God’s Great Salvation

God’s Great Salvation

I cannot help but think that Paul was considering the miraculous transformation of his own life as he wrote those words. In this study we take up the topic of conversion. Conversion is that act of God whereby a sinner’s heart is changed so that he or she becomes alive unto God.

The disciples asked Jesus, “Who is the greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven?” Jesus took a little child and gathered that little one to His side and He said to His disciples, “Truly, I say to you, unless you are converted and become as little children you will by no means enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” If we are to enter the Kingdom of Heaven we, each, must be converted.

Sometimes, at high school or college graduations people tearfully part from one another by saying, “Don’t change!” By that they mean to express their hope that the person’s values and core commitments will not be corrupted through life, but they will stay the same and stay sound. But, at the beginning of every person’s life, God lays this charge, “Be converted into a whole new person.” God doesn’t look at us and say, “Don’t change!” He looks at us and says, “You must change if you are to have access to Heaven and if you are to be fit for My Kingdom.”

God makes it clear, however, that we cannot change ourselves. Rather, God Himself must supernaturally act to change us. We ask the questions: what does it mean to be converted? What kind of change is God talking about? How is one converted? In Acts 22 God gives us an example of conversion to help us understand it as the Apostle Paul tells us his story.

Paul’s story certainly has unique elements to it elements that we should not expect to be repeated from person to person, but Paul’s story is also representative in many ways of everyone’s conversion. For this reason, I have asked another person to assist me by sharing with you their story of conversion. I thought a modern example might help us, all the more, to understand that the conversion that Paul needed is one that we need as well today. While Pastor Gary Hutton claims to be a contemporary of the Apostle Paul, I know that he is not. I invite him to share his story. He has been with Bethany Baptist Church for seven years and I believe many of you have not heard Pastor Gary’s story.

Pastor Gary Hutton: Like Paul, grace has been the whole of my life. I spent most of my childhood in total misery; unwanted, it seemed to me, by anyone. The only good memories I have are the good times that my grandparents could afford to have me stay with them on the farm in southeastern Illinois. Even though I wanted nothing to do with God because I felt so unjustly treated, He kept putting Christians in my life to give me a taste of Christianity.

The man who donated the land to Peoria Rescue Ministries for Victory Acres is a man named Kenny Cook. He would pick me up on the highway when he saw me and treated me with some food. I was so bitter and hateful, I never thanked him or showed appreciation, but it never stopped him.

When I was in high school, a young man named Ed Rice and his mother tried to befriend me. I rejected most of Mrs. Rice’s kindness, but Ed had a way of making me think that he really wanted to be around me. God was working on me.

I became involved with the teen Youth for Christ choir because they had a lot of pretty girls in there. I heard the Gospel many, many times but I rejected it. In 1956, I met the prettiest, sweetest Christian young woman I had ever met and I decided to marry her before she knew what was happening. By God’s grace we got to spend a year and one-half together in Japan, getting to know each other. It was there that I saw the joy and the peace in my wife, Marilyn, that I had been looking for myself. Her life led me to accept the Lord. Immediately, I knew I wanted to get serious about Christ.

After the Army, Marilyn and I went to Bob Jones University in Greenville, South Carolina, where I was given the finest Bible teaching I could possibly want by professors who treated me with kindness and patience. My whole life was transformed.

Even though I prepared for the pastoral ministry, I wanted to work with young people who were struggling with life as I had. God called me to teach and coach in the Dunlap School District with 8th graders. I loved everyday of my thirty years with them.

God also put a strong love in my heart for this country and I spent thirty years in the United States Army trying to make a difference for my country. I loved that, too.

In 1994, I retired from teaching and God called me to fulltime pulpit ministry because I couldn’t keep up with the young people anymore. I was the senior pastor for five years at a church in Elmwood and now I have been here, at Bethany, for seven years. I have loved everyday of my life in different ministries. I have loved my wife for almost fifty years and I have loved my Savior and Lord for almost fifty years.
I have failed Him many times but He has never failed me. Proverbs 3:5 contains two of my greatest weaknesses so it is my life’s goal:

Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding…

Pastor Ritch: God transforms lives. We turn now to Acts 22 to consider Paul’s testimony. There are many elements of Paul’s testimony that are exactly the same as Pastor Gary’s, exactly the same as mine, and exactly the same as yours if you are born again.

