Faith in the Savior #1

September 6, 2008 Acts 9:3-9

 

Feature #1:  Faith in the Savior

And it came about that as he journeyed, 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 art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. And 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. (9:3–9)

The late Alan Redpath, longtime pastor and Bible teacher at the historic Moody Church in Chicago, put it best: "The conversion of a soul is the miracle of a moment, the manufacture of a saint is the task of a lifetime."

It happens all the time. To dogmatic atheists and determined agnostics. To bright young physicians and brilliant scientists. To popular coaches and gifted athletes. To famous musicians and renowned artists. To former criminals and current malcontents. One by one, these unique individuals get to the end of life rope and, when faced with the claims of the gospel, they believe. Their lives, in a matter of moments, are transformed.

A dramatic testimony of conversion appeared in a Christianity Today article featuring famed politician Charles Colson’s own recollection of his salvation.

By late 1972 even the indomitable Chuck Colson began to buckle. He was tired. Nixon was forever calling him at odd hours, summoning him to the Oval Office to talk over this or go over that.

When Nixon was reelected in November of that year, Colson resigned as Special Counsel to the President and longed to retreat into private life. But the web of Watergate only tightened its hold. In Born Again he recounted the story of his dramatic conversion. He had been visiting the home of friend and colleague Tom Phillips, who had been converted at a Billy Graham crusade. Phillips had confronted Colson with the gospel and read him a portion from C. S. Lewis Mere Christianity that struck with him: A proud man is always looking down on things and people: and of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you." That summer evening in August 1973, Tom Phillips asked Chuck Colson if he would like to pray with him. Colson, aching inside but hard on the outside, awkwardly agreed. ("Sure-I guess I would-fine.") He felt the inner movement of the Spirit but did not cough up the words of surrender. later that night, outside in the dark [sitting in the car], the iron grip I’d kept on my emotions began to relax. Tears welled up in my eyes. . . . and suddenly I knew I had to go back into the house and pray with Tom." Only Tom had already gone to bed. Colson parked along the roadside and hoped his friend couldn’t hear him sobbing.

Phillips connected Colson with Doug Coe, National Prayer Breakfast organizer and a Christian networker inside the Beltway. Coe tried to convince the believers in Colson's political camp of the authenticity of his conversion, to no avail. As a last resort, Coe contacted Harold Hughes, the well-known Democratic Senator and outspoken Christian. Coe recounted at the Founder's Dinner, "I called Senator Harold Hughes and said, 'Senator, I have a friend who is in tremendous need and needs a friend. I was wondering if you could meet with him and maybe help him along with the Lord."' When Hughes learned this friend was Colson, he responded negatively and with extreme doubt and hung up on Coe.

An hour later, the phone rang. The senator was on the other end. "I'm sorry. I know that not what Jesus would want me to do. If you will forgive me, I'll meet him. But it has to be after 11 o'clock at night. And it has to be out in the countryside." At this stage of his Christian life, Colson had never prayed aloud and had not finessed the art of Christian testimonials. Hughes was understandably skeptical. He asked Colson to tell him about his newfound faith. In halting gestures, Nixon's onetime hatchet man made his confession . After20 minutes, Coe said, Hughes got up, walked across the room, and embraced Colson. "We are brothers for life," he said.

When a soul is saved that soul is a transformed life. The Apostle Paul’s testimony is an example of such a dramatic conversion and is the basis for self examination of our own conversion.

Over the next several weeks we will unfold Paul’s conversion experience in Acts 9 and discover 7 Features of the Transformed Life. The first of these features is “Faith in the Savior”  The remarkable conversion of Saul, in which he put his faith in the Savior he had been so viciously persecuting, unfolds in five phases:

  1. Contact
  2. Conviction
  3. Conversion
  4. Consecration
  5. Communion
  1. Contact

And it came about that as he journeyed, he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him; (9:3)

Saul was still charging full speed for Damascus when he was suddenly stopped dead in his tracks. A light from heaven flashed around him, and Saul and his companions fell into the dirt.

Confronted with the appearance of the blazing glory of Jesus Christ, Saul, the hardened persecutor of Christians, was speechless with terror. Luke’s other accounts of this event (Acts 22, 26) fill in more of the details.

