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Saul's Damascus Road Conversion

Now as he went on his way, he approached Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven shone around him. And falling to the ground he 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 rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.’ The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one. Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. So they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.But the Lord said to [Ananias], ‘Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.’ So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, ‘Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.’ And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened. ~ Acts 9:3-9, 15-19, ESV; the bracketed name is this blogger’s emphasis

When most believers think about Saul’s Damascus Road conversion, they automatically assume that his conversion experience means that he received his rebirth and his salvation on that road. However, there is nothing in the Scriptures to support this assumption.

Without doubt, Saul is NOT saved on the road to Damascus, because on that road, when the blinding LIGHT arrests his attention, Jesus the Christ only tells Saul that He is the Person Saul is seeing, and Jesus the Christ tells Saul that He is the Person who is speaking to Saul about him persecuting the Lord. At this point, there is no sign that Saul has been born again, saved, or indwelt and infilled by the Holy Spirit. Certainly, the only sign that a person is saved is that he or she has received something from Jesus the Christ, yet while Saul is on the road to Damascus it is not evident that he received anything from the Lord. More important, the earlier cited Acts chapter 9 verses indicate that getting Saul born again, saved, and filled with the Holy Spirit is a three-day process!

What then is the truth about Paul’s Damascus Road conversion? The truth about his and everyone else’s conversion is that conversion IS NOT regeneration, which is a sinner’s born from above spiritual rebirth. Then too, conversion IS NOT salvation, which is a sinner’s sins being forgiven so that this believer can be justified, meaning he or she is treated as if he or she has never sinned. Moreover, a sinner’s sins are forgiven so that this believer can receive the Lord’s imputed righteousness, and the indwelling Holy Spirit. Lastly, conversion IS NOT sanctification, which is a believer being filled with the Holy Spirit, being made holy (sanctified), being transformed (changed) into the image of Jesus the Christ, and being glorified. Hence, no one is a new creation because of conversion! A believer is a new creation (a new man or a new woman), because of God’s work in regeneration!

Now, if conversion is not regeneration, salvation (justification), or sanctification, then what is conversion?  According to Luke, who pens the book of Acts, as Paul defends himself while he stands before King Agrippa, Paul tells Agrippa about his Damascus Road conversion. Luke writes that Saul tells Agrippa that Jesus the Christ tells Saul:

‘…I am sending you to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ ~ Acts 26:17b-18, ESV (cf. Isaiah 42:6; Luke 1:79; John 8:12; Acts 13:47)

Now, there can be no doubt that in the above quoted verses Paul is using the Lord’s own words to him as a working definition for conversion. The Lord clearly is saying that conversion is sinners having their eyes opened, meaning they are awakened to the knowledge of the Gospel’s Truths about Jesus the Christ! Put differently, conversion is sinners turning away from “…darkness into his marvelous light” (1 Peter 2:9b). 

Thus, based on Peter and the Lord’s words, it is obvious that darkness definitely symbolizes ignorance, sin, and wretchedness. Moreover, the darkness the Lord and Peter mention refers to every sinner’s condition before conversion, before a sinner sees the light, as it were. By contrast, the LIGHT Peter and the Lord mention represents the absence of darkness, as LIGHT symbolizes the awe-inspiring state of lost souls after they have been brought to the knowledge of the Gospel’s Truths about Jesus the Christ.

However, what must be pointed out here is that conversion ONLY opens sinners’ eyes. They have turned into the LIGHT, turned to embraced the Lord, but they have not received anything!

The truth of the matter is that there are many people who have a conversion experience. They are repentant to the point that they make vows or promises, and they even dedicate their lives to living for the Lord; they also might be very determined to follow through on those vows, promises, and their commitment, but unfortunately no vows or promises or commitment is the successful kind of conversion that leads to salvation—the type of conversion that leads to turning to become a child of God! This kind of conversion is a continuous one, going beyond the initial opening of the eyes, but most people never go beyond having the initial conversion—they never go beyond just having their eyes opened to progressing from the hearing of the Word to believing, confessing, repenting, accepting, and baptizing! Still, it is important to note here that not all continuous conversions fit this same pattern!

