Paul was NOT saved on the road to Damascus!

Watch this study instead of reading it.

Was Saul really saved on the road to Damascus? And when he became a Christian, Jesus changed his name from Saul to Paul, right? Three questions: In what ways are these ideas misconceptions? What’s the danger in believing and even teaching one or both of them? And how will the Bible equip us the next time we hear someone say one of these things?

Picture this. You’re telling a relative about Jesus and the kingdom of God. Without warning, they pull out a gun and say you better stop right there. What would you do? The first person on record to die for Jesus is Stephen in Acts 7. And he died while preaching his heart out about Jesus and His kingdom. The crowds didn’t like it, so they killed him. 

According to verse 58, all this happened in the presence of a young man named Saul. 

Then he [Stephen] knelt down and cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not charge them with this sin.” And when he had said this, he fell asleep.

Acts 7:60

He had died for Jesus. The next verse says, “Now Saul was consenting to his death” (Acts 8:1). The NASB says, “Saul was in hearty agreement with putting him to death.” In case you didn’t know, this Saul is the same guy most of the New Testament calls Paul. The next chapter begins:

Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters from him to the synagogues of Damascus, so that if he found any who were of the Way, whether men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.

Acts 9:1–2

This is escalating quickly. Saul of Tarsus is becoming a terrorist against the Way of Jesus Christ. He didn’t just desire to destroy Jesus’ church. The text says he was “breathing threats and murder against the disciples.” His respiration and aspiration, his life’s goal, his entire purpose was to put an end to this claim that Jesus of Nazareth was the Christ risen from the dead. 

Saul becomes Paul

A few verses later, the Lord shows He has a different plan for Saul. He appears to him, proving that He isn’t dead, convicts Saul of his sins—particularly persecuting the church, which Jesus took personally. He said, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” (Acts 9:4). 

So he [Saul], astonished and trembling, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Acts 9:6

Then Saul arose from the ground, and when his eyes were opened he saw no one. But they led him by the hand and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither ate nor drank.

Acts 9:8–9

Take special note of that last part: for three days after meeting Jesus, Saul fasted

To a student of the Old Testament Scriptures like Saul, fasting was usually associated with repentance. Although fasting was always an option for the penitent Jew, there was only one Jewish holiday that required the participants to fast: the Day of Atonement. The Day of Atonement was all about appealing to God for forgiveness of sins while fasting. So we can safely assume Saul is fasting out of deep reverence and repentance towards Jesus. 

Next, the narrative jumps to Ananias, a disciple in Damascus, who is instructed, “Arise and go to the street called Straight, and inquire at the house of Judas for one called Saul of Tarsus, for behold, he is praying” (Acts 9:11). So, not only has Saul been fasting in repentance, but he has also been praying for three days after meeting Jesus. The Lord commissions Ananias to go to Saul and tell him what he must do. To which, Ananias basically responds, “Lord, are you sure you know what you’re doing? This man is a terrorist.”

Paul later tells about what happened on this occasion twice in his own words—once in Acts 22 when he is defending himself to a Jewish mob, and another time to King Agrippa in Acts 26. This allows us to piece the whole thing together from both Luke’s and Paul’s perspectives. 

Ananias makes it to Saul and miraculously helps him receive his sight again. And then he says to Saul:

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Acts 22:16

I want you to notice a few things with me. Saul has seen the Lord. He now believes in the resurrection of Jesus. He’s busy fasting and praying for three days. Yet, even after he is baptized, he’s still know as Saul. This is made clear in Acts 9:19 through the next few chapters. I have heard so many people say that Saul was this man’s Jewish name, but his name changed after meeting Jesus. They say, “Saul was the persecutor. Paul was the preacher.” But the Bible continues to call him Saul for years after he became a Christian. 

The first time Saul is called Paul in the Bible is Acts 13:9. This is also the first time Luke (the writer of Acts) shows Paul as the leader of the missionary journey. Prior to that, Barnabas seemed to be the leader. The Bible doesn’t tell us why there is the shift from calling him Saul to calling him Paul, but the best guesses revolve around Paul being the name he used as he primarily ministered to Gentiles, instead of Jews. The land and time Paul lived in was multi-cultural, and it was common for folks to have multiple names in order to flow in and out of different cultures. That’s probably all that was going on here with this guy.

