Persecutor of Christ to Proclaimer of Christ - The Unexpected Conversion of Saul
Topic: Salvation Scripture: Acts 9
Guest Preacher – David Wheaton of TheChristianWorldview
Date: Sunday July 25, 2021 Scripture: Acts 9
Title: Persecutor of Christ to Proclaimer of Christ - The Unexpected Conversion of Saul
Saul, Christ, verse, God, Damascus, man, called, people, Paul, religious, Jesus, Acts, saved, regenerate, sins, disciples, Lord, faith, Jerusalem, Christians
Table of Contents
- Saul was religious, but not regenerate. - 8 -
- Paul was unregenerate but not unredeemable. - 11 -
- Paul was regenerated but he was not retired. - 13 -
Today we're going to look at a passage of Scripture, Acts chapter 9, that is always been, I found very compelling is the conversion of Paul or conversion of Saul, I should say, well, we'll get into his name in a second. And this is, I think, one of the most dramatic and unexpected conversions in all of Scripture. You have the conversion of Saul here who would, like I said, be later become known as the apostle Paul, this man would write 13 of the 27 books of the New Testament, nearly half the books, no other biblical author is even close. The apostle John is second with five books.
Pastor John MacArthur, who Ace knows well, said this about Paul: "more than any other individual, Paul was responsible for the spread of Christianity throughout the Roman Empire. His three missionary journeys and trip to Rome, turned Christianity from the faith that included only a small group of Palestinian Jewish believers into an empire-wide phenomenon."
You can even expand that out to today, here we are 21 centuries later, still talking about this man, the apostle Paul and what he wrote in the Word of God.
He was born around 5 A.D. in a town called Tarsus. This was an important city, in modern day Turkey. His parents were Jewish, but they were also Roman citizens, which was a really coveted benefit at that particular time. And it would really help Saul, who became Paul, as he traveled on his missionary journeys a gave him access to areas that he wouldn't have had if he hadn't been a Roman citizen. So Saul was his Jewish name, and he was called that even well after his conversion.
But then when he began proclaiming Christ and went on these missionary journeys to talk about Jesus Christ to the Gentiles in the Roman world, he went by his Roman name, Paul. He was likely raised in an affluent or semi-affluent family, well-educated.
His family moved to Jerusalem when he was young, where he would eventually study under the world-renowned, or at least at the time, one of the most famous rabbis of all time Gamaliel, he was considered the greatest teacher of Judaism. And Saul became a Pharisee, which was a very strict sect of Judaism. They fastidiously kept the Old Testament laws, they along with another religious sect called the Sadducees.
And by the way, those two groups were opposed to each other in doctrines in many ways. They somehow combined together to form the ruling religious elite in Israel. Saul was highly intelligent and highly educated, (which don't always go together - sometimes.)
He was highly religious, he disdained Christians because he believed that Christ was a false messiah. He believed that Christ was a liar, a poser, a blasphemer. And thus, true Christ-followers were leading people astray. Now interesting enough, this is something that we often don't think about that Christ and Paul live somewhat concurrently. But the Scripture never indicates that they cross paths in life. Christ having been born maybe eight or 10 years before Saul was born. They never crossed paths in life -- that is until Paul was on that road to Damascus. And he was on that road to Damascus to to go to arrest and imprison Christians. And this took place around the year A.D. 33 - A.D. 34. Just a few years after Christ had ascended into heaven.
Christ appeared to Saul on that road and Saul's life --the rest of his earthly life and his eternity, were changed forever. Saul never married. He never had children. He was completely rejected and persecuted by his former religious peers after he came to saving faith. He traveled all over the Roman Empire proclaiming that Jesus is the Son of God. He started churches, he discipled pastors, he inspired letters of Scripture, as we talked about, and generally left a path of saved souls wherever he went.
