The Day A Religious Man Was Saved

Title: The Day A Religious Man Was Saved

Bible Book: Acts 9

Author: David E. Owen

Subject: Religion; Conversion; Salvation



John R. Rice wrote a little book years ago entitled, “Religious But Lost.” In it, he quotes Matthew 7:21- 23 where Jesus said, {21} Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven. {22} Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? {23} And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity.

Rice said…

Multitudes of people who expect to go to Heaven will go to a Hell of torment. Thousands of “good” people, “moral” people, church members, even church workers – yes, and, alas, even prophets, priests and preachers – will find themselves lost when they expected to be saved; condemned when they expected approval; cast out of Heaven when they expected to be received into eternal bliss. That is the explicit meaning of the words of our Lord quoted above.

Newspaper columns sometimes carry stories of “Life’s Most Embarrassing Moment,” but nothing in life could ever bring the horrible humiliation, disappointment and blame that is here described and awaiting multitudes who think they are safe but lost. They claim salvation; they shall receive damnation. They are self-satisfied under a delusion, a false refuge; before Jesus Christ they will be horrified to hear that He never knew them.

I want to share a message with you this morning about a man that you are all familiar with, a man who was very religious, but alas he was also very lost. But that’s only part of the message. I want to share with you about how this religious man was saved. We are speaking of course of “Saul, who also is called Paul” (Acts 13:9).

It was M. G. Easton in his Bible Dictionary who said that,

Saul was born about the same time as our Lord. His circumcision name was Saul, and probably the name Paul was also given to him in infancy “for use in the Gentile world,” as “Saul” would be his Hebrew home name. He was a native of Tarsus, the capital of Cilicia, a Roman province in the south-east of Asia Minor. … Here Saul was born, and here he spent his youth, doubtless enjoying  the best education his native city could afford.

His father was of the straitest sect of the Jews, a Pharisee, of the tribe of Benjamin, of pure and unmixed Jewish blood (Acts 23:6; Philippians 3:5). We learn nothing regarding his mother; but there is reason to conclude that she was a pious woman, and that, like-minded with her husband, she exercised all a mother’s influence in moulding the character of her son, so that he could afterwards speak of himself as being, from his youth up, “touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless” (Philippians 3:6).

We read of his sister and his sister’s son (Acts 23:16), and of other relatives (Romans 16:7,11,12). Though a Jew, his father was a Roman citizen. … Perhaps the most natural career for the youth to follow was that of a merchant. “But it was decided that...he should go to college and become a rabbi, that is, a minister, a teacher, and a lawyer all in one.”

According to Jewish custom, however, he learned a trade before entering on the more direct preparation for the sacred profession. The trade he acquired was the making of tents from goats’ hair cloth, a trade which was one of the commonest in Tarsus.

His preliminary education having been completed, Saul was sent, when about thirteen years of age probably, to the great Jewish school of sacred learning at Jerusalem as a student of the law. Here he became a pupil of the celebrated rabbi Gamaliel, and here he spent many years in an elaborate study of the Scriptures.

This morning, I want to weave some of the threads of his life together so that we see the clear picture of this religious man that was saved. As we look at what the Bible has to say about him…

I. The Character Of This Man Named Saul

A. The Religious Aspect In His Background

There Is A Religious Aspect In His Background (His History).

(Philippians 3:4-6) Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: {5} Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; {6} Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless.

Paul indicates that if salvation were obtained by being religious, then he was as religious as they came.

1. He Was Extreme In His Religion

In speaking to Agrippa in Acts 26, Paul said…

(Acts 26:4-5) My manner of life from my youth, which was at the first among mine own nation at Jerusalem, know all the Jews; {5} Which knew me from the beginning, if they would testify, that after the most straitest sect of our religion I lived a Pharisee.

most straitest – Greek 196. akribestatos, ak-ree-bes'-ta-tos; superlative of akribes (a der. of the same as G206); most exact.

akron, ak'-ron; neut. of an adj. prob. akin to the base of G188; the extremity:--one end . . . other, tip, top, uttermost part.

In Acts 23, there is another mention of his being a Pharisee. Paul had been bound because of his teaching, and he appeared before the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem…

(Acts 23:6) But when Paul perceived that the one part were Sadducees, and the other Pharisees, he cried out in the council, Men and brethren, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee: of the hope and resurrection of the dead I am called in question.

