that would drive you in one direction, and you are kicking against them.’ What were these forces? One was the testimony of Stephen, who became the first Christian martyr and was radiant in his life and mighty in his words – compare Acts 6:15 and Acts 7:58-60. Saul was undoubtedly challenged and convicted by the life and witness of Stephen; and in every conversion there are such factors at work which God uses in preparation for the moment when He will break into the soul of the one whom He saves by His grace.
2. Paul’s was a model conversion in its suddenness.
To say that Paul’s conversion was sudden is not to contradict the thought expounded under our first heading. If we read the record we cannot fail to be convinced that Paul’s conversion was sudden. The actual moment when the Lord apprehended him and when he was brought as a humble penitent to the feet of the Saviour took place in a moment of time. One moment he was an enemy, and the next he was an enquirer with a broken and a contrite heart and a longing to do the will of the Risen Lord. In this sense every conversion is sudden. There is an actual, specific, precise moment when we are born again (John 3:5); when we pass from death to life (John 5:24); when we are translated out of Satan’s kingdom into the kingdom of God’s dear Son (Colossians 1:13); and when we enter into an experience of the salvation that is in Christ Jesus. We do not always know the exact moment of our conversion, any more than we remember when we were born into this world, but if we are converted there must have been such a moment. Our conversion took place suddenly.
3. Paul’s was a model conversion in that it was all the work of God.
This truth is well illustrated in Acts 9. God did the work of saving Paul from start to finish, and God is always the Author and the Finisher of salvation. The sovereignty of God in the conversion of sinners is clearly taught throughout Scripture. This is what Jonah meant when he said - Jonah 2:9 (last five words); what Paul meant when he wrote - Ephesians 2:8-10. If we have been saved by the grace of God it is all the Lord’s work. The Father in love planned our salvation; the Lord Jesus in His death purchased our salvation; and the Holy Spirit in His present ministry conveyed this salvation (Philippians 1:6).
4. Paul’s was a model conversion in that it was part of a Divine plan.
This truth is emphasised in Acts 9:10-16, and especially in verses 15-16. The Lord had a plan for this man’s life, and with his conversion that plan began to unfold. God had chosen him (verse 15); but when did God choose him? We find the answer in Ephesians 1:3-4, and all this is true in relation to every conversion. God’s plan for Paul was that he should become the apostle to the Gentiles; and God has a plan for your life and mine. It should therefore be our chief concern to discover and to do the will of God.
5. Paul’s was a model conversion in that it related to others being saved.
This was true not only in a general sense but in a particular sense and the truth is clearly brought out in our key verse (1 Timothy 1:16), where the apostle says that he was converted “as an example for those who would believe on him …” Paul’s conversion had an immediate relation to the conversion of many more. What a challenging thought this is, for it is also true of every Christian! When God saved us it was with a view to the salvation of others, others in our family, with whom you work, others whose lives we touch, to whom we would minister the Word of God. What relation has your conversion already had to the conversion of other people?
6. Paul’s was a model conversion in its thoroughness.
Did you ever see a more radical change wrought in any man? Read again Acts 9:1-18 and marvel at the fact that this persecutor and enemy and leader of the anti-Christian group was suddenly and completely changed into a humble, enquiring, penitent follower and an obedient servant of the Lord. He was completely transformed - a very good illustration of 2 Corinthians 5:17. This is God’s pattern for all conversions. Are you completely different since you were converted?
7. Paul’s was a model conversion in the evidences of its reality.
When a man is truly converted certain things always happen. There are certain marks which show the reality of his conversion. This was true of Saul of Tarsus. What were these marks? Notice a few of them:-
- (1) He met with the Lord and heard His voice (Acts 9:4-6)..
- (2) He was filled with a longing to obey the Lord and to do His will (Acts 9:6).
- (3) He began to pray (Acts 9:11).
- (4) He was baptised (Acts 9:18).
- (5) He united in fellowship with God’s people (Acts 9:19).
- (6) He began to testify powerfully (Acts 9:20).
- (7) He grew in grace (Acts 9:22).