Articles

Why Did Saul Obey the Gospel

Why Did Saul Obey the Gospel? By Joshua Welch The conversion of Saul of Tarsus must have been important to the Holy Spirit, the source of inspiration behind the Holy Scriptures (2 Timothy 3:16,17). The Spirit inspired Luke to recount the conversion story of Saul three times in the book of Acts (9, 22, 26). Paul's conversion served as a blueprint or "pattern" for "all those who are going to believe on" Christ "for everlasting life" (1 Timothy 1:16). The Spirit made prolific use of Paul's pen as he was inspired to write at least 13 of the 26 New Testament books. After Saul's conversion he took four journeys spanning much of western civilization and preached in at least 32 cities, many of those more than once. He would preach whenever given the opportunity and make opportunities if none were given.

Without Saul's conversion, the church today would sorely miss one of the greatest conversion examples in the entire New Testament and in the history of mankind. The Lord's church needs converts like Saul to serve as a powerful example of courage, boldness and zeal in the Lord's work. The world needs converts like Saul so they might see the fruits of real repentance in action. The benefit of one willing to say, "Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ" can affect scores and generations of people (1 Corinthians 11:1). Yet, based on the modern philosophy of preaching and today's faulty methods of "bringing people to the church", Saul would have never been converted nor will people like him. So, to find converts like Saul, consider the reasons Saul converted.

Not for Tradition's Sake

In the Sunday newspaper there is often a section to advertise the various churches in town titled "Attend the Church of Your Choice." Some churches use their "traditional service" to appeal to the public. Others use their "contemporary service" (for the tradition rebels) as the source of appeal. Catholics and other denominations still use their long-standing tradition as a selling point to keep members and bring others in. Perhaps, members of the church have appealed to the fact that the Lord's church began in 33 A.D. and all of our practices are in keeping with New Testament worship. The latter argument is true and is especially important in comparing denominations to the "one body" of Christ, but it would not have converted Saul of Tarsus, a non-believer in Christ. It will not convert people like Saul of Tarsus today either.

Why not? Saul of Tarsus would not have converted on the basis of tradition, because in his mind, he was part of a greater tradition. In Philippians 3:4-6 he writes, "If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so: circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of the Hebrews; concerning the law, a Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning the righteousness which is in the law, blameless."

Try telling Saul he should become a part of the church because of its great tradition and he would rattle off a list of the greater traditions of the Jews. Try telling Saul he should become a part of the church because they were different and "contemporary" and he would be insulted by your disrespect for the traditions he admired and knew. An appeal to tradition would not have worked then, and will not work now. Jesus made it clear that our "traditions" are usually the product of a rejection of God's commands (Mark 7:6-8).

Not for Money or Business Reasons

In almost every town there is a church or some churches comprised of many of the finest businessmen and businesswomen in the area. Indeed, to a career-oriented person, becoming a part of this church may make good "business" sense. In fact, by looking at the issue from a materialistic point-of-view, it may make better sense to be a member of several of the most popular churches in town! This type of thinking is not only prevalent among members of denominations, but even some Christians have been known to do some name-dropping with, in their minds, their more "prominent" members. "Do you know Dr. So-and-So? He goes to our church." Or, "You know that family with the huge house on the east side of town, they worship with us."

Whether innocent or not, this type of persuasion would not have converted Saul of Tarsus and it will not convert people like him. Again in Philippians 3:7,8 Paul writes, "But what things were gain to me, these I have counted loss for Christ. Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ."

The lost world needs to know that there are no guarantees of material blessings extended by Christ (Luke 14:33; John 16:33). By making those guarantees we appeal to fleshly greed and covetousness (Colossians 3:5; Romans 3:8) The gospel does guarantee "every spiritual blessing" though. Ephesians 1:3 says, "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in Christ..." If Saul was interested in material blessings, he should have stayed a Jew. His financial status was quite well there. The empty promises of the "prosperity gospel" were not the motivation behind his conversion to the Way. He was prospering just fine before he traveled the road to Damascus.

