Table of Contents

Table of Contents II

Search This Blog

Friday, July 5, 2024

Paul's Conversion—How Justified by Faith

The conversion of Saul of Tarsus, who was soon to be known as Paul the apostle, is one of the most interesting accounts of conversion to Christianity found in the Bible.  One can read about Paul's conversion in 3 different accounts given in the book of Acts--Acts 9:1-19, 22:1-16, 26:9-20.  Saul of Tarsus was one of the really bad men we read about in the New Testament which makes his conversion even more dramatic.  How bad a man was Saul?

In Acts 9:1 we read about Saul "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord." (NKJV)  Evidently, if it was something he was still doing it was pretty much a habitual thing with him.  This was said at a time when he was setting out to Damascus to find Christians he could bind and bring back to Jerusalem for punishment. (Acts 9:2)  Paul says of himself, "I persecuted this Way (Christianity--DS) to the death." (Acts 22:4 NKJV)  He says, testifying against himself, "many of the saints I shut up in prison ... and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them." (Acts 26:10 NKJV)

Will God have a man like this, a man this bad?  Saul clearly had personal responsibility in the death of Christians.  Christians died because of his actions whether he ever cast a stone personally or not.  But, the answer to the question of whether or not God will have a man this bad or not is easily answered.  The first people the gospel was ever preached to lived in Jerusalem and were guilty of putting Jesus the Son of God to death.  When Pilate wanted to release Jesus they would have none of it (John 19:12).  They wanted him crucified.  Peter confronts them with their guilt over this matter in Acts 2:23 and again in Acts 3:14-15.  The good news is that "Christ died for the ungodly" (Rom. 5:6 NKJV) and thus as a result of Peter's preaching on the Day of Pentecost faith was created, about three thousand (Acts 2:41) responded to the preaching, obeying Peter's command to repent and be baptized for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38), and were forgiven.

Would God forgive Saul?  Most certainly!  Paul later says, "But God had mercy on me so that Christ Jesus could use me as a prime example of his great patience with even the worst sinners. Then others will realize that they, too, can believe in him and receive eternal life." (1 Tim. 1:16 NLT)  The NLT (New Living Translation) is not a literal translation but I believe it is an accurate rendition of the meaning of this verse and makes it easy to understand what Paul is saying.  Paul considered himself to be chief of sinners (1 Tim. 1:15) and said he was "not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God." (1 Cor. 15:9 NKJV)  He said as all Christians must say, "by the grace of God I am what I am." (1 Cor. 15:10 NKJV)  We must all say I am saved by the grace of God; I am what I am (assuming we are doing our very best to be what God would have us to be) by the grace of God.  "For by grace you have been saved through faith." (Eph. 2:8 NKJV)

Thus far we have seen the kind of man Saul of Tarsus was prior to his conversion and also the change of attitude and heart a result of his conversion but what of Paul's conversion itself?  The word preached was having no effect upon him.  He would have none of it and to preach it in his presence would have meant as a minimum imprisonment if he could affect it at all.  Certainly, Paul had heard of Christ but wanted none of him or his message.  He rejected Christ and yet Christ intervened directly in his life for a purpose--see 1 Tim. 1:16 quoted above.

It took a miracle to convert Saul of Tarsus.  Without Jesus appearing directly to him and speaking with him on the road to Damascus there appears to have been little to no likelihood of Saul of Tarsus ever being converted but the question of interest to us in this article is when in Paul's conversion was he justified by faith.  Certainly, there is no doubt that this miraculous wonder Paul experienced, a light from heaven (Acts 9:3, 22:6) brighter than the sun (Acts 26:13) surrounding him and his party and a voice out of heaven telling him it was Jesus speaking to him (Acts 9:5, 22:8, 26:15) totally destroyed unbelief in Paul's life and that instantaneously. 

Likewise there can be no doubt repentance was immediate.  Paul immediately became submissive to the will of God.  He was told directly by Jesus that he (Paul) was a persecutor of the one who spoke to him--Christ (Acts 9:4, 22:8, 26:15).  He was blinded.  This was no time for rebellion against the God who was speaking out of heaven nor was there any inclination on Paul's part to be rebellious.  I think we all understand that clearly.  Paul's only response after knowing it was Jesus who was speaking was, "What shall I do, Lord?' (Acts 22:10 NKJV)

Virtually every denomination in the land according to their idea of what it means to be justified by faith has to have Paul saved right then and there.  He has all the faith any man will ever have.  He is most certainly penitent.  Nevertheless, Jesus' response to Saul's question, "what shall I do, Lord," is "arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do" (Acts 22:10 NKJV) or as recorded in Acts 9:6, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (NKJV)  Does must mean must?

