The Christian Experience of Paul
April 29th, 1979 @ 8:15 AM
THE CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE OF PAUL
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-29-79 8:15 a.m.
We welcome the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour of the First Baptist Church in Dallas on radio. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled The Christian Experience of Paul. In our preaching through the Book of Acts we are in chapter 26; and this is the third time in this book that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is described.
Beginning at verse , the Lord introduces Himself to the persecuting Saul:
I am Jesus, whom thou persecutest. But rise, stand upon thy feet: I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness . . . O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto that heavenly vision: But showed first unto them in Damascus, then at Jerusalem, then throughout all the regions of Judea, and then to the nations, that they should repent and turn to God.
[Acts 26: 15-16, 19-20]
The three times that the conversion of Saul of Tarsus is recounted is first by Luke in the ninth chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 9:1-18]. Then Saul, Paul, recounts it a second time as he stands on the steps of the Tower of Antonio and speaks in the Hebrew tongue to the maddening throng below him [Acts 22:6-16]. The third time his conversion experience is recounted is in this twenty-sixth chapter of the Book of Acts, when he stands before Herod Agrippa II [Acts 26:12-20]. Festus, the Roman procurator of Judea has invited Agrippa and his sister to sit on the throne with him and to listen to this unusual prisoner who has been accused of so many things [Acts 25:13-15, 22-23], but who is now invited to stand in defense of his life [Acts 26:1]. And as he speaks, he recounts how he turned from being a persecutor and destroyer of the faith to be a witness and a minister of that Lord Jesus Christ that he once despised [Acts 26:2-26].
Now, what we’re going to do this morning is to look at those three accounts and follow them as the apostle and as the Bible presents his Christian experience. First of all, it begins in a witness; it always begins there. Somebody has to bring the message of Christ to our hearts. Somebody has to introduce us to the Lord Jesus. There is no exception to it. The Christian experience always begins in somebody’s witness. In the case of the apostle Paul, it was Stephen.
Years later, almost toward the close of his life, the apostle Paul standing on the steps of the Tower of Antonio that overlooked the temple court, in speaking of his personal testimony he says, "And when the blood of Thy martyr Stephen was shed, I also was standing by, and consenting unto his death, and I kept the raiment of them that slew him" [Acts 22:20]. He presided over the execution, violent and vicious, of this first Christian witness who laid down his life for the Lord. It’s an unusual thing that the Greek word for "witness" is "martyr": "And when the blood of Thy martyr Stephen was shed," the word is "witness," "When the word of Thy witness – martyr – Stephen was shed, I was consenting unto his death; and I presided over that execution" [Acts 22:20].
One of the longest chapters in the Bible is the seventh chapter of the Book of Acts [Acts 7:1-60]. It contains the marvelous story of Stephen regarding the Christian faith. And when you could ask, "How is it that Luke wrote down every syllable of that long apology, defense," the answer is very obvious: there was a man there listening to that marvelous story of the grace of God as it was delivered by that witness Stephen, and he never forgot it. Saul stood there listening to the wonderful address of this layman deacon Stephen and it burned like fire in his soul.
That’s why I think when the Lord accosted, confronted Saul on the way to Damascus [Acts 9:1-4], He said, "Saul, Saul, it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks" [Acts 9:5]. It was difficult, the Lord says, for this Saul, Paul, to fight against the witness of Stephen that he heard, that had so burned itself into his soul. The Christian experience begins in a witness; and in the life of the apostle Paul it was Stephen, God’s first martyr.
All of us have been introduced to the Lord by somebody. A mother, a father, a teacher, a preacher, a friend, a neighbor, a playmate, somebody who cared, and remembered, and spoke to us, and delivered to us the message; always a Christian experience begins in a witness. Somebody must bring to us the story of the good news of the grace of God of the loving, atoning gift of life in the Lord Jesus. It begins in a witness.
Second, the Christian experience of Paul was a great conversion, a marvelous turning. Trembling and astonished as he fell down before the Lord, he said, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6]. The second part of his Christian experience was the great turning in his life. You can call it a repentance; you can call it a conversion; you can call it a regeneration; you can call it an acceptance, a believing, a trusting, a committal, a yielding, a surrender. But somewhere in every Christian life there has to be that decision for Christ. It may be a very humble one, such as a ten year old boy would make, when I was converted. It could be a very unusual and dramatic one such as in the life of Saul of Tarsus, who had persecuted the church and had put to death those who had called upon that name [Acts 22:4]. But always, in every Christian experience, there is that volitional, conscious, deciding for Christ. We call it a conversion experience.
