The conversion of Saul of Tarsus has long fascinated both Christians and non-Christians alike. Indeed, the phrase, “he had a Damascus Road experience” has, to some degree, been maintained even in our secular culture. To be sure, it is sometimes used as a form of sarcasm. When a politician suddenly changes his mind on something, his or her critics chuckle, saying, “looks like she’s had a Damascus Road experience.”
Of course, for us who are Christians, Saul’s conversion on the road to Damascus is fascinating. The man who persecutes the church is now a follower of Jesus. The man going to Damascus to find Christians and bring them back to Jerusalem in chains met Jesus on that very road.
There are so many parts of Saul’s story that will forever remain unique to him. For one, his story is so much more dramatic than most of our stories. For a time, it was quite popular to claim the most dramatic conversion experience. We must, however, not attempt to improve on our own experience of finding Christ. Let the grace of repentance and forgiveness be enough. We don’t do the Christian faith any favours by spicing up our own stories. It really is OK to have a story that says no more than what actually occurred. God is glorified in “garden variety conversions.”
That being said, there are some amazing similarities between Saul’s conversion and the conversion of every other person who calls Jesus Lord and Savior. Let’s consider 3 of those.
Similarity #1. Like Saul of Tarsus, we were all enemies of God. Ephesians 2:1-3 describes us as dead in trespasses and sins. We lived in the passions of the flesh. Furthermore, we were the children of wrath, like the rest of mankind. The Bible never sugar coats our status. It was Augustine who described two cities. One is the city of man. The other is the city of God. The city of God is characterized by the denial of self and the love of God. The city of man is characterized by the hatred of God and the love of self. Like Saul of Tarsus, we were all enemies of God by nature.
Similarity #2. Like Saul of Tarsus, our conversion shattered our previous worldview. Saul had watched as Stephen was being stoned to death, giving his approval. After all, Stephen had declared that he had seen Jesus standing at the right hand of the Father. This was blasphemy. But on the road to Damascus, Jesus himself had appeared to him. Suddenly Paul was aware that Jesus had risen from the dead and was indeed exalted overall. Acts 9 indicates that Paul spent the next three days fasting, in prayer and seeing visions. Of course, this part of the story is unique to him. But in those three days, he must have been aware that everything he had once believed was crumbling. Later, he would write that all that once gave him pride, he now considered to be dung. This experience, of seeing our affections and values of our previous way of life as having no value is true of all conversion. Conversion really is a matter of turning from the kingdom of darkness to the kingdom of light.
Similarity #3. It was Christ who sought us. For the rest of Paul’s life, he was ever aware that it was Christ who had sought him. Listen to his words in Galatians 1:13-15. Listen carefully – as Paul describes his conversion. 13 For you have heard of my former life in Judaism, how I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it. 14 And I was advancing in Judaism beyond many of my own age among my people, so extremely zealous was I for the traditions of my fathers. 15 But when he who had set me apart before I was born, and who called me by his grace….” Like Saul of Tarsus, we can marvel at what Jesus did in calling us.