What Happened After Saul’s Conversion?

Saul escaping Damascus in a basket

We often talk about the conversion of Saul – later known as the apostle Paul – because of the important lessons to be found in it about how one becomes a Christian. But what about what happened after Saul’s conversion? There are important lessons here as well. Let us look at what Saul did following his conversion.

He Ended His Fast

Luke briefly summarized Saul’s conversion by saying, “He got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). The first thing mentioned in the text that Saul did following his conversion was that “he took food and was strengthened” (Acts 9:19).

Most of the time, one eating a meal is more mundane and common than it is noteworthy. But the Holy Spirit had it mentioned here for a reason. Saul was in Damascus after seeing the Lord on his way to the city. After arriving, “he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:9). He was also spending this time in prayer (Acts 9:11). This was a sign of godly sorrow. He understood what he had done – he had persecuted the Lord (Acts 9:4-5). He later called himself the “foremost of all” sinners (1 Timothy 1:15). He was overcome with guilt and regret and wanted to be forgiven by the Lord. Hence, the praying and fasting.

Immediately after his baptism, his fast ended. Why? In baptism his sins had been washed away (Acts 22:16) and would never be held against him again (Hebrews 8:12). Therefore, he was able to have a clear conscience (cf. Acts 23:1) because he knew with certainty that God had forgiven him. We ought to have that same certainty today – the full belief that our sins are completely forgiven by God when we meet His conditions of grace – so that we can put our past sins behind us and get to work serving the Lord.

It is important to note that the end of Saul’s fast – which came after his conscience had been settled upon being forgiven of his sins – came after baptism. Many people believe that conversion to Christ happens by praying a “sinner’s prayer.” Yet Saul was praying for three days and received no forgiveness (Acts 22:16). It is when one is “baptized into Christ” (Romans 6:3-4) that he receives the forgiveness of sins and becomes one of the saved (Acts 2:38; 1 Peter 3:21).

He Proclaimed Jesus

While in Damascus, Saul “immediately…began to proclaim Jesus in the synagogues, saying, ‘He is the Son of God’” (Acts 9:20). This would have seemed strange to those that knew Saul. He went from persecuting Christ to proclaiming Christ immediately after his conversion. Luke recorded the reaction of those who heard him speak: “Is this not he who in Jerusalem destroyed those who called on this name, and who had come here for the purpose of bringing them bound before the chief priests?” (Acts 9:21).

Saul’s willingness to proclaim Christ indicated a sincere conviction in the fact that Jesus was the Christ. Since he was one who maintained a good conscience (Acts 23:1), we know that he was of the character that he spoke what he believed. Belief is, of course, a necessary prerequisite to baptism and salvation (Acts 8:36-37). Yet some can be converted without being firmly grounded in their faith (cf. Luke 8:13). Saul showed conviction in speaking openly about Christ.

His proclaiming of Christ also showed a fervent desire to save others. If Saul needed to be saved, so did all the other Jews who had not yet come to Christ. In his letter to the Romans, we can see how much he desired his fellow countrymen to obey the gospel: “Brethren, my heart’s desire and my prayer to God for them is for their salvation” (Romans 10:1). Therefore, he taught others from the beginning of his life in Christ.

Once we obey the gospel, we must also start proclaiming Jesus. This does not mean that we immediately begin preaching sermons before a congregation or going on preaching trips to various places (cf. James 3:1). We will probably not have the same ability and effectiveness that Saul had at first. After all, he was specifically chosen by Christ to be an apostle and, therefore, received divine revelation directly (Acts 9:15; 1 Corinthians 1:1; 14:37). But that does not mean that we are incapable of teaching others immediately following our conversion. We already noticed that belief is necessary before conversion. Therefore, we ought to be able immediately to tell others what we believe – who Jesus is, what He has done, why His sacrifice was necessary, what one needs to do to be saved – and why we made the choice to follow Christ.

He Suffered Consequences

Becoming a Christian does not guarantee an easy life. Despite the promises of some “health and wealth” deceivers, the Scriptures teach that suffering will be part of our lives as Christians. Jesus said, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Saul began to suffer consequences for his conversion as immediately as he started proclaiming Jesus.

