The Day Saul Was Saved
The Day Saul Was Saved
by Jeff May
One of the greatest moments in the history of Christianity is the moment Saul of Tarsus became a Christian. Previously, he was an enemy of Christ and a great persecutor of the church (Gal. 1:13; Acts 8:3). But today he is loved as the apostle Paul, the writer of the vast majority of the New Testament and one of the most dedicated Christians ever. Even non-Christians recognize the impact he had in converting people to the Lord. Indeed, it was a major moment, the day Saul was saved. But when was he saved? At what moment? That becomes an important question because there are a lot of ideas out there about it. They cannot all be right. The Bible has the answer. Let's determine the moment Saul was saved.
He wasn't saved the day Jesus died. Jesus' death is the grounds of our salvation (1st Pet. 2:24; 1st John 2:2). Without His atoning death at Calvary we are lost. Yet, Jesus dying on the cross doesn't automatically save anyone. The cross demands a response and at the time of Jesus' death, Saul has made no response. He was an enemy of the cross.
He wasn't saved while continuing in Judaism. After Jesus' resurrection, Saul continued as a devoted Jew. But when Jesus died, that system of religion was done away with and the only way to be saved was through the cross of Jesus (Ephesians 2:14-16). Saul himself would later say it was useless for him to continue in the Judaism (Phil. 3:4-7; Acts 13:38-39).
He wasn't saved on the road to Damascus. Traveling there to persecute Christians, Saul was struck down to the ground as Jesus appeared to Him (Acts 9:1-9). Many have said that Saul was saved when he had this experience on the road. Even today, some will point to some good feeling or something they saw or a dream as evidence they are saved. We can't base salvation on feelings. Salvation should bring a good feeling but a good feeling is not salvation. Jesus appearing to Saul was a remarkable moment but it was not the moment he was saved. Saul will be saved the same way we are saved. The Bible says the reason Jesus appeared to Him was to make it possible for him to become an apostle and be a witness of the resurrection (Acts 26:16; 1st Cor. 15:8).
He wasn't saved because He called Jesus "Lord". His first use of the word came when he recognized that whoever was speaking to him from the heavens was a person of authority. "Who art thou Lord?", he said (Acts 9:5). Next, he is willing to let Jesus make demands of him as Lord - "Lord, what do you want me to do?" But Saul is not saved at this moment. If he was, Jesus didn't know it because Jesus told him he was to go into the city and "you will be told what you must do" (Acts 9:6). Mandatory instructions for his salvation will be coming in the city. It's not enough to simply call Jesus "Lord" (Matthew 7:21-23).
He wasn't saved because Ananias called him "brother Saul". Some have suggested than when Ananias came to him in the city and called him "brother Saul" it is because he was a brother in Christ. This is not satisfactory because it was common for fellow Jews to call each other "brother". This is what Ananias was doing. Saul himself later called his unconverted fellow Jews "brethren" (Romans 9:1-3). Saul was a brother Jew, but he was not yet a brother in Christ.
He wasn't saved because Jesus called him "chosen". It has been suggested that Saul was saved on the road to Damascus because Jesus called him "chosen" (Acts 9:15). It is true that Jesus was choosing him to take the gospel to the Gentiles but that doesn't mean he was saved yet. Someone can be chosen and still have to meet whatever conditions God lays forth (2nd Thess. 2:13-14). God chose a people to save from the beginning of the world: all those in Christ. But they still have to obey the gospel. Jesus is choosing Saul for a great work but he is not at that moment saved.
He wasn't saved because He prayed. One of the most common things taught today is that to be saved you should pray the sinner's prayer. Interestingly, that prayer is not in the Bible and no one was ever told to pray it. Saul was praying after his soul-shaking experience and continued blindness but his prayer was not what saved him. He will later be stopped from praying and told what to do. If he is saved at this point, he doesn't know it because he is praying and refusing to eat and drink anything. He is still troubled.
Now, we come to the moment. Saul was saved the day his sins were washed away. If he was saved before Ananias arrived, Ananias doesn't know it because he tells him to wash away his sins. In Acts 22:16, Ananias says, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins calling on the name of the Lord." Saul obeyed. His troubled heart is eased and he eats (Acts 9:18-19)! Acts 22:16 teaches so much. If he was saved on the road to Damascus, there would be no sin to wash away and Ananias' command makes no sense. If he was saved while he was praying there is no sin to wash away. If he was saved when he was called "brother Saul" there is no sin to wash away. If he was saved when Jesus called him "chosen" there is no sin to wash away.
Saul was not saved until the day he was baptized into Christ and the Lord washed away his sins. The passage teaches this is the moment when sins are washed away. God does it then. Acts 22:16 does not say, "Arise and be baptized to symbolize that your sins have been washed away." Instead, it says "Arise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord". That's a big difference. In baptism, we are calling on God to do what He promises to do. Ananias' words to Saul match the teachings of Jesus and the apostles (Mark 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; 1st Pet. 3:21).
Let's review what we have seen with Saul.
- He comes to see Jesus for who He really is.
- He realizes instantly how wrong he has been.
- He wants to know what to do. He wants Jesus to be his Lord.
- The Lord, through Ananias, tells him what to do.
- Saul buries the old man in baptism, has his sins washed away, receives new life and surrenders the rest of his life to the Lord (Romans 6:1-7).
- This great change of life is what repentance is all about.
Are you saved today? Are these things, read today from the Bible, matching what you have done with your life? Why not become a Christian today? Do what Saul did and take your place in the Lord. What a day, glorious day, that will be!