Road Trip (Part 4): The Road to Damascus

The Road to Damascus

On our final excursion in this series, we are going to see a man who was traveling down the road to Damascus. At this last stop, we are going to learn about converting the enemy.

Now Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest, and asked for letters from him to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, both men and women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; and he fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And he said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.’ The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.

Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing; and leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank” (Acts 9:1-9).

Saul would later be known as the apostle Paul and would go on make an incredible impact in spreading the gospel throughout his life. Yet at this point, he was an enemy of Christ and a persecutor of the church. Let us consider some lessons from his example.

Many Enemies of Christ Are Religious Zealots

Saul was on his way to Damascus in order to arrest Christians (Acts 9:1-2). In doing this, he was extending his campaign of persecution against the early church. Following the death of Stephen, “a great persecution began against the church,” and Saul was “ravaging the church, entering house after house, and dragging off men and women, he would put them in prison” (Acts 8:1-3).

It is important to note that even though Saul was misguided in his actions, he was sincere. By trying to stop the spread of the gospel and arrest those “belonging to the Way” (Acts 9:2), he believed he was serving God. Later, after converting to Christ and working to preach the gospel, he had to make a defense before the Jewish Council. He told them, “Brethren, I have lived my life with a perfectly good conscience before God up to this day” (Acts 23:1). This included the part of his life when he was aggressively targeting Christians for imprisonment and death. In his letter to the church in Philippi, he cited his efforts as “a persecutor of the church” as evidence for his “zeal” in what he believed to be right (Philippians 3:6).

There are many religious people who, like Saul, are enemies of Christ:

  • There are followers of Islam who consider it blasphemy to say that Jesus is God’s Son. Ironically, the Jewish leaders in Jesus’ day believed He was guilty of “blasphemy” for making Himself “out to be God” (John 10:30-33).
  • There are denominational preachers who, like the Pharisees, “shut of the kingdom of heaven from people” (Matthew 23:13) by not teaching the plan of salvation as the apostles taught it (Acts 2:37-38).
  • There are even brethren who fight more for their way than for the truth – “false brethren” who want to bring others “into bondage” by forcing them to accept rules beyond what God has required (Galatians 2:4-5), brethren like Diotrephes who try to control the church in order to have things done their way (3 John 9-10), and “ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness” (Jude 4) or “a license for immorality” (NIV).

In each of these examples, their zeal may be commendable; but zeal must be in accordance with knowledge. Paul made this comment about his Jewish brethren who opposed the gospel: “For I testify about them that they have a zeal for God, but not in accordance with knowledge. For not knowing about God’s righteousness and seeking to establish their own, they did not subject themselves to the righteousness of God” (Romans 10:2-3). Those who are zealous but misguided need to become convinced of the truth, just as Saul was. This is why, in the spiritual war in which we are engaged, we battle with arguments. Paul wrote, “We are destroying speculations and every loft thing raised up against the knowledge of God, and we are taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5). Those who are zealously opposed to Christ can become zealous servants of Christ once they become convinced that He is Lord and that His word is truth.

Those Who Follow Christ Are Identifiable

Saul was on his way to Damascus in order to find Christians (Acts 9:2). Before then, when persecution started in Jerusalem, he captured them in their own homes (Acts 8:3). He evidently had some way of identifying who was a Christian. And this was not by acquiring a “church directory” like a congregation may publish today.

How could the disciples have been identified?

  • They met on the first day of the week for worship – Luke recorded, “They were continually devoting themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer” (Acts 2:42). This was such an established practice that later when Paul was traveling to Jerusalem he stopped at Troas and stayed through “the first day of the week” because that was the day when the church was “gathered together to break bread” (Acts 20:7).
  • They remained together as a unit – After the church was established in Jerusalem, the ones who were converted “were together and had all things in common” (Acts 2:44). They were “continuing with one mind in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they were taking their meals together with gladness and sincerity of heart” (Acts 2:46).
  • They were open about their faith in Christ – When persecution arose against the church and the disciples were forced to flee Jerusalem, Luke wrote, “Therefore, those who had been scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4). They did not stop talking about the gospel; instead, they continued to teach it despite the threats against them.

