Study 6 FIRST STEPS IN THE CHRISTIAN LIFE
STUDIES IN ACTS (Chapters 8 -11)
by Francis Dixon
Study verses: Acts 9:18-30
The conversion of Saul of Tarsus was sudden; it was also a striking conversion; we learn from 1 Timothy 1:16 that there is a sense in which it was a sample conversion - the kind of thing that God can and does do. How did this man, Saul of Tarsus, progress after his initial encounter with the Lord on the Damascus road? Because, important as it is to start the Christian life, it is equally important to go on, to grow (2 Peter 3:18), and to enter into the full purpose for which God has saved us. What happened to Saul after this event?
1. He made an open confession of allegiance to Christ (verse 18)
It is impossible to read the book of Acts and not to be impressed with the fact that those who believed then confessed their belief and their trust in Christ by baptism. This then is the scriptural, Christ-appointed way (Matthew 28:19; Acts 2:38-41). So when Ananias came to Saul he helped him to understand the purpose of the Lord, and Saul immediately identified himself publicly with the Lord in whom he now trusted as his Saviour, and to whom he had surrendered himself as his Lord and Master. Recognising baptism to be a command of the Lord, we should carefully consider John 14:15!
2. He linked up with the Lord’s people (verse 19)
The great word of fellowship is the word “with”, and here we are told that Saul linked up in fellowship with the Christians at Damascus, and according to verse 26, with those in Jerusalem; and it is evident that wherever he was, from now on he sought the fellowship of the Lord’s people. He was not a ‘freelance’ Christian! Every true believer should link up with a company of the Lord’s people. Some Christians say, ‘I don’t believe in joining a church!’ - but what would happen if every Christian said that? We must get together, pray together, work together, stay together and unite together for worship and for the spread of the gospel. We need a spiritual home; we need fellowship with other Christians and they need fellowship with us.
3. He preached Christ wherever he went (verse 20)
The words “at once” are very significant; they mean ‘without delay’. This is just how it should be, of course. When we put our trust in the Lord we should waste no time in telling others of our Saviour and of all He has done and is able to do for them. Saul became an outstanding preacher; but all of us are to be preachers in the sense that we are to tell others about the Lord, to make Him known by life (Acts 4:14 and 22); and by lip (Acts 4:20). Saul’s life was completely changed, so much so that those who heard him were astonished (verse 21)! What a change takes place - look up 2 Corinthians 5:17.
4. He grew in grace and in his knowledge of the Lord (verse 22)
Where and how did he grow? At some point in these early stages of his new life Saul went into Arabia for approximately three years (Galatians 1:15-18). Probably it was fairly soon after his conversion, because it was necessary for him to get alone with the Lord and to be prepared for his future life-work. So Paul went to King’s College for three years! Moses had a similar experience (Exodus 3:1); so did Elijah (1 Kings 17:3); so did John the Baptist (Luke 3:2); and even the Lord Jesus did not begin His public ministry until he was thirty years old (Luke 3:23). A good decision, especially for young people anticipating a lifetime of service for the Lord, is indicated in Acts 6:4.
5. He encountered terrific opposition and persecution (verses 23-25, 29)
What a rough time Saul had right at the start of his Christian life, and how natural it was that others should be cautious and wary about accepting him as a real convert! In contrast, how easy it is for some of us to be a Christian! How much more costly it would be if we were as determined to live and witness for Christ and to defend the gospel like Saul of Tarsus, and like many today in our world! Take a good long look at Matthew 5:10-12.
6. He had to face and overcome internal misunderstanding (verse 26)
It was natural that he should receive opposition from outside, but the most difficult thing of all was to discover that even God’s people were suspicious and afraid of him, doubting the reality of his conversion. However, thank God for Barnabas (see verse 27)! As the result of the commendation of Barnabas, Saul was accepted by the Church in Jerusalem and, as verse 28 tells us, he ”moved about freely” - praying with them (John 14:14); remembering the Lord in His death with them (1 Corinthians 11:23-26); and entering into all the joys of worship and of service for the Lord.
7. He went back to Tarsus: the hardest place of all (verses 29-30)!
So fierce had been the opposition that verses 25 and 29 tell us that Paul’s life was in danger. The Lord permitted all this for the furtherance of the gospel (Philippians 1:12); and so it was that Saul went back to Tarsus, to his own home, family and friends. Whether or not they welcomed him there we do not know, but what we do know is that it was an extremely good thing for him to go back to his own people and let them see and hear the great things which the Lord had done for him - look up and compare Psalm 126:2-3 and Mark 5:19.
These are some early post-conversion experiences through which Saul of Tarsus was led by the Lord. Are you following on to know the Lord (Hosea 6:3)?