Summary: The characteristics of genuine salvation as displayed in Paul’s Damascus Road experience.
A Study of the Book of Acts
Sermon # 17
“The Reluctant Apostle”
Saul has been mentioned three times in our study as a bitter opponent of Christ and his church. (7:58), (8:1), and now in (9:1). Today’s text reintroduces Saul by saying, he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord.” Saul was an orthodox Jew as well as a Pharisee, who saw “the sect of the Nazarene” as a serious threat to the nation of Israel and a great apostasy from the true religion of Jehovah. Saul undoubtedly thought of himself as a defender of Israel, perhaps even seeking to prepare the nation for the promised Messiah. Not content to merely rout out the Christians in Jerusalem, he sought out the authority from the Jerusalem officials to go to Damascus in an effort to keep those Christians who are fleeing from Jerusalem from carrying their religion there. Saul was undoubtedly sincere in his efforts. He is great example of the fact that you can be sincere and be sincerely wrong.
Dr. Luke has already mentioned that many of the priest’s had believed in Jesus Christ. Now we will see the archenemy of the Church, Saul of Tarsus himself coming to faith in Christ. As John Calvin, put it, a wolf was turned first into a sheep and then into a shepherd. This story must be of some importance because we are given three separate accounts of Saul’s conversion; here in Acts 9, again in Acts 22 and once more in Acts 26.
“Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest (2) and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
A dramatic conversion story is good material for interesting personal testimony, and unusual and dramatic conversions still happen, although they are still the minority.
Most people come to Christ without all the drama associated with Saul’s conversion. Yet there are certain characteristics of any genuine salvation experience that can be gleaned from Saul’s conversion story.
First, Genuine Salvation Involves a Personal Encounter with Christ. vv. 3-8
“As he journeyed he came near Damascus, and suddenly a light shone around him from heaven. (4) Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”
There is sudden blindness and an audible voice, but there is also the psychological shock of having your entire belief system undone in an instant. Saul is now confronted by the very God, he sought to defend. In verse four the voice from heaven said in the Hebrew language, “Saul, Saul why are you persecuting me.” These words cause Paul great confusion. Why? Because he knew that it was the voice of God speaking and Paul had been persecuting Christians not God. In fact, Saul thought of his actions against the Christians as service and worship to God. Why was God saying the he was persecuting him? In confusion Paul responded in verse five by saying, “Who are you, Lord.” I am sure he was thinking but I thought I was pleasing you so why are you rebuking me? Then the voice said in the second part of verse five, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting!” He goes on to say in the last part of verse five, “It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” A goad was a stick that was used to poke the oxen to get him moving. Sometimes an ox would kick up his heels at the stick, but such was a futile effort. The goads in Saul’s life included Stephen’s death and testimony as he prayed, “Lord do not hold this sin against them,” as well as the testimonies of the men and women who had bravely refused to deny the Lord, suffering imprisonment and even death instead. These goads kept on prodding the persecutor, and in moments of honesty must have caused Saul to wonder if his attacks on the church were really just. He had to have known that something was wrong, but up unto this point had not been willing to repent. He was undoubtedly oppressed by guilt but he silenced his conscience by giving himself over to even more terrible persecution of the saints.
Saul’s actions reveal the truth that zeal without knowledge is dangerous. In Romans 10:2 Paul writes of his Hebrew brother’s: “For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God,” and I am sure that Paul remembered how zealous he himself was. He continues, “but not according to knowledge. For being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, having not submitted to the righteousness of God.” In other words, the Jews did not believe in Jesus Christ and call upon his name for salvation because they were establishing their own works righteousness, trying to work their way to heaven.