2. He Was Excelling In His Religion

(Galatians 1:13-14) For ye have heard of my conversation in time past in the Jews' religion, how that beyond measure I persecuted the church of God, and wasted it: {14} And profited in the Jews'  religion above many my equals in mine own nation, being more exceedingly zealous of the traditions of my fathers.

profited – Greek 4298. prokopto, prok-op'-to; from G4253 and G2875; to drive forward (as if by beating), i.e. (fig. and intrans.) to advance (in amount, to grow; in time, to be well along):--increase, proceed, profit, be far spent, wax.

more exceedingly – Greek 4056. perissoteros, per-is-sot-er'-oce; adv. from G4055; more superabundantly:--more abundant (-ly), X the more earnest, (more) exceedingly, more frequent, much more, the rather.

B. The Recorded Account Of His Belligerence

There Is A Recorded Account Of His Belligerence (His Hostility).

Listen to how he described his hostility as he stood before Agrippa…

(Acts 26:9-11) I verily thought with myself, that I ought to do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. {10} Which thing I also did in Jerusalem: and many of the saints did I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I gave my voice against them. {11} And I punished them oft in every synagogue, and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly mad against them, I persecuted them even unto strange cities.

1. Notice His Action Against The Church

(Acts 8:1-3) And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles. {2} And devout men carried Stephen to his burial, and made great lamentation over him. {3} As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

consenting – Greek 4909. suneudokeo, soon-yoo-dok-eh'-o; from G4862 and G2106; to think well of in common, i.e. assent to, feel gratified with:--allow, assent, be pleased, have pleasure.

made havock of – Greek 3075. lumainomai, loo-mah'-ee-nom-ahee; mid. from a prob. der. of G3089 (loosen, destroy, dissolve) (mean. filth); prop. to soil, i.e. (fig.) insult (maltreat):--make havock of.

This word has the vivid idea of Saul making excrement out of the church.

haling – Greek 4951. suro, soo'-ro; prob. akin to G138; to trail:--drag, draw, hale.

2. Notice His Anger Against The Church

(Acts 9:1-2) And Saul, yet breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord, went unto the high priest, {2} And desired of him letters to Damascus to the synagogues, that if he found any of this way, whether they were men or women, he might bring them bound unto Jerusalem.

Albert Barnes explained…

[Yet breathing out] Not satisfied with what he had done, Acts 8:3. The word breathing out is expressive often of any deep, agitating emotion, as we then breathe rapidly and violently. It is thus expressive of violent anger. The emotion is absorbing, agitating, exhausting, and demands a more rapid circulation of blood to supply the exhausted vitality; and this demands an increased supply of oxygen, or vital air, which leads to the increased action of the lungs. … Euripides has the same expression: “Breathing out fire and slaughter.”

II. The Conviction Of This Man Named Saul

(Acts 9:5) And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

In his book “Great Days with the Great Lives,” Chuck Swindoll writes…

Apparently, “to kick against the goads” was a common expression found in both Greek and Latin literature – a rural image, which rose from the practice of farmers goading their oxen in the fields. Though unfamiliar to us, everyone in that day understood its meaning.

Goads were typically made from slender pieces of timber, blunt on one end and pointed on the other. Farmers used the pointed end to urge a stubborn ox into motion. Occasionally, the beast would kick at the goad. The more the ox kicked, the more likely the goad would stab into the flesh of its leg, causing greater pain.

Saul’s conversion could appear to us as having been a sudden encounter with Christ. But based on the Lord’s expression regarding his kicking back, I believe He’d been working on him for years, prodding and goading him.

A. Conviction In The Words Of The Persuasive Doctor

There May Have Been Conviction In The Words Of The Persuasive Doctor.

I am speaking here of Gamaliel, of whom the Bible says in Acts 5:34 that he was “a doctor of the law.”

1. The Connection To Gamaliel

(Acts 22:3) I am verily a man which am a Jew, born in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia, yet brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, and taught according to the perfect manner of the law of the fathers, and was zealous toward God, as ye all are this day.

2. The Comments Of Gamaliel

(Acts 5:34-39) Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;

{35} And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men. {36} For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought. {37} After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed. {38} And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought: {39} But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.

Matthew Henry said…

Paul was brought up at his feet, and tradition says that so were Stephen and Barnabas. Some say he was the son of that Simeon that took up Christ in his arms, when he was presented in the temple, and grandson of the famous Hillel.

