Acts Part 7

Notes on Acts

Part Seven




Read 9: 1-31.


The compelling and dramatic conversion of Saul is unique in that the Lord Jesus appeared to him and spoke to him personally. Yet, there have been countless testimonies showing the transformative power when a hardened sinner experiences freedom form sin through the gospel.


“At a young age, John Newton went to sea. Like most sailors of his day, he lived a life of rebellion and debauchery. For several years he worked on slave ships, capturing slaves for sale to the plantations of the New World. So low did he sink that at one point he became a slave himself, captive of another slave trader. Eventually, he became the captain of his own slave ship. The combination of a frightening storm at sea, coupled with his reading of Thomas a Kempis’s classic Imitation of Christ, planted the seeds that resulted in his conversion. He went on to become a leader in the evangelical movement of eighteenth-century England, along with such men as John and Charles Wesley, George Whitfield, and William Wilberforce. On his tombstone is inscribed the following  epitaph, written by Newton himself: ‘John Newton, clerk, once an infidel and Libertine, a servant of slavers in Africa, was, by the rich mercy of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, preserved, restored, pardoned, and appointed to preach the Faith he had long labored to destroy.’ When he penned the beloved hymn, ‘Amazing Grace,’ he knew firsthand the truths it proclaimed.”[1]


Newton is just one example among thousands of powerful salvation experiences. The gospel has the power, when accompanied by the Spirit’s working in the heart of the hearer (or reader), to transform the most hardened sinner!


I (CR) recall sharing the gospel to many airmen (over 18) soon after I myself had submitted to it as a young man in the Air Force.  There was one airman who used to boast about his drug use (He said that he had taken LSD more than a hundred times!) and who had a very critical and hard-nosed attitude about military service and life in general. So much so, that I did not bother to share the gospel with him. I supposed that he was too hard of a nut to crack. How surprised I was when one day he said to me, “Craig, I heard that you have been telling people about faith in Christ.” I replied, “I have been. But it is not something that you would be interested in.” He in turn replied, “I want to hear about it.” Prior to this, his attitude was so poor that I half suspected that he just wanted to hear what I had to say so that he could shoot holes in it. So, I half-heartedly shared the gospel with him. When I was done, he said, “I want to become a Christian.” I was shocked, but we prayed together and he was baptized within a few days. If the Pharisee, Saul, can be saved, anyone can be saved!


A few notable matters should be observed about Paul’s conversion.


As he was traveling, it happened that he was approaching Damascus, and suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him;

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

    5      And he said, “Who are You, Lord?” And He said, “I am Jesus whom you are persecuting,[2]


Saul was persecuting the disciples, yet Jesus says that he was persecuting Him! This shows the oneness that we have with the Lord and that he has with us! We are united with him in reality so that our experiences become His! When Paul writes to the Ephesians he could even say that we are seated with Christ in the heavenlies already (Eph. 2:6)!


The men who traveled with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one.

    8      Saul got up from the ground, and though his eyes were open, he could see nothing. Leading him by the hand, they brought him into Damascus.

    9      And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.[3]


Being blind, we can imagine the great turmoil he must have experienced. Not only his blindness, but the knowledge that he had been fighting against the Lord Himself and that he had brought misery upon God’s chosen people must have weighed heavily upon him. He was a participant in the murder of Stephen (Acts 7:58; 8:1). He must have thought that his blindness was partly due to his sin. Such wrestling with one’s guilt, and even going through any great difficulty, drives one to anguish. When one experiences anguish a most natural reaction, especially among those who seek to obey God, is prayer and fasting. He neither ate nor drank for three days. During these three days he was also praying (vs. 11).


This ought to be our experience when we go through trials, whether they be our own failures or simply when difficult circumstances surround us. Have you had this experience? If so, please share it now.



But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of Mine, to bear My name before the Gentiles and kings and the sons of Israel;

  16      for I will show him how much he must suffer for My name[4]



At the time of Saul’s conversion he was shown “how much he must suffer” for the sake of Christ. Indeed, this began to happen soon thereafter:


When many days had passed, the Jews plotted to kill him,[5]


“Already he began to suffer what he had formerly inflicted. He saw clearly that this would be his experience to the end of his course, yet he never wavered. He had counted the cost.”[6] This brings to our recollection our Lord’s words:


Now great crowds accompanied him, and he turned and said to them, 26 “If anyone comes to me and does not hate his own father and mother and wife and children and brothers and sisters, yes, and even his own life, he cannot be my disciple. 27 Whoever does not bear his own cross and come after me cannot be my disciple. 28 For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? 29 Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, 30 saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ 31 Or what king, going out to encounter another king in war, will not sit down first and deliberate whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand? 32 And if not, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation and asks for terms of peace. 33 So therefore, any one of you who does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple. [7]


Some have tried to assert that the terms of receiving the gospel and the terms of discipleship are different. That all one has to do to be saved is to believe, by which they mean to mentally assent to the facts of the gospel. But then, to really be devoted, one should become a disciple. This misunderstanding stems from a defective understanding of faith or belief. In the modern sense of the word, believe can mean “mental assent” or simple agreement. But that kind of faith does not save. The demons have that kind of faith. Saving faith encompasses trusting in the Person of Christ as well as his work on the cross. Trusting Christ means that we submit to him as Lord and we follow him. Therefore, the terms of submitting to the gospel and submitting to Christ to become a disciple are the same.[8]


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.”

