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When was Saul saved?

There is a common belief in the religious world today that sinners are saved at the moment they are convinced by the gospel and come to believe in Jesus. Since salvation is not of works but of faith, sinners must be saved as soon as they believe and give their lives to Jesus. The reasoning seems sound, but what do the Scriptures say?

Some years ago, I was studying with some co-workers, and I asked the question, “When was Saul saved?” Many denominational preachers will talk of Saul being saved on the road to Damascus. Is that what happened? We looked at the accounts of Saul’s conversion in Acts 9 and Acts 22. The sequence of events looks like this:

  1. Saul is traveling to Damascus to arrest the Christians there.
  2. Saul is struck to the ground and blinded by a great light.
  3. Jesus speaks to Saul.
  4. Saul says, “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
  5. Jesus sends Saul into Damascus where he would be told what he must do.
  6. Saul goes into Damascus and spends the next three days in prayer and fasting.

Ananias comes to Saul and tells him, “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)

Everyone agrees that Saul believed, when he was talking to Jesus. He calls Him “Lord” and obeys Jesus’ instructions. So, if a person is saved at the point of belief, then Saul must have been saved at that time. However, after that Saul spends three days in prayer and fasting – a sign of repentance. And when Ananias comes to Saul, it is clear that Saul is still in his sins. Ananias indicates that Saul’s sins will not be “washed away” until he is baptized.

This conclusion is such an obvious implication of the passage that once we read the passage one of my co-workers said, “So, you think he was saved when he was baptized!” I had not made any commentary other than asking the question, “When was Saul saved?” and having the passage read!

Looking at a number of other conversion accounts in the book of Acts leads us to the same conclusion. The Philippian jailer in Acts 16 was baptized in the middle of the night. He viewed baptism as something that required urgency. It wasn’t some “nice-to-do” but ultimately unnecessary ceremony. Similarly, the Ethiopian eunuch wanted to be baptized in the middle of the wilderness, as soon as he saw a sufficiently large body of water.

The pattern we see again and again is that people are baptized as soon as they hear and believe the gospel. Why? Because it is at that point that you are forgiven of your sins (Acts 2:38, 22:16). It is at that point that you enter “into Christ” and “put on Christ” (Galatians 3:27). In 1 Corinthians 12:13, Paul wrote, “For by one Spirit we were all baptized into one body, whether Jews or Greeks, whether slaves or free, and have all been made to drink into one Spirit.” The implication of that passage is also clear. There are no unbaptized Christians.