Often a man will say to me when I invite him to the Lord, "But I don’t feel like it. I’m waiting for a great feeling." That’s one of the strangest responses that you could imagine when one is invited to the Lord Jesus: "I don’t feel like it," or, "I don’t have the feeling," or, "I’m waiting for a great feeling." My brother, no matter who you are, how old you are, or how young, whatever your life has been, there is no such thing as a man saying, "I have decided for Christ," and he comes down an aisle, and he stands before men and angels, and confesses his faith in the Lord Jesus, and he follows the Lord in baptism, and he commits his life to the Christian faith; man, for you to say to me that I could do that and never feel anything is an impossibility.
The problem lies in the will, in the volition, in the decision. A man is saved by a great commitment; he’s saved by a great volitional act; he is saved by a great decision, "I have decided for Christ. I have cast my lot, and life, and future, and destiny, and every prayerful vision of tomorrow, I have decided to place it in His hands." That is what it is to be a Christian, to be converted. If a thing is accompanied by emotion and it will be, beautiful and well. Sometimes doing that, a man will cry, a boy will cry. I did; couldn’t see the preacher for the tears. Sometimes a man will make that decision and rejoice; he will laugh. He’s just so happy, so glad; he expresses it emotionally in just rejoicing. Man sometimes will make that decision and hardly find an emotional concomitant at all. It depends on your personal make up, how you respond emotionally. But the great act of conversion is not in the feeling; it is not in the emotion: it is always in the will. "I have decided for Christ."
"Whosoever will, let him come take the water of life freely" [Revelation 22:17]. Thus it is in the life of the apostle Paul. He was converted, changed, turned, saved, and his Christian experience after the witness of Stephen was continued when he said, "Lord, what wilt Thou have me to do?" [Acts 9:6].
Third, the witness of the apostle Paul, third, it involved a baptism, the Christian experience of Paul, the third, a baptism. He was sent to Ananias, who lived on the street called Straight, in Damascus [Acts 9:10-11]. And after Ananias had prayed for him, and his eyes that were blinded by the glory of that light were opened, then Ananias says, "And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord" [Acts 22:16]. Always, always, that is the third part in a man’s Christian experience: to be baptized [Acts 8:36-38].
There is no such thing as an un-baptized believer in the Bible; it doesn’t exist. There is no such thing as an un-baptized Christian; it is an anomaly. There is no such thing as a man accepting Christ as his Savior who does not follow the Lord in baptism. This is the revelation of God. This is the will of Christ for us. And this is the Christian experience. When I confess the Lord as my Savior, immediately it is in my heart, "I want to be baptized" [Matthew 28:19-20].
There’s not a more dramatic illustration of that than in the eighth chapter of the Book of Acts, when God sends Philip, a fellow deacon with Stephen, when God sends Philip into the desert, and the Ethiopian treasurer drives by in his chariot. And the Holy Spirit sends Philip to witness to that Ethiopian eunuch [Acts 8:26-27]. Beginning at the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah – which that Ethiopian treasurer had found in Jerusalem, a copy of Isaiah – and reading the fifty-third chapter [Acts 8:28], "Beginning at the same Scripture, he preached unto him Jesus" [Acts 8:35], always that witness. The Christian experience begins in a witness. "And Philip, beginning at the fifty-third chapter of Isaiah [Isaiah 53:1-12, 56:3-7], preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came to a certain water in the desert," the first water they’d found, "and the Ethiopian treasurer says:
See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?
I want to be baptized. And Philip replied,
If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest.
The one condition of baptism is not how old you are, or how learned you are, or how rich you are, or how advanced you are; the one condition of baptism is have you accepted Christ as your Savior? And when the Ethiopian replied:
I believe that He is the Christ, the Son of God,
they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch,
and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water,
the eunuch went on his way rejoicing
And God sent Philip to his second assignment; always that follows after [Acts 8:40]. And when a man says, "I received the Lord Jesus as my Savior," but he’s not baptized, he hasn’t done it. And when a man says, "I have been saved," but he hasn’t been baptized, he has not been saved.