The chief persecutor of Christ became the chief proclaimer of Christ, but he also became the chief persecuted as well. He was regularly beaten, falsely accused, he was imprisoned and finally martyred in Rome around A.D. 65 -- tradition says he was beheaded. His dedication to Christ still impacts believers and non-believers all over the world -now 21 centuries later.
So what was the background leading up to Paul's or Saul's conversion in Acts chapter 9? So we're going to take a sprint through the first eight chapters of the book of Acts just to have some context. So if you have your Bible let's, let's go to Acts chapter 1, you're going to be flipping pages here really quick, so be ready to turn the pages as we go through this.
We'll just read a couple of select passages there and give you a good flavor for what led to this just amazing and most unexpected conversion of, of Saul. In Acts chapter 1 (Acts 1:9-11) we find that Jesus is finished with His earthly ministry, and He ascends into heaven, the disciples are left looking in the air, watching Christ...what a moment that must have been --to see Christ ascend back to His Father in heaven, the Church Age begins (the church being the body of Christ-followers on Earth.)
Turning over to Acts 2 -- 50 days after Christ's crucifixion. God sends His Holy Spirit and empowers the disciples of Jesus to do miraculous things such as boldly preaching, even in languages they don't even know. The apostle Peter preaches a sermon to the Jews and, and 1000s of people become followers of Christ. I mean, what amazing evangelism this is!
Look in Acts 2: 38-42. Peter said to them, Acts 2:38,
38 Peter said to them, “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 2:38)
41 So then, those who had received his word were baptized; and that day there were about three thousand souls added. (Acts 2:41)
Jewish religious leaders were having a fit about this. 3000 people being added to following these disciples. They had just arranged for Christ's crucifixion. They had thought they were done with Him. Now 1000s of people are being influenced and coming to faith in Him. This is their worst nightmare. This is diminishing their own influence and they just cannot have this.
Turn over to Acts 3 in our sprint through the first eight chapters. In this chapter on the on the way to the temple to pray, two of Christ's disciples - Peter and John - heal a lame man, a lame beggar.
Look at Acts 3:6,
6 Peter says, “I do not possess silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you: In the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene--walk!” 7 And seizing him by the right hand, he raised him up; and immediately his feet and his ankles were strengthened. 8 With a leap he stood upright and began to walk; and he entered the temple with them, walking and leaping and praising God. (Acts 3:6-8)
People are just understandably, amazed at what's taking place. Peter, Peter goes on from this healing to preach a second sermon to the Jews. And this time, these Jewish religious leaders are going to step in to stop it.
Turn over to Acts chapter 4. They arrest Peter and John. And they bring them before this Sanhedrin council where you have the high priest and the Pharisees and the Sadducees all together.
Look at Acts 4:7,
7 “When they had placed them” (Peter and John) “in the center” (center of the room), “they began to inquire, “By what power, or in what name, have you done this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers and elders of the people, 9 if we are on trial today for a benefit done to a sick man, as to how this man has been made well, 10 let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel, that by the name of Jesus Christ the Nazarene, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead--by this name this man stands here before you in good health. 11 He is the STONE WHICH WAS REJECTED by you, THE BUILDERS, but WHICH BECAME THE CHIEF CORNER stone.” (And then there's this verse 12, which is one of my favorite passages) “12 And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.” (Acts 4:7-12)
That was true back then and is just as true today. There's no other name given among men by which we must be saved. The apostles have seen, Peter and John, and the apostles have seen this, this Risen Christ and now they are empowered by the Holy Spirit, do you really think they're going to stop talking about this? Not a chance.
Turn over to Acts 5, where there are more conversions, more people coming to saving faith, more miracles, more persecution.
Verse 12 (Acts 5:12),
12 At the hands of the apostles many signs and wonders were taking place among the people; (Acts 5:12)
and these signs and wonders…God gave them the power to do this -- to validate what they were saying that this is really real. But what these people can do, only God can do things like this.