As Christians, we are to set an example to others. Jesus said, “Let your light shine before men in such a way that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16). We can ask ourselves the question: Would the world identify us as Christians? There are many distinguishing marks in the New Testament for the disciples of Christ – the name that we wear (Acts 11:26), the behavior we exhibit (1 Peter 2:11-12), the speech that we use (Ephesians 4:29), and so on. Paul told the Galatians, “I have been crucified with Christ; and it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself up for me” (Galatians 2:20). We need to be able to say the same thing. Are we showing to the world – through our deeds, words, attitude, priorities, and so on – that Christ lives in us?

Conversion Requires a Recognition of Jesus as Lord

Contrary to the way many describe what happened on this occasion, Saul was not saved on the road to Damascus. [We will discuss this more in the next point.] However, his life did take a completely different course based upon what happened there. While he was on the road, he recognized Jesus as “Lord” (Acts 9:5).

The term “Lord” means one with authority and the right to rule. Recognizing this about Jesus is essential for conversion. When Jesus gave His apostles the Great Commission, the foundation of this was the fact that “all authority has been given to [Jesus] in heaven and on earth” (Matthew 28:18). Because of this, we are to “observe all that [He] commanded” (Matthew 28:20). Since “all authority” was “given” to Him, He has the right to rule. Therefore, we must listen to Him above all others. This was why, when ordered to stop preaching about Jesus, Peter said, “We must obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29).

If we do not believe Jesus for who He is, we cannot be saved. He said, “Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins” (John 8:24). Without recognizing who Jesus is – the Son of God who has authority over us – we will never be forgiven of our sins and will ultimately be lost.

This understanding of the Lordship of Christ is essential for someone like Saul to stop fighting Christ and start serving Him instead. Jesus is greater than every ruler or so-called “god.” Paul told the brethren in Ephesus that He had been “seated…at [the Father’s] right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the one to come” (Ephesians 1:20-21). In the end, He will be victorious over all those who seek to oppose Him: “These will wage war against the Lamb, and the Lamb will overcome them, because He is Lord of lords and King of kings, and those who are with Him are the called and chosen and faithful” (Revelation 17:14). Recognizing this will make one want to be on His side rather than fighting against Him.

Conversion Is Accomplished by Obeying the Gospel

Saul was not saved on the road to Damascus; rather, he was saved in Damascus when “he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18). The reason we know he was not saved prior to his baptism was because of what the Scriptures record about his conversion (in addition to other passages that discuss the process of salvation). Before Saul was baptized, he had already acknowledged Jesus as Lord (Acts 9:5) and was penitent – evidenced by the fact that he was praying and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). Yet despite his belief and repentance, he was still in sin. This was why Ananias said to him, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16).

Conversion is not just about a change of mind (belief) or direction (repentance), it is also a change of state. When Saul was baptized, he was baptized into Christ. Notice the following passages written by the apostle Paul:

For all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ” (Galatians 3:27).

Or do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus have been baptized into His death?” (Romans 6:3).

Baptism puts one into Christ. This was why Saul was told to be baptized (Acts 22:16). It was so his sins could be washed away. When one submits to baptism, God removes his sin. Paul explained this in his letter to the church in Colossae: “Having been buried with Him in baptism, in which you were also raised up with Him through faith in the working of God, who raised Him from the dead” (Colossians 2:12). When a penitent believer submits to baptism, God then does the work of removing his sins from him.

It is good and necessary to believe in the Lord and reform our lives, but we must be baptized in order to be saved. Jesus said, “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16). In baptism, we are making an appeal to Him to cleanse our conscience. Peter explained this: “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:21). The Hebrew writer said that Jesus is “to all those who obey Him the source of eternal salvation” (Hebrews 5:9).

Conclusion

The Lord is willing to save anyone – even one like Saul who was an enemy of Christ and His people. The Scriptures show us that He will save any who will recognize Him as Lord, obey Him, and be identified as one of His disciples.


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