One of the signs of conversion is the open confession of the Lord Jesus. And the Bible is plainly in its wording, the Bible is plainly understood in that. Romans 10:9 and 10, "If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" [Romans 10:9-10]. There is no such thing as a man being saved apart from a confession of his faith in Christ. And baptism is the most dramatic and the most meaningful of all of those confessions of faith in the Lord Jesus [Romans 6:3-5]. It’s like a soldier putting on a uniform; identify himself in the armed services of his country. So baptism is a confession, "I have accepted the Lord as my Savior. I believe in Jesus, my hope. And on that confession of faith I want to be baptized" [Acts 8:36-38].
Now one can say, and this passage is often used by those who so believe: "And now why tarriest thou?" says Ananias to Saul of Tarsus, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord" [Acts 22:16]. There are those who would say in that baptism, "See, you wash your sins away! The Bible again plainly says, it is the blood of Jesus Christ that washes our sins away" [Revelation 1:5]. Water doesn’t wash our sins away. What a man can do for me – and he can baptize me – what a man can do for me can’t wash my sins away. Only God forgives sins. And God does it in the blood of the Crucified One. First John 1:7, "And the blood of Jesus Christ washes all our sins away."
Well, what does this passage mean? Well, it is very plain what it means – look at it: it is exactly here as it is in the Greek. Look at it, "And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized." All right, the second clause, "and wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord" [Acts 22:16]. Well, let’s keep it that way. "Arise," that’s one thing; "Be baptized," that’s another thing; and this is the third thing in the text, "and wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord." You see there are those who want to take "wash thy sins away" and connect it with the preceding clause; it’s not written that way. The clause is, "Wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord." And a previous clause is, "Be baptized." Very plain what Ananias says: "Saul of Tarsus, believing in the Lord, now arise, be baptized, wash thy sins away, calling on the name of the Lord" [Acts 22:16].
Our sins are washed away calling on the name of the Lord. It is Jesus who washes our sins away [Revelation 1:5]. It is His blood that cleanses us from all sin [1 John 1:7]. And baptism is an outward sign, a public committal, a beautiful dramatic presentation of what Jesus has done for us. Buried with Him in the likeness of His death, dead to the world; raised with Him in the likeness of His glorious resurrection, to live and to follow after our Lord; always that third [Romans 6:3-10]. When somebody has witnessed to me, and when I have accepted the Lord, always that third: I am baptized. "See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized?" [Acts 8:36].
Number four: in the Christian experience of the apostle Paul, in his conversion, in the same act, he was called as a witness. "But rise," the Lord says, "stand upon thy feet: for I have appeared unto thee, to make thee a witness" [Acts 26:16]. And all of it is one experience. When I am saved, when I become a Christian, in that very act, in that very moment, I am also called to be a witness for Christ; all of us, and there’s no exception to it [1 Peter 3:15]. The apostle one time said it, in the ninth chapter of the 1 Corinthians, he says, "Necessity is laid upon me; woe unto me, if I witness not to the gospel of Christ, if I preach not the gospel of Christ!" [1 Corinthians 9:16].
Any man, anyone who is saved, immediately, immediately has that desire in his heart to tell others about the Lord, to rejoice to see others saved. If that is not in your heart, you have not been saved. You don’t know Jesus. You’ve not been converted. The joy of all gladnesses, if you’ve been saved, is to see other people come to the Lord. And to have a part in their coming, it’s a beautiful thing that God has done for us, and a dynamic thing.
Do you remember the twentieth chapter of the Book of Jeremiah? Pashur, who is the head of the temple, he is the chief of the priests, Pashur smites Jeremiah and places him in the stocks [Jeremiah 20:1-2]. And Jeremiah says, "I am become a laughing stock and a derision, I am a ridicule before all of the people" [Jeremiah 19:7-8]. And Jeremiah writes, saying, "And I said in my heart, I will not speak of Him any longer. And I will not speak of His word. But," he said, "His word was in my heart as a burning fire in my bones, and I could not forbear" [Jeremiah 20:9]. Isn’t that a strange thing, what God does for a Christian?
Look again in the life of Amaziah, in the life of Amos. He was confronted by Amaziah who was the prelate of the king in Bethel at the king’s court. And Amaziah said to Jeroboam II, "The land cannot bear the words of Amos [Amos 7:10]. Shut him up." [Jeroboam] said, "You shut him up." So Amaziah, the prelate and representative and priest of the king stands before God’s prophet [Amos 7:12]. How many times in history do you have stories, instances, where the legate of the state stands before the man of God to hush him up, burn him up, incarcerate him, throw him into a dungeon, cut off his head, hang him? How many times in human history do you see that instance reiterated?