14 And all the more believers in the Lord, multitudes of men and women, were constantly added to their number, (Acts 5:14)
16 Also the people from the cities in the vicinity of Jerusalem were coming together, bringing people who were sick or afflicted with unclean spirits, and they were all being healed. (Acts 5:16)
Can you imagine something like this taking place today in Jerusalem? Verse 17
17 “But the high priest rose up,” (again, they're not going to take this -- they can't have this) “along with all his associates (that is the sect of the Sadducees), and they were filled with jealousy.” (Diminishing influence, jealousy) “18 They laid hands on the apostles and put them in a public jail. (Acts 5:17-18)
Verse 19, another miracle…
19 But during the night an angel of the Lord opened the gates of the prison, and taking them out he said, 20 “Go, stand and speak to the people in the temple the whole message of this Life.” (Acts 5:19-20)
Tell them about Jesus. They do. They get arrested again.
And finally, the religious leaders tell them in verse 28 of chapter five,
“We gave you strict orders not to continue teaching in this name, and yet, you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and intend to bring this man’s blood upon us.” (Acts 5:28)
Verse 29, sorry, I started in verse 28, verse 29,
29 But Peter and the apostles answered, “We must obey God rather than men. 30 The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom you had put to death by hanging Him on a cross. 31 He is the one whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins. (Acts 5:29-31)
Now at this constant push back now from Peter and John and the others, they, the religious leaders, can't take this. They intend to kill them at this moment, but interestingly enough, Saul's rabbi, the one who taught Saul, when he was a boy, steps in. Gamaliel steps in and says this in verse 38, Acts 5, he encourages, tells the rest of the council:
“…stay away from these men and let them alone, for if this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; 39 but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.” (Acts 5:38-39)
Man spoke truth there. We don't know if he ever came to saving faith, but he certainly spoke truth in that moment.
Turn over to Acts 6, a disciple named Steven enters the narrative in Acts 6. He performs again great signs and wonders and, like before, he's arrested. (Acts 6:8)
Turn now to Acts 7 as we make this sprint through the first eight chapters. We are almost done with this sprint. Steven addresses the Sanhedrin council after he's arrested. And in his defense, he gives this brilliant history of Old Testament Israel, and how they had repeatedly disobeyed the Lord. And then he concludes in verse 51 of chapter seven by saying this.
“You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. 52 Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One,” (Jesus) “whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; 53 you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51)
This is courageous, bold preaching. I mean, he's talking to people that want to put him to death. As pastor Steve Lawson likes to say, “The problem with preachers today is no one wants to kill them anymore.”
This was not the case with Steven. The boiling point now in this crescendo in Acts has been reached the, the jealousy, the resentment, the anger has now turned to hatred, and hatred, as we know from Scripture always eventually if left unchecked, turns to murder.
Look at verse 54 of chapter seven.
54 Now when they heard this,” (they, the Sanhedrin, the religious leaders) “they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him.” (Stephen) “55 But being full of the Holy Spirit, he” (Stephen) “gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; 56 and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” 57 But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. 58 When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. 59 They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” 60 Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep. (Acts 7:54-60)
He died. A young man here named Saul makes his first appearance in all of Scripture. He is seen here holding the clothes of those stoning Stephen. In other words, he's in charge, and his thugs are doing his dirty work.
Turn over to Acts 8, which starts out this way in the very first verse.
8:1 Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him (Stephen) to death. And on that day a great persecution began against the church in Jerusalem, and they were all (they being believers) “scattered throughout the regions of Judea and Samaria…” (Acts 8:1)
3 But Saul began ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison. (Acts 8:3)
Saul enters Scripture, and all we see him doing is holding the clothes of those who are stoning Stephen of hearty agreement with putting the death of, of entering house after house and ravaging the church. This Saul, he's a very wicked man, he's a persecutor of Christians - an accomplice to murder. Just let that sink in for a second.
