Acts by Gary DeLashmutt (1995)

Saul's Conversion

Photo of Gary DeLashmutt
Gary DeLashmutt

Acts 9:1-22



Christianity believes in the necessity of conversion.  Yet many people misconceptions about just what Christian conversion is.  Today we will examine the most important conversion in Christianity--Saul’s--and learn what conversion is all about.

BEFORE: Saul viewed Jesus as a false Messiah and Christianity as a false and dangerous movement.

He led the charge against its most dangerous theologian.  Review his role in Stephen’s execution (7:58; 8:1).

But he didn’t stop there.  He led the persecution in Jerusalem.  Read Acts 8:3; 22:4; 26:9-11.

But even this wasn’t enough.  He then took the persecution extra-local.  Read Acts9:1,2. 

Saul was not a policeman just following orders--he was a man personally obsessed with wiping the Christian movement out in the name of God (“ravaging” 8:3; “breathing threats and murder” 9:1; “destroyed” 9:21; “furiously enraged” 26:11).  Like RABIN’S ASSASSIN and ISLAMIC TERRORISTS, he was filled with hatred and initiated violence justified by religious conviction.

AFTER: Yet just a few days later we read 9:19b-22.  He had become a zealous advocate of the very movement he had tried to destroy.

>> What happened?  How did Saul’s perspective and life-direction shift so radically?  The answer is given in vs 3-19a...

What happened?

Read vs 3.  This blinding light was not a flash-bulb at night.  Acts22:6 says it happened at mid-day, when the sunlight is already brilliant.

Read vs 4.  Saul’s answer (read vs 5a) shows how convinced of Christianity’s falsehood he was.  He knew that he was addressing a superior person, but it couldn’t be Jesus (he was convinced Jesus was dead), and it couldn’t be God (he was convinced God was leading him to Damascus).

The answer he got shattered his life (read vs 5b).  Imagine what must have raced through his mind in this instant:

The man he thought was a dangerous heretic is the Messiah!

The people he was persecuting in the name of God were God’s people!

These people didn’t deserve to die--he did!

Read vs 6.  He probably understood this in an ominous way--the prisoner-taker was being taken prisoner!  Read vs 7-9.  No wonder he didn’t eat or drink for three days!  He probably kept remembering his persecution and Jesus’ words, and he prayed (vs11b)--probably for the Lord’s mercy...(evidently saved by vs 17)...

Read vs 10-12.  This is obviously a different Ananias than the one in chapter 5.  Read vs13,14: “Are you sure you know what you’re doing here?  Why not leave  him alone--or send someone else?”  Read vs 15,16.  This is Paul’s apostolic commission...

Read vs 17-19a.  “Brother” and laying hands on signify acceptance and solidarity.  Saul publicly identifies himself with Jesus by having Ananias baptize him.

How typical was his conversion?

>> “Is Saul’s conversion the norm for all Christian conversions?”  When we evaluate his conversion in light of what the rest of the Bible says about this subject, we find that it has both atypical and typical aspects.

ATYPICAL: He experienced a supernatural appearance of Jesus (light; voice), which may have been the last such appearance until Jesus’ return (1Cor.15:8).  He also was blinded by Jesus’ appearance and then healed.  He was also chosen and commissioned as an apostle (official and authoritative spokesman), which we are not.

This should free you up from feeling like such experiences are necessary to convert to Christianity.  On the phenomenological level, my own conversion was the antithesis of Saul’s.  I saw no light, I heard no heavenly voice, I felt no overwhelming emotion, etc.

TYPICAL: As different as some of the elements Saul’s conversion were, the most important aspects of it are common to every single person who comes to Christ.

It is initiated by Jesus.  The account leaves us in no doubt about this.  Paul’s own reflections also confirm this (Gal.1:13-15; Phil.3:12 “laid hold of”). 

This is the way the Bible says it is for all of us.  We would never come to Christ if he didn’t come out after us.  Even when you begin to search for God (as some of you are doing now), it is because he has already been drawing you in a variety of ways which usually become clearer to you after you come to Christ (ME).  This leads to the second observation...

It is the result of a process.  Even though Saul’s conversion was dramatic, it was still the result of a process leading up to that point.  In Acts 26:14, Jesus says before identifying himself, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”  Farmers used goads to break in wild young bulls.  Jesus is saying that he has been prodding Saul for sometime, but Saul has been resisting him.  How was he doing this?

