10 Now there was a disciple at Damascus named Ananias. The Lord said to him in a vision, “Ananias.” And he said, “Here I am, Lord.” 11 And the Lord said to him, “Rise and go to the street called Straight, and at the house of Judas look for a man of Tarsus named Saul, for behold, he is praying, 12 and he has seen in a vision a man named Ananias come in and lay his hands on him so that he might regain his sight.” 13 But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” 15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” 17 So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; 19 and taking food, he was strengthened. – Acts 9:10-19 ESV
Why Saul? It’s virtually impossible to read the story of this man’s miraculous conversion and not wonder why God chose to use someone like him? After all, he was a card-carrying member of the Pharisees and a proud persecutor of the church, who took his job very seriously.
10 “I caused many believers there to be sent to prison. And I cast my vote against them when they were condemned to death. 11 Many times I had them punished in the synagogues to get them to curse Jesus. I was so violently opposed to them that I even chased them down in foreign cities. – Acts 23:10-11 NLT
And yet, here we have God referring to Saul as His “chosen instrument.” The Greek word, translated “chosen” is eklogē, and it means, “the act of picking out, choosing or electing” (“G1589 – eklogē – Strong’s Greek Lexicon (KJV).” Blue Letter Bible). It is a variation of a similar word (eklektos) used by Peter in his first letter when referring to the believers to whom he was writing.
1 I am writing to God’s chosen people who are living as foreigners in the provinces of Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. 2 God the Father knew you and chose you long ago, and his Spirit has made you holy. As a result, you have obeyed him and have been cleansed by the blood of Jesus Christ. – 1 Peter 1:1-2 NLT
God had chosen Saul. He had hand-picked him for salvation. And that fact, coupled with Saul’s far-from-stellar track record, should remind us that salvation is not based on our human effort or any sense of merit. And no one understood the reality of that fact better than Saul himself, who would later pen these words:
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. – Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV
For God saved us and called us to live a holy life. He did this, not because we deserved it, but because that was his plan from before the beginning of time–to show us his grace through Christ Jesus. – 2 Timothy 1:9 NLT
…he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. – Titus 3:5 NLT
Saul, later writing under his Greek name, Paul, would repeatedly declare that God’s gracious act of redeeming men and women was solely based on the finished work of Christ on the cross. No one earned God’s favor. No one deserved His mercy. And Saul would become the poster boy for God’s saving grace. If anything, he deserved God’s wrath. He merited God’s anger and retribution for persecuting the children of God and, as Jesus had pointed out to Saul, the Son of God Himself. And yet, God had plans for Saul. But His decision to save Saul must not be seen as some kind of knee-jerk reaction on God’s part, a last-minute hail-Mary pass heaved up in the hopes of staying in the game. God had not been caught off guard by Saul’s activities. He had not been surprised by Saul’s determination to persecute the followers of “the Way.” In fact, Saul himself would come to recognize that his calling by God had been anything but reactionary. His calling by God had been preordained and predetermined by God, long before Saul had been born.
15 But even before I was born, God chose me and called me by his marvelous grace. Then it pleased him 16 to reveal his Son to me so that I would proclaim the Good News about Jesus to the Gentiles. – Galatians 1:15-16 NLT
Saul, prior to His Damascus-road encounter with the resurrected Christ, was just another man living his life apart from God, trapped in his own sinful state and deserving of condemnation by God for his rebellion against him. Sure, Saul was religious and even zealous to try and please God. He would even state that, prior to his coming to faith in Christ, “I was so zealous that I harshly persecuted the church. And as for righteousness, I obeyed the law without fault” (Philippians 3:6 NLT). But he was lost. He was an enemy of God. And it wasn’t because he persecuted the church. It was because he was born in sin and shared in the condemnation announced by God against Adam. It is clear that Saul understood this reality just by reading what he wrote in his letter to the Romans.
When Adam sinned, sin entered the world. Adam’s sin brought death, so death spread to everyone, for everyone sinned. – Romans 5:12 NLT
…everyone died—from the time of Adam to the time of Moses—even those who did not disobey an explicit commandment of God, as Adam did. – Romans 5:14 NLT
For Adam’s sin led to condemnation… – Romans 5:16 NLT
For the sin of this one man, Adam, caused death to rule over many. – Romans 5:17 NLT
Yes, Adam’s one sin brings condemnation for everyone… – Romans 5:18 NLT
It wasn’t Saul’s persecution of the church that got him in trouble with God. He was already condemned because of his association with Adam. He had inherited not only Adam’s sin nature and predisposition toward sin, but Adam’s guilty status as a sinner against God. He was born with a death sentence leveled against him, before he had committed a single indiscretion against God. But God, in His grace, had chosen Saul for salvation. He had predetermined to make Saul His chosen instrument, and to transform him from a condemned sinner, whose sinful state showed up in a misguided attempt to earn favor with God through persecuting the church, to a fully justified and forgiven servant of God who would himself endure persecution on behalf of God.
And God told a reluctant Ananias, “Go, for Saul is my chosen instrument to take my message to the Gentiles and to kings, as well as to the people of Israel. And I will show him how much he must suffer for my name’s sake” (Acts 9:15-16 NLT). Saul’s choice by God was not going to result in a trouble-free life. He would not discover himself enjoying a painless, sin-free existence, devoid of problems and characterized by unending joy and abounding blessings. No, he would serve and suffer. He would obey and undergo persecution. He would experience God’s blessing and, at the same time, know what it was like to experience ridicule and rejection. And Saul would never lose sight of his own unworthiness before God. He would never get over the fact that his salvation was undeserved and unmerited. He would later write:
For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I’m not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. – 1 Corinthians 15:8 NLT
But this man, chosen by God, was redeemed by God and re-purposed to live a life that brought glory to the cause of Christ and the Kingdom of God.
None of this makes sense to us. It seems an odd way for God to accomplish His divine will. Even Ananias was a bit surprised and confused by God’s determination to send him to meet with Saul. He even attempted to bring God up to speed on Saul’s most recent activities.
13 “But Lord,” exclaimed Ananias, “I’ve heard many people talk about the terrible things this man has done to the believers in Jerusalem! 14 And he is authorized by the leading priests to arrest everyone who calls upon your name.” – Acts 9:13-14 NLT
But, ultimately, God convinced Ananias that He knew what He was doing and Ananias went, somewhat reluctantly, and did what God had commanded. And Luke records that when Ananias laid his hands on Saul, “Instantly something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he got up and was baptized” (Acts 9:18 NLT). Saul was not only having his physical sight restored, he was having his spiritual eyes opened for the very first time. This extremely religious, well-educated young man was, for the first time in his life, able to truly see, to discern the ways of God and to accept the offer of salvation made possible through Jesus Christ. He was living out exactly what the apostle John wrote in the opening to his gospel.
9 The one who is the true light, who gives light to everyone, was coming into the world.
10 He came into the very world he created, but the world didn’t recognize him. 11 He came to his own people, and even they rejected him. 12 But to all who believed him and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. 13 They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God. – John 1:10-13 NLT
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001
New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.