June 2, 2024. Sermon Title: The Conversion of Saul

First Mennonite Church

June 2, 2024

The Conversion of Saul

Text: Acts 9: 1-19

As we can remember, Saul appears in the biblical stage at the end of Acts, seven, guarding the coats of those who brutally killed Steven. In chapter eight, Saul turns from a passive antagonist to an aggressive persecutor of the followers of Jesus, arresting and dragging men and women into prison. From there, Luke turns to other developments only to bring Saul into the picture once again, this time with greater authority to carry on the persecution beyond Judea.

But who was Saul? This is what he later said about himself: 

“I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city (Acts 21:39).

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. I studied under Gamaliel and was thoroughly trained in the law of our ancestors. (Acts 22:3). And in 23, six, he says: I am a Pharisee, descended from Pharisees.

Saul was born in Tarsus and, thus, may have been disgusted by the lifestyle of his surroundings. He later pursued the family tradition and became a Pharisee himself. Some believe that Saul’s education was equivalent to that of a lawyer. The Pharisees are a faction within Judaism with the strictest observation of their religion. With such zeal, Saul believed that Israel needed more than anything to return to a strict observance of her religious laws and traditions. After finishing his schooling, he took a job with the religious authorities; he was possibly a member of the Sanhedrin. Saul’s basic job was to ensure that nothing changed within Judaism. And in his day, the greatest threat to every aspect of life and religion, in Saul’s perspective, was a group that called itself followers of “The Way.”

In Saul’s religious tradition and interpretation of his Bible, Jesus, his teaching, and the subsequent claims his disciples were making about his death and resurrection that it was God’s means to redeem the world, not only Israel, was beyond the scope of Saul’s religious purview. However, the people who were members of “The Way,” at that point in time, were mostly Jews. And the danger posed by this movement was reaching everywhere. Saul saw it necessary to stop it at all costs. Thus, breathing murderously against the movement, he secured authorization to arrest and haul back to Jerusalem everyone he could find in Damascus.

There is something about the way the disciples called themselves: followers of “The Way.” It is until chapter 11, verse 26, and in Antioch where the believers were called “Christians” for the first time. We remember Jesus saying, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.” Thus, the early followers of Jesus were called “Followers of The Way.” “Followers of The Way” is a powerful metaphor for what a Christian is. A Christian is not someone who identifies him/herself as having a set of beliefs but by his or her character molded after the way of Jesus Christ. The Christian faith is a way of life that compels the world to reconsider its moral values. You see, by being a follower of “The Way,” that is of Jesus Christ, our conduct reflects the very nature of Christ Jesus, thus compelling those who look at us to reassess their ways. However, we should be concerned if the way we conduct ourselves resembles that of nonbelievers. To be a “follower of The Way” should make us think twice before we do and say anything.

As Saul and his officials were coming close to Damascus, a light, as Paul later would explain, “brighter than the mid-day sun” (26:13) struck him blind. Saul fell to the ground and a voice from heaven spoke to him. The Risen Lord shrouded in the brightness of God’s glory appeared to Saul and said: “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” Saul’s query about who was behind the voice might seem ironic, “Who are you, Lord?” Saul’s address to the one speaking, as “Lord,” was not yet a confession of faith in Jesus. It was based on his understanding, as a devout Jew, the manner in which God revealed himself to his people. God had appeared in the past from within a shining light and glory. Saul right then realized that he was having one of those divine appearances. Saul knew that God had come to meet him. However, when the reply came, it must have taken Saul by surprise.  “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” the voice said. This brief declaration by the Lord would become Paul’s later central claim about the gospel: God made the crucified Jesus alive as Messiah and Lord (see chapter 26). The Lord’s appearance to Saul made it convincingly clear to him that Jesus was not a pretender and that his disciples were absolutely true in their claim about him. So what real choice was Saul left with but to embrace the revelation and submit to the order or commission that was to follow?

 ‘Now get up and stand on your feet. I have appeared to you to appoint you as a servant and as a witness of what you have seen and will see of me. 17 I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them 18 to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’

As God had done in the past, appearing to prophets and commissioning them to ministry, Christ Jesus appeared to Saul and gave him a clear mandate. Saul would turn from persecutor to messenger of the gospel. 

