The biblical record of Saul’s conversion is found in three chapters of the book of Acts (Acts 9,22,26). The man was the leading opposer of Jesus’ Cause. One day he left Jerusalem en route to Damascus in order to gather up followers of Jesus and bring them back to Jerusalem to be punished (Acts 22:5). He had no way of anticipating the life change which he would undergo after seeing the risen Christ as he traveled. What an amazing turnaround!
What about Saul’s life before he obeyed the gospel? There is no doubt that Saul was a religious person long before he was Jesus’ servant. He “advanced in Judaism” (Galatians 1:14), yet he was still lost as one outside of the Christ.
Saul was one who had special privileges in the Jewish religion, having been granted “authority and commission from the chief priests” (Acts 26:12). Despite such a high religious position, he was still lost as he made havoc of God’s church.
Without faith in God, one cannot please Him (Hebrews 11:6). Saul certainly believed in God before he became a believer in Jesus (Acts 22:3), but he was still lost as a believer in the one, true God.
Prior to his new birth, not only did Saul believe in God, he believed the Old Testament message, too, “believing all things which are written in the Law and in the Prophets” (Acts 24:14). However, he was still lost outside of Jesus.
In Saul’s pre-Christian days, he followed the traditions of his ancestors (Galatians 1:14). Doing so, however, did not put him into a saved relationship with the Creator. Without Jesus, he was lost.
He said, “I have lived in all good conscience before God until this day” (Acts 23:1). It is admirable that Saul always served God with a good conscience, even before he followed Jesus. Although he had such a conscience, he was still lost until he submitted to Jesus.
Saul was more than a religious person and believer in God. He was not simply going through the motions in serving Jehovah. He was, in fact, one of the most zealous people that you could ever find (Acts 22:3). Even with such notable zeal, he was still lost until he got into the Christ in Damascus.
Saul’s sincerity was unquestionable. Just why did he torment the saints of God? Hear his words: “Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth” (Acts 26:9). Saul was convinced that what he was doing in religious affairs was right. Yet, he was still lost.
It is undeniable that Saul, whom we also know as Paul (Acts 13:9), demonstrated a number of worthy qualities before he became a Christian. Yet, in spite of such, he was still lost when he encountered Jesus of Nazareth on the road on that memorable day!
How did Saul the lost person become a saved man? No one forced him to accept the gospel. Like every other person, he was a free moral agent. There was no miraculous jolt from the Holy Spirit to open his heart.
Saul became a believer in Jesus on the road to Damascus. After Jesus appeared to and spoke to him, Saul asked Him, “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). If he was not convinced that Jesus was the risen Christ, then he would not make such an inquiry. Many Bible students conclude that Saul was saved right there on the road to Damascus. If so, Saul did not know it. He later wrote that he had peace with God through Jesus (Romans 5:1). Look at what Saul was doing after he met Jesus: he did not eat or drink for three days (Acts 9:9). That hardly sounds like the rejoicing response that we see in the eunuch and Philippian jailer (Acts 8:39; 16:34). If Saul was saved when he acknowledged Jesus as Lord, Jesus and Ananias did not know it. Three days later Ananias, commissioned by the Lord, told Saul what he must do to have his sins cleansed.
“But Saul already was praying before Ananias ever arrived to speak to him.” Praying he was (Acts 9:11), but Ananias told him that he still needed to do something in order to have his sins washed away (Acts 22:16). No, prayer did not save the man.
Did Saul manifest a heart of repentance? God commands all sinners everywhere to repent (Acts 17:30), so it is certain that Saul complied with that demand. His going three days without food or drink, coupled with his prayerful disposition (Acts 9:9,12), point to a penitent heart on Saul’s part.
Saul was baptized (Acts 9:18). And what was the purpose of him taking such action? When Ananias came to Saul, he told him, “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). Again, what was the purpose of his being immersed? To wash away his sins. Obviously, if he had sins that needed to be washed away, then he was not saved before being baptized.
Quite simply, Saul heard the word of the Lord, he believed, and he obeyed it. When he submitted to the gospel’s message, he was set free from his past sins (Romans 6:17,18). By God’s grace, He cleansed Saul’s sins by the blood of Jesus, doing so at the time he submitted to water baptism.
God’s way of salvation remains the same today. And Saul? Following his conversion, he immediately began to tell others about the Son of God (Acts 9:20).
— Roger D. Campbell