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Paul’s Conversion and Calling

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul
The Truth Network Radio
February 2, 2024 12:01 am

Paul’s Conversion and Calling

Renewing Your Mind / R.C. Sproul

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February 2, 2024 12:01 am

Paul was on his way to Damascus to apprehend Christians fleeing from persecution. Little did he realize that the Lord had been shaping his entire life for this decisive moment. Today, Guy Waters considers Paul's conversion.

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Paul experienced the new birth. He was brought from darkness to light and it is as one who has experienced these realities that Saul will go from the Damascus road and preach Jesus Christ to others and bid them come to Christ that they might share in the blessings that Christ has poured out on him first of all.

Whether you experienced a dramatic conversion to Christ like the Apostle Paul or you were raised in a Christian home and can't remember a time when you didn't know and trust in Christ, every conversion is a miraculous work of God. This is the Friday edition of Renewing Your Mind and after spending this week in Romans 8 we're turning our attention to the work of God in the life of the man who wrote Romans, the Apostle Paul. And for one day only you can own Guy Waters 12-part series on DVD and the companion hardcover book The Life and Theology of Paul for donation of any amount at So what happened to Paul to turn him from a persecutor of the church to a proclaimer of the gospel and are there lessons there for you and me today?

Here's Guy Waters. In this lecture we're going to look at what happened to Saul of Tarsus outside Damascus. We've seen that Paul's whole life up to that point was a grand preparation for the man that God would make him by grace. And now we want to see how grace burst into the life of Saul of Tarsus.

Now for Paul himself, Damascus Road was the decisive moment in his life. He reflects on it in no fewer than three places in his letters. He looks back on it to the Galatians in chapter 1. He looks back on it to the Philippians in chapter 3. And then at the very end of his life in 1 Timothy chapter 1 he thinks back on the Damascus Road with Timothy.

And in each case the theme is the same. What happened to Paul was the undeserved mercy of God to a sinner. And Paul never tired of rehearsing that theme. Now for Luke as well, as he tells the story of the early church, the Damascus Road was a watershed experience in the life of the church. One way we see that is that he tells the story of Paul's conversion on three occasions. There is the account itself in chapter 9 and then in chapters 22 and 26, Paul himself before Roman officials in 26 and before the Jews in 22 tells what happened to him on the Damascus Road.

There are only a few things that Luke recounts three times and each of them is important to Luke. And so this is Luke's way of saying this is a watershed moment in the advance of the gospel from Jerusalem to Judea and Samaria and to the ends of the earth. Now scholars in the last 50 years have seriously questioned whether Paul was actually converted on the Damascus Road, strange as that may sound to our ears. They don't question that Paul was called on the Damascus Road, that he received a summons, a commission, to testify to be a witness to Jesus Christ. But they questioned whether he was converted from one way of living to another way of living. And they have especially accused Protestants of trying to thread Paul through the eye of the Augustinian and Lutheran needle.

And the argument goes something like this. Both Augustine and Luther were men of very sensitive consciences and they bore the burden of guilt. And both men came to the Apostle Paul and in reading the letters of Paul they found release from that guilt. But these scholars say this is really more a reflection on the introspective consciences of these men than on the writings of Paul himself. And so the charge is you're just imposing religious sensibilities of an Augustine or a Luther on to Paul. There's no apparent religious conversion in his letters or in the account of the Damascus Road in Acts. And this argument has persuaded a number of people. To be sure Paul's call is clear and the word convert or converted does not show up in these chapters.

But in reply we need to know two things to start. We need to be clear first what we mean and what we don't mean when we say that Paul was converted on the Damascus Road and we very much affirm that he was converted on the Damascus Road. We're not saying that Paul had to have had a dramatic religious experience. Sometimes that comes with conversion but sometimes it doesn't. Nor are we saying that Paul spent his whole life in Judaism burdened by guilt.

There may have been periods when he was but that need not have been the case. What we're saying when we say that Paul was converted on the Damascus Road is there came a moment on that day and in that place when confronted by Jesus Christ, confronted with a sense of his sin, he turned from his sin to Jesus Christ in repentance and faith. That's what we mean when we say that Paul was converted and that's what we'll see is borne out by the testimony of the scripture. Now these scholars have regrettably separated what scripture does not separate. They say Paul was not converted but he was called.

It's not in either or. We happily recognize that Paul was called to bear witness to Jesus Christ on the Damascus Road and we also say that he was converted by the grace of Christ on the Damascus Road. Paul's conversion and his call are two cords woven together and you can't separate them.