The most noteworthy New Testament Christian made his name persecuting Christians. But the persecutions he was leading -- he didn't understand this. He was ignorant of this probably. But it is always the case when you when you persecute the followers of Christ, it's like blowing on a dandelion --the seeds just go everywhere and begin to grow elsewhere. And that's exactly what happened.
Which brings us to our chapter for today, Acts chapter 9 and the amazing story of Saul's conversion. The chapter opens with Saul taking his persecution of Christians on the road, traveling to Damascus, which is about 160 miles northeast of Jerusalem, still a prominent city in Syria today. Christ-followers were there because they were fleeing this persecution that Saul was leading in Jerusalem. So we're going to read the first 22 verses of Acts to get an overview of this account of Saul's conversion, this amazing unexpected conversion from a persecutor of Christ, to a proclaimer of Christ.
Acts chapter 9, verse 1,
9:1 Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, 2 and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound” (arrest them) “to Jerusalem. 3 As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” 7 The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. 8 Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. 9 And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.
10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias; and the Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Get up and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him, so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much harm he did to Your saints at Jerusalem; 14 and here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on Your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; 16 for I will show him” (Saul) “how much he must suffer for My name’s sake.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened.
Saul Begins to Preach Christ
Now for several days he was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:1-22)
The Anointed One, the Messiah. This account, this true story, has to be one of the greatest 180 degree U-turns in the history of the world. So how does this happen? How does someone go from being a persecutor of Christians to becoming the foremost proclaimer of Christianity? And how is Saul's conversion even relevant for us here in the year 2021?
I think there are three takeaways that I'd like to point out today. The first takeaway is this. That
What does it mean to be religious but not regenerate? It means you believe in God. It means you believe that your life is pleasing to God. But in reality, you're not right with God. Being religious, but not regenerate is the absolute most dangerous state of being. It is really the ultimate in self-deception. The dictionary defines the word regenerate as “reformed or reborn as in a spiritual or moral sense”, reformed or reborn. But biblically, this word regenerate means more than reformed, you know changed or improved…reborn is the more accurate term.
It's not reborn physically because we can't be reborn physically, but it's being born spiritually. It's what Jesus meant in that passage when He was talking to another Pharisee, Nicodemus, and in John chapter 3, when he told him in John chapter 3
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again” (made regenerate, regenerated) “he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
So how was one born again? How was one made regenerate, regenerated? Well, the same man who has just regenerated -- Saul, when he was called the apostle Paul, wrote in his letter to the Ephesians church in Ephesians 2:1, he said,
2:1 “And you were dead” (he’s talking about believers before they come to saving faith) “in your trespasses and sins, (Eph 2:1)
He says that in verse one, but in verse four, he says,
4 But God, being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, 5 even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (Eph 2:4)
There it is, you're dead in your transgressions means you're born spiritually dead, and you continue in that -- you're spiritually dead, then God or but God intervenes in a life and makes that person alive together with Christ. You're spiritually born. You go from spiritually dead, to spiritually born, and as a result of God intervening in one's life.
So saying Saul was religious, but not regenerate means he sincerely believed in God, he was convinced that his life pleased God, but in fact, he was opposing God, because he was not born again. He was spiritually dead. It was evidenced that he was opposing God by the fact that he was out persecuting followers of God. I mean, what a terrible place to be in life. I mean, what can be worse than believing you're on the narrow way to heaven when in fact, you were on the broad road to hell?
You know Jesus Himself described this state of religious but not regenerate. In Matthew chapter 7 in the Sermon on the Mount -- some people call this the scariest passage in Scripture. Jesus says,
“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heaven will enter. 22 Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles?’ 23 And then I” (Jesus) “will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; DEPART FROM ME, YOU WHO PRACTICE LAWLESSNESS.’ (Matt 7:21-23)
That's exactly the state Saul was in before he came to saving faith, he called God his God, but his works prove that he was not a follower of God. Saul and the Pharisees believed they could earn God's favor through following His laws, very fastidiously, and then even add some of their own just in case. They diligently studied the Scriptures. They did all kinds of religious deeds, they wash their hands in a certain way, they prayed a certain way, and prayed often, they helped the poor -- did all these kinds of religious deeds. They were respected amongst the people. They were perceived as "the good people."