Paul is now going to stand before a crowd of people who are not favorable to him so it is important for us to gather in a bit of the setting. This is the first of five trials Paul will have to endure and the setting is explained for us in Acts 21:27-29,

27 When the seven days were nearly over, some Jews from the province of Asia saw Paul at the temple. They stirred up the whole crowd and seized him, 28 shouting, “Men of Israel, help us! This is the man who teaches all men everywhere against our people and our law and this place. And besides, he has brought Greeks into the temple area and defiled this holy place.” 29 (They had previously seen Trophimus the Ephesian in the city with Paul and assumed that Paul had brought him into the temple area.)

Paul had decided to go along with the purification rite, a Jewish ritual, under the advice of the elders of the church so that peace might break out. That is not what happened, however. The “Jews from the province of Asia”, we believe, were Jews from Ephesus. Remember that there was rioting in that city as well and they followed Paul to Jerusalem. We believe that because Verse 29 indicates that they recognized Trophimus who was from Ephesus. As soon as the Jews shouted out their indictment in Verse 28, chaos ensued. Paul was beaten viciously by this mob, so much so that it captured the attention of the Roman guard who was to watch over the peace in the city.

The Roman commander himself came down out of the fortress of Antonia. His name was Claudius Liscius and he intervenes to save Paul’s life. Again, we thank God for unbelievers who still act justly, honorably, and with integrity as Claudius Liscius did. The soldiers literally had to carry Paul away on their shoulders away from this mob to protect him from being beaten to death. The crowds were shouting, “Away with him” and they weren’t just asking for Paul to be taken out of the temple area, they were asking for him to be killed. There are many parallels in the treatment of Paul and the treatment of Jesus and this is one of them.

We remember this angry crowd, some thirty years earlier, and perhaps some of them were the same individuals shouting, “Crucify Him! Crucify Him!” Acts 23:31 tells us:

37 As the soldiers were about to take Paul into the barracks, he asked the commander, “May I say something to you?”

This shocked the commander because he considered that the mob was angry at some vicious criminal and he considered Paul to be some lowlife criminal. Paul was speaking to him in the intellectual tongue, in the Greek dialect, and he observed him as an educated man. The commander responds:

“Do you speak Greek?”

There is something about an education and an education can sometimes save a person’s life as it did Paul’s. The commander asked Paul, in Verse 38,

38 “Aren’t you the Egyptian who started a revolt and led four thousand terrorists out into the desert some time ago?”

39 Paul answered, “I am a Jew, from Tarsus in Cilicia, a citizen of no ordinary city. Please let me speak to the people.”

40 Having received the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic…

Paul’s testimony will reveal four aspects of conversion. The first is the myths of good works. The second is the miracle of a new life. The third aspect is the message of a joyful gift. The fourth aspect is the mission of a meaningful purpose. The main idea behind Paul’s testimony and story is that nothing can explain the life of a Christian except God’s gracious intervention. There is no other way to explain God intervening. That is true of every, born again believer.

Let’s consider the first aspect of conversion: the myths of good works as we read Verses 2-5 of Paul’s testimony:

2 When they heard him speak to them in Aramaic, they became very quiet.

Paul is speaking to them in the language of the Jewish people. He understands that they have been told that he is against Jewish people and now he is speaking in their dialect. This causes them to become very quiet.

Then Paul said: 3 “I am a Jew, born in Tarsus of Cilicia, but brought up in this city. Under Gamaliel I was thoroughly trained in the law of our fathers and was just as zealous for God as any of you are today. 4 I persecuted the followers of this Way to their death, arresting both men and women and throwing them into prison, 5 as also the high priest and all the Council can testify. I even obtained letters from them to their brothers in Damascus, and went there to bring these people as prisoners to Jerusalem to be punished.

Gamaliel is one of the most famous of all rabbis and one who is most respected.