  • From Acts 22:6 we learn that the encounter took place about noon.
  • The light from heaven was not anything from the material creation, since it transcended in brilliance even the bright Middle Eastern sun (26:13).
  • Those who traveled with Saul heard the voice of the Lord as he did, yet did not understand the words spoken (cf. v. 7 with 22:9), because the Lord’s words were for Saul’s ears only.
  • Saul actually saw Jesus in glorious brilliance as he repeatedly testifies (Acts 9:17, 27; 22:14; 26:16; 1 Cor. 9:1; 15:8) while his co-persecutors saw only the light (Acts 22:9).

Although He does not do it so dramatically, God always initiates the contact in salvation.

John 6:37“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and the one who comes to Me I will certainly not cast out.

John 6:44“No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day.

James 1:18In the exercise of His will He brought us forth by the word of truth, so that we would be a kind of first fruits among His creatures.

The Holy Spirit sovereignly arranged the circumstances leading to the Ethiopian eunuch’s conversion (Acts 8:27). That was, and is, necessary, since unbelieving men, being dead in their trespasses and sins

Ephesians 2:1And you were dead in your trespasses and sins,

cannot come to God on their own  (1 Cor. 2:14; Eph. 2:4–10).

Romans 3:10-12as it is written, “There is none righteous, not even one; There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God; All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one.”

Colossians 2:13When you were dead in your transgressions and the uncircumcision of your flesh, He made you alive together with Him, having forgiven us all our transgressions,

That salvation is initiated by God is nowhere more powerfully stated than by Paul to Titus:

For we also once were foolish ourselves, disobedient, deceived, enslaved to various lusts and pleasures, spending our life in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another. But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit. (Titus 3:3–5)

The Bible demonstrates that God makes contact with man in the “transformation” of a soul. Not everyone “sees” God like Paul did, in fact not since the first century has God appeared to man in a vision, but He always initiates the interaction between Himself and convert.

  1. Conviction

and he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (9:4)

Prostrate on the ground, Saul heard a voice saying to him,

“Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

Luke often times in his writings uses repetition to draw attention and emphasis. Here it marks a rebuke of Saul, intended to bring anguish of soul, so Saul would realize how wrong he had been, and guilt would overwhelm him. Saul was one of many who hated Jesus Christ without cause (John 15:25).

Our Lord’s words “Why are you persecuting Me?” reflect the inseparable link between Himself, as head of the body, and its members. No blow struck on earth goes unfelt in heaven by our sympathetic High Priest. By persecuting Christians, Saul inflicted blows directly on their Lord.

  • Saul, who had been so violent, was violently brought face to face with the enormity of his crimes—not against Christians but against Christ.
  • Those who go to hell do so ultimately because of their rejection of the Savior. Even those who don’t persecute believers, but simply live apart from Jesus Christ, are as guilty of crimes against Him as was Saul.
  • As Saul himself was later to write, “If anyone does not love the Lord, let him be accursed” (1 Cor. 16:22).
  • Jesus said the Holy Spirit would convict men “concerning sin, because they do not believe in Me” (John 16:9).
  • The crime of all crimes for which men will be eternally damned is to refuse to love and follow the Lord Jesus Christ.

True salvation must include conviction of this damning sin. Conviction is the state of being convinced of error or compelled to admit the truth. Since it is this very sin and no other that finally separates man from God.

Saul knew enough about the Christian faith to hate it and persecute it.

  1. He knew the claims of Jesus and the true history of God’s redemption as Stephen had preached it.
  2. He knew the apostles and their associates Stephen and Philip had miraculous power over disease and demons. All that the Spirit had laid as the groundwork in Saul’s life.

When Jesus confronted Saul, the conviction must have been overwhelming. He knew about the truth; here he was crushed into the dust and Saul believed.

As the transformation of the life of Saul unfolds we are reminded that God initiates contact with the sinner and that contact results in conviction.

  1. Conversion

And he said “Who art Thou, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting, (9:5)

First: Saul’s immediate response, “Who art Thou, Lord?” was a recognition of deity—he knew it was the Lord.

  • The whole Christian gospel filled his mind (Negatively) all the time as he pursued his passion of persecuting believers.
  • It is not hard to believe that he already knew the answer to this question as he asked it—if not by faith, then by fear. His worst imaginable nightmare would have been to discover that Jesus was the Messiah, Christianity was true, the gospel was God’s truth, and he had been fighting God.