Certainly, Saul would have had a great deal of respect for Gamaliel. And when his teacher logically said that if this “Jesus movement” was of God that they would not be able to overthrow it, it made sense to Saul. As he saw this movement gaining momentum in spite of his best efforts to subdue it, perhaps (or to use Gamaliel’s word “haply”) he began to think that he was fighting against God Himself.

B. Conviction In The Witness Of The Persecuted Deacon

There May Have Been Conviction In The Witness Of The Persecuted Deacon

If, as Matthew Henry asserts, Stephen had also been a student of Gamaliel along with Saul, then the events of Acts 7 would have affected Saul on a very personal level.

1. Stephen’s Testimony A Goad In His Spirit

Perhaps The Memory Of Stephen’s Testimony Was A Goad In His Spirit.

The Bible records the great sermon of Stephen in Acts 7, but as he spoke to this Jewish council… (Acts 7:54-56) When they heard these things, they were cut to the heart, and they gnashed on him with their teeth. {55} But he, being full of the Holy Ghost, looked up stedfastly into heaven, and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing on the right hand of God, {56} And said, Behold, I see the heavens opened, and the Son of man standing on the right hand of God.

2. Stephen’s Tenderness A Goad In His Spirit

Perhaps The Memory Of Stephen’s Tenderness Was A Goad In His Spirit

(Acts 7:57-60) Then they cried out with a loud voice, and stopped their ears, and ran upon him with one accord, {58} And cast him out of the city, and stoned him: and the witnesses laid down their clothes at a young man's feet, whose name was Saul. {59} And they stoned Stephen, calling upon God, and saying, Lord Jesus, receive my spirit. {60} And he kneeled down, and cried with a loud voice, Lord, lay not this sin to their charge. And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Saul was there, and he saw Stephen’s countenance and heard Stephen’s words. And maybe God kept using this like an ox goad in Saul’s heart to convict him and convince him of his need of salvation.

III. The Conversion Of This Man Named Saul

Swindoll said…

God goaded and prodded the stubborn pride of Saul – that Pharisaic ox. Day after day he kicked against those goads, until finally he got the message. There would be no more running. No more hiding. The fight was over. As always, God won. C. S. Lewis likened God’s conquering work of Saul’s rebel will to a divine chess player: systematically, patiently maneuvering his opponent into a corner until finally he concedes. “Checkmate.”

A. This Man Had A Transformation

Paul would later say…

(2 Corinthians 5:17) Therefore if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new.

And after the light shined and the Lord spoke on the Damascus road, Saul was a changed man.

1. A Transformational Meeting

We See His Encounter With Jesus – A Transformational Meeting.

(Acts 9:3-6) And as he journeyed, he came near Damascus: and suddenly there shined round about him a light from heaven: {4} And he fell to the earth, and heard a voice saying unto him, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? {5} And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. {6} And he trembling and astonished said, Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said unto him, Arise, and go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.

trembling – Greek 5141. tremo, trem’-o; strengthened from a prim. treo (to “dread”, “terrify”); to “tremble” or fear:--be afraid, trembling.

astonished – Greek 2284. thambeo, tham-beh'-o; from G2285; to stupefy (with surprise), i.e. astound:--amaze, astonish.

In that moment, he went from threatening to trembling; he went from being angry to being astonished. He was changed!

2. A Transformed Message

We See His Exclamation Of Jesus – A Transformed Message.

(Acts 9:17-20) And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. {18} And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized. {19} And when he had received meat, he was strengthened. Then was Saul certain days with the disciples which were at Damascus. {20} And straightway he preached Christ in the synagogues, that he is the Son of God.

Previously, he was “breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1), but now he’s fellowshipping with them and preaching that Christ Jesus is the Son of God!

B. This Man Had A Testimony

Everywhere he went, he always found an opportunity to testify of the grace of God in his life.

(1 Corinthians 15:10) But by the grace of God I am what I am: and his grace which was bestowed upon me was not in vain; but I laboured more abundantly than they all: yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.

1. He Testified About His Experience

Acts 22:3-16

(Acts 26:1-2) Then Agrippa said unto Paul, Thou art permitted to speak for thyself. Then Paul stretched forth the hand, and answered for himself: {2} I think myself happy, king Agrippa, because I shall answer for myself this day before thee touching all the things whereof I am accused of the Jews:

(Acts 26:12-16) Whereupon as I went to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, {13} At midday, O king, I saw in the way a light from heaven, above the brightness of the sun, shining round about me and them which journeyed with me. {14} And when we were all fallen to the earth, I heard a voice speaking unto me, and saying in the Hebrew tongue, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks. {15} And I said, Who art thou,  Lord? And he said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. {16} But rise, and stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee;

Twenty five or thirty years later, he was still talking about it. He hadn’t gotten over it!