Why did Paul begin his testimony this way? There are two reasons. The first reason is that we have to remember that Paul is being accused of being against the Jewish Law, of defiling the Temple, and of teaching Jews to forsake everything Jewish and Paul wanted to show them his credentials as a Jew and he wanted to show them that these charges were simply not true. He wasn’t rejecting his “Jewishness” and wanted to show them that in fact he is a Jew and that he was trained underneath one of the greatest rabbi’s the Jewish nation had ever known: Gamaliel himself.

The second reason why Paul begins this way is that Paul wanted to press home the futility of the Law to make anyone accepted before God. He said, “I want to tell you my story of how zealous I was in keeping every small part of the Law so that you might understand that the pursuit of good works and the pursuit of human standards to be accepted by God is absolutely vain and it is absolutely futile. Paul challenges the myths of “good works” when he says that he is a perfect example of one who believed that good works could gain the acceptance by God and that he was shocked when he found out that was not true.

What is this “myth of good works?” This is a lie that almost everyone in the world believes. This myth asserts that if we do enough good works in this life then those have to count for something, surely before the court of God, after we die; good people, after all, go to Heaven, don’t they? This myth teaches that God weighs our works on a scale, so at the end of our life, as we stand before God, in this balancing scale, if we set our bad works on one side and our good works on the other, hopefully the good deeds will tip the scale so that God will accept us into His Heaven and into His community. So, as a result of the myth of good works, our task in life is to try to have our good works outweigh our bad deeds, and if they do then we are safe. If they don’t then we are in real trouble and we would admit that.

This prompts the question: was Paul good in his younger life? Here we have his testimony and his testimony reveals that according to the standards of his community and the standards of the religious leaders he exceeded all of the requirements. His community and his religious leaders would have set a seal of approval upon Paul’s goodness: “If anyone is going to meet the standards and requirements that we set and that we believe that God requires for us to meet in order for us to be accepted by Him, surely Paul does. He was born a Jew. He was trained under a famous rabbi. He strictly obeyed even the small parts of the Law. No one, not even his rabbi and those who were overseeing him could say, ‘Paul, here is where you are not following the Law.’” Not even in the smallest area could someone externally point those things to him.

Paul told them, “I was zealous for God. I wasn’t a faker. I really believed this stuff. I was sincere and I believed it with all my heart. I had a passion for God, as I understood Him. I acted, in fact, as a defender of the Law. You are accusing me of being one who is against the Law. You have to know that early in my life I acted so much as a defender of the Law that I persecuted those who called themselves Christians because I, too, believed that they were against the Law.” The religious leaders considered such a persecution a righteous act. No one, in the audience that Paul was speaking to, met the requirements established by the religious authority and by the community. No one had met the requirement of entering into Heaven as Paul did.

This prompts the question: what is the problem then? “You are in Paul!” Paul responds, “Yes, that is what I thought also. All of my younger years I considered that God was really pleased with my life until something happened while I was on a trip and on my way up to Damascus to persecute people of the Way.”

What happened on that trip is told to us by Paul in Verse 6. Paul asks them to listen because this experience exploded the myth of good works for him. He tells them that he was held captive and blinded by the idea of accomplishing God’s favor through good words until this event happened to him.

6 “About noon as I came near Damascus, suddenly a bright light from heaven flashed around me. 7 I fell to the ground and heard a voice say to me, ‘Saul! Saul! Why do you persecute me?’

The noonday sun was already bright but Paul wants to contrast the natural brightness of the sun with the bright light of the supernatural bright light of God that flashed upon his soul. Paul is testifying that God convinced him that what he thought were good works were really offences against God and this shocked Paul. He thought he was in the very act of obedience towards God, the very act that he took confidence in, and that it would bring him favor with God. The very thing that Paul placed confidence in suddenly became the evidence that God used against him to condemn him. The very thing that Paul thought was his “in” to Heaven God revealed to him was the very thing that was going to condemn him before Him.

Paul explains a bit more of his testimony in his letter to the Philippians (Philippians 3:4-7). Here Paul is attacking the myth of good works through his own testimony by telling them that if anyone had confidence that they merited God’s favor and that through their own actions they could gain God’s approval it was Paul.