First, Saul faced persecution from his former brethren – the Jews. As he began preaching, he was “confounding the Jews who lived at Damascus by proving that this Jesus is the Christ” (Acts 9:22). Those who opposed Christ could not handle the arguments Saul was making in defense of the truth. Therefore, “the Jews plotted together to do away with him,” forcing Saul to escape the city under the cover of darkness (Acts 9:23-25). It was obvious by Saul’s words (preaching) and actions (repentance) that he was now different. Therefore, he was persecuted for it. Peter warned that we can expect some degree of persecution for being different from the world (1 Peter 4:3-4, 12, 16). But Saul did not allow this persecution from his former brethren to cause him to forsake Christ. In the same way, we also must remain faithful to the Lord, no matter what opposition we face from those in the world.

Secondly, Saul also faced skepticism from his new brethren – the Christians. “When he came to Jerusalem, he was trying to associate with the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he was a disciple” (Acts 9:26). The skepticism of these brethren was only natural. After all, this was a man who stood in “hearty agreement” with those who murdered Stephen (Acts 7:58-8:1). He had also been “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women” to be put in prison (Acts 8:3). After this he traveled as far as Damascus to find Christians and “bring them bound to Jerusalem” (Acts 9:1-2). Initially, the Christians in Jerusalem had no good reason to believe that Saul was now one of them.

This skepticism was the result of his life prior to his conversion. Even though his sins were washed away in baptism (Acts 22:16), there were still consequences he had to face. We may have many different consequences to face for our past sins. A common one is what Saul faced among the Christians in Jerusalem – a lack of trust and a skepticism about his faith. We cannot change our past, but we can work to rebuild trust so that others will see us as faithful Christians and not as enemies of Christ. Empty claims of faith will not repair our reputation. We must “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8), “continually devoting [ourselves] to the apostles’ teaching” (Acts 2:42), and be able to honestly say, as individuals, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20). Dealing with skepticism can be difficult, but we can gain the trust of our brethren if we prove to be (not just claim to be) faithful servants of Christ.

He Associated with the Disciples

Finally, after escaping the persecution in Damascus, Saul returned to Jerusalem. Luke recorded, “He was trying to associate with the disciples” (Acts 9:26). While in Damascus, he met with the disciples there (Acts 9:19). When he arrived in a different place, he sought to meet with (join, KJV) the disciples again. Why?

The reason Saul tried to join the local church in Jerusalem is because being a member of a local church is important. Many people today try to minimize the importance of local church membership. Yet this is the first thing we read of Saul doing when he arrived in Jerusalem – he tried to join the local church that met in that city.

Saul was already a member of the universal church. When he was baptized in Damascus (Acts 9:18), the Lord added him to the universal church of Christ (Acts 2:47; 1 Corinthians 12:13). But simply arriving in Jerusalem did not make him a member of the local church in that place. Saul, just as we must do today, set out to associate with and join a local congregation.

This is important because the local church has been designed by God to produce spiritual growth, both individually and collectively. In describing the local church (the body that would have pastors and teachers – Ephesians 4:11), Paul wrote, “From whom the whole body, being fitted and held together by what every joint supplies, according to the proper working of each individual part, causes the growth of the body for the building up of itself in love” (Ephesians 4:16). Christians are to be joined together in a functioning body that works together collectively. In the assembly we encourage one another (Hebrews 10:25). As a body, the local church puts forth a collective effort in the proclamation of the gospel (1 Thessalonians 1:8; 1 Timothy 3:15). This is God’s design. While some will argue that local church membership and attendance is unimportant, we learn from Saul’s example, as well as the other teachings in the New Testament, that we have a responsibility to join and assemble with a local church.

Conclusion

It is good for us to be reminded of the example of Saul – one who went from persecuting Christ to faithfully following Him. As we strive to follow Christ, we must be like Saul. Trust in God’s forgiveness with the full assurance that the sins of your past are truly forgiven and will not be held against you anymore. Start telling the good news to others that they might receive the same forgiveness. Patiently endure whatever hardships you may face for your faith. And finally, find a sound congregation with which you can work, worship, encourage, and be encouraged; just as God intended.


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