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Doing the Damascus Walk?


Doing the Damascus Walk?

Acts 9:1-9

In this study I want to look again at Saul’s dramatic conversion to Christianity, an extraordinary event, and to make three very simple and basic points, ie., firstly, that your conversion and mine will be nothing like Sauls, for we all have different circumstances and different conversion stories, and Paul’s conversion was unique to him.  Secondly, that our conversion will be much like Sauls, for there are some points in which every conversion is similar!  Then, before we finish, I’d like to mention something called, “The Ordinary Means of Grace” – those God-ordained methods through which, in our day, He brings repentant sinners to salvation in Christ. 


Ancient Damascus, Syria.



1 Your Conversion is Not Like Paul’s. 

There is a common expression. ‘A ‘Damascus Road Conversion’ or ‘a Damascene Conversion.’  It refers to someone who has suddenly and dramatically changed their opinion, to believe the opposite of what they had previously believed.  Someone once asked, in a meeting, ‘Have YOU walked the Damascus Road?  Have you had a conversion experience like that of Paul?’  Personally, I very much doubt it!  And for your sake, I actually hope not.   Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus was Paul’s conversion only, not a pattern for you or me, it was a one off, unique event.  Remember, that:-

  • Acts is a History Book, not the ‘Directory for Publick Worship’ and certainly not a systematic theology.  We need to remember that every time when we are read Acts, for these pages are referring to historical events in the life of the first believers, in a time when the Bible, the Canon of Scripture, God’s inspired and infallible Word, had not been finally and fully given.  Very basic Biblical Hermeneutics will teach us that the Book of Acts is not intended as a basis of doctrine.  I need to keep on empathising that, AND ALSO…
  • Paul was an Apostle.  We are not apostles.  There are NO genuine apostles today, just pretenders and frauds.  Paul was the very last of the apostles, – who met the living, risen Christ.  Paul himself explains this in 1 Corinthians 15:6-10  Paul himself tells us that he is the last person to actually see Jesus, and the last of the apostles…

So, no you won’t have a conversion exactly like Saul’s.  You won’t meet the physical, literal Jesus along a road, and he won’t speak to you, and you won’t see a blinding light from heaven.  Your conversion, thankfully, will be a lot quieter, a lot less openly and physically dramatic, and a lot less noticeable, – and if you’ve been brought up in a Christian home, gone to church and Sunday School and taught the way of salvation it may have a very slight outward affect indeed – but it WILL be every bit as effective!  Yet… 


2 Your Conversion is Just Like Pauls! 5And he said, “Who are you, Lord?” And he said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 

There are some elements of Pul’s conversion that are common to every conversion.  For example, one of the very first lessons that the rebel Saul needs to learn is about the person of Christ and the work of God in and through His Son, and the Holy Spirit.  He needs to learn who he is dealing with, when he persecuted the church, and he needs to learn that the Jesus against whom his bile and hatred is directed is God himself. 

  • He learned about the HOLINESS of God.  V3  cf 1 John 1:5  There was a blinding LIGHT. In the Bible, God IS LIGHT and dwells in unapproachable LIGHT. 1st Tim 6:15-16   Light is also a description of the way God reveals Himself to us (mankind).  Without light we cannot see, and God brings His marvellous light to our sin-blinded souls…  And a description of God’s MORAL PERFECTION – His Holiness.  Most consider that this is probably what John meant in 1 John 1:5.  God has no Internal Darkness WHATSOEVER.  There’s not one tiny scintilla of darkness in him, not anywhere, not even a dot of it.  So, God is LIGHT.  He is HOLY – morally pure, – so pure that we could never hope to come anywhere near him – His nature and character affects the relationship that we have with him for our sin affects our fellowship with such an implacably holy God, so when God appears on this road to Damascus to Saul, his presence is a blinding light, so bright that a sinner cannot look at him, let alone approach him.
  • He learned about the LOVE of God.  Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?”   Jesus loves his church!  He loves it so much that he gave his own life for his church.  He describes it as his bride, and one day there will be a great marriage supper, when the church will be reunited with the Lord. Paul talks about the church as being ‘the body of Christ.’  Is it any wonder then that when the Church is persecuted, Jesus is persecuted.  He doesn’t accuse Paul of persecuting Christians, but of persecuting HIM.  He feels our pain and our sorrows.  Preaching to the Hebrew church at Alexandria, Paul proclaimed,   Hebrews 4:15-16  
  • He learned abut the LORDSHIP of Christ.  6But rise and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do.”  Up until now Saul has been in charge.  He makes his own decisions, he’s an independent thinker, he’s got power, and he’s in control – he even has his own private police force along the road, under instruction to do his bidding, to execute the warrant for the arrest of Christians and haul them back to Jerusalem – it was perhaps a sizeable band of men – and Saul is in charge.  Except he’s not.  Like all of us, his power and autonomy are illusionary.  Like all of us it will one day be swept away from him, and he can do nothing about it.  Now Saul is the man under orders.  He’s learning to SUBMIT to God’s greater authority.  He is given a command, to rise, to travel into the city and await further orders.  And he will, he MUST obey a far higher authority.  He must bow the knee and surrender to Christ. There will be a day, when at the name of Jesus, every knee will bow, and every tongue confess that he is Lord… 
  • He experienced the NEW BIRTH.  There is something else we learn from Paul’s conversion.  It is that God not only revealed himself to Paul, but he also revealed himself IN Paul! Galatians 1:15-16   The conversion experience was not just objective (It was – the soldiers travelling with him heard the voice too – or at least the heard the sound of a voice, even if they didn’t know what was being said, cf Acts 22:9) – but it was also subjective.  At conversion, while our thoughts are preoccupied with the reality of our deep sinfulness, and the reality of Christ’s atoning death for that sin – an historical work, there is also an internal work going on, as the Holy Spirit inclines us toward God, regenerated our dead spirit within and makes us heartily willing to turn from our sins and trust Christ.  God reveals himself to us, and IN us at conversion. 