4 …though I myself have reasons for such confidence. If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more: 5 (I was) circumcised on the eighth day, (I was) of the people of Israel, (I was a Jew), (I was) of the tribe of Benjamin (which was a special tribe, a blessed tribe), (I was) a Hebrew of Hebrews; in regard to the law, (I was) a Pharisee; 6 as for zeal, persecuting the church; as for legalistic righteousness, (I was) faultless.
7 But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss…

Paul is telling them that he came to realize that that he couldn’t produce righteousness from himself. This is a righteousness that is produced from within ourselves and it is called “self-righteousness”. You don’t have to be all proud as a peacock in thinking that you are someone special to be self-righteousness. In order to be self-righteous all one has to do is to believe that somehow your good works could gain God’s approval and what Paul is telling us is the righteousness that he was creating for himself was of no value to God whatsoever.

Friend, I tell you that if you are to be converted, God must awaken you as well to this myth of good works that has gripped your soul. By nature, we are people who believe in ourselves. We are taught, in fact, to believe in ourselves; that is, to believe in our own ability to believe in God so we believe that we don’t need to be changed because we believe that we are doing all right.

Someone may say, “I understand that Paul needed to be changed because he persecuted the church. That was a wrong thing to do.” Who says that was a “wrong thing?” To Paul and his community that was a very right thing and a righteous act. The real question is: whose standard of righteousness are we following? Paul was following what we would expect him to follow: the standard of righteousness of his community and the standard of righteousness of his religious leaders. That standard of righteousness said that persecuting the church was a good thing – it was a righteous act and it was what God wanted him to do. We might look at that and say that is obviously wrong, but how do we know that? It is because we have a set of standards that our own community has created and our own community looks at what Paul did and says that was wrong and it is not tolerated and that is our standard.

The question is: how can we be so arrogant as to say that this community was wrong but our community is right? God’s Word says that if we can’t trust that community’s standard we can’t trust our own community standard. We have to trust in God’s standard because that is the only one that really matters. It is God’s standard to which we will give an account for in that day. Learn from the Apostle Paul. It is possible to believe that God is very pleased with you and with your life and yet be terrifying wrong. Only through God’s intervention did Paul come face-to-face with the fact that he had sinned against God Himself. Only by God’s intervention did Paul find that he and his life were in infinite danger.

There can be no conversion without conviction; conviction to the person of Jesus and conviction as to the state of our soul and our own sin.

How does one become convicted? If we are to be convicted we must listen to God’s assessment. Paul finally listened to God’s thoughts about his own life. We listen to everyone else’s opinion and that is what Paul was listening to. Everyone else is clapping and applauding Paul and Paul thinks that he is on the right road until God met him that day on the road to Damascus and said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? Why are you fighting against the very God you claim to serve? Why are you in open rebellion against Me?”

Your friends may say that you are a great guy or a good woman and you don’t have anything to worry about, but God says that even your righteous acts are like filthy rags to Him. We have become so attached to our sin that nothing will convince us otherwise of our own goodness except for the intervention of the Holy Spirit in our life; except that the Holy Spirit impresses upon our hearts in a clear and effective manner that we have sinned against God’s person and that, now, our lives hang by a single thread away from eternal misery. We are comfortable and we don’t think that is a risk that we might be in such infinite danger. Such is the nature of our soul and such is the nature of the deception of the myth of good works.

Paul’s testimony of conversion also teaches us about the miracle of a new life. I first want you to notice that this miracle that took place in Paul and there is no other way to explain the life of Paul apart from a miracle. Look at how zealous he was in persecuting the church and look at how immediately and utterly and absolutely he was changed. What else could explain that? He wasn’t at angst within himself over what he was doing; he was quite comfortable and confident in it all, but notice that this miracle is very personal. God came personally and specifically to Saul. He even called Saul by name because He didn’t want Saul to think that He was speaking to the group, the entourage. He says, “Saul, Saul,” and so He does with all who are converted.

God does not save sinners by groups, but one-by-one, person-by-person. Certainly, whole families may come to salvation on the same day, or even whole tribes may come to salvation on the same day, but they still come to salvation each personally and each one-by-one. He calls your name and when He calls your name I want you to know that He is no stranger to you and to your life.

