Saul: An Enemy Becomes a Friend
He is called by two names in the New Testament; "Saul" is his Hebrew name which means "asked for" and was also the name of Israel's first king a thousand years before, and like king Saul, the Saul of the New Testament was also of the tribe of Benjamin. But he is known best by his Roman name "Paul" which means "little." He was born in Tarsus in the region of Cilicia. It is thought that he was born into a favored family for several reasons. First, he was born a Roman citizen (ACTS 16:37). Second, he was privileged to have been instructed under the leading educator of the day, Gamaliel (ACTS 22:3). Thirdly, he was a "Pharisee of Pharisees" and a voting member of the Sanhedrin, which was the ruling council of the Jews (ACTS 26:10). And finally, he was entrusted with authority as a defender of the Jewish faith to imprison any who were found to be Christians (ACTS 22:4). In short, he had everything going for him: Status, privilege, power, respect from others, education and a great potential for advancement. Yes, this man was going to go places; but no one, not even Saul himself, had the faintest idea what the future held. Only the Lord knew that, because He knew Saul's heart and character. He was trustworthy, zealous, noble and he had the integrity to change his life around and even turn it upside down if that proved to be the right thing to do. And that is exactly what happened.
Saul Meets His Enemy
"And I persecuted the Way unto death, binding and putting both men and women into prisons...And it came about that I was on my way to Damascus in order to bring even those who were there to Jerusalem to be punished. And...a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?' And I answered, 'Who art Thou, Lord?' And He said to me, 'I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting'...And I said, 'What shall I do, Lord?' (ACTS 22:4-10). This was certainly an unforeseen turn of events! But it would certainly take something like this to cause a dedicated man such as Saul to turn his whole life in the opposite direction so suddenly. Nothing else can explain the change in Paul's life. As we have already seen, he had everything going for him, and he is about to give it all up for Jesus! He is about to say "good-bye" to his status, prestige and power and "hello" to prisons, persecution and poverty. And after it is all done, he will write about how happy he was to have made such a choice, how spiritually rich and joyful he had become and about how wonderfully bright his eternal future with the Lord would be.
When Was Saul Saved?
"I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has strengthened me, because He considered me faithful, putting me into service; even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. Yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly, in unbelief..." (I TIMOTHY 1:12,13). The Lord extended mercy and saved Saul not by ignoring his sins and transgressions but by sending the word to him. It was still up to Saul to respond by faith to be saved and that is exactly what he did. He had "acted ignorantly, in unbelief" but was not saved until he acted knowingly in belief!
When was Saul saved? Some say on the road to Damascus, as soon as he accepted in his heart as true that Jesus was indeed the Lord. I suppose that this would be about the time he said, "What would you have me to do, Lord?" there on the road. This is a popular view with those who say that salvation is by "faith alone" and if faith alone saves us then that is probably the time Saul was saved.
Of course, it could have been later, at Damascus that Saul actually prayed for Jesus to save him. Some say that to be saved we must "ask the Lord into our hearts". The Bible says that after Saul, who had been blinded by the light, was led to Damascus that "he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank" and that he was "praying" (ACTS 9:8-11). If we are saved by asking the Lord into our hearts then that may well have been when Saul was saved.
Actually, the Bible proves beyond any doubt that Saul was saved at neither of the above mentioned times. He was yet in his sins. After accepting the identity of Jesus as the Son of God and after three days of praying Saul is still without salvation! The Lord told a devout Christian, Annanias, to go and talk with Saul. He was told to lay his hands on Saul so that he might regain his sight because he was God's chosen instrument to take the gospel to the Gentiles (ACTS 9:10-16). Annanias did exactly as the Lord instructed. He told Saul of the Lord's plans for his future. And then, after all this, Annanias, sent by the Lord himself, said the following: "And now, why do you delay? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name" (ACTS 22:16). Saul was not saved until he was baptized to wash away his sins! In this act of obedience he called upon the name of the Lord. This is when the Bible says he was saved.
"Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ have been baptized into His death?" (ROMANS 6:3). This is how Saul later looked at his baptism. It was at that point that he was placed "into" Christ and gained access to the benefits of His death. It was from baptism that he arose to "walk in newness of life" (ROMANS 6:4).
Of course there is no such thing as a literal washing away of sins by the power of water. The "washing away" of sins is another way to say that ones sins are being forgiven. Saul's sins were forgiven when he was baptized, and it was by the power of God. Before Saul's baptism, we find him mourning and fasting. After his baptism, we find him beginning his new life. When Saul was baptized, he was not relying on the water, but on the Lord upon whose name he was calling in the act of faith that the Lord Himself has prescribed (MARK 16:15,16).
By Jon W. Quinn
From Expository Files 8.5; May 2001