Baptism & Paul’s Salvation

Saul was a Jewish fanatic (Galatians 1:13-14), a Pharisee’s Pharisee — as he described himself, “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.” (Philippians 3:5-6) If you or I were to encounter him during his heyday as a Pharisee zealot, we might have declared him hopeless. And yet, as we see in the following account, his heart changed in a moment, and he later became Paul, perhaps the greatest apostle in the propagation of Jesus’ Kingdom. We read of his conversion twice in the book of Acts — first in Acts 9 in Luke’s narrative, and then in Acts 22 when Paul himself is telling his story to a hostile mob in Jerusalem. His story goes into the details of his conversion, from the first moment of belief to his baptism. Here we can find what significance baptism held in his salvation.

Act 9:3 -5 — 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 . . .”

Act 22:6 -8 — “But it happened that as I was on my way, approaching Damascus about noontime, a very bright light suddenly flashed from heaven all around me, and I fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to me, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?’ And I answered, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said to me, ‘I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.’

At noon, the light shone around him. Noon is the brightest time of day, yet a “very bright light” — bright enough to be distinguished at midday — stopped Saul in his tracks. He fell to the ground, either stunned and blinded by the brilliance, or overcome with astonishment and reverence, or both. From apparently nowhere a voice demanded why he persecuted “Me”. Since Saul was actively persecuting followers of Jesus, and on his way to Damascus to throw Christians into prison, he would instantly know that he was talking to none other than Jesus Himself. Saul asks the identity of the voice, even adding the title of “Lord” — in the Greek, kyrios, which is defined in Strong’s Concordance as “a title of honor expressive of respect and reverence, with which servants greet their master”. To which the voice replies, “I am Jesus the Nazarene, whom you are persecuting.”

If anything would convince anyone, this incident most definitely would convince Saul. Instantly, the realization that his Pharisaical radicalism is displeasing to God sinks in. He has been working against God, and been solidly convicted! At this point, Saul undoubtedly believes. If belief is all it takes to be saved, he should be saved and rejoicing at this very moment.

Act 22:10 — “And I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Get up and go on into Damascus, and there you will be told of all that has been appointed for you to do.’ ”

Act 9:6 — “. . . but get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.”

“What shall I do, Lord?” Saul does not deny that Jesus is who he claims. No doubt all his persecuting and the import of this past actions have come crashing down and he realizes how far he has fallen, that he is not only guilty of sin but also of scourging the body of Christ. He is doomed to damnation, and he wants to know what to do. This echoes the question asked by the multitude in Acts 2:27 — “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter told the multitude, “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:28). Jesus tells Saul, “Get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do.” The answer has yet to be given to Saul. Keep this in mind as we continue reading.

Saul believes. Is he saved at this point? Let’s read on.

Act 22:11-16 — “But since I could not see because of the brightness of that light, I was led by the hand by those who were with me and came into Damascus. A certain Ananias, a man who was devout by the standard of the Law, and well spoken of by all the Jews who lived there, came to me, and standing near said to me, ‘Brother Saul, receive your sight!’ And at that very time I looked up at him. And he said, ‘The God of our fathers has appointed you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and to hear an utterance from His mouth. For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.’ ”

Act 9:17-18 — So Ananias departed and entered the house, and after laying his hands on him said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road by which you were coming, has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized . . .

Saul, completely blind, is led by the hand, stumbling, feeling his way into Damascus. Instead of entering the city to kill Christians, as was his original plan, he enters blind and helpless, waiting for help from the very people whom he sought to destroy.

After arriving, Saul remained praying for three days. There is no doubt he believed. Still burdened by his persecution of the church, he spent those three days of prayer begging God to spare him his due judgment, to give him a second chance. Imagine the terror, the horror, the guilt! Ananias comes to Saul and upon bidding him to receive his sight, watches “something like scales” fall from Saul’s eyes.

Then, after stating the mission God has laid out for Saul, Ananias finally tells Saul what he must do, as Jesus predicted. “Why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.”

Obviously, though Saul has believed and been praying fervently for three days, Saul’s sins have not yet been washed away. There was something to be done. Ananias said, “Get up and be baptized.” Saul has most definitely believed, and has been praying for three days. If all one must do is believe in Jesus and pray for salvation, then Saul would not be in need of his sins being washed away — if it is true, he is already cleansed, saved! But Ananias tells him to “be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on his name.” Going back to Acts 2, this echoes Peter’s command to the multitude to “be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.”

Saul did not “pray the prayer” to be saved. He did not just believe to be saved. He was leaving out the thing God told him “he must do”, through the mouth of Ananias: “GET UP AND BE BAPTIZED, AND WASH AWAY YOUR SINS!”

Saul himself (then Paul) later referred to this washing as “the washing of water with the word” (Ephesians 5:26) and “the washing of regeneration” (Titus 3:5). The writer of Hebrews (presumed to be Paul) says, “Let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled from an evil conscience, and our bodies washed with pure water.” — Hebrews 10:22. Peter likened it to a washing or cleansing in I Peter 3:21.

After reading this there is no doubt that Paul was baptized for the remission of sins, just as the multitude of three thousand on the day of Pentacost.

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