CHARACTERS-4 - The Apostle Paul
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GREAT BIBLE CHARACTERS
The apostle Paul said, "I have been crucified with Christ, it's no
longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me; and the life which I now live in
the flesh I live by faith in the son of God, who loved me andgave himself for
me", Galatians 2:20.
We welcome you today of our study of great Bible characters in that
we think today about the apostle Paul.
Who is that man who went from Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor, to
Paul, the apostle and preacher of the Gospel?
What a wonderful example Paul serves, as a man who did a
complete 180° turn in his life.
What do you know about Saul, who changed his life and became
the apostle Paul?
Saul of Tarsus was a man, who was born in the city of Tarsus, in
the area of Cilicia. That was his hometown, according to Acts 9:11. Cilicia
is a little bit north and a little bit east of what we think of as Israel today.
When we think about Saul, he was a Hebrew. ‘Of Hebrews,’ Philippians
3:5. He referred to himself, as concerning the nation of Israel, a Hebrew of
Hebrews. He was a Benjaminite, zealous for the law of God. He was of the
chief stock of Israel. He would say, in the top rungs, you might say, of the
people of Israel. He was a very proud Jew trying to follow the law of Israel
and the traditions of the fathers who'd been passed down.
By trade, Saul was a tent maker, Acts 18:1-3. We learned that when
Paul met up with Priscilla and Aquila, because they were of the same trade.
They were tentmakers. They had some association,naturally, that way. He
wasn't afraid to work. Hard work wasn't the issue. He worked on the side,
as well, but he always strove to put the kingdom first. He was, as he
referred to himself, a Pharisee.
Now a Pharisee, the word Pharisee literally means separate. They
tried to live a separate life. They tried to be separate from the rest of Israel.
They wanted to follow the law and the mission of the traditions of Israel to
the strictest sense. They sometimes, as you'll see in the speaking of Jesus
to the Pharisees, elevated their tradition right up there with the word of
God. But, these are people who took their religion very seriously and who
had a rich history in that. Paul said a ‘Pharisee of Pharisees,’ zeal for the
law, concerning righteousness. He wasn't afraid to be persecuted for those
things. Saul had a great training in that law, even at the feet of the man
known as Gamaliel, Acts 22:3. One of the great scribes and scholars of his
day and age was the man Paul sat at the feet of to learn about these
things. Saul of Tarsus excelled exceptionally above many of his own
contemporaries, he'll say, in the law and the traditions, Galatians 1:13-14.
When we think about this man, he was a man steeped in the rich
history of Israel. He loved the law of God. He wanted to stay true to those
traditions. He was trying honestly, with a good conscience, to follow that
law. We are now first introduced to Saul. The first mention of Saul by name
in the Bible, is in Acts 7:58.
I want you listen to these words in Acts 7:58. Where did we first
learn about Saul of Tarsus? At the stoning of Stephen. We learn this: verse
58 says, "And they cast him, that's Stephen, out of the city and stoned
him. The witnesses laid down their clothes at the feet of a young man
named Saul." Here's Saul, a young man, and he's participating, even by
holding the coats. He is a witness to, as the old law has taught, they were
living by; "Let everything be done at the mouth of two or three witnesses."
He is a witness. He's holding their coats. He's watching them murder this
man. He is no doubt consenting to his death as well. Acts 8:1 following.
When we think about Saul, he was zealous for what he believed in.
Saul, if there's one thing you could say is a constant about Saul who
became Paul, he was always zealous in what he believed in. Paul, or Saul,
zealously persecuted the church.
Acts 8, you'll notice these words beginning in verse 1, "Saul was
consenting to the death of Stephen. At that time a great persecution
arose against the church", look in verse three, "as for Saul, he made havoc
of the church, entering every house dragging off men and women, and
committing them to prison."
You look in Acts 9, right before Jesus confronts him. He has letters
of approval from the synagogue that if he finds any of the 'way', he can bind
them and put them in prison. He was zealous for what he believed in.
And friend, what made Saul such a great candidate, when he
learned the truth was, that same zeal, now that he's got truth, is going
make Saul a powerful worker for the cause of Christ and the cause of God.
