Paul's Conversion

by Doyle D. Dewberry

1 Timothy 1:15 - This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief. 16 Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting.

2/19/2001 / TEXT - 1 Timothy 1:15-16
Many do not see any relationship between Paul's conversion and their own, but note our text: his was a pattern (upotupwsiv meaning "model, example, prototype, standard") of all conversions! Paul begins in this text to tell Timothy (and us) of his great sin. All sin is great, but Paul, proclaiming that Jesus came into the world to save sinners, confesses also to his being the chief (that is, a foremost) sinner. This confession amounts to repentance, without which no one can be saved. Paul never quite got over his persecution of the Church which amounted to murder, and casting some of the saints into prison for their following the Lord Jesus Christ.

Let us not forget, however, that it is the goodness of God that leadeth us to repentance (Rom 2:4), and that Paul's conversion, like all conversions, is the work of the Triune Godhead, who makes Christ's enemies His footstool. What is evident in Paul's conversion, is that his is a pattern for all, though some of the circumstances surrounding individuals may be different? While there are some who attempt to claim this a pattern just for Israel, it specifically tells us it is for THEM which should hereafter believe, and thus includes both Jews and Gentiles.

Saul "ask for" (of God) was his Hebrew name, but after his conversion, he changed his name to Paul, a Greek name meaning "Small". The change was first noted in Acts 13:9, ..Saul (who is also called Paul). Paul (Small) befit him in a lesser status which, no doubt, he felt after his conversion. Coming to Christ emphasizes man's true being which humbles one into the dust. Paul (Small) first had to come down before he could be raised up, and he became one of, if not the most respected and knowledgeable, spokesmen for the Savior. Of the 27 epistles, Paul wrote 13 of them (14 if he wrote Hebrews). However, Paul referred to himself as the least of all the apostles and the least of all the saints.

This message seeks to point out some of the aspects of this pattern! We shall set forth a SEVEN-FOLD DEMONSTRATION IN PAUL'S CONVERSION which is a pattern of all conversions.


All conversions are the result of divine revelation. Such may not be so pronounced as Pauls's, but revelation it is. It may be more like Peter's when he confessed Thou art the Christ the Son of the living God (Matt 16:16). Our Lord had to tell Peter that such had been revealed unto him by the Father in heaven. In other words we are not always so knowing how we know, but we know by the gift of faith, and such is the revelation of God. So here is evidence of revelation, as our Lord, in revealing Himself to Paul, and it is thus said to be a pattern of all that believe unto eternal life according to our text. Consider the words of the Lord Jesus Himself:

25 At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast HID THESE THINGS from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. 26 Even so, Father: for so it seemed good in thy sight. 27 All things are delivered unto me of my Father: and no man knoweth the Son, but the Father; neither knoweth any man the Father, save the Son, and he to whomsoever THE SON WILL REVEAL him (Matt 11:25-27).


Even though many are converted through the preaching of the Gospel, Paul had no such experience, as he had no earthly man preaching. God does not need man to convert anyone, and even though he may use a man to proclaim the Gospel, man is not necessary. Paul was saved without the preaching of any man. Some do not realize that a man can receive the Gospel through other means also, as some are saved when reading of the Word of God. Paul tells us in Rom 10 that faith coming by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God, not the word of man. We are sure that Paul found the expression he used against those who replied against God: Who hath resisted His will? (Rom 9:19), from his conversion on the road to Damascus. His conversion is a very obvious account of one being born from above, whereby man is passive in the acommplishment of it. That which was wrought by Christ toward him was inward, and the outward circumstances would never have changed such a hostile man as Saul of Tarsus which he had demonstrated himself to be.

In Acts 9, we are told that Paul heard a voice (v.4). We are told the men heard a voice, but saw no man, yet again, in Acts 22:9, we are told the men heard no voice, but saw the light. In Acts 26:14, Paul tells us they all fell to the ground, and I heard a voice. No doubt those with him saw the light and heard some noise, but did not understand any words spoken. It is evident that God can speak to one person in the midst of others, and only one understand what was said, and at any rate, He can communicate with man whom He has created without the aid of anyone. We are told, It is the Spirit that quickenth (makes alive), the flesh profiteth nothing. (John 6:63).


Paul did not find the Lord, the Lord found Paul, and having shined such a bright light around him, Paul could see nothing. When the Lord had spoken unto him asking why he persecuted Him, Paul asked, Who art thou Lord? (Acts 9:5). And was not Paul kicking against the pricks? a definite result of man's lack of ability. Stephen said as much to the Jews who were resisting the Spirit, as man does before being regenerated:

Ye stiffnecked and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost: as your fathers did, so do ye (Acts 7:51).

As long as man is in the condition described by Stephen, he resists, but when quickened, he obeys. The Psalmist said, Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power (110:3). In man's corrupt state which he inherited from his father Adam, man does not have the ability unto spiritual good, and thus does not understand spiritual things even though they come from the Savior's lips until he is enabled to do so. Paul knew very well that man who is dead in trespasses and sins needs to be quickened having this spiritual inability! Thus man must be enabled before he can believe, and the reason why faith is the gift of God (Eph 2:8-9). This is why Paul could write, indicating that man cannot understand spiritual things until he has the indwelling Spirit of God:

But the natural man (soulish man) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God: for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned (1 Cor 2:14).


Everything about Paul's conversion reveals God's election, and it shows how Paul could tell believers, God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation (2 Thess 2:13). Ananias was sent to the blinded Paul, but he was hesitant as he knew of Paul's reputation. In his vision from the Lord, he was told, ..he is a chosen vessel unto me (Acts 9:15). One thing stands out that Paul found: when he was persecuting the Christians - he was persecuting Christ, as he was told: Why persecutest thou me? It no doubt never entered his mind that every deed wrought against Christ's people was also against God and His Son. It is a warning to every one who would contemplate moving aggressively against the saints.