2. He Testified About His Expectation

He Expected A Change.

(1 Corinthians 15:51-53) Behold, I show you a mystery; We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed, {52} In a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trump: for the trumpet shall sound, and the dead shall be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed. {53} For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality.

He Expected A Crown

(2 Timothy 4:6-8) For I am now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. {7} I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: {8} Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day: and not to me only, but unto all them also that love his appearing.


In a sermon preached out of Acts 9, Dr. Jerry Vines said…

I want you to listen to what Paul said about his conversion experience. In I Timothy chapter 1 and beginning in verse 15 here’s what he says about his salvation experience...(1 Timothy 1:15-16) 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.

When I first started preaching I used to say you can’t have a Saul of Tarsus conversion experience. Can you imagine my surprise the day I read that verse where Paul specifically says that his conversion was a pattern for all of those who would afterward believe on the Lord Jesus Christ? So what Paul is saying here is the way God saved him is the way He saves everyone.

Oh, I don’t mean you have to be on the Damascus road; I don’t mean you have to be smitten into the dust of conviction; I’m not saying here that you have to see a literal light out of heaven as Saul did.

But I’m saying that the same Jesus who saved Saul has got to save you. And I am saying that the same power that reached down and changed him has to change you. And I am saying the same repentance and faith which he experienced, you have to experience if you’re ever going to be a born again child of God.

In the book that I mentioned earlier by John R. Rice, he recounted some examples of religious people who were saved…In the first revival I ever attempted to conduct in a little country church near Decatur, Texas, I remember a man for whom his wife and daughter prayed. One night as the invitation song was being sung under the little brush arbor, I heard someone call for me. In a thicket of plum bushes beside the tabernacle, the daughter and a girl friend knelt beside the gray-haired man. He said to me, “Brother Rice, tell these girls to leave me alone. I am all right.”

I told him that if he was really all right, it was strange that his wife was so burdened about him, that his daughter was continually praying and crying about his salvation.

He replied, “Why, Brother Rice, I used to be superintendent of a Sunday school. I have prayed in public. I am as well off as these other church members.”

“But that does not make a Christian,” I said. “Praying in public, doing church work, living a good moral life is not enough. You are a lost sinner if you have not been saved.”

“I have never done much of anything wrong,” he said. “About all I have ever done is to cuss a little bit. I am as good a Christian as the others are.”

I told him that he might just as well say that he had only killed a few men as far as being a lost sinner was concerned. That seemed to astonish him, and I asked him plainly, “Now I am not asking you whether you live a good life, whether you are a moral man. I am asking you whether you have ever been born again. Did you ever trust Jesus Christ to change your heart and to forgive your sins and make you a new creature?”

Very gravely be looked me in the face and then he answered, “No, I guess I never did!” “Then don’t you think it is time you got that settled?”

He assented and came with me to the front. There he knelt down on the oat straw under that simple brush arbor, and by the light of gasoline torches, lifted up his face and with tears said, “O God, if You will forgive me and save me, I will do anything You want me to do!” He was happily saved and had the assurance in his heart that God had forgiven him just as He promised in His Word to forgive all who trust in Christ.

In Dallas, Texas, in 1932 in an open air revival, a woman in a great crowd sent me a note. “Brother Rice, I have been a member of a church twenty-two years. Most of that time, I have known I was never converted. I am not a child of God. But I cannot stand the shame of confessing that I have been in the church unsaved. It would break my husband’s heart. He would think I have been a hypocrite, and perhaps I have.”

I sent her word that both she and her husband had better have the shame over with now, that she had better confess her lost condition and turn to Christ for mercy and salvation now, rather than wait until she faced the Lord Jesus Christ and hear Him say, “I never knew you. Depart from me, ye that work iniquity.”

The next night she came weeping to trust in Christ. She told me that she had been in the church unsaved. She was baptized and has made a happy Christian.

In Fort Worth, Texas, some years ago in a great revival service, a young woman came weeping to say, “My name has been on the church roll, but I think it has never been written in the Lamb’s book of life.” How happy that she found it out in time!

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