Friend, if there's one thing God wants of us, it's for us to bezealous
for good works, Titus 3:14 following. To have that zeal combined with
knowledge and really be active and aggressive in the cause of our Lord
and Savior, Jesus Christ.
Now, how is it that Saul, the persecutor, is changed to Paul, the
I want to direct your attention to Acts 9. Let's begin reading in verse
number one, the Bible says, "Then Saul, still breathing threats and murder
againstthe disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked letters
from him to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any who were
of the 'way', whether men or women,-he might bring them bound to
As he journeyed, he came near Damascus and suddenly a light
shone around him from heaven. He fell to the ground and heard a voice
saying to him, 'Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me?' He said, 'who are
you Lord?' and the Lord said, 'I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It's
hard for you to kick against the goads.' So he, trembling and astonished,
said, 'Lord, what do you want me to do?' The Lord said to him, 'Arise and
go into the city. You'll be told what you must do.'"
How is it that Saul made this great change in his life? Here he is,
and he's breathing threats. He's threatening people.He says if we find you
and your family are of the 'way', you can be put to death. And so he's
dragging them out of their houses. He's putting them in prison. Children are
left without parents. He's doing great harm to the church. Does he think it's
right? You bet he does!
Acts 23:1, Paul said, "I lived in all good conscience before God
until this day." And so, Paul thinks he's doing the right thing. He's actively
trying to do right. Jesus confronts him, "Saul, Saul, why are you
persecuting me?” ‘Who are you Lord? I don't even know who you are. What
do you mean 'Why am I persecuting you?' I'm Jesus whom you're
persecuting. It's hard for you to kick against the goads.’
Saul now begins, through this message from God, to realize he's
not doing right. He realizes the very 'way' that he is doing harm to be the
very 'Way' God wants him to go.
God spoke directly to Saul. Saul recognized that as God. ‘God
what do you want me to do? He didn't argue. He didn't complain. He said,
"Lord what would you have me to do?" "Go into the city and it'll be told you
what you must do."
Friend, here you get insight into the heart of God heart of Saul. Did
Saul, no matter what, want to please God? Absolutely!
Well, how do we know that? Saul went from persecuting the church,
dragging men and women in prison, likely helping in the killing of Christians
we know, to being the very one who is now on that side of the field. Saul is
going to be persecuted. Saul is going to be stoned. Saul, his life is going to
be on the line now; and he's going to be preaching the gospel.
His conversion shows he had the right heart. And so, what did Saul
do? He heard Christ and he believed in Him. The Bible says to become a
Christian one must hear the word of God and believe in Jesus, Romans
10:17, John 8:24. Was Saul willing to change his ways? You bet he was!
Jesus told him, "You’re going in the wrong path. Here's what I want
you to do."
Saul spent great time in prayer, Acts 9:11-12. He had an attitude of
repentance and wanting to do the right thing;
Was Saul saved at the point of belief? Was Saul saved when he
repented? Was Saul saved when he prayed those three days? No, he
wasn't saved by belief alone. He wasn't saved by praying. He wasn't saved
at the point that he just recognized.
At what point was Saul saved? Well, let's let the Bible tell us. Notice
Acts 22, we now get the rest of the story. God sends one of His servants,
a man by the name of Ananias, to Saul of Tarsus, who's been there in that
house, waiting for God to come. Do you remember what God said?
"You go here and be told what you must do." Here is that 'must'.
Look in Acts 22:16. Ananias comes to Saul and says, "And now why
are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins,
calling on the name the Lord."
Friend, listen very carefully, there's no doubtSaul believed in Jesus.
There's no doubt he prayed, and he realized he was a sinner. There's no
doubt that he was willing to change his life and repent.
But the question I would ask you is this: at what point, in the Bible,
does it say Saul had his sins forgiven? "Arise", listen carefully now, "and be
baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
Friend, we want to say what the Bible says. We want to say it in
love and hope you listen real carefully. There are a lot of people who will
teach all you got to doto be saved is believe. A lot of people, who will say,
"Just say the sinners’ prayer and you can be saved." You'll not find the
sinners prayer in the Bible. Where is that at? But here's what we do know:
when Saul had his sins forgiven, it was at the very point of baptism.