Not for Social or Entertainment Reasons

As members of the family of God, there is a social presence that needs to exist among those who have left the kingdom of Satan (Mark 10:29,30). The 3,000 converts on Pentecost "had all things in common" and their practices included, "breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart..." (Acts 2:44,46). As Christians, the need for hospitality and the sharing of our individual lives is commanded (Romans 12:10,13; Hebrews 13:16). Yet, some have extended this obligation too far. Many use social functions as a reason for obeying the gospel of Jesus Christ. Again, this would have never converted Saul.

In addition, many churches concept of church growth today includes a marketing style approach to worship. With this approach, comes a vastly different style of worship than what we read of in the New Testament. Our worship is rarely considered as an offering to please God (John 4:24). Instead, churches have tried to focus on styles of worship that will please their audience. So, emphasis is often placed on how various "target" groups will find pleasure in the recreation, entertainment and style of worship offered by the church. Everything is about fun, festivals, smiles and show. This approach to Christianity will not convert Saul of Tarsus or people like him.

Believe it or not, many unbelievers already have friends and plenty of entertainment. They can sit on their couch at home on any given night and drink beers with their buddies while watching a variety of sports or shows. They can go to the local bar or club and meet up or make friends as they go. For the more shy crowd, they can even get online and have hundreds of friends in a few seconds in a chat room. Making friends is not the key to having good Christians.

Saul of Tarsus had plenty of friends. He was close enough to the high priest to be able to ask to read letters that were sent to the synagogue (Acts 9:1,2). He calls on the "high priest" and "all the council of the elders" as witnesses to attest this fact (Acts 22:5). His friends were pretty well-educated too, so it would have been a waste to appeal to him by education. He had already been taught "at the feet of Gamaliel" (22:3). Entertainment was aplenty among Jews too. They had many feasts, festivals and holidays (Colossians 2:16). Friends and frolic did not appeal to Saul of Tarsus and it would have been misleading even if it did.

Why? Think about it. Let us suppose a church tells a visitor (through a web site, tract or in person), "You should be a member because of our social atmosphere" or "This church has the best singers, fanciest building and the most dynamic preacher in town." What is going to happen when another church in town can match that offer or better it? What is going to happen when that member gets transferred to North Dakota and is faced with having to worship "where two or three are gathered together" (Matthew 18:20)? Worse yet, what is going to happen when that member faces the same persecution Paul faced?

If Ananias would have come to Paul and told him, "Paul, you should be a member of the Lord's church because it will really help your social life" it would have been the biggest lie ever told. Becoming a Christian did not help Paul's social life one bit. When he was whipped 195 times as a Christian, was that an improvement in his social life (2 Corinthians 11:24)? Was the three beatings with rods an enjoyable social outing? Do shipwrecks and stonings sound like a good reason to get people to serve God (2 Corinthians 11:25,26)?

Paul himself admits that his conversion did not always include happy and joyous times of fellowship. Instead, he came to know "the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death..." (Philippians 3:10). Christians must "count the cost" before they "bear his cross" (Luke 14:26-33). The cross was not an instrument intended to bring to mind social and material comforts. It was an instrument of humiliation, loneliness and incredible cruelty. So, why would Paul or anyone else want to carry it?

Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God

As Paul explained his own radical change to King Agrippa he said, "...now I stand and am judged for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers. To this promise our twelve tribes, earnestly serving God night and day, hope to attain. For this hope's sake, King Agrippa, I am accused by the Jews. Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead" (Acts 26:6-8)?

As Paul defends himself and retells his conversion story, he makes reference to the resurrection and "the promise made by God to our fathers." Paul made a similar reference to this promise in Acts 13:32-39 saying,

"And we declare to you glad tidings—that promise which was made to the fathers. God has fulfilled this for us their children, in that He has raised up Jesus. As it is also written in the second Psalm: 'You are My Son, Today I have begotten You.' And that He raised Him from the dead, no more to return to corruption, He has spoken thus: 'I will give you the sure mercies of David.' Therefore He also says in another Psalm: 'You will not allow Your Holy One to see corruption.' For David, after he had served his own generation by the will of God, fell asleep, was buried with his fathers, and saw corruption; but He whom God raised up saw no corruption. Therefore let it be known to you, brethren, that through this Man is preached to you the forgiveness of sins; and by Him everyone who believes is justified from all things from which you could not be justified by the law of Moses."