They were sincere, but they were sincerely wrong. They were self-assured, but they were self-deceived. I mean, Saul thought he was doing God's work by arresting Christians. He was convinced of His righteousness.
And this is the way the religious but the not regenerate are. It's a state of being that most people in this world are in… sadly, tragically. Whether professing Christians, or those of other belief systems, other religions, and it's damning, because you're trusting in your own works to earn salvation, rather than trusting in Christ's work, who earned our salvation.
There's a major difference there between trusting in your own works to earn salvation rather than trusting Christ's work on the cross who earned your salvation for you. Because when you put your faith in even an ounce of your own works to be right with God, what you're really saying is that, well, you know, Christ's work on the cross wasn't quite enough. I need to add something to it. I mean, how insulting is that to God who said, Christ paid for all our sins. It's really calling God a liar, to be religious, but not regenerate and trusting in your own works.
In that same passage in Ephesians chapter 2, later on in the passage, the apostle Paul when he became that, he says,
“For by grace” (unearned favor … unmerited favor by God) “you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God” (salvation is a gift); 9 “...not as a result of” (your) “works, so that no one may boast. (Eph 2:8-9)
Now, interestingly, there was no group of people that Christ actually openly rebuked more than the religious but not regenerate. Ever notice how He treated the Pharisees and the Sadducees? I mean, He was just so kind to unbelievers --to those who are caught in sin. He was just so willing to help them, and eat with them, and do whatever with them.
But when it came to the "religious but not regenerate" -- listen to what He says. Just a little compilation here:
- Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites. You shut the door of the kingdom of heaven in people's faces, you yourself do not enter nor will you let those who enter who are trying to (Matthew 23:13).
- He called them blind guides and blind fools in Matthew 23:16-17.
- Like quote "whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside, but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean". (Matthew 23:27)
It was the "religious but not regenerate" who were the ones who arranged for Jesus’ death.
So what changed Saul? What changes anyone from religious alone to religious and regenerate? The answer is simple. It's Jesus Christ, the same Son of God who opened the blind spiritual eyes of Saul in this passage we read, is able to save anyone, anyone who bows before Him in repentant faith, not trusting in their own works, but it only in Christ's work on the cross on their behalf.
Saul’s object of faith changed. From an object of faith in his own works to an object of faith in Christ -- in His work on Saul's behalf. And in the passage that Ace read earlier, just gonna read a couple sentences from that in Philippians, chapter 3, you can see this object of faith changed in Saul's life. Philippians 3:7,
“… I count all things” (Paul writes) “to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things” (Phil 3:8)
He lost everything, to come to saving faith, he counted his previous life and everything he had, and all his religious religiosity, but rubbish, garbage, so that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him. And here it is, not having a righteousness of my own based on my own works, derived from obeying the law. But that which is through faith in Christ, a righteousness, a different righteousness now, a Christ righteousness now, which comes from God on the basis of faith alone, not in my own works.
No one can extract themselves by the way, from being religious, but not regenerated, working harder, being a better... that doesn't work. It takes an act of God, a work of the Holy Spirit in someone's heart, that we must then respond to.
So if you are here today, in this room, it's not an accident, as God ordained and appointed Saul to meet him and convert him and become a follower of Christ on that road to Damascus, you are here for a purpose for a reason to hear this message, not my message, but the message of Jesus Christ.
To obey Jesus command to repent of your sin and believe in the Gospel, to transfer your trust from your own works, to putting your faith, your trust, your belief, in who Jesus Christ is -- the Son of God, and the Savior of mankind and His atoning work on the cross on your behalf -- covering all your sins so you could be forgiven -- and impute (to be given) the very righteousness of Christ, God would see all your past, present, and future sins as covered by Christ's blood. So that you could be entered welcomed into heaven, having the very righteousness of Christ. If you have not done that, I encourage you to do that today, talk with Ace or one of the elders of this church, or me after the service, we will tell you more about this, this simple yet profound means of being reconciled to God.