It wasn’t as though God needed to read a quick biography on this Pharisee Saul in order find out who he was and what he was about. God was most intimately acquainted with all the working of his personal and private life, and so He is with yours. When God comes to you, He comes to you most personally. Isn’t it wonderful to have a “personal” God? God calls your name, not as a stranger, but one He knows completely and intimately; “Bill”; “Sue”; “Tom”; “Jill”.

Also observe that God takes the initiative in this miracle of new life. In Verse 6, Paul described this light as “coming from Heaven.” I think that is very significant. The light that caused Paul to first be physically blinded, but spiritually be able to see, was a light that didn’t come from inside of himself. In our world we seek for spiritual truth from inside of our self. That is what we are taught, isn’t it? If we contemplate long enough, or if we mull things over long enough, we will eventually come to some spiritual enlightenment and some spiritual truth that will be a guide and direction for our path. We are even taught to listen to our own heart, “Do what your heart tells you to do.”

Thankfully, Paul listened to something more than his own heart because what was in his heart? His own heart was utterly dark and it was directing him away from the path of God, away from life, away from joy, away from meaning and purpose, and away from Heaven itself and away from hope. It wasn’t as though Paul was walking along the road contemplating and looking inside for what was the truth, but what happened is that Paul received this miracle from God, from Heaven itself. Light crashed around him and suddenly he was able to see with his spirit that which he had been blind to before. God opened the darkness of his soul to see the Truth of who Jesus is and what Jesus had done and the plan that Jesus had laid out for him.

This prompts the question: was Saul searching? Was he thinking that something was missing for which Jesus might have the answer when God met him on the road? Was Saul looking for something more, something to complete him? The answer to those questions is, “No!” Saul really believed that his life was complete and that it was full. There are millions and millions of people in this world that if you ask them, “Are you missing something in life,” they will answer, “No, my life is great. My life is full.”

Beloved, the only reason anyone recognizes their own emptiness is because God is at work. God is taking the initiative. Certainly the only way that any of us know the answer to the emptiness that lies within is that God supernaturally, sufficiently, and miraculously is graciously intervening in our lives.

The last thing on Saul’s mind was submitting his life to Jesus Christ. The Bible teaches us that what is true of Saul is also true of every convert. That is one of the reasons why this new life in Jesus is such an amazing miracle. God’s Word declares that no one seeks after God, not even one. There are no seekers unto themselves. Just like Paul, every true convert has lovingly been pursued by God Himself.

I love what Paul would later write to the church in Ephesus as he reflects upon not only on his life but the life of every believer. He says this, in Ephesians 1:3-6,

3 Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. 4 For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love 5 he predestined us to be adopted as his sons through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— 6 to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves.

The reason why our praise to God is so joyful and so effusive is because God flashed His light upon our soul when we were quite content in walking in darkness, but God chose us even as He chose Paul. He chose us out of our misery even when we were comfortable in it.

I love Charles Wesley’s hymn that explains his testimony, titled: And Can It Be that I Should Gain:

Long my imprisoned spirit lay,
fast bound in sin and nature’s night;
thine eye diffused a quickening ray;
I woke, the dungeon flamed with light;
my chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.
My chains fell off, my heart was free,
I rose, went forth, and followed thee.

Charles Wesley knows what every Christian knows, and that is why our praise is so energetic and so zealous, it is God who is the One who saves us for we are enslaved and in chains in this dark dungeon and it is a Light from Heaven that comes into our soul. It is not our own seeking but it is God’s grace.

This new life bursts out with two great questions that Paul asks now, and one’s he had never asked before, and these are the questions that reverberate throughout the lifetime of those who are truly converted because they are questions that we are always searching and learning about. We see these two questions in Verse 8,

8 ” ‘Who are you, Lord?’ I asked.

Paul had never really asked that question before. It was Jesus. Undoubtedly he had heard the answers because he heard Stephen preach and proclaim Jesus, but he had never asked the question. Until we learn to ask the question we have not opened up our soul to instruction. This is not a question we ask once and then move away from. There is a fullness of who Jesus is that we are learn everyday, and everyday we get up and say, “Who are you, Lord? I learned much about you yesterday, but I want to know more. Who are you, Lord?” It is only a converted heart that will ask this question and desire the answer. It will be teachable.