So Amaziah, the prelate of the king, stands before Amos the prophet of God to shut him up, to close down his witness for God. And Amaziah says to him, "You unlearned, ignorant Judean, you go back where you came from, and you witness there. But not here, for this is the king’s chapel, and this is the king’s court" [Amos 7:12-13]. Remember what Amos replied? I’m so glad I’ve got his name in my name. Amos replied:
It is true that I am no prophet, neither am I a prophet’s son. I am not a graduate of the school of the prophet. It is true that I am a herdsman, and a gatherer of sycamore fruit. But the Lord God took me from following the herd, and the Lord God said, Go prophesy unto My people Israel.
The lion hath roared; who will not fear? The Lord God hath spoken; who can but prophesy?
All of God’s people have a measure of that in their souls when they’re converted: "I must witness. I must speak of the Lord. I must tell about Him." And if you don’t have that in your heart, you don’t know the Lord, and you haven’t been regenerated. When you are saved, that’s a part of that conversion experience. "I want to see other people saved. I want to witness to them and rejoice when they find that saving grace that I have found in the blessed Jesus."
You know, this last week I was in Tom Gowan’s home state of Alabama. His mother came to hear me preach, and his grandmother, and his auntie, and all of the friends of the family; they all came. And in one of the services that I spoke to there in Alabama, this time in Birmingham, the president of the school had me to eat dinner with him and his family. And as we sat at the table, he told a story, just a little thing, about one of the students in the Bible College. And you know, I don’t know why such a little thing like that should stay in my mind and heart as it does, but I’ve been thinking about it ever since. It just stayed in my mind.
There was one of his students, being a Bible College made up mostly of people who are recently converted and they’re older and they haven’t been to school so they go to a Bible College; and this young fellow had been marvelously converted, he’d been saved, and he was happy in the Lord. So he was standing at a bus stop, and by his side was an older man. So the young fellow, who’d just been converted, the young fellow, as he talked to that older man standing at the bus stop, the young fellow said to the older man, he said, "Are you a Christian? Are you a Christian? Have you found the Lord?" The older man said, "Yes sir. Yes sir. I’ve been a Christian for over forty years." And the young fellow said, "You’ve been a Christian over forty years? Then how is it that you didn’t ask me first if I was a Christian?" I don’t know why that just stayed in my head, "You say you’ve been a Christian over forty years? Then how come that you didn’t ask me first whether I was a Christian?"
Let me illustrate that in our church. The man, the deacon about whom I’m speaking, has been dead a long time. But this is what happened. I was talking to a businessman downtown, one of the businessmen here in the city of Dallas. And the name of that deacon came up. And I said to him, "Now that man is a deacon in our church, and one of our finest men; and superintendent of one of our departments." And the businessman replied to me, he said, "Why, I didn’t know that. I’ve done business with him for twenty-five years. I didn’t know he was a Christian. I didn’t know he was a deacon. I didn’t know he belonged to your church." Twenty-five years he’d done business with him, and didn’t even know that he was a Christian, didn’t even know that he belonged to our church, didn’t have any idea that he was a deacon in the church.
My brother, we’re not all gifted alike, I know. We’re not all made alike, I realize. But my friend, whoever you are in Christ, when you were converted, you were called to witness and in your way: as God opens doors for you, you ought to do it. Sometimes, have a dinner at your house and tell the people what Jesus means to you. Sometimes, just in a conversation, tell them what the Lord Jesus means to you. Just in some humble and sweet and gracious way, say a good word for Jesus. And then of course, take somebody who belongs to a family that needs the Lord and knock at the door, "Come not to talk about the weather or the economy, I’ve come to talk to you about Jesus." This is our assignment, and it is a part of our conversion. When I am saved I am called to be a witness.
I must hasten to this last. The Christian experience of the apostle Paul, the Lord says to him, when He calls him, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16]. It is a great commitment. "I’m a Christian. I have accepted the Lord." It is a great commitment. Let me tell you how you can know whether a thing is God’s will for you or not. One of the rules, when you stand before a decision, "Is this God’s will for me," let me give you a rule, an unfailing rule: if it demands sacrifice, that’s God’s will for you. The road that demands sacrifice, the choice that costs, that’s God’s will. The one that it costs to follow, the one in which there is a sacrifice to be made, it’s a sure touchstone and talisman and indication of what is God’s will for your life. If it entails cost and sacrifice, that’s God’s will. Whenever you turn to an easy out, to something that doesn’t cost, that’s not it. It’ll be something at a price, at a cost; that’s God’s will. The Lord says of Saul, "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake" [Acts 9:16]. It is a commitment at a cost. It is a sacrificial devotion to our Lord. "I will not offer Him that which doth cost me nothing" [2 Samuel 24:24].