Now listen carefully, if it's sin that separates me from God, and it's
sin thatseparates you from God - and it is- Isaiah 59:1-2 and if all have
sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, Romans 3:23, then friend,
whatever moment in time my sins are washed away, I'm made right with
When is that? Listen again, "Arise and be baptized, and wash away
your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Now, here's another question we want to let the Bible answer. Often
times I will hear people say and they'll quote passages like Acts 2:19-21
that will say, "Whoever calls on the name of the Lord, will be saved."
Friend, there's no denying that's in the Bible. That's true. We agree
with that 100% as the Scriptures teach that, but the question remains: What
does it mean to 'call on the name the Lord'? I hear people argue this, just
call on the name of the Lord and that by that they mean this if you will say
this prayer: "Dear Lord Jesus, we recognize you as Savior. We except you
into our heart. Come now and save us." That's what they mean by 'calling
on the name of the Lord'.
Is that what the Bible teaches?
Friend, we've already said you don't find that prayer in the Bible.
What does the Scripture mean when it says 'whoever calls on the name of
the Lord, will be saved'? Acts 22:16 is God's divine commentary. Listen to
it again, Ananias comes to Saul and he says, "Why are you waiting? Arise
be baptized, wash away your sins," don't miss this, "calling on the Lord's
How do you call on the name of the Lord? By getting up and doing
what God says to be saved. Does that include baptism? It absolutely does.
Do you find the sinners prayer in there? No, you don't find that anywhere in
the Bible. Friend, as we think about this principle, let's let the Bible be it's
on best commentary. When God says, "Call on the name of the Lord", I
want to know what the Bible means by that. Acts 22:16 tells us.
Now, another thing we want to mention: this is such an important
principle, as it relates to the need not to procrastinate. Saul was asked a
great question. Friend, we're asking that same question today. If one has
never obeyed the gospel, here's the question: Why are you waiting? Those
were Saul’s; those were Ananias' words to Saul, "Why are you waiting?"
We ask that today. If one has never become a Christian, why are
you waiting? God's done everything possible. He sent His son to die for me
and you, John 3:16. He's made that great invitation, "Whosoever will, let
him come drink freely." "Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy
laden." There is a great reward to be offered. If we remain faithful unto
death we can have the crown of life.
And so friend, we ask with all seriousness, if you've never become a
Christian, just as Ananias asked Saul, we're asking you today, "Why are
Consider seriously the need to obey the gospel and become a
Christian, become a child of God.
Let's now direct our attention to some great lessons that we can
learn from Paul's life. What was Paul's commission? Paul had a
commission, and he faithfully followed that. Acts 26:16-18, God said
He was going to send him to Gentiles, Kings, peoples, nations, to preach
the gospel far and wide. And did Paul do that? You bet he did! All the way
to Rome, itself. He went to Caesar, himself, with the gospel. In fact, at the
end of Acts, you have recorded some of Caesar's household had even
heard the gospel.
When we think about Saul and his commission, he had a
commission. He fulfilled that faithfully. Let's make application.
Do Christians have a commission today? Do we have a mission?
You bet we do! We are to go into all the world and preach the gospel unto
every creature. Friend, let's take our mission, our commission, just as
seriously as Saul did. Where does that world start? Right next door, at
work, with your friends and family, with your neighbors, with the people that
we come in contact with. Are we saying you can force them or you've got to
make them? That's not what we're saying.
Friend, please listen carefully, baptism is not our work. Baptism is a
fruit of the work. What is the work? My mission and your commission is to
preach the gospel. Baptism is what happens when good hearts hear that
gospel and obey it. Let's not gear that off of okay we've got to baptize
so many people.
That's not what we're saying. My job is simply to preach the word.
God will give the increase, the Bible says in 1 Corinthians 3:6.
What else do we know about Saul of Tarsus who became Paul?
Paul was indeed a hard worker in the cause of Christ. Look at what he did.
Think about this. You hear about the three evangelistic journeys of Saul.
Have you ever thought about how much distance Saul covered? If you took
from point A to point B in a straight line, and Paul didn't go in a straight line.