Saul was the name of the first human king of Israel, so there was a historical connection there when he was known as Saul among Jews. The Scriptures also reveal Saul was a Roman citizen. Could it be Paul was his Roman name? Probably. 

Even after Paul began to primarily preach to Gentiles, he was still likely known as Saul by his close Jewish friends. But Luke begins calling him Paul in Acts 13 and never looks back, perhaps for literary purposes to help the reader remember Paul’s mission to the entire world, not just to Jews.

Saul’s sins are washed away

Here’s another thing that is vital we notice about the conversion account of Saul. Lots of people say Saul became a Christian and was saved on the road to Damascus. But the Bible doesn’t. Yes, he met Jesus on the road. He called Jesus Lord on the road (which was probably more out of respect than a full understanding of the Lord of lords). He was convicted of his sins on the road. He even began to obey Jesus on the road when he arose and went into the city.

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?” Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 

Acts 9:6

So when was Paul saved? If not on the road, when did the Lord forgive Saul and add him to the kingdom? Answer: At least three days later.

Saul fasted and prayed for three days after arriving in Damascus. Ananias finds him and delivers the message of the Lord. 

Then he [Ananias] said, “The God of our fathers has chosen you that you should know His will, and see the Just One, and hear the voice of His mouth. For you will be His witness to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord”

Acts 22:14–16

According to verse 16, even though he had been fasting and praying to the Lord for three days, his sins were not yet washed away. He needed to call on the name of the Lord—he needed to obey Jesus by being baptized—to have his sins washed away. 

A few hundred years ago, certain theologians were disgusted for good reason. Certain other religious people were making it seem—if not explicitly teaching—you could earn—or even purchase—your or someone else’s salvation. In response, the disgusted theologians went too far. They began to teach the doctrine of faith alone, discounting anything one does with the body from the salvation process. But lacking a definite moment of salvation, some others began to teach you had to say a prayer and invite Jesus into your heart once you believe. This “sinner’s prayer” is still taught by millions today. Altar calls are given, and tracts are zealously distributed, inviting pricked hearts to simply say a prayer to be saved. 

However, not a single person in the New Testament was ever saved this way. Even Saul of Tarsus spent three days in fasting and prayer, and his sins were still not washed away. According to his own words in Acts 22, he wasn’t saved, he hadn’t called on the same of the Lord, and he did not become a disciple of Jesus, until he arose and was baptized. 

Are you surprised? If you’ve heard religious teachers your whole life say Paul became a Christian or he was saved on the road to Damascus, I imagine the Bible has surprised you today. If you’ve heard preachers every week instruct the lost to pray Jesus into the heart, the Bible’s teachings might come as a shock. 

The question is: are you going to believe those teachers who are teaching the relatively new doctrine of faith alone, or will you believe what the Bible has been saying all along? It’s not faith alone. Nor is it repentance alone or baptism alone. One who has faith in Jesus must appeal to Him for a clean conscience, submit to Him, and be buried in baptism in order to walk in newness of life. 

Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. 

Romans 6:3–4

Is it possible your relative could pull a gun on you if you attempted to teach about the kingdom of God? Absolutely. 

Yes, and all who desire to live godly in Christ Jesus will suffer persecution.

2 Timothy 3:12

Many of us mentally prepare for the day we are threatened physically for being a Christian, which I think is wise. From my experience, however, there is a different threat these days. Are you also prepared to teach and believe the truth about salvation, even when so many sincere folks teach otherwise? 

Jesus did not change Saul’s name to Paul on the road to Damascus. And, more importantly, Jesus did not wash away his sins on the road. Jesus did that for him when he rose and was baptized, calling on the name of the Lord. Read the New Testament for yourself and see He still does that today. 

Stop depending on being a good person. Stop depending on what the preacher says. Stop depending on your own righteousness. Instead, submit to Jesus fully today.

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.

Acts 22:16
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