So let's give thought to what scripture says about this call and conversion and we need first to set the scene. Scripture sets the scene with the martyrdom of Stephen. Remember the account in Acts chapter 7 on into chapter 8 and he was brutally murdered, martyred by a mob and that precipitated, Luke tells us, a great persecution against the church in Jerusalem and the whole church, except the apostles, they scattered. Now Saul, who had witnessed and had approved of that horrific scene in Stephen's death, was still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord. Luke tells us at the beginning of chapter 9.

So even that scene and the scattering of the church did not abate his zeal to destroy the church and the gospel. And so Saul takes it upon himself to approach the high priest and he asks for letters to the synagogues in Damascus. Now Damascus is about a hundred and thirty-five miles north of Jerusalem.

You can't take a train or drive there so it's a considerable expenditure of effort to go. And Paul wants to go and arrest and extradite Christians who have fled for refuge in Damascus and he wants to bring them back and bring them to justice as he sees justice. So Paul sets out and scripture says he is within sight of Damascus.

He is almost there and then two things happen. First, a light from heaven shone around him and this light was brighter than the sun. Now Paul tells us that when this light shone it was midday.

So this is a supernatural light. Paul not only sees this light but he also hears a voice. Now there are people traveling with him and they hear the sound but they don't hear the voice distinctly. Now what does Paul hear? Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? Saul is struck to the ground and he finds himself blind. He can't see and so he's stumbling about in the dark in noonday and men have to take him by the hand and lead him the rest of the way into Damascus.

He fasts for three days reflecting on his life, reflecting on his sin, reflecting on the words of Jesus Christ to him on the Damascus road. And then a disciple by the name of Ananias is sent to Saul and Ananias hesitates. Lord, do you know this man?

Are you sure you want me to go to him? Yes, Ananias, you're to go to him. And he comes to Saul and he addresses him the first words that Saul hears as a converted man that scripture records, Brother Saul. And through Ananias, Saul receives his sight and he's baptized and he gets about work. Now in this scene, Paul is not only dramatically wrought upon but he is given a commission and Luke records this commission in all three accounts. That commission, Paul stresses to the Galatians, comes directly from the mouth of Jesus Christ.

It wasn't mediated through people. It came directly from Jesus. And that commission boils down to one thing. Saul, you are going to be my witness.

You will carry my name. And he's going to go out to the children of Israel, but he's going to go out to the Gentiles as well. He's going to tell them about Jesus Christ. And Jesus says to Saul, now when you go and bear witness to me before the Gentiles, and this comes up in chapter 26, Jesus says I'm going to do something to those Gentiles.

What I'm going to do is I'm going to open their eyes. Now I want you to notice here the similarities between what Paul was commissioned to do and what Jesus did to Paul. And I want to reflect on this a bit and this will give us, I think, clarity to see Paul's conversion emerging in relief. Now the Gentiles are going to hear Paul testify to Jesus. He is going to bear witness to Jesus. And that's exactly what Paul heard on the Damascus Road. He heard the voice of Jesus summoning him.

Why do you persecute me? And then the Gentiles are going to have their eyes opened. They're going to be brought from darkness into light. And that's exactly what happened to Saul on the Damascus Road. He is bathed in the light of the glory of Jesus Christ and he is struck blind. But then he regains his sight when Ananias comes to him and lays hands on him and speaks the word of Jesus Christ to him.

So a voice and a light. What Jesus will do through Paul in the lives of Gentiles. This Jesus has first done in the life of Saul. So I want us to think a little bit more about just what it is that Jesus will do for the Gentiles because if we understand that that's going to help us understand what happened to Paul. And in chapter 26 we're told that Jesus will open the eyes of Gentiles that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. That they may receive the forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in me.

I want to look at that a little more carefully. They're going to turn from darkness to light. Now that is exactly how Paul describes the new birth in 2nd Corinthians chapter 4. He says the God of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ who is the image of God.

What does God say? Let light shine out of darkness and he has shown in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Christ. You see when a person comes to Jesus Christ they are brought from darkness into light and that is a work of new creation. It's why he quotes from Genesis in that connection. But then he says Jesus is going to open their eyes that they may turn from the power of Satan to God.

That they may receive the forgiveness of sins. And that's exactly what Paul says happened to the Colossians in chapter 1. He says you have been brought from the domain of darkness into the kingdom of his beloved Son.

You've been brought from the power of Satan to God. And in him we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. Here is the new birth and here is the forgiveness of sins. And these things that Jesus Christ will do in the lives of sinners as the word goes out, as the word is preached, these are the very things that Paul himself experienced. What did Paul experience?

How can we summarize it? Well he experienced the new birth. He was brought from darkness to light.

This is a work of new creation. He was under the domain of darkness, under the reign of Satan. And he has been brought into the kingdom of Jesus Christ. And he has been forgiven of all his trespasses. And it is as one who has experienced these realities that Saul will go from the Damascus road and preach Jesus Christ to others.