Paul was once resistant to Jesus and now he is eager to learn more of Jesus. He has a learner’s heart and so it is in the conversion of every man and woman: they begin to have a learner’s heart to learn more about their Savior. With conversion we become anxious to learn of God.

Are you anxious to learn more of Jesus? Look in your heart and ask if you really want to know Jesus. An unknown Savior cannot help you. The good news is that if you desire to learn about Jesus, God is willing and able to teach you, even as He did Paul.

My eight-year old son has discovered a fictional boy by the name of “Encyclopedia Brown.” Do you know of him? My son cannot read the books fast enough and he is eager to read all the books about Encyclopedia Brown’s adventures. Why is that? His heart and his imagination have been somehow captured by this young boy who is able to discern mysteries.

If you and I are born again, if we are converted, our hearts and imaginations will be enflamed with Jesus, His person, His works, and His offices. If you and I wish to know more of Jesus, His offices, His person, and His works, here is His book. My eight-year old son knows that he is not going to learn more about Encyclopedia Brown through osmosis by simply having the books on the shelf. He has to take up and read, and so it is with the Book of Jesus. If we are to know more of Jesus, we have to get into His book. It is a living book and it is a book through which God speaks through His Holy Spirit to our hearts. It is a book that feeds our soul so that we grow strong in Him.

This book acts as a mirror reflecting the image of Jesus to us. Apart from this book we would know nothing of Jesus. Apart from God revealing Himself from Heaven we can never, ever discern who His or what He is like from the earth reaching up to Him. That is one of the major differences between Christianity and every other world religion. Every other world religion is man trying to figure out who God is starting from the ground up, but our arms are too short and our eyesight is too limited to every seek and know Him.

Christianity says that God in His grace came down to us and He revealed Himself to us from Heaven itself. Everything we can know of Jesus we know through this living Word, through this book. Paul sought instructions from God Himself and that is a good model for us. Let us not be content with a lesser source.

Of course, God’s Spirit uses human teachers to help us as they teach us the Word of God and to learn more of Jesus. That is appropriate, but I would urge you, if you are converted and if you are born again and you have the Light of God inside of you, do not be content to have others harvest all of the field for you. This is a rich field and God intends for you to harvest the fruit of the knowledge of God through it and through His Holy Spirit as you reflect what God has told us in His Word.

The second question Paul asks is in Verse 10,

10 “What shall I do, Lord?” I asked.

There is no greater miracle than the change that takes place in a convert’s heart. What a change it is for Paul to now ask this question: “What would you have me to do, Lord? It matters not what it is. I am sold out already. I will do it no matter how hard it might be. You do you want me to go to prison? Do you want me to be persecuted? Do you want me to suffer physical and emotional pain? Do you want me to even die? What do you want me to do, Lord?”

It is a heart of absolute submission to the authority of Jesus Christ. God is the One who surrenders our will to Jesus in conversion and He does this for every convert. Jesus takes hold of us and we feel His influence to command us. No one truly receives Jesus and is converted and then continues to live as they lived. No, the definition of conversion means change!

I am careful here because I know that this change often is not as dramatic in every convert’s life as it was with the Apostle Paul. I believe we have to be very careful not to describe the exact depth that this change must have in a person’s life, but the teaching of the Scripture is crystal clear on this: if you are converted, if you are born again, you will be changed. If you believe yourself to be converted and yet notice no change and no heart’s yearnings to ask, “What shall I do, Lord?” and no compulsion to submit your life and obey Jesus as Sovereign Lord, you should be much concerned. There should be concern on your soul, “Am I really converted,” for the mark of a true disciple is our obedience, Jesus would say.

The Scripture says that everyone who confesses the name of the Lord must turn away from wickedness (2 Timothy 2:19), and without holiness no one will see the Lord. This is practical holiness and not our positional holiness before the Lord, but without practical holiness no one will see the Lord. Peter would say, in 2 Peter 1:10,

10 Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure (by growing in Christ’s likeness).