What is for sure is that the Scriptures indicate that Saul has had an initial conversion, while on the road to Damascus. His eyes are opened, and he sees the LIGHT, but Saul does not receive his rebirth, salvation, or the indwelling and infilling of the Holy Spirit. Indeed, it is obvious that he does not see (neither spiritually or naturally comprehends nor physically sees) a thing about what just happened to him while on the road to Damascus.

Now, although the Scriptures do not directly state that Saul continues his conversion by going on to believing, confessing, repenting, and accepting, the Scriptures do say that he is baptized. Indeed, the Scriptures suggest that Saul has a water baptism (cf. Acts 9:18b), for there would have been no reason for Saul to stand up, after Ananias lays hands on him, if Ananias only is sprinkling Saul with some water, or if Ananias is pouring a small amount of water on Saul!

Furthermore, in Saul’s day, the water baptism of an adult implies that the adult made a public profession of his or her faith, into which he or she was baptized. Thus, it is obvious that the baptism that follows Saul’s received sight proves both his own genuine surrender to the Lord and his own deep and complete conviction about his initial conversion—the awakening to the Gospel’s Truths, the turning from darkness to the LIGHT, which Saul experiences on the road to Damascus.

As earlier mentioned, it is three days after his Damascus Road initial conversion that Saul receives his sight—his physical vision and his spiritual sight, which happen when what looks like scales fall off his eyes. There can be no doubt that the removal of these so-called “scales” symbolizes the receiving of spiritual sight that Saul obtains at the same time that he gets his physical vision back. In other words, like darkness, Saul’s so-called “scales” represent his ignorance, sin, and the misery he had to have been in once his prejudice and hatred for Christians, his own foolish pride, and unmerciful and cruel character, as well as his unbelief in Jesus the Christ, are revealed to him by the LIGHT—exposed by the prophesied Jewish Messiah.

Be that as it may. The bottom line is that Saul’s physical and spiritual blindness and their cure were the results of God’s supernaturally Divine intervention—God’s miracles. That is to say, in order for Saul to receive his bona fide spiritual sight, he needed the Grace of God, the power of the Holy Spirit, and the atoning sacrifice of Jesus the Christ to first give Saul his rebirth, salvation (justification), the indwelling Holy Spirit, and the infilling Holy Spirit. Indeed, Saul, as Paul, later writes that spiritual sight ONLY comes from the Holy Spirit, and by spiritual sight he means godly wisdom and godly understanding—spiritual discernment. In other words, a natural man (unbeliever, lost soul) neither can receive nor understand or interpret that which ONLY the Holy Spirit reveals and teaches. Paul writes:

Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the Spirit who is from God, that we might understand the things freely given us by God. And we impart this in words not taught by human wisdom but taught by the Spirit, interpreting spiritual truths to those who are spiritual. The natural person does not accept the things of the Spirit of God, for they are folly to him, and he is not able to understand them because they are spiritually discerned. ~ 1 Corinthians 2:12-14, ESV

Apparently Paul received everything he needed from the Lord to qualify as a spiritual sight recipient, either while he was praying and has a vision of Ananias laying hands on him, or when Ananias actually laid hands on him (cf. Acts 9:11-12, 17-18). The main thing is that there can be no doubt that an initial conversion precedes the work of God in regeneration (rebirth, born from above), salvation (justification, put in right standing with God), and sanctification (being made holy, and being changed into the image of Christ).

Finally, in Saul’s day, the ultimate test that a  believer is genuinely being transformed (being changed) is the successful continuous conversion that results in a public profession of faith in Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior. Furthermore, in the New Testament’s successful conversion stories, the public profession of faith in Jesus the Christ is immediately followed by water baptism! Thus, even though there is no biblical evidence that Saul was born again and saved on the Damascus Road, there can be no doubt that he did have an initial conversion experience on that road. This initial conversion, however, is ONLY the earliest opening of his eyes—his original awakening to an awareness of the need to place faith in Jesus the Christ (the Gospel’s Truths), and his primary turning from darkness to the LIGHT, which three days later ultimately succeeds in leading Saul to becoming a born again, saved (justified), filled with the Holy Spirit child of God!