And God will save you, just as He saved the apostle Paul, Saul.
Takeaway number two. Paul was religious but not regenerate, but takeaway two is Paul was unregenerate, but he was not unredeemable.
And this is the great news. Look at verse 3 of chapter 9 of Acts as he was traveling, we just read
3 … it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; 4 and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” 5 And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, 6 but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” (Acts 9:3-6)
I just get the picture here. Saul is marching down this road to Damascus, all full of confidence, feeling empowered on his religious rightness. The next thing you know, he is flat on the ground before appearing before Lord Jesus Christ. Don't miss this. Saul is not in a state of what the evangelical church today likes to be called a “seeker”. He's not seeking Christ. He is on his way to punish Christians. He's not looking to be saved. He's convinced he knows the truth, and that he's on the right side of history.
Romans 3 (Oh, interestingly, also written by the apostle Paul)
“THERE IS NONE RIGHTEOUS, NOT EVEN ONE;
11 THERE IS NONE WHO UNDERSTANDS,
THERE IS NONE WHO SEEKS FOR GOD; (Rom 3:11)
and Saul was certainly not in that category. Saul's conversion destroys the false notion that we are the initiators of our salvation. The Bible says that Christians are the beneficiaries, the receivers, the gift receivers of God's gift of salvation, but not the determiners of our salvation. Listen to what the apostle Paul wrote again, in Romans 8:29.
Matter of fact, you might want to .
turn to this one because this one's especially powerful. Romans 8:29, where Paul writes about this, what's it called…The Golden Chain of salvation. How our salvation is determined by God from before time began, and is completed by God, by his glorification of believers in the future. Listen to this chain, Romans 8:29,
29 For those whom He foreknew, He also predestined to become conformed to the image of His Son, so that He” (Christ) “would be the firstborn among many brethren; 30 and these” (believers) “whom He predestined, He also called; and these whom He called, He also justified; and these whom He justified, He also glorified. (Rom 8:29)
Foreknew, predestined, called, justified, glorified. Foreknew -- that means He, in advance, God chose those over whom he would bestow His love to save. God predestined -- means He determined in advance those He would save. He called -- the third one -- He called them to be saved. He brought it to pass, He justified them, He declares them righteous (even though they're not) He declares them righteous based on what Christ did for them on the cross, and then eventually, He glorifies them in heaven.
So where exactly is Saul's will in that chain? Or our will, in that golden chain of salvation? This is God's sovereignty in salvation. It's God, God, God, God, God.
And yet the Bible still says we must repent and believe or receive by faith or, or Jesus said that you must be born again. There's something for us to do… there's responsibility by man… and these are like parallel truths, like a train track with two rails going the same direction ending in the same destination.
And no human mind can understand this inscrutable wisdom of God, how God sovereignly chooses those who will be saved…and yet we, we must respond to the call of the gospel, to repent and believe.
The point here is that unregenerate Saul, the persecutor of Christians, was not unredeemable, because God is able, and He does save even the most wicked of sinners.
God had chosen Saul to be saved before time began, and this was the moment (on the road to Damascus) He had ordained to come to pass. Look at verse 15 back in Acts chapter 9, Ananias, the one that came to him in the city, says in Acts chapter 9, verse 15,
15 But the Lord said to him” (Ananias), “Go, for he is” (what?) “a chosen instrument of Mine” (he’s elect) “to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel; (Acts 9:15)
God intervened in Saul's life and saved him and He can do the same for the vilest of sinners. So, if you are here today, and you think that you (or maybe you have someone else in your mind) or maybe a family member who has been resistant forever, or maybe a friend, who you think, Oh, I just can't even imagine that person ever coming to saving faith, they've sinned so much. They're probably beyond God's forgiveness... Please remember, this account of the conversion of Saul. His life was characterized by opposition to God, and God still miraculously saved him.