If you took all those three journeys and took a straight line on a map,
did you know that would be 13,000 miles, traveling for the gospel, as the
Paul didn't go as the crow flies. 13,000 miles before the invention of
the car, before the invention of modern transportation today. Do you
remember he was often in the deep, shipwrecked, and faced a lot of
Paul was a hard worker for the cause of Christ.
Friend, as I think about my life, and as you think about yours, what
is it God wants of me and you?
Here's what he wants:"Be steadfast, immovable, always abounding
in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain", 1Corinthians
15:58. Jesus said we got to work the works of Him who sent us while it is
day; night comes when no man works. Now is the time. Now is the
opportunity. Let's be working diligently and hard workers in the cause of
our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
What other practical lessons can we learn from Paul? Paul wasn't
ashamed of the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Paul would say
in Romans 1:14-16, “I'm indebted to preach the gospel. I'm ready to preach
the gospel. I'm not ashamed to preach the gospel.”
You know there's a threefold way of thinking about our relationship
to the gospel: I am indebted to preach the gospel. Do you feel - if you're a
child of God, do you feel a certain sense of indebtedness? By that, we
mean do you recognize what God did for you? Do you appreciate the great
sacrifice that was made? And do you, in some small way, want to do your
best to honor that sacrifice? There's a sense of indebtedness. I'm indebted
to preach the gospel.
Are you ready to preach the gospel? 1 Peter 3:15 says, "Be ready
always". To be ready, you've got to get ready. Have we been studying?
Have we been preparing? Have we been thinking about and are we looking
And then, thirdly: I'm not ashamed. Are we sometimes ashamed of
the gospel? Friend, shame on us, if we're ashamed to tell others about the
gospel. It's the good news. It's the hope of salvation. It's what makes life
worth living. It's what helps us to lay down at night and sleep, knowing that
all is well. Wouldn't you want somebody else to have good news and hope?
Don't ever be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is the good news
Paul also, from his life we learn that he made a lot of changes in the
things he was in the past. He didn't let those things shape who he would be
in the future and how he would live his life.
I want to direct your attention to Philippians 3, and I want you to
notice what things Paul had to give up for the gospel of Christ. Look in
Philippians 3:4, Paul said, "Though I also might have confidence in the
flesh. If anyone else thinks he may have confidence in the flesh, I more so:
(What do you mean, Paul) circumcised the eighth day of the stock of Israel
of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; concerning the law, a
Pharisee; concerning zeal, persecuting the church; concerning
righteousness which is in the law, blameless. But, what things were gain to
me, these I counted loss for Christ, yet yes indeed I count all things lost for
the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I suffer
the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christ."
Did Paul have to give up to gain Christ? You bet he did! Here's a
practical lesson: whatever you were, and whatever I was before we came
to Christ, I will assure you, is worth giving up and never looking back.
Could Paul have been something in the Hebrew nation? He already was,
and he was destined to become more, no doubt, chief of the stock of Israel,
tribe of Benjamin, Hebrew of Hebrews, taught at the feet of Gamaliel,
zealous, righteous, blameless. He had the top pedigree in Israel. Did it cost
him to give that up? Oh, you bet it did! Ultimately, it's going to cost him his
life for the cause of Christ.
But was it worth it? Absolutely, it was. Paul said in 2 Corinthians
5:14-15, "The love of Christ compels me, compels us, because we judge
thus: that if One died for all, then all died; and he died for all, that they who
live should no longer live for themselves, but live for him who died for them
and rose again." Paul sacrificed. He gave up, to gain Christ. How did he
look at all that in the past? He didn't look back. He said it's all garbage
compared to what I've gained.
Friend, all of us have had to come out of something to become a
Christian. Whether that was worldliness, maybe you had to give up things
in the world, maybe had to give up lust and passion and pleasure and
friends and things, or maybe a job even. Maybe you've come out of
denominational error, and that there's been some cost and sacrifice
involved in that- friend, rest assured, just as with Paul, it is the same with
us. Whatever we've given up,can't begin to compare with what we'll
Listen to Romans 8:18, Paul said, "I consider the sufferings of this
present day are not worthy be compared with the glory which shall be
revealed in us in the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ."
