The Apostle Paul's Conversion Story

On the Road to Damascus Paul Made a Miraculous Turnaround

Paul's Conversion on the Road to Damascus
Public Domain

Scriptures Referencing the Conversion of Paul

Acts 9:1-19; retold in Acts 22:6-21 and Acts 26:12-18 as Paul's testimony.

Paul's Conversion Story Summary

Saul of Tarsus, a Pharisee in Jerusalem after the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ, swore to wipe out the new Christian church, called The Way. Acts 9:1 says he was "breathing out murderous threats against the Lord's disciples." Saul obtained letters from the high priest, authorizing him to arrest any followers of Jesus in the city of Damascus.

On the Road to Damascus, Saul and his companions were struck down by a blinding light, brighter than the noonday sun. Saul heard a voice say to him:

"Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?" (Acts 9:4, NIV)

When Saul asked who was speaking to him, the voice replied:

"I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." (Acts 9:5-6, NIV)

The men with Saul heard the sound but did not see the vision of the risen Christ that Saul did. Saul was blinded. They led him by the hand into Damascus to a man named Judas, on Straight Street. For three days Saul was blind and did not eat or drink anything.

Meanwhile, Jesus appeared in a vision to a disciple in Damascus named Ananias and told him to go to Saul. Ananias was afraid because he knew Saul's reputation as a merciless persecutor of the church.

Jesus repeated his command, explaining that Saul was his chosen instrument to deliver the gospel to the Gentiles, their kings, and the people of Israel.

So Ananias found Saul at Judas' house, praying for help. Ananias laid his hands on Saul, telling him Jesus had sent him to restore his sight and that Saul might be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Something like scales fell from Saul's eyes, and he could see again. He arose and was baptized into the Christian faith.

Saul ate, regained his strength, and stayed with the Damascus disciples three days.

After his conversion, Saul changed his name to Paul.

Lessons From Paul's Conversion Story

The conversion of Paul shows that Jesus himself wanted the message of the gospel to go to the Gentiles and that it was no human being's idea. That would quash any argument from the early Jewish Christians that the gospel was only for the Jews.

The men with Saul did not see the risen Jesus, but Saul did. This miraculous message was meant for one person only, Saul.

Saul witnessed the risen Christ, which fulfilled the qualification for an apostle (Acts 1:21-22). Only those who had seen the risen Christ could testify to his resurrection. 

Jesus did not distinguish between his church and his followers, and himself. Jesus told Saul he had been persecuting him. This serves as a warning that anyone who persecutes Christians, or the Christian church, is persecuting Christ himself.

In one moment of fear, enlightenment, and regret, Saul understood that Jesus was indeed the true Messiah and that he (Saul) had helped murder and imprison innocent people. Saul realized that despite his previous beliefs as a Pharisee, he now knew the truth about God and was obligated to obey him.

Paul's conversion proves that God can call and transform anyone he chooses, even the most hardhearted individual, to work for his kingdom.

Saul of Tarsus possessed perfect qualifications to be an evangelist for Christ: He was versed in Jewish culture and language, his upbringing in Tarsus made him familiar with the Greek language and culture as well, his training in Jewish theology helped him connect the Old Testament with the gospel, and as a skilled tentmaker he could support himself with that trade.

When retelling his conversion later to King Agrippa, Paul said Jesus told him, "It is hard for you to kick against the goads." (Acts 26:14, NIV) A goad was a sharp stick used to control oxen or cattle. Some interpret this as meaning Paul had pangs of conscience when persecuting the church. Others believe Jesus meant that it was futile to try to oppress the church.

Paul's life-changing experience on the Damascus Road led to his baptism and instruction in the Christian faith. He became the most determined of the apostles, suffering brutal physical pain, persecution, and finally martyrdom. He revealed his secret of enduring a lifetime of hardship for the gospel:

"I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me." (Philippians 4:13, NKJV)

Question for Reflection

When God brings a person to faith in Jesus Christ, he already knows how he wants to use that person in service to his kingdom. Sometimes we are slow to understand God's plan and perhaps may even resist it.

The same Jesus Christ who rose from the dead and did such a mighty work in transforming Paul wants to work in your life too. What could Jesus do through you if you surrendered as Paul did and gave him complete control of your life? Maybe God will call you to work quietly behind the scenes as he used the little known Ananias of Damascus or perhaps you'll reach multitudes like the great Apostle Paul.