Again, salvation is not of works, but if we are converted God changes our hearts and that is the evidence of genuine work that takes place in our lives. I urge you to submit yourself to God today; surrender yourself to Him completely and ask that question, “What would you have me to do, Lord? My soul has been awakened by your Spirit and I am asking, ‘What would you have me to do?’ Are the sins you would have me confess and turn from? Is there a service that you would have me to accomplish? Lord, what would you have me to do?”

This new life that takes place is a miracle that God brings. We cannot change ourselves, but it is a miracle that God performs to all who come to Him humbly and come to Him in faith. This change is often illustrated by the metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly. What a remarkable change that is, but you know that is not a very good illustration for the Christian life. The metamorphosis of a caterpillar into a butterfly is amazing, but it is not miraculous. There are very real, physical events that take place within the caterpillar that bring about the change that the scientists can explain, but this is not true of regeneration and of conversion. If you want an illustration that better fits what your conversion would be, here it is: take a dead caterpillar, turn it into a butterfly and let it fly away! That is conversion! A dead caterpillar changing, life being infused, wings spreading, flying away – this is the miracle of a new life.
Third, we see the message of a joyful gift in Verses 10 and,

10 “What shall I do, Lord?” I asked.

“Get up,” the Lord said, “and go into Damascus. There you will be told all that you have been assigned to do.” 11 My companions led me by the hand into Damascus, because the brilliance of the light had blinded me.

Paul meets Ananias and God appoints him to minister to Paul. Ananias said to Paul, “Receive you sight,” and God healed Paul’s physical body, but something also has taken place in Paul’s soul because he now sees, for the first time. Then Ananias says to Paul, in Verse 16,

16 “And now what are you waiting for? Get up, be baptized and wash your sins away, calling on his name.”

Someone may ask, right away, “Is baptism necessary for salvation and for conversion?” No, and the Bible is very clear on that. We have already read about this throughout the Book of Acts. The Philippian jailer who asked Paul, in Acts 16:

30 “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

Peter said in his first sermon, in Acts 2, said,

21 And everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved. (Joel 2:32)

It is the calling in this verse that initiates salvation. Baptism is closely linked to conversion in that baptism is a command upon every believer. Only disobedient Christians are unbaptized Christians.

John McArthur translates this verse more literally, and it helps us: “Arise, get yourself baptized and your sins washed away, having called on the name of the Lord.” The idea is that Paul’s sins would be washed away, not by baptism, but by calling upon the name of the Lord.

The prophet Isaiah would say, in Isaiah 1,

18 “Come now, let us reason together,” says the LORD. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red as crimson, they shall be like wool.”

David said, in Psalm 32:1, 2,

1 Blessed is (the man) whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. 2 Blessed is the man whose sin the LORD (remembers no more)…

Beloved, have you received this joyful message; this message of a joyful gift – the gift of forgiveness. It is so good to be clean.

The last issue of conversion is the mission of a meaningful purpose. People are looking for a purpose in life. They are looking for purpose in their family; in the meaning of other relationships; in the meaning of their careers, their jobs, and their money. Paul never knew purpose until he knew Jesus Christ and what was his purpose? We find it in Verse 21,

21 “Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’

And, when He sends Paul, He sends him to do as Verse 15 says,

15 You will be his witness to all men of what you have seen and heard.

God has given you a mission and that mission is incredibly meaningful. It connects you with eternity itself and here is the mission – it is to be a witness of Jesus Christ. That is true, generally, of everybody, but it is also true, specifically, for each one of you in that there is a specific way that God has for you to be His witness. For Paul, it was to go to the Gentiles. For Peter, it was to stay home and work with the Jews. For you, it is something else, but you have a meaningful purpose. Do not believe the lie that your purpose has ended or that it is some, small, little thing. God has a meaningful purpose to attach you to the Gospel message itself.

I close by asking you this question: are you converted? In salvation, God always makes the first move. It is by grace that we are saved, but, friend, God also calls you to act and He holds you responsible to act. Here is what God says, in Acts 2:21, “Believe on the name of the Lord and you will be saved.”

God is a willing Savior. Come to Him. Let us rejoice in the salvation that is found in Jesus Christ, God’s Son.