Some say this election was for service only, but the Lord never used a man to serve him in this capacity without choosing him unto salvation. The Lord Jesus had said as much to His disciples: Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, AND ORDAINED YOU, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain (John 15:16). It is very obvious that the choosing was unto salvation, and ordaining unto service secondarily, and thus ordaining to service follows divine election. This word is certainly true of the conversion of Paul as any unbiased person should be readily able to see, and true of anyone's conversion if he properly reviews all his own circumstances in salvation. And most amazingly so, a little later, Paul was called to the apostleship of the Gentiles - those who had been his enemy from a long time before.


And the Lord SAID, I AM JESUS whom thou persecutest (Acts 9:5). This is the call that is effectual. It is readily agreed that we are not always aware of the divine voice, but He does speak with the still, small voice as He told Elijah. Paul saw man's problem in believing that he must have his own requirements met before he commits himself: The Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom, but the effectualness of God's call is found in what Paul further taught; But unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God (1 Cor 1:22-24). You do not need a sign when God's power is there, and you don't need human wisdom, when God's wisdom prevails. In verse 30 of this chapter, Paul tells us Christ is made unto us ... wisdom.

The effective call from the Lord Jesus to Paul is clearly evident in Paul's immediate response where he calls Jesus LORD. Does not one have to confess Jesus as LORD for salvation? (Rom 10:9-10). Then without resisting; without argumentation; without denial, Paul said, What wilt thou have me to do? (v.6). What a vast change between Paul's question of who the Lord was, and this question!


For this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern. Is it not reasonable that our God has the date when everyone shall come to Him? Jesus said, All that the Father giveth me shall come to me (John 6:37). Could not the Lord have saved Paul before his great sin against God's Church? Why wait until much damage has been wrought, and Paul having this on-going regret of his great sin? Paul said it was to show the longsuffering of the Lord Jesus. It is quite obvious that Paul was not saved by his own merit, but by the unmerited favor of God. There is no other salvation in Christ other than that of grace (Eph 2:8:9). Mercy indicates pity; grace indicates favor. Even the gift of faith is by grace. Paul said It is of faith, that it might be by grace.(Rom 4:16).

One would reason that Paul was the most unlikely candidate for salvation. Even Ananias feared to go to Paul at the Lord's request, for his devastating work within the Church was quite well know, and this was his response to the Lord's telling him to go to him that his sight might be restored:

13 Then Ananias answered, Lord, I have heard by many of this man, how much evil he hath done to thy saints at Jerusalem: 14 And here he hath authority from the chief priests to bind all that call on thy name (Acts 9:13-14).

Ah, man's enemies are not always God's enemies, and many times the most unlikely turn out to be one belonging to God from the foundation of the world. The greatness of Paul's sin was not greater than God's abundant grace. There are no giants in the world beyond the ability of our God to save whom He will. The greatest tyrant is too often a special trophy of God's grace, and Paul's conversion is a pattern of all conversions in light of it.


We speak of God's power as "omnipotence", all powerful, and it certainly is evident in anyone experiencing regeneration. Afterall, man's ability, being dead spiritually, is inability, as what can the dead do? Jesus said, Ye will not come to me that ye might have life. (John 5:40). The question here is, how can one will if he does not have life which is death?

The power to raise the physically dead is equivalent to raising the dead spiritually, as Paul tells us in Ephesians One, as he speaks of the exceeding greatness of God's power in Christ when he raised Him from the dead (v.20). And not only so, but in those who are dead in trespasses and sins, as he begins Chap Two with AND YOU (hath he quickened) (that is, made alive). This reference pointing back to Christ being raised by God's great power indicates the same power is necessary in the quickening of the dead sinner spiritually speaking.

When Paul wrote to the elect believers in Thessalonica, and told them of this same power of God in salvation that he himself had experienced, he said:

4 Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God. 5 For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance; as ye know what manner of men we were among you for your sake. (1 Thess 1:4-5).

O, dear Reader, do you not know the same in your own conversion? that it was due to the almighty power of our omnipotent God? Consider what kind of sinner you were, heady, highminded, stubborn. You were like a wild ass's colt's, unable to be tamed! You had a deceitful heart that was desperately (that is, incurably) wicked; the whole head was sick, and your sins were as scarlet!

But, blessed be God, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, even those who were chief sinners. Someone has said, "The Church is a tribe, and everyone is a chief." Do you not see how power is needed to bring such sinners to Christ; it is only within the ability of our almighty God to do so. No man can come to me, Jesus said, except the Father ... draw him (John 6:44).

Consider Paul who was leading his helpers into battle against the Lord and His people, and they in turn must lead him into retreat, overcome by the Lord whom he had fought for so long. Beware that you be on the right side of God's son, whom He has given preeminence! There is little wonder that Paul would say so, as this he learned one day by that experience in which the Christ changed his life, whereby he was made His servant, rather than an enemy. It was a victory for Christ rather than a defeat for Paul. These are the words Paul used to describe His Savior, when we understand what Paul was before, and what he came to be. And it is fitting for us all:

(Jesus) being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: but made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. Wherefore God also hath highly exalted him, and given him a name which is above every name: that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth; and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father: Amen! (Phil 2:6-11).

Doyle Dewberry, formerly of Alameda, California, is a retired Pastor and author of Sovereign Grace Baptist Proclaimer, Setting Forth The Doctrines of Grace In Salvation. He can be reached by email at sovereigngrace at 5star-living.com.

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