We have studied the important influence of the Christian witness. But the Christian witness is only the human instrument powerfully used by the Holy Spirit. My Mom was the human witness in my life. The Holy Spirit used her repeated witness in my life and brought to fruition her witness when our church was having a series of preaching series. Each night I would go home from those services and lie im my bed when all the lights were out and the Holy Spirit would remind me I was religious but lost. In my heart and mind, where He was doing battle with me, I would argue with Him: “But I am a church member, and a member of our youth group.” But He was relentless. He reminded me that if I died during the night before morning I would go to Hell. He reminded me also that if Jesus returned I would be left behind. The Holy Spirit hunted me down just like He hunted Saul of Tarsus down in our text.
1. The Christian Influence
2. The Holy Spirit Influence
Jesus said John 16:8, the Holy Spirit convicts sinners of rejecting Christ. But the Holy Spirit does not work in a vacuum. He uses flesh and blood. He uses warm bodies. He uses Christians who witness like Stephen who preached the gospel to Saul.
A. Holy Spirit Conviction made Saul “exceedingly mad” in Acts 26:11 and 9:1.
F. B. Meyer said that “the phrase was used to describe a wild boar uprooting tender vines.”
A. T. Robertson, in his Word Pictures of the New Testament, wrote, “Threatening and slaughter had come to be the very breath that Saul breathed, like a war horse who sniffed the smell of battle.”
Saul was not content to rid Jerusalem of Christians, he must track them down and destroy them wherever they fled his persecution. Saul’s first missionary journey is not in Acts 13, but here in Acts 9 when he goes to Damascus, a week of travel away, as religious zealot for Judaism.
B. Holy Spirit Conviction was individual in 9:4 when Christ specifically called “Saul, Saul.”
Saul was the only one in this posse of Gestapo like persecutors to see Christ. Saul was the only one to hear the actual words in 9:7. The others, possibly Temple Police, travelling with Saul saw the bright light but not the person of Christ. They heard the voice but did not understand the words.
In John 3:8, Jesus described the Holy Spirit working with sinners as mysteriously as the wind blows:
“The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but cannot tell from where it comes and where it goes: so is every one that is born of the Spirit.”
If you have watched skies you have noticed one level of clouds moving to the east and higher aloft another level of clouds hurrying to the west. Some people in a church service like this service today hang on every preached word while others daydream, nap, talk, text, or plan what to do tomorrow.
In Acts 9, God audibly called Saul to Himself. Today, God calls through the Gospel today as Paul explains in 2 Thessalonians 2:14: “Whereunto He called you by our gospel.” When God called me to salvation, I heard no literal voice. His call was much louder than that in my conscience as the gospel was preached.
C. Holy Spirit Conviction has to do with rejecting Christ in 9:4, “Why are you persecuting me?”
In John 16:8, Jesus said, “When he is come, he will reprove the world of sin….of sin, because they believe not on me.” The night I got saved, the Holy Spirit did not deal with my drinking, cursing, or other sins. Just the sin of rejecting Christ as my Savior.
D. Holy Spirit Conviction is hard to fight in 9:5.
The ox goad was a sharp object used by farmers to stir animals in a certain direction. Saul is pictured as an stubborn ox. But Saul’s conviction was equal to his need. Because Saul was so deceived, his conviction was severe. Matthew, on the other hand, was gently called by Christ and immediately followed. Saul was no match for God. There was once a Broadway hit entitled, “Your Arms are too Short to Box With God.” This is what Saul discovered.
Saul was hard not because he was sinfully immoral life. But because of his rejection of the gospel. He was not sin hardened, he was gospel hardened. The hardest people to win to Christ are not death row sinners but lukewarm church attending sinners who yawn through the invitation.
The easiest sinners to win are the young who have not yet hardened their hearts against God. That is why children’s ministries are so important.
3. The Influence of the Unbeliever’s Faith
A. Saul realized that he was in the presence of God when he said, “Who are you Lord or God?”
When the Lord said, “I am Jesus” Paul’s spiritually blinded eyes were opened. Next Paul says in 9:a “Lord” (not Jesus) but “Lord or God what will you have me to do.” Paul will later tell sinners how to be saved in Romans 10:9, “that if you shall confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus (i.e., Jesus is God) and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead you shall be saved.” Perhaps this is the reason, Paul was blinded for three days after his conversion. To remind him of his former spiritual blindness. Paul would later write about sinners who are blinded by the god of this age (2 Corinthians 4:3-6).
Paul thought Jesus was a blasphemer who was properly put to death for claiming to be God. Paul thought Jesus was dead. But now he sees the truth. In Acts 26:19, Paul says, “I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision.” Obedience is necessary for salvation. In Romans 1:5, Paul writes that he “received grace for obedience to the faith.” When the Philippian jailor cried out in Acts 16, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul, did not say, “you can’t do anything.” No, Paul responded, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
B. Saul is converted.
Jesus instructs Paul in 9:6b, “Arise and go into the city, and it shall be told you what you shall do.” God saved Paul to open the blinded eyes of other sinners. The more complete statement is in Acts 26:16-18 “Arise, and stand upon your feet: for I have appeared unto you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which you have seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto you. Delivering you from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send you to open their eyes and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me’” (Acts 26:18). Salvation is not just fire insurance so we can escape Hell. We are saved to serve the Lord.
C. We know Paul was converted because of his changed life.
Paul the proud Pharisee expected to storm Damascus on his breathless stallion, but instead he humbly had to be led by the hand of another in 9:7-8. The enemies of Christ in Damascus were expecting Saul as their champion and the friends of Christ were expecting Saul to be their persecutor. But Christ reversed all of that. Paul would later write, “If any man be in Christ he is a new creation, old things are passed away and behold, all things are become new.”
With God there are no hard cases! No one is beyond the reach of the Gospel!
When Paul writes 1 Timothy, Paul is near the end of his life and ministry. To Timothy, Paul writes about his conversion: “who was before a blasphemer, and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant with faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptation, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whim I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all longsuffering, for a pattern or example to them which should hereafter believe on him to life everlasting”
In other words, “Timothy, if God can save me, I know He can save anyone.” Don’t give up on that loved one, friend, co-worker, or neighbor you think is impossible to reach. If God can save the chief of sinners, He can win the one you for whom your are burdened.