Paul’s conversion has always puzzled me. I can’t find where he “prayed the prayer” or “walked the aisle.” All I see is a fire-breathing zealot ravaging Christians door-to-door one minute, and the Lord’s firebrand the next.
It takes some piecing together to get the full account of Paul’s dramatic change. Mostly you need to look at Acts 9 for Luke’s account and Paul’s speeches in Acts 22:4-21 and Acts 26:9-18 to fill in some blanks. His epistles like 1 Timothy also allude to his reviling past. The long and short of it is that we know Paul was going in one direction–with letters to harass Christians–and then going the other way, writing letters to encourage Christians as he went.
It’s very interesting to hear Paul’s response to the brilliant appearing of the Lord on the road to Damascus. The Lord asks Paul why he is persecuting him (not “if you died tonight would you know where you are going”) and Paul says “who are you?” and then “what shall I do?” Wouldn’t it be great to introduce someone to the Lord and he quickly recognizes him for who he is and immediately follows? Some have that privilege.
This is where there is a departure from our “norm.” Paul is blind. He is led by men to the house of Judas, where he is there “praying” for three days. Meantime, Ananias receives a vision from the Lord who prompts him to visit Paul despite his vicious past. Through Ananias Paul receives the Holy Spirit and is baptized “to wash away his sins.” Then he springs into action preaching Jesus Christ as the Son of God.
What’s remarkable is God’s mighty sovereign hand in Paul’s conversion (e.g. appointed, put into service, etc.). Contrast this with the thief on the cross who “decided to follow Jesus” into paradise.
My point is that we read these accounts for what they are and not try to build a theology on either of them, especially the comment on baptism. Not only does the Lord’s disciple take all scripture into consideration when pondering a theological concept, but he also understands the paradoxes in scripture, that they are there and unresolvable by we who “know only in part” (1 Corthians 13:12). For example, events in my life that led to my salvation experience were just as providentially orchestrated as Paul’s, resulting in the miraculous reaping of a soul for Christ’s service (God’s sovereign will, i.e. I was elected). At the same time, somewhere in there I made a conscious decision to follow him (using my free will).
What is needed in these cases as you study and teach the Bible is balance, careful weighing, some logic, a big dose of grace, and the Holy Spirit.
Anyway, here are some insights that I’ve gleaned from these verses (1 Timothy 1:12-16), and then I need to go on further into Paul’s letter. I’ve been camped out here too long!
- No one is beyond the Lord’s reach.
- The Lord uses people in the process of saving sinners (Judas, Ananias).
- Baptism is in the equation, but when all’s said and done, as an expression of one’s faith.
- A dramatic behavioral change should occur at salvation, but possibly this is more dramatically observable in terribly “bad” people.
- We are all called to do something at salvation (Acts 26:20, “performing deeds appropriate with righteousness”)