In Acts 7:58 we are introduced to a “young man named Saul.” At this point in his life, Saul was diametrically opposed to “the Way.” He consented to, and played a role in, the stoning of Stephen. Chapter 8 verse 3 speaks of him saying, “As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.” Chapter 9 continues this dialogue on Saul’s persecution of the church, telling us in verse 1, “Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord…” Recalling later, Saul told king Agrippa his purpose was to, “do many things against the Jesus of Nazareth.” The purpose of his life would change. Not through some uncontrollable force, but by Saul’s willing obedience to “the Way” he once persecuted.
Chapter 9 records for us this change in Saul’s life. He went from the young man “dragging off men and women” who professed a belief in Jesus to the man who penned at least 13 inspired epistles. Notice a few points about Saul’s conversion to Christianity.
In verses 3-7 we see a spectacular event take place that altered his life forever. This is not something that would happen every day. I certainly cannot attest to having a heavenly vision from God. Yet, as we will see, it did not negate Saul’s ability to choose his own master.
After three days without food, water, or sight, Saul receives a visitor by the name of Ananias. In verses 11-16, Ananias is told by God to go and visit Saul, and he was to restore his sight. Acts 22 verses 12-16 expound further on the message Ananias was to tell him. Saul was to be a witness to all men, taking the gospel to both Jew and Gentile. First, though, Ananias instructs him to be immersed to wash away his sin (Acts 22:16), explaining that this is how one calls on the name of the Lord.
Perhaps this strikes you as strange as it does me. Why didn’t Jesus tell Saul what his role was, what he had to do to wash away his sins, or remove Saul’s blindness? It wasn’t as though He couldn’t do this. If Saul was a chosen vessel and a critical cog in the machine called the “Way,” why wouldn’t Jesus have added a little extra force in converting Saul?
God never forces man to believe in Him. We receive the word by hearing, and by hearing, we either choose to believe or choose not to believe. Saul had the same choice all men have. Certainly, very few can say that a light shown about them, and a voice from heaven spoke to them, but Saul’s instructions came from the voice of a man. He received the gospel in the same way that all men receive the gospel.
Men on the day of Pentecost, just after Jesus’ ascension witnessed a great miracle, where unlearned men spoke in tongues so that all could understand, though they came from many lands. Yet, it wasn’t the miracle that converted them. Acts 2:37 records, “now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, ‘Men and brethren, what shall we do?’” It was the truth of Jesus, spoken by a man.
God had a design for Saul’s life. The Lord tells Ananias, “…he is a chosen vessel of Mine to bear My name before Gentiles, kings, and the children of Israel.” (Acts 9:15) We would want to think that God’s will dominated Saul’s conversion. However, God chose to give Saul the same opportunity, in the same manner, that He has given all men since Peter’s address on the day of Pentecost. Romans 2:11 explains that there is no partiality with God. Therefore, God allows all men to make the decision for themselves.
Saul had a choice to make. It was going to be impossible to find success kicking against the goads, but that was his choice to make. Saul told king Agrippa, “I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision.” (Acts 26:19) So too the scriptures are open for us to hear. The Lord is eager for us to believe. Who do we choose to serve?
John 1:12-13 But as many as received Him; to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name: who were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.
Luke 16:29-31 Abraham said to him, “They have Moses and the prophets; let them hear them.” And he said, “No, father Abraham; but if one goes to them from the dead, they will repent.” But he said to him, “If they do not hear Moses and the prophets, neither will they be persuaded though one rise from the dead.”
For the benefit of the reader Paul has been addressed as Saul consistently throughout this article. See Acts 13:9.