Now, all of those aspects of Saul’s conversion are common to every believer – In a sense we must all ‘see the light’ – be brought to an understanding of our need for a Saviour, of the holiness of the God we must face in eternity.  Jesus described our conversion as ‘passing from darkness into light.’  We all will discover the love of God for sinners who he is drawing into his church, who are part of his chosen elect.  We all will eventually bow the knee to God, admitting his Lordship over our lives.  We all will experience the new birth, as the Holy Spirit does his work within us.


3 How Does God Convert Sinners?  4And falling to the ground 

God knocks sinners down!  No!  He uses ‘the Ordinary Means of Grace.’  Paul’s unique conversion had a number of very physical, even violent manifestations. Falling to the ground is NOT a common experience of those who come to Christ.   He was forcibly knocked down, fell to the ground.  That was how God awakened him and arrested him from his wicked path. But that’s not how God operates ORDINARILY. So what are ‘THE ORDINARY MEANS OF GRACE?’  

DEFINITION: “The Reformed churches refer to the ordinary means of grace as the Word (preached primarily, but also read) and the sacraments (baptism and the Lord’s Supper). … The means of grace are used by God to confirm or ratify a covenant between himself and Christians.”   We contrast that with what we may call the ‘Extraordinary means.’  Attempting to convey grace by means of our own inventions rather than God’s strict instructions.  So, how do we see the Ordinary Means of Grace in Paul’s conversation?  

  • He heard God’s voice ...he heard a voice saying to him. How does God speak to us?  In former days, God spoke through his prophets, to the apostles, God revealed himself in miracles and signs and wonders and in visible manifestations of his risen person.  To us, living in the age when the Biblical revelation is complete, God has finally spoken to us through His written word.  If you want to hear God speaking to you, read your Bible.  If you want to hear God speaking to you in an audible voice, read your Bible out loud.  
  • Pointers to Christ, bearing witness to God’s saving activity.  7The men who were traveling with him stood speechless, hearing the voice but seeing no one  We can’t see Jesus, any more than could the men who were travelling with Saul that day.  But there are pointers to him, set in the church for us.  We call these pointers SACRAMENTS.  They are the means of Grace, in that they point us directly to Jesus.  
  • These means are applied by the work of the Holy Spirit.  In addition to the Preaching of the Word and the Sacraments, the Holy Spirit takes these common, ordinary means of grace and applies them to the heart and life of the sinner.  Thats what makes preaching different from a lecture, baptism different from a good wash, and communion more profitable than a good meal.  The Spirit’s application of the means of grace… 
    • Brought Saul to a state of deep humilitySo they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus.  Common to all, when we come to faith in Christ we do so in humility, for human pride has no place at the cross.  We come with nothing, and we come as nothing.  We come on bended knees, confessing our sins.
    • Changed Saul’s life – spiritually and in lifestyle – but how?   8Saul rose from the ground, and although his eyes were opened, he saw nothing…  9And for three days he was without sight, and neither ate nor drank.  It wasn’t a pleasant change was it!  It was’t a sense of euphoria and glee, nor could he sing, ‘now I am happy all the day’ – he didn’t clap his hands and dance… Quite the opposite – his first experience of conversion was misery.  Paul later seeks for this emotion in others too, when he witness in 2 Corinthians 7:8-10  

Savoy 1:6 The whole counsel of God concerning all things necessary for his own glory, man’s salvation, faith and life, is either expressly set down in Scripture, or by good and necessary consequence may be deduced from Scripture; …Nevertheless we acknowledge the inward illumination of the Spirit of God to be necessary for the saving understanding of such things as are revealed in the Word…



So, we’ve learned that when God brings sinners to repentance, and converts them, he uses His Word and the Sacraments.  But there’s nothing ORDINARY about the ORDINARY means of Grace.  These God appointed methods of conversion are his divine work, through which he effects great changes in the lives of sinners and saves their never-dying soul, and there’s nothing ordinary about that!

From → Acts, Bible Study

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