  18      And immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he regained his sight, and he got up and was baptized;

  19      and he took food and was strengthened.[9]


Paul was filled with the Holy Spirit. This is the outward filling – the baptism of the Holy Spirit.


No sooner had he received his sight back that he was baptized in water. This is the pattern we see throughout the book of Acts. People were baptized at the time of their repentance or very soon thereafter. Among evangelicals it is sometimes seen that weeks or months go by before those who profess faith are baptized. This practice is contrary to revelation. We ought to ensure, as best as we can, that a person understands both the gospel and that the Lord requires their absolute allegiance; but this can be done in a short period of time. Baptism should follow faith and repentance forthwith.


And immediately he proclaimed Jesus in the synagogues, saying, “He is the Son of God.” [10]


We see a pattern, do we not? Those who came to faith in Christ then  proclaimed Jesus. This is a telling evidence of genuine conversion. A person is compelled by the Spirit to tell others of Christ. Those who are silent show that their profession of faith may have been a kind of mental assent without the regenerating power of the Spirit accompanying. See comments on this in a previous lesson. In brief, if a person at one time talked to others about the Lord (not just once or twice, but over a period of months or years, because anyone will talk about anything that appeals to them at first) and then gets entangled in the mundane affairs of life, neglecting the Great Commission, they should rekindle their lost fire. But, if a person has  never shared the gospel with others (more than once or twice) then it is likely that their profession of faith was nothing more than that…a mere profession and, thus, a false faith.  The experiences that we read of in the book of Acts help us to see the results of genuine conversion.


When many days had elapsed, the Jews plotted together to put him to death,

  24      but their plot became known to Saul. They were also watching the gates day and night so that they might put him to death;

  25      but his disciples took him by night and let him down through the wall, lowering him in a large basket.[11]


Observe that verse 25 says that Paul himself had disciples. Thus, the biblical pattern is that one becomes a disciple of Jesus first and foremost; but then it is a good thing to attach oneself to a person who has consecrated themselves to the Lord. This enables us to see, firsthand, how the life of a disciple is to be lived. We learn from such a person truths from the Scriptures, how to answer the questioner, how to explain the gospel, how to deal with opposition, and how to walk in holiness. Just attending church or reading books will not suffice. We need accountability and frequent exposure to living the life of a disciple. Without discipleship it is too easy for a person to be fooled by the deceitfulness of sin (Matthew 13:22; Mark 4:19; Hebrews 3:13).


Therefore, we become a disciple of Christ first and we ought to be a disciple of a mature Christian too.


If we are not already being discipled by another person, then we need to find such a person and ask them, “Will you disciple me?” Plan to devote at least two times per week with that person. (Remember that when Jesus discipled others it was 24/7!) More, we ought to make ourselves available to others so that we can disciple them. The exception to this would be new converts. They need time to mature in the faith before they lead others.


Escape traditionalism and enter into discipleship! The modern tradition is just to attend church once per week (maybe twice per week) and that is as far as many Christians go. But the Lord spoke against tradition in the gospels. Most traditions end up being contrary to the way of abundant life. Live as a disciple, not a church-goer!


So the church throughout all Judea and Galilee and Samaria had peace and was being built up. And walking in the fear of the Lord and in the comfort of the Holy Spirit, it multiplied. [12]


What a blessed thing it is when the church has peace and is being built up! The early disciples did two things and the result was that the church increased, meaning that their numbers increased. They walked “in the fear of the Lord” and they had the comfort of the Holy Spirit. It is good to fear the Lord! The fear of the Lord is represented positively over 1000 times in the Bible! And, the comfort of the Holy Spirit will supernaturally give us rest if we will consecrate ourselves.





[1] John MacArthur, The MacArthur New Testament Commentary on Acts, Vol 1, p 263.

[2] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 9:3–5). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[3] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Ac 9:7–9). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[4] Legacy Standard Bible. (2021). (Ac 9:15–16). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[5] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 9:23). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[6] William Arnot, Studies in Acts, (1875), Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI; Reprint 1978; 204.

[7] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 14:25–33). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[8] Some books which help make this clear: The Discipleship Gospel by Bill Hull, Conversion and Discipleship by Bill Hull, The Gospel According to Jesus by John MacArthur, The Gospel According to the Apostles by John MacArthur, and Discipling: The Multiplying Ministry by Milton Jones.

[9] New American Standard Bible: 1995 update. (1995). (Ac 9:17–19). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[10] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 9:20). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.

[11] Legacy Standard Bible (2021). (Ac 9:23–25). La Habra, CA: The Lockman Foundation.

[12] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 9:31). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.