In that instant, a man with great powers was brought down to his knees. A persecutor was transformed into a proclaimer of Christ. A destroyer of the church was made into a tireless builder of the church. All that happened in the blink of an eye.

A blind Saul had to be helped to stand on his feet, dusted off, and taken by hand he was led to Damascus. There, Ananias after expressing hesitation went to see Saul and ministered to him. Saul’s eyes were opened and ate again, regaining his strength.

So, once again, what are some of the lessons we can glean from this passage?


Any new adherent to a religion might speak about a “conversion experience.” This could be the result of either a sudden and overwhelming realization of a profound truth not previously understood becoming convincingly clear or the result of a series of small glimmers of light coming to a full illumination that fills the soul with a new perspective.

This is also true for Christians, whether or not they were raised attending church services. There has to be a moment or a process in which they come to a final decision to accept Jesus as Lord and Savior in their lives.

In his Gifford Lectures, William James said that conversion may be described as either “gradual” or “sudden.” As in the field of older medicine, James says, it used to speak of “lysis and crisis,” one gradual, the other abrupt, in which the patient might recover from bodily disease.

In the case of spiritual conversion, this also happens through lysis or crisis. Lysis is Greek for “loosing (as in untying or releasing) and subsiding, the gradual type, where the light of the gospel comes into the soul, mind, and personality of the individual increasingly to a point where the individual surrenders him/herself to God. This is the experience of most people who have been raised in church, per se, have. That was my experience in coming to a personal relationship with the Lord. I came to the Lord as a result of my parents’ constant sharing with me and my siblings. It was mostly my mother who did. But also, my coming to the Lord was through the sermons I listened to preached in church.

But this type of conversion also happens to people who are formally or highly educated. They often approach matters of religion with caution, hesitation, or doubt. But gradually, something begins to “stick” to them. They begin to expose themselves to the Word. They begin to open themselves to God by being introspective, examining their ways, and comparing them with the insights they begin to discover in God’s word. They begin to build piece by piece a new set of moral practices and spiritual habits. Their surrender to God is done consciously and willingly.

Where for those who experience the crisis type is very emotional, after a good degree of resistance.

I remember the way my father came to the Lord. At first, he was completely against my mother’s going to church. Besides Sunday school, services were held in the evening. When my mother came home from the worship service, my dad would not go unlock the door for her to come into the house. My brother had to. But then, I started seeing my dad watching in the darkness what was happening in the church. Later, I recall my father reading the Bible while smoking his cigarette. The day came when my Dad finally gave his life to the Lord and the following Sunday he said to my mother, “Today I will attend Sunday school, so everyone can see that I am one of those who go to church too.”

The “crisis” (Greek for “turning point”) the sudden type of conversion, also called “dramatic” or “lighting,” is unexpected and involuntary self-surrendering to God. Oftentimes, the person has shown resistance to God. This type of conversion is marked by a clear division between past and present, an old life and a new life, established in “the twinkling of an eye.” That was the kind of conversion Saul had on the road of Damascus.

Either way, our conversion took place, it was a testament to God’s inexhaustible grace reaching out and making of us God’s dear children. In the prologue of John’s Gospel, he writes:

He came to that which was his own, but his own did not receive him. 12 Yet to all who did receive him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God— 13 children born not of natural descent, nor of human decision or a husband’s will, but born of God.

But as we also know by experience, our conversion to the Lord is an ongoing process. God has worked in us but he continues to work in our lives, transforming us into the likeness of his Son Jesus Christ.

So, today, if you have not had a personal encounter with the Lord, I invite you to open your heart to him. Ask the Lord to take over your life. He will give you a fuller life, a life with meaning, full of joy, and unshakeable hope. Surrender to him and he will make you a child of God.

If you, like me, have recently or long ago given our lives to the Lord, let us open our hearts for God to search us. Let us not be surprised if God shows us there are still areas in which we need to allow him to change us.

One last note: Let us remember that God is calling us, saving us, changing us, but all of this is not for personal improvement only—to be right before him or to receive eternal blessing. God is calling us in order to send us to share the news that he wants to meet our friends, relatives, and everyone too.


Pastor Romero