And bid them come to Christ that they might share in the blessings that Christ has poured out on him first of all. In a word, what happened to the Apostle Paul on the Damascus road is that he was converted. The very same thing that happens to every Christian at the beginning of his or her Christian life. Now what lessons are there from Paul's conversion for the Christian life generally? We are obviously not the Apostle Paul on the Damascus road, but we have seen that Paul's experience is a kind of pattern or a picture of what it is that Christ is pleased to do in the lives of sinners.

And I think we can draw at least three lessons as we begin to draw to a close. And the first, and perhaps the most important to accent for our study, is that Paul's conversion shows that salvation is by grace alone. Salvation is by grace alone. Paul we've seen was a very capable and accomplished man. He had natural abilities.

He had pedigree. He had accomplishments in Judaism, genuine accomplishments of which he was proud before his fellows. But they were all directed in the service of sin. Paul thought that he was doing service to God, making that trek to Damascus, arresting these blasphemers, so he thought, bringing them to justice before the High Court of the priest. Paul thought that he was, he tells the Philippians, blameless according to the law.

That is a faithful keeper of God's covenant. And yet in reality, as he would tell the Ephesians in the opening verses of chapter 2, like you, I was serving the world, and I was serving the flesh, and I was serving the devil. All that Paul was was in the service of sin. And as Paul thinks on what happened to him on the Damascus road, as he tells Timothy at the end of his life, in verse 15 of chapter 1, this saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance.

Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am foremost. Paul continued to have a deep impression of what it was to be a sinner, and of the reaches of grace in his life as it met him on the Damascus road. Paul experienced new creation. Paul was brought out of one dominion to another. Jesus Christ did not look on Paul and see something morally lovely in him and so save him.

The record says the contrary. Neither do we see Paul taking steps to work with God to save him. Paul is in the heat of rebellion at the very moment that Jesus Christ reaches down to save him. It is clear, whether from Luke's account or Paul's own description, that it is God alone who saved Paul. This is a sheer exercise of sovereign divine power and grace. And this truth becomes one of the very core principles of Paul's teaching. You get this, it unlocks his letters.

You miss this, and they remain shrouded in darkness. The human sinner is powerless to save himself. She is unworthy of any favor of God, and the invincible might of God's mercy in Christ is what Paul points to as alone saving the sinner.

We see a second thing as well. Those whom God saves, he puts into his family. What were the first words that Saul heard as a Christian? Brother Saul. Brother Saul.

And what was Paul's first action when he came to Jerusalem? He attempted to join the disciples, knowing full well the discomfort that that encounter would bring. The Christian life is personal, but it's not solitary.

We're going to see Paul stressing that in many ways. We are part of a spiritual family. We need one another, our gifts, our graces, our fellowship, and our encouragement.

But then there's a third thing. Those whom God saves, he puts into service. Now, we're not given the commission of the apostle Paul, but each believer is given a calling, and each of us is put into service.

Service of Jesus Christ in the places in which he has set us in Providence. And one thing that the scripture highlights is that Paul was obedient to that commission. Straight away he goes into Damascus, Acts 9 20, and he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogue. He is the Son of God.

And then he continued. He increased all the more in strength, verse 22, and confounded the Jews who lived in Damascus by proving that Jesus was the Christ. And then he goes to Jerusalem, and he does the same thing. He preaches Christ. Each of us is called to serve Christ. And what motivates us and what encourages us in the very hard things that we face in the service of Jesus Christ, as Paul faced hard things in the service of Jesus Christ, is the knowledge of the grace of his Son. And that's the great theme of the gospel that Paul expounds, the gospel of grace in Jesus Christ. And it's that gospel that Guy Waters considers in the remaining messages in this series.

You're listening to the Friday edition of Renewing Your Mind. I'm your host, Nathan W Bingham. Continue studying the life and theology of Paul when you request this 12-part series and the companion hardcover book with your donation of any amount at, or by calling us at 800 435 4343.

In addition to receiving both of these resources in the mail, you'll have streaming access in the free Ligonier app as well. This is a one-day only offer, so request the Life and Theology of Paul DVD, book, and streaming bundle with your gift of any amount at Before we go, I would like to ask you to take a moment to pray for tomorrow's Always Ready Youth Apologetics Conference in Birmingham, Alabama. We're expecting almost a thousand middle and high schoolers to be there for a day of training and instruction, and we desire for this event to truly help equip them to serve and lead well in a generation of darkness, confusion, and opposition. Thank you. Moses encountered God in the burning bush, and RSC Sprawl will explore the significance of this event all week beginning Monday, here on Renewing Your Mind. you
Whisper: medium.en / 2024-02-10 18:27:49 / 2024-02-10 18:35:34 / 8

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