Jesus sent the man Ananias to Saul in the city of Damascus to tell Saul those things which were appointed for him to do.  One wonders what it was Ananias had to tell Saul.  Was it Saul's mission to be?  No!  How do I know?  I know because Saul had already been told that by Jesus on the Damascus road.  Read Acts 26:16-18.  He was told he was being made a minister, to be sent to the Gentiles, to turn them from darkness to light.  It is true Ananias did reiterate what Jesus had already told Saul (Acts 22:14-15) but that was all it was--a retelling of what Saul had already been told by Jesus directly.

The best way to find out why Ananias was sent to Saul is to read what Jesus and Ananias had to say about it.  Jesus said it was so Saul "might receive his sight." (Acts 9:12 NKJV)  Ananias said Jesus "has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  The only other comment we have on why Ananias was sent to Saul is found in Acts 9:6 and Acts 22:10 both quoted two paragraphs above. 

So what was it that Saul was told by Ananias that he (Saul) was appointed to do that Saul did not already know from having heard it from Jesus himself?  Was it a specific geographic area he was to move to in order to begin his ministry?  If so there is no mention of it in the scriptures.  There was but one thing at that specific point in time he was told by Ananias that he was appointed to do.  "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16 NKJV)

But, wait, that cannot be.  He was justified by faith alone when he was converted on the road to Damascus.  Says who?  Did your Bible tell you that or was it your denominational pastor?  Perhaps it was your religious heritage that told you.  Paul was certainly justified by faith but when and where is the matter to be decided and not just assumed.  Now I do not debate for a single second that Paul's heart was changed on the road to Damascus but did that change his state is the question?

Let me illustrate.  A young man and a young woman begin keeping company with one another and fall in love.  They become fully committed to one another and to no other.  Their faith in one another and love for one another becomes as solid as it can get.  Yet, the marriage date is down the road a few weeks.  Their hearts have been changed but not their status, not until the marriage ceremony is performed. 

Christians are married to Christ.  "Therefore, my brethren, you also have become dead to the law through the body of Christ, that you may be married to another--to Him who was raised from the dead, that we should bear fruit to God." (Rom. 7:4 NKJV)  But, one is not married until he/she is married despite the feelings of the heart.  Baptism seems to be the marriage ceremony (so to speak) of the disciple with Christ. 

Paul himself says we die in baptism (Rom. 6:4) and walk in newness of life upon our baptism, read all of Rom. 6:1-8.  This means our state or status is changed at baptism.  He says Christ cleansed the church "with the washing of water by the word." (Eph. 5:26 NKJV)  The washing of water is certainly baptism.  One might ask cleansed the church of what but the answer is obvious--sin.  Was Paul ever washed in water and cleansed of sin?  Ananias told him to be (Acts 22:16) and the Bible says he was (Acts 9:18).  When one has been cleansed of sin his status with God has been changed.  His state has changed.  He is now a Christian.

A very close relative of mine use to say there was nothing in water to cleanse from sin.  One might just as well say there was nothing in water to cleanse Naaman of leprosy either (see 2 Kings 5).  But, you see when God tells you to do something saying you will receive a certain blessing upon acting by faith and doing as he says you will get the result you seek by such faith and obedience.  The God who made the world is able to make good on his promises.

The real key to water for both Naaman, Paul, you, and me is nothing in the water itself (other than God's promise--God's promise is there) but God acting on our behalf when we act by faith upon the command he gave.  To Naaman it was the promise of the healing of a physical disease upon dipping 7 times in the Jordan River.  For you and me it is the promise of the remission of sins upon baptism.  "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins." (Acts 2:38 NKJV)  "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God." (Jesus, John 3:5 NKJV)

Paul most certainly was justified by faith but Paul knew when that happened and if we would read the things Paul wrote on the subject and would consider them as closely as we should we would realize it just as well.  "According to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit." (Titus 3:5 NKJV)  The washing here is baptism and it is called the washing of regeneration which means (the word means) rebirth thus a washing resulting in a new birth.

The old Paul, the man of sin, died to sin (Rom. 6:2) when he was baptized into Christ's death (Rom. 6:3) having been crucified with him (Rom. 6:6).  Paul says, "if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him" (Rom. 6:8 NKJV) but we died with Christ by being "baptized into his death." (Rom. 6:3 NKJV)  When we are baptized on the basis of faith we come up out of the water to "walk in newness of life." (Rom. 6:4 NKJV)  We have been born again, born of water and the Spirit (John 3:3, 5).