"Preacher, this is the most difficult assignment that I could have, this assignment to try to win souls for Christ." That’s a good indication it’s God’s will. The service of our Lord is to be done with all that we possess, God helping me, and the Lord standing by me.
I was in the very beginning of the height of my ministry, my pastoral work, when World War II broke out. And in the little city where I was pastor, they built an enormous army camp, training those soldiers to go over seas and to fight in Europe. And some of those things that happened in those days of the II World War linger and burn in my mind vividly and dramatically. This is one.
In a French station, in a French railroad station, there were a great many soldiers. And in the station was a mother with her youngest son. And when the train came, the mother bravely kissed the boy, and saw him get on the train, and watched it as it pulled out of the station. And the boy took out his handkerchief and waved it toward his mother. And the mother had a little French flag in her hand, and she waved back to the boy with her French flag. And after the train pulled out of sight, the mother collapsed in the station like a crumpled flower. Some of the other soldier boys seeing it ran to her. One of them got some water, bathed her face, brought her to. As she came to, she began sobbingly, slowly, sadly, almost half consciously to say, "My husband has been taken away into the war, and he won’t come back. He’s killed. And my eldest son has been called into the war, and he will not return. He’s been killed. My other boy has been called into the war, and he’s been gone for years. And now, my youngest son, my youngest son, the widow’s staff, has been called into the war; and he’s gone away."
And as the mother sadly, almost unconsciously coming to herself, repeated those sorrowful words, she happened to see that little French flag that had heedlessly fallen out of her hand, lying there on her lap. When she saw it, her eyes flashed. She picked it up. She held it high, at arm’s length, and began to cry, "But Viva la France. Viva la France. Viva la France."
That commitment and that devotion ought to characterize every child of God. "My home belongs to the Lord. My family belongs to the Lord. My children belong to the Lord. We dedicate not only to country, we dedicate to God all that we have and are." And when we are saved, that is the commitment that carries with it everything for God, everything for my Lord, everything for Jesus. "I will show him how great things he must suffer for My name’s sake," the Christian experience [Acts 9:16].
And this is our invitation to your heart and to your life this morning. We invite you in Christ’s name to follow Him with us. "I’ve heard the message of the Lord, I accept it. I make the decision to follow Christ. I do it as a witness. I do it at a cost. I dedicate to the Lord everything that I have and all that I am. I will follow Him in an open confession of faith. I will follow Him through the baptismal waters. I will follow Him in discipleship, as a witness for Christ. And here I come; here I stand. God bless me, and God help me."
While we sing this appeal, to accept the Lord as your Savior, to put your life with us in this dear church, to be baptized on a confession of faith, to bring your family and teach those children in the love and nurture of the blessed Jesus, as the Spirit shall press the appeal upon your heart, on the first note of the first stanza answer with your life. God bless you as you come, while we stand and while we sing.
PAUL’S CHRISTIAN EXPERIENCE
Dr. W. A. Criswell
I. Begins in a witness to Christ
A. The witness of Stephen, God’s first martyr(Acts 7, 9:5, 22:19-20, 26:14)
B. A conversion is always the result of somebody’s witness
II. The conversion and turning
A. Paul on the Damascus road(Acts 9:6)
B. Stated, volitional decision to turn
1. The feeling and emotion is not the conversion
2. A man is converted in a tremendous decision (Revelation 22:17)
III. The baptism
A. Paul admonished to follow Savior in baptism(Acts 22:16)
B. No such thing as unbaptized believer in Word of God
1. First thing a man desires when he is saved is to be baptized (Acts 8:36)
C. Purpose of baptism not to save, but a public confession(1 John 1:7, Romans 10:9-10)
IV. The call to witness(Acts 26:16-23, 1 Corinthians 9:16)
A. When I am saved, God places a desire to see others saved
B. We must witness and testify(Jeremiah 20:1-2, 7-9, Amos 7:10-15, 3:8)
V. The committed life
A. Sacrificial commitment(Acts 9:16)
B. Sacrifice a sure sign of God’s will