Second: When Saul heard the words “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,” the light of truth was confirmed in his soul and the gospel became positive.

  • The Christian message he knew well, having debated it with Stephen.
  • Jesus, whom he had believed dead, was obviously alive and obviously who He claimed to be.
  • And the Lord reminded him at that moment how pointless and painful his efforts against Him were. In Acts 26:14, the Lord said to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads [sharp, pointed sticks:  An idiom referring to an animal’s futile resistance to being prodded with goads].”
  • Saul’s resistance was crushed at that moment and his heart, broken by repentance, was healed by faith. Philippians 3:4–11describes the mental change that occurred in his soul at this moment:

… although I myself might have confidence even in the flesh. If anyone else has a mind to put confidence in the flesh, I far more: circumcised the eighth day, of the nation of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the Law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to the righteousness which is in the Law, found blameless. But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ. More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish in order that I may gain Christ, and may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith, that I may know Him, and the power of His resurrection and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death; in order that I may attain to the resurrection from the dead.

Some have foolishly attempted to explain away Saul’s experience as the result of an epileptic seizure. That explanation is inadequate, even granting the dubious assumption that Saul was an epileptic. No such seizure could account for the complete about-face Saul’s life took. Nor does it account for the fact that Saul’s traveling companions saw the light and heard the voice. For the rest of his life Saul offered only one explanation—he had in fact seen the risen, glorified Lord Jesus Christ.

This miraculous conversion, without human involvement at its occurrence, is an example of the extent and power of saving, sovereign grace. Paul testifies to that grace in 1 Timothy 1:13–17:

… even though I was formerly a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent aggressor. And yet I was shown mercy, because I acted ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was more than abundant, with the faith and love which are found in Christ Jesus. It is a trustworthy statement, deserving full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, among whom I am foremost of all. And yet for this reason I found mercy, in order that in me as the foremost, Jesus Christ might demonstrate His perfect patience, as an example for those who would believe in Him for eternal life. Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honor and glory forever and ever. Amen.

  1. Consecration

“but rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do.” And the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one. And 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. (9:6–8)

The genuineness of Saul’s conversion immediately became evident.

From Acts 22:10, we learn that he asked, “What shall I do, Lord?”

Saul’s surrender was complete, as he humbly submitted himself to the will of the Lord he had hated.

  • In contrast to the teaching of many today, Saul knew nothing of accepting Christ as Savior, then (Hopefully) making him Lord later.
  • The plain teaching of Scripture is that Jesus is Lord (cf. Rom. 10:9–10), independent of any human response.
  • The question in salvation is not whether Jesus is Lord, but whether we are submissive to His lordship. Saul was, from the moment of his conversion to the end of his life.

In response to Saul’s inquiry, Jesus told him to rise and enter the city of Damascus, and it shall be told you what you must do.

  • Luke notes that the men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice, but seeing no one.
  • This incident was no subjective projection of Saul’s mind but an actual historical occurrence.
  • 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.
  • His entry into the city was very different than he had anticipated. Instead of barging in as the conquering hero, the scourge of Christians, he entered helplessly blinded, being led by the hand.

God met Saul and he was convicted of his sin trusting Christ as Savior and then God crushed Saul, bringing him to the point of total consecration. From the ashes of Saul’s old life would arise the noblest and most useful man of God the church has ever known.

  1. Communion

And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank. (9:9)

So startling and sudden had been his placing of faith in the Savior that Saul needed time to reflect on the transformation of every aspect of his life. During his three days without sight, when he neither ate nor drank, God led him through the process of reconstructing everything he was and did. Although salvation is an instantaneous transformation from death to life, darkness to light, it takes time to plumb the depths of its meaning and richness. Saul began that process.

Conclusion

Paul’s life was transformed

  • We see this in the “7 Features of the Transformation”
  • The first of which is “Faith in the Savior”
  • There are 5 aspects we have looked at
  • Contact
  • Conviction
  • Conversion
  • Consecration
  • Communion
  • Next week we will look at the next two features of transformation
  • Fervency in Supplication:  Acts 9:10-12
  • Faithfulness in Service:  Acts9:13-17a