One really ought to also consider Paul's state of mind at that point in time prior to Ananias' arrival on the scene.  He was not yet an inspired man.  He knew he had been told to go into Damascus and wait for further directions and he knew of the vision he had of "a man named Ananias coming in and putting his hand on him, so that he might receive his sight." (Acts 9:12 NKJV)  When Ananias does come he tells Paul that Jesus has sent him to him (Acts 9:17).  Paul has no problem believing this because it corresponds with the vision he has had and also because of what he had been told by Jesus himself on the road to Damascus.  He is expecting further enlightenment from God and knows God had told him in a vision a man was coming called Ananias.

Now here is the point.  Is Paul in any frame of mind to doubt the message that Ananias delivers to him?  To ask is to answer.  When Paul was told to arise and be baptized to wash away his sins did Paul doubt he had sins to be washed away?  Did he believe at that point in time that baptism was just a figure, a symbol, or a representation of a salvation already received?  Now be honest with yourself before you answer that.  A man comes from God and gives you this message and you know full well he was sent from God and you are going to do what--doubt him and his message?  I don't think so!

Here is a point that is often overlooked at is relates to justification by faith and baptism, tying them together, and which pretty much proves the point I am trying to make relating to Paul's conversion.  Speaking of the baptism taught and practiced by John the Baptist the Bible says, "The Pharisees and lawyers rejected the counsel of God for themselves, not having been baptized by him (by John--DS)." (Luke 7:30 NKJV)  In Mark 11:30 Jesus asks the question, "The baptism of John--was it from heaven or from men?  Answer me." (NKJV)  This was said by Jesus to those who confronted him in the temple.  Now watch closely as the Bible describes their thinking as they contemplate a response to Jesus"And they reasoned among themselves, saying, 'If we say, 'From heaven,' he will say, 'Why then did you not believe him?' " (Mark 11:31 NKJV)  This shows that one who believed was baptized.  One who did not believe was not baptized.  Those who did not believe and obey were certainly not justified by faith and it has always taken faith to save a man.

Now apply the same reasoning to the baptism Jesus gave as a part of the Great Commission (Matt. 28:18-20, Mark 16:15-16).  Is one going to be so daring as to claim he is justified by faith all the while disbelieving and disobeying Jesus on the subject of baptism?  Jesus commanded baptism (Matt. 28:19), promised that those who believed and were baptized would be saved (Mark 16:15-16), and said that "unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God" (John 3:5 NKJV).  If a man sinned and was condemned for not believing and obeying the baptism taught by John then one must remember one far greater than John is found in Jesus the Son of God.  A man was not justified by any kind of faith while rejecting John's baptism.  Is it now somehow different with Jesus' baptism?  I would hate to have to make that kind of argument but it is the very argument a man must make who believes justification by faith has nothing to do with baptism and is not essential to salvation.  

I have one other question to ask then I bring this article to a close.  The Bible says one reason Ananias was sent to Saul was that he might be "filled with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 9:17 NKJV)  My question is this--what part did Ananias have to play in that?  Only Jesus could baptize men with the Holy Spirit.  True the apostles had the power to lay hands on others and impart spiritual gifts but only Jesus could baptize in the Holy Spirit.  So, the question remains what role did Ananias have to play in that?  He was not an apostle, had no power to impart spiritual gifts, and he had no power to baptize a man with the Holy Spirit. 

The answer has to be only one thing.  He told Paul what to do in order to become a Christian.  Paul had faith, had repented, was willing to confess Jesus, but had not yet been told about taking the final step into Christ--baptism.  It is Christians that God gives the Holy Spirit to.  The only time in Christian history (which is Pentecost onward) a non-Christian was baptized with the Holy Spirit was the case of Cornelius and his household and there was a specific reason behind that just as there was a specific reason God directly intervened to make Paul a believer and convert him.  Ananias helped Paul be filled with the Holy Spirit by telling him what else God had appointed for him to do, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins." (Acts 22:16 NKJV)  When that was done Paul had put away the old man and put on the new man (the Christian man) and the Holy Spirit was given.

You say how can I be sure?  Ask yourself some questions.  What was keeping Jesus from filling Paul full of the Holy Spirit on the road to Damascus?  Since Jesus baptizes with the Holy Spirit directly from heaven (day of Pentecost and the apostles, Cornelius and his household) what does he (Jesus) need Ananias for?  Why wait on Ananias?  There was only one reason.  Paul needed to hear the completion of the first gospel sermon ever preached by man (Acts 2:38)--Peter's on the Day of Pentecost.  Peter was not there to preach it but Ananias was.  He needed to be told that he had sins that needed to be remitted or as Ananias phrased it washed away and needed to be told how to do that.  He needed to be cleansed in God's sight.  Then the Holy Spirit could be given.

[To download this article or print it out click here.]




No comments: