Study 7 SAUL OF TARSUS
TEN NEW TESTAMENT CONVERSIONS
by Francis Dixon
(Scripture Portion: Acts 9:1-20)
We have here the historical record of the conversion of Saul of Tarsus, the most important convert in the first century and perhaps in all centuries. The details of his conversion are recorded three times – here in Acts 9 but also in Acts 22 and 26. In addition, Paul refers to it in Galatians 1:10-24; Philippians 3:4-14; 1 Timothy 1:8-16. How he loved to give his testimony! Something great had happened – the Lord had saved him – and he felt he must tell others. In this study notice some respects in which Saul’s conversion was unlike most others, and then some respects in which it was like every other conversion.
1. Saul was an unlikely convert, and his conversion was unexpected
If you had asked the members of the Early Church about the chances of this man being saved they would have raised their eyebrows and said, ‘He is about the last person we would expect to become a Christian! He is bigoted and misguided, he is a Pharisee and an enemy of the Church, and he believes that Christ is an impostor!’ – look at Acts 9:1-2. Very often we look at others and feel it would be a miracle if they were converted, but let’s remind ourselves that every conversion is a miracle and that God delights to do what seem to us to be unlikely and unexpected things. Let’s be careful that we don’t limit God by our unbelief, and let’s trust Him to bring ‘hard cases’ to know Him as Lord and Saviour – look up Genesis 18:14; Luke 1:37; and compare Matthew 13:58.
2. Saul was suddenly and dramatically converted
The suddenness of the intervention of the Lord into his life is clearly emphasised in Acts chapters 9, 22 and 26. At one moment Saul was on a journey to arrest the Christians in Damascus and to have them imprisoned; but at the next moment this proud rebellious man was a praying penitent, humbly enquiring as to how he could submit his life to the lordship of Jesus. He was saved in a flash! He made a right-about-turn – and that exactly describes what conversion is. In a sense every conversion is sudden, a passing from death to life (John 5:24); it is a new birth (John 3:3); but this passing from death to life, being born again, does not usually take place as dramatically as this, at any rate outwardly. With most people the Holy Spirit makes gradual impressions upon the heart, the conscience and the mind, until the moment comes when the will is moved over in surrender to the Lord and He is accepted and acknowledged as Lord and Saviour. Has that process been going on in your life? If so your conversion can now be sudden, for at this very moment you may be saved (Romans 10:13). How long does it take to “call”?
3. Saul actually saw the Lord and heard His voice
Every convert sees the Lord Jesus with the eye of faith. We see Him on the Cross dying for us (Isaiah 53:5); we see Him risen again (1 Corinthians 15:4); we see Him ascending (Acts 1:9-10); we see Him exalted at the right hand of God (Hebrews 1:3); and we hear His voice in His Word. But Saul was actually stricken down with the blinding glory of the presence of the Lord and he heard His voice speaking to him (verses 3-4). This was not sunstroke or epilepsy or a delusion; had it been any of these his life would not have been so completely transformed, as it was – look up 2 Corinthians 5:17.
Now consider how Saul’s conversion was like every other conversion.
1. The sovereignty of God began it
Read verse 3: God did it, and no man could have prevented this supernatural work of God’s sovereign grace. Sometimes people ask, What is the difference between conversion and regeneration? The answer is that conversion is the human side of regeneration (or the new birth); regeneration (or the new birth) is the divine side of conversion. But notice, that it is God who is the initiator; it is His sovereign work to bring a sinner to the Saviour.
2. It was altogether of grace and apart from deeds
Saul’s conversion had nothing to do with his previous life. He did not bring any offering to the Lord which was acceptable. All he could do was to take the cup of salvation (Psalm 116:12-13); compare Ephesians 2:8-10; Titus 3:5. Saul was not saved by deeds but by grace, through faith, and by the Lord Himself.
3. He had a personal interview with the Lord Jesus
Every true conversion includes this. Saul’s interview was private, as we learn from verses 4-6. He had always thought that Jesus was an impostor and that He was dead and buried; but now, in a flash, he realised that Jesus was alive. This must have convinced him about several things:- (1) that Jesus was no impostor; (2) that He was the Son of God; (3) that He was the true Messiah; (4) that He really did rise and ascend to the right hand of the Father; (5) that He was Lord and had the right to be sovereign in his life. This revelation takes place in every conversion and leads to humility and a sense of guilt and need. When Saul saw Jesus on the Damascus road,
- 1. He knew he was a sinner needing a Saviour (1 Timothy 1:15);
- 2. He knew that only Jesus could save him (verse 5, and compare Matthew 1:21);
- 3. He was overwhelmed with Jesus’ compassion (verse 5);
- 4. He yielded unreservedly to His lordship (verses 6-22).
Look up these verses: Hebrews 7:25, Revelation 3:20; Acts 10:36.