 

Saul obeyed the gospel because, as a devout Jew, he could not deny the Old Testament prophecies about Jesus Christ any longer. Fighting the evidence of these prophecies was like kicking "against the goads" (Acts 9:5). If it was not Jesus who fulfilled these prophecies, then who else has and who else would? The main prophecy he quotes is a reference to the resurrection of the Son of God. Even the great king David died and stayed dead. Jesus Christ died and was raised from the dead. God had promised it years before (Psalm 27:7; Isaiah 55:3; Psalm 16:10). Jesus fulfilled it in the presence of many witnesses (1 Corinthians 15:5-8). So, Paul asks King Agrippa the question he once had to answer in his own mind, "Why should it be thought incredible by you that God raises the dead?" If one concedes there is a God, why not also admit that an Almighty God is powerful enough to raise Jesus and His followers from the dead?

The evidence was undeniable. Jesus had been raised from the dead. He spoke to Saul on the road to Damascus in the presence of witnesses (Acts 9:3-7). Any honest Jew could read the Scriptures and see that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promised Messiah. If this was the case, the last decision was whether or not Saul would serve the Lord. Accepting Jesus meant believing in the promises previously delivered to the Jews. Denying Jesus meant rejecting the greatest sources of proof God had extended to mankind—His Word, His Son and the resurrection.

Obedience was the only choice for Saul. By it he gained blessings that no other person, group or philosophy could or can offer. He writes to Philippi about his decision,

"Yet indeed I count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith; that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death, if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection of the dead" (Philippians 3:8-11).

 

What did Paul gain by His "knowledge of Christ Jesus?" He gained "righteousness" (3:9). By His obedient faith he was "justified" (Romans 5:1,2). The term "justified" means "to deem to be right" (Vine's Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, p. 615). God can declare us righteous because the blood of Jesus Christ is the purchase price for our sins (Ephesians 1:7). Without His blood, there would be no forgiveness of sins (Acts 13:38,39). The purchase price is paid and our sins are forgiven when we are "buried with Him through baptism into death..." (Romans 6:3,4). This is why Ananias asks Saul, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16). The law of Moses could never have accomplished this task (Hebrews 9:22).

Paul also gained a hope of the "resurrection from the dead" (Philippians 3:11). If God could raise Christ, then His followers could be guaranteed a resurrection from the dead too. The Sadducees could not offer this because they did not even believe in it themselves (Matthew 22:23). The Pharisees could not guarantee life after death either because they denied Jesus was the Christ and continued to look for the Messiah. No other system of paganism or mythology had "Jesus of Nazareth, a Man attested by God...by miracles, wonders, and signs which God did through Him..." (Acts 2:22). No other religion has a Jesus Christ, a man prophesied in the historical pages of God's Word, fulfilled in the present as taught by eyewitnesses and guaranteed a future by the power of His resurrection. Those facts were the difference between Paul staying a Jew and becoming a Christian. They are still the difference-makers today.

Any other means but Jesus Christ would have been useless in converting Saul to the Way he once persecuted (Acts 22:4). If the methods employed by churches today would have been used, Saul would never have become a Christian. We would lose one of our best patterns for true regeneration. We would not have half of our New Testaments. Thousands of Christians would have gone untaught in the first century.

What about today? Many of us may be one discussion away from our own modern-day Saul. We may be missing out on future gospel preachers, elders and faithful men and women. We may fail to truly convert them because instead of using God's most powerful piece of testimony—the undeniable testimony of His Son—we chose to attempt to persuade someone to the Lord's church by something else besides the Lord. People can find greater traditions, more impressive material and aesthetic performances and perhaps better social opportunities. Yet, they will never be able to find someone, besides Jesus Christ, to save them from their sins and show them the way to eternal life. "I am the Way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me" (John 14:6).