Certainly Stephen’s teaching and martyr’s testimony must have affected him.  He must have known that Stephen had bested him in their theological debate (6:10).  He must have been unsettled by Stephen’s defense and indictment, and by the way he went to his death.

It is also possible that he had seen and heard Jesus during his public ministry.  He would have definitely been familiar with his miracle ministry and claims.

So Jesus had been prodding him for some time before he appeared to him.  Perhaps this explains Saul’s extreme hostility--he was fighting off conviction in this way.  Many of you are experiencing this same tension--being attracted and convicted to receive Christ, while at the same time feeling deep aversion about doing that.

It involves our free choice.  Even though Jesus took the initiative and laid hold of him in a dramatic way, Saul was not turned into a robot--he had a choice in how he responded.

By posing the question in vs 4, he was appealing to Saul’s mind and conscience.  By answering the way he did in vs 5, he was calling on Saul to make a rational, conscientious and free decision to follow him as his Messiah.  Saul could have said, “No!”

In the same way, no matter how powerfully Jesus reveals himself to you, he will not overwhelm your free will.  You will not wake up some morning and find that you now believe.  He will appeal to your mind and conscience, and call on you to make a decision to follow him...

What did he learn?

>> Saul learned three truths through his conversion that forever changed his life.  And they will change yours, too, if you learn them...

He learned, obviously, that Jesus is alive

Prior to this encounter, Saul probably subscribed to the official explanation of the empty tomb--Jesus’ disciples stole the body while they were sleeping (Matt.28:11-15). 

This explanation was pretty stupid.  How could these guys overpower a crack Roman squad?  And how did they know who stole the body if they were sleeping?

But now he knew that Jesus was alive, and not merely resuscitated--but resurrected and glorified.

Ever since the empty tomb, people have tried unsuccessfully to explain away the only rational explanation.  We don’t have time to go into this today, but I would like to point to another line of evidence for Jesus’ resurrection--Saul’s conversion.  How do you explain how this man’s beliefs and direction changed so dramatically and so quickly (cf. Phil.3:4-8)?  The explanations offered take more faith to believe than Saul’s (HEAT-INDUCED HALLUCINATION: asking hallucination to identify itself; NERVOUS BREAKDOWN: victims don't seek out stressful situations like vs 19b-22; EPILEPSY: doesn’t effect moral transformation).

So what?  Because Jesus is alive, he can meet you personally!  It is the same risen Jesus who says Rev.3:20.  This is what it means to convert to Christianity--to personally meet the living Jesus and begin a relationship with him.  Not to “get religion”--Paul already had religion.  He lost his religion and replaced it with a relationship with Christ.  He didn’t embrace a philosophy--he met a Person.

He also learned that God is a God of grace.

Contrast what Saul deserved and expected (judgment and death) to what he actually got (forgiveness and commission).   Jesus chose his worst enemy to become his “chosen instrument!”  This overturned his rabbinic theology which centered around works.

This is what the Bible calls grace--God dealing with us not on the basis of what we deserve, but rather on the basis of his love.  He can give us what we don't deserve (forgiveness and acceptance) because Jesus was willing to take what he didn’t deserve (punishment for our sins).

Saul is the preeminent example that no one has been so sinful or wicked that God is unwilling to forgive him or unable to transform him.  Read 1Tim.1:12-16.  The only thing that prevents God’s grace from doing the same for you is your unwillingness to receive it from Christ...

He also learned that Christians are members of Christ’s body.

Misread 9:4 - “Why are you persecuting my followers?”  Instead, he asked “Why are you persecuting me?”  There is an actual spiritual union between each true believer and Jesus, and therefore between each other.  This is why Paul later said Rom.12:5.

And since this is true, walking with Christ means being vitally involved with other Christians--contributing to their spiritual lives and being willing to receive Christ’s resources through them.

This is probably why Christ decided to heal and commission him through Ananias rather than directly.  One of the first lessons he needed to learn was that his proud self-sufficiency must go--he needed to receive from Christ through his brothers and sisters.

Many of you are stagnated in your walks with Christ because you have not learned or submitted to this truth.  It was the major reason for my own stagnation after receiving Christ, and it was the major reason why I started to grow.  By refusing to be personally involved with other Christians, I was tying Jesus’ hands.  He didn’t change the rules for me, and he won’t for you, either.