Look at verse 17, Acts 9s in our text,
17 So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul” (now they are brothers in the Lord) “the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized; 19 and he took food and was strengthened. (Acts 9:17-19)
Any believer here today knows what this is like to have the scales come off your eyes. Why didn't I understand this message before? Why didn’t I understand that I was a sinner and offending God and going the wrong direction. Why did I try to think my religiosity (my religious deeds) would be able to save me? It's so obvious that I can't save myself, I can never do enough good to offset the sin I've already done. I need to be perfect to go to heaven. How can I be perfect? Except apart from God imputing His son's righteousness to me.
Saul didn't even pray a prayer here. There's no evidence of that at least, he didn't walk down an aisle, or he didn't raise his hand in an evangelistic event. He didn't even go to church. He wasn't part of a Bible study. The text just says that when Jesus appeared to him, Saul believed that Jesus is who He says He is… the Son of God and Savior of mankind.
That's how we're saved.
And then after believing we see the scales coming off his eyes, it's like the spiritually blind who all of a sudden have spiritual sight. And understand that, that God has opened their eyes to receive the truth of the gospel. And then Saul gets baptized. Notice the order, conversion then baptism--as a public proclamation of his new identification with Christ.
So Paul was unregenerate but he was not unredeemable, and so you too (or the people we know) are not unredeemable either.
Last takeaway, takeaway number three. Paul was regenerated, but he was not retired.
Saul's conversion to Christ was not a retirement. It wasn't the beginning of his, quote, “best life now”. It was the first day of his new mission to proclaim Christ, the persecutor of Christ had become the proclaimer of Him.
Look at verse 19. Again, in our text, and Acts chapter 9
Now for several days he” (Saul) “was with the disciples who were at Damascus, 20 and immediately he began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues” (what an about face!) saying, “He is the Son of God.” 21 All those hearing him continued to be amazed, and were saying, “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” 22 But Saul kept increasing in strength and confounding the Jews” (his former allies) “who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:19-22)
This is a sure sign of conversion. Saul proclaims Jesus, not some generalized faith in faith, or in generalized view of God, no, he's proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ. And he keeps on saying this. Jesus is the Christ, everywhere he goes for the rest of his life over and over and over again until he's martyred.
This same man wrote in Romans chapter 5, verse 8,
8 But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. (Romans 5:8)
Incredible. Who dies for someone that's constantly offending them? Do you want to die? Do you want to sacrifice your son, for your enemies in life? I don't.
When you realize how much God must have loved you, to save you, you are compelled -- you feel compelled --- as Saul did, to love others enough to tell them this same message that Jesus is the Christ. And that's what Saul did.
But there's a cost to proclaiming Christ boldly in a world that murdered the Son of God. It's not for those who want to retire.
Look at verse 23. We didn't read this earlier, Acts chapter 9, verse 23,
23 When many days had elapsed, the Jews” (had had enough of this by Saul) “plotted together to do away with him,” (because there was cancel culture back then too) “24 but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death; 25 but his disciples took him by night and let him down through an opening in the wall, lowering him in a large basket. (Acts 9:23-25)
These same Jews were formerly the allies of Saul, they were going to help him when he came to Damascus kind of round up these Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem.
And this is what every new believer can expect. And we should really tell them that there's a cost, there's a great reward, and there's great beauty and it's totally worth it. But there might be hardship in this life, there probably will be. This is what you can expect from family members and, and non-believing friends in the world.
But God gives believers, and He gave Saul, a new power, the indwelling Holy Spirit, the very Spirit of God living inside of him, which gave him this great boldness.
