During his ministry, Paul wrote that he became all things to all men so that he might save some (1 Cor. 9:22). We use Paul’s ministry as a pattern for our own ministry. Likewise, we must use Paul’s conversion as a pattern for our own conversions. By looking at Paul’s conversion, we will discuss two aspects of conversion. Additionally, we will notice the similarities between his conversion and our own.
The Damascene Road Experience
Multiple times in my life, I have heard that everyone needs to have a Damascene Road experience. This generally refers to an enlightening in one’s life. An enlightening experience is exactly what happened to Paul (named Saul at the time). He literally met the resurrected Jesus, and came to the realization that Jesus wanted him to have. Leading up to his Damascene Road experience, Paul had a purpose in his life. During his Damascene Road experience, Paul had a profound realization.
Paul’s Purpose. During the first great persecution of the church and after Stephen was stoned, Saul (a.k.a. Paul) “made havoc of the church, entering into every house and hailing men and women committed them to prison” (Acts 8:3). So much was Paul convicted that his cause was just and right that he took his mission outside the walls of Jerusalem. He went to the high priest and obtained permission and credentials to travel 225 miles to Damascus from Jerusalem (Acts 9:1-2).
At this point in his life, Paul’s purpose did not demonstrate holiness in any way. He was well meaning, genuine, moral, but devastatingly wrong. Thus is the case with every person who does not obey the gospel of Jesus. Paul writes that those who do not know God and consequently have not obeyed the gospel of Jesus will have vengeance taken upon them with flaming fire (2 Thess. 1:8). Like Paul, many souls are in this predicament: not knowing they are headed to hell with a lofty purpose in their heart and a smile on their face. Like Paul, they need to come face to face with Jesus.
Paul’s Profound Realization. Could you imagine being enveloped in a bright light, then hearing a voice from the light, and knowing that the only way that this could be happening is that God Himself is talking to you? Paul experienced such an encounter (Acts 9:3). According to the inspired account, Paul was asked a question: “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). The purpose of God’s question was to make Paul realize what he was doing and why he was doing it. Jesus knew why, and God never asks a question in order to obtain information. This question informed Paul that he was actually personally persecuting Jesus!
Every human being must come to an understanding of what their life of sin does to Jesus. Sin is the reason Jesus went to the cross in the first place (Rom. 5:1-21)! When we sin it is a personal affront to Jesus. Paul refers to those who have fallen away as crucifying afresh the Son of God and putting Him to open shame (Heb. 6:6). It would stand to reason that those who live in sin are doing the same thing. Many live with a seared and numb conscience through repetition of sin. Yet as we know more about Jesus and God’s Word, our consciences are pricked more and more.
When Paul came face to face with Jesus, he realized that he had been persecuting the Lord. Jesus made a declaration that speaks to every sinner from across the expanse of time: “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the pricks” (Acts 9:5). Let’s think of Paul’s credentials. He was a Hebrew’s Hebrew and a Pharisee (Phil. 3:5). He studied at the feet of Gamaliel, being taught according to the perfect manner of the law (Acts 22:3). Paul had to have been putting the pieces of the puzzle together of his own. This Jesus was the Messiah. How long had Paul kicked against the pricks of his conscience?
Paul’s Damascene Road experience showed who and what he was: a sinner guilty of crucifying the Christ. Every sinner must have this kind of experience before conversion can ever take place. Now that Paul was enlightened, he realized that he must do something to rectify his situation (Acts 22:10).
Calling On The Name Of The Lord
Just because we have our own Damascene Road experience does not mean we are converted. Paul experienced divine blindness on the road to Damascus that caused him to focus on himself and the actions of his lie. We must have our own blindness of a sort that causes us to be introspective and take inventory of our actions and life as well. IF all we have is a Damascene Road experience then we, like Paul, are simply blind and ignorant as to what to do to rectify our current situation (Acts 22:10-11). Paul was totally dependent upon the provision of Jesus to be converted and saved. Jesus provided the way, but Paul had to take action via the proper response.
Jesus’ Provision. Jesus gave Paul instructions to go to Damascus on Strait Street where Paul would wait for a commissioned evangelist to inform him on how to obey the gospel call (Acts 22:10). Just like the evangelist Ananias was personally commissioned by Jesus, Christians today are commissioned by Jesus to find people who are needing to be converted and tell them what they must do (Matt. 28:18-20). Now that Paul received instruction it was up to him to do it.
Paul’s Response. Paul was told to do three things immediately: arise, be baptized, and wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). All three of these things are all included in the necessary act of calling on the name of the Lord. No person has ever been saved outside of calling on the name of the Lord. Paul did exactly what we must do today. Every sinner seeking salvation must get up and take action, submit to being baptized, and wash away his sins. Jesus has provided the way for us to do this. We, like Paul, must take advantage of this precious provision.
To be approved of God, our conversion must be the same as Paul’s. Paul had his Damascene Road experience and took advantage of the provision of Jesus. There is no way on earth to be converted to Jesus unless we follow in Paul’s footsteps. If we do what he did, we can have what he had: salvation.
Tony preaches at the Bay Church of Christ in Bay, AR.