You know when I think about Saul, who later became Paul, we think
about his humility as a practical lesson. Ephesians 3:8, Paul said he
considered himself the least of all the Saints.1 Timothy 1:15, Paul said,
"This is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus
came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief." How did Paul
view himself? Least of all the Saints. How did he look at himself? Chief of
sinners. Friend, there's a sense of humility, honesty, owning up to his own
sin, his own deeds.
When we think about our life, let's not think we’re better than we
are, let's not put ourselves on the pedestal and look down to others. Let's
realize all menstand on level ground at the foot of the cross. Let's realize
we needed the blood of Jesus just as much as the next person. Jesus
tasted death for every man, Hebrews 2:9.
From Saul, welearn to have humility. Whoever humbles himself,
he's the one God is pleased with. Let us humble ourselves mighty hand of
God that he might exalt us in due time", 1 Peter 5:6-8.
So as we think about Saul, who later became the apostle Paul, what
a great man of God who really shows us the need to do what's right and
live according to the truth of God.
Friend, we want to ask you to consider seriously today, from Saul,
who later became Paul, the need to change in one's life and become a
If you've neverobeyed the gospel, maybe you've got the zeal,
maybe you've got the passion, and maybe you've got the desire of Saul.
We hope, today, that you can combine that desire, passion, and zeal with
understanding what God wants you to do to become a Christian.
Maybe you have to come out of something. That's okay. Saul had to
leave a lot behind, too. But what he gained was worth it.
And so, let's ask the question of the hour, let's ask this question:
what does a person need to do? Just like Saul of Tarsus, what does a
person need to do to become a Christian?
Friend, it's not hard. It's not complicated. It doesn't take looking to
religious leaders of today's day to figure it out. It's right here in the Bible.
The Bible says you've got to hear the word of God. That voice came to
Saul. He said, "Who are you Lord?"
"I'm Jesus, whom you are persecuting". He had heard the voice of
Christ. I hear the voice of Jesus today in the Bible. God has spoken to us in
these last days through His Son and that's recorded in the word of God.
“Faith comes by hearing, hearing by the word of God,” Romans
10:17. Then, once I've heard the message about Christ, I've got to be
convicted and committed to it and believe it. I must believe.
Acts 8, as Philip and Ethiopian eunuch are traveling down the road,
he sees water in the distance. "Here's water, what hinders me? If you
believe with allyour heart you may", Acts 8:35-39.
Are you willing to do what Saul did, change? Will you turn from
whatever in life you need to turn from? Leave behind what you need to
leave behind, and turn to God? Acts 3:19, Peter preached,”Repent and turn
again, that your sins may be blotted out.” Would you confess Jesus as
Christ, Paul did? "I'm Jesus whom you persecuted", "Lord, what would you
have me to do." He recognized Jesus as Lord. In Acts chapter 8, we see
the Ethiopian Eunuch doing the same thing, "I believe Jesus is the Christ,
the Son of the living God."
And then friend, would you do what Peter told them to do in the very
first gospel sermon? They cried out, "Men and brethren what shall we do?"
The answer was this, "Repent and be baptized", listen now, "for the
remission of sins and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit", Acts 2:38.
And so, whatever you've got to give up, whatever you've got to
leave behind, whatever you've got to do to become a Christian, I'll assure
you, it's worth it.
Saul stands out as a man who made a 180° turn from sin and
selfishness to God. He had hope.
Friend, our hope and prayer today is that you'll obey the gospel.
You also can have that hope.
Study Questions for:
“Great Bible Characters Lesson 4: The Apostle Paul”
1. According to Titus 3:14, what does God want us to be?
2. What was Saul doing in Acts 7:58?
3. What happened to prompt a change in Saul in Acts 9?
4. Trembling and astonished Saul asked what question in Acts 9?
5. According to Acts 9:11-12, what did Paul spend a great deal of time
6. In Acts 22:16, what does Ananias tell Saul to do to be saved?
7. According to Acts 22:16, at what point were Saul’s sins forgiven?
8. According to Acts 22:16, how do you call on the name of the Lord?
9. What did God want Paul to do in Acts 26:16-18? Did Paul?
10. What does God tell us in 1 Corinthians 15:58?