And we see this boldness again in verse 26 Acts chapter 9 reading on here
26 When he came to Jerusalem” (now Saul is back in Jerusalem) “, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple.” (I mean, rightfully so. I mean, this man was, you know, having people stoned, believers stoned, and now they're afraid to associate with him.) 27 But Barnabas took hold of him and brought him to the apostles and described to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had talked to him, and how at Damascus he had spoken out” (here’s the word) “boldly in the name of Jesus. 28 And he was with them, moving about freely in Jerusalem, speaking out boldly in the name of the Lord. (Acts 9:26-28)
May that be said about every true believer here today that when we have opportunity to speak about Christ, we would, like the apostle Paul, like Saul speak boldly. Saul didn't retire after becoming a Christian. He was zealous, but in a new way, he was zealous for the cause of Christ. And notice the results here -- the last portion of this chapter will read in verse 31, Acts 9. So what was the result of this boldness?
31 So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria enjoyed peace, being built up; and going on in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it continued to increase. (Acts 9:31)
An evil world, and evil men, do nothing to hold back God's plan for His church.
The next time Saul appears in Scripture is a couple chapters later, in Acts chapter 11, verse 25, when Barnabas (his friend) comes to look for him.
Saul had likely been disinherited from his family at this point for becoming a Christian, even forced to leave home, he lost everything. And think of this man with great reputation, great education, that best education that he could get the time he's on his own. Two chapters later in Acts 13, he began his missionary journeys to the Roman world. And from that point on, then he would be referred to as Paul
It was beneficial to him now in the Roman world to have a Gentile name. But here is how Paul described his life. In another one of his letters in Scripture, in 2 Corinthians chapter 11.
“…I was imprisoned, beaten times without number, often in danger of death. 24 Five times I received from the Jews thirty-nine lashes. 25 Three times I was beaten with rods, once I was stoned, three times I was shipwrecked, a night and a day I have spent in the deep.” (and survived in the water) “26 I have been on frequent journeys, in dangers from rivers, dangers from robbers, dangers from my countrymen, dangers from the Gentiles, dangers in the city, dangers in the wilderness, dangers on the sea, dangers among false brethren; 27 I have been in labor and hardship, through many sleepless nights, in hunger and thirst, often without food, in cold and exposure. (2 Cor 11:23-27)
And after all of that, finally, Paul was taken to Rome as a prisoner. And tradition says that he was eventually beheaded.
But this was no defeat for Saul, just because it seemed like it ended badly for him. This was no defeat for him. This chief persecutor of Christ turned chief proclaimer of Him. And another one of his letters, Philippians chapter 1. He writes this in verse 21.
21 For to me,” (Paul writes) “to live is Christ and to die is gain. 22 But if I am to live on in the flesh, this will mean fruitful labor for me; and I do not know which to choose.” (to live for Christ or to die for Him.)”23 But I am hard-pressed from both directions, having the desire to depart and be with Christ, for that is very much better;” (that’s how great Heaven is going to be) “24 yet to remain on in the flesh is more necessary for your sake. (Phil 1:21-24)
For to me to live as Christ and to die is gain. Paul knew he had nothing to lose, in following and proclaiming that Jesus is the Christ, and neither does any true believer. So may each one of us ask God to help us have this, this mentality, this mission, this boldness, and this unshakable faith, of Saul, turned the apostle Paul.
Let's pray. Lord, we're just inspired, struck, amazed at how you saved, Saul. But Lord that you saved any of us is just as equally amazing. For we have all sinned and fallen short of your glory, the wages of sin, is justifiably death by You for rebelling against the King of this universe. But God, thank You, that You sent Jesus, to meet Saul on that road and You send Jesus to meet us. So that if we would confess our sins and repent, turn from them, forsake them, and turn to You, Lord, and believe that Jesus is who You proclaimed Him to be (Your Son and the only Savior of mankind) that You would save us. You would forgive our sins, You would grant to us the very righteousness of Christ, and You would promise us a place with You for eternity in heaven. What an incredible blessed assurance and promise today. I thank You for the power and the truth of Your Word, may it be impressed deeply upon our hearts and minds. In Jesus name, amen.