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The traditional way in which any Israelite was to be saved, was to first repent (and be baptized) as evidenced in both the preaching of John the Baptist (Mark 1:4,15) and that of Peter (Acts 2:38; 3:19.) It appears that this repentance was intended for "the remission of sins" and to "believe the gospel"... which at the time simply meant, believing that Jesus was the Christ (i.e., the promised Messiah), the son of the Living God. Peter's words in Acts 2:38 seem to indicate that it was subsequent to this that one would then "receive the gift of holy spirit."

However, it appears that this isn't exactly the same path or course of salvation that Paul (who refers to himself as the apostle to the Gentiles in Romans 11:13, and a teacher of the Gentiles in both of his epistles to Timothy) later preached with his gospel. This probably shouldn't be surprising, considering that the gentile nations were not given the same promise of a Messiah, nor were they given a way or any means for the remission of sins. Perhaps this is why the focus of Paul's message is first and foremost on the acceptance and belief in the death and resurrection of Christ, rather than on a change of heart and the remission of sins... which both appear to occur only AFTER believing in the resurrection of the dead, and receiving the free gift of righteousness. (Romans 2:4.)

Plainly speaking, the baptism of John (and perhaps that spoken of in Acts 9:18) was by or with water. However, there is also a baptism by or with spirit (as spoken of in 1Cor.12:3)... which Paul also seems to refer to as being Christ in you (2Cor. 13:5; Col. 1:27.) Furthermore, it appears that Paul also states that this may have been revealed to him while on the road to Damascus.

Galatians 1

[15] But when it pleased God, who separated me from my mother's womb, and called me by his grace, [16] To reveal his Son in me, that I might preach him among the heathen; immediately I conferred not with flesh and blood:

So... this question remains. When, and by what sequence of events, was Paul actually saved?

Addendum:

Evidently this is not as easy a question to answer as some of you might think.

Addendum 2:

To draw more attention to this, I considered putting a bounty on it (even though I haven't been at this site long to earn many points.) However, the difficulty that arises in pinpointing a scriptural answer to this question raises another, perhaps far more interesting question which I will pose that links back to this question.

2 Answers 2

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When did Paul's repentance (i.e., change of heart) and salvation occur? On the road to Damascus, or only after being baptized in Damascus? When, and by what sequence of events, was Paul actually saved?


Can you be saved without being freed from your sins?
No, for Isaiah states that it is our sins that separate us from God:

1 Behold, the LORD’S hand is not shortened, that it cannot save,
or his ear dull, that it cannot hear;
2 but your iniquities have made a separation between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you so that he does not hear. Isaiah 59:1-2

This is why in announcing the Gospel Matthew says with respect to Jesus that:

"...he will save his people from their sins.” Matthew 1:21

And Luke states that the knowledge of salvation is in the forgiveness of sins:

"to give knowledge of salvation to his people in the forgiveness of (freedom from) their sins," Luke 1:77

Jesus says his blood was poured out for the forgiveness of sins:

28 for this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of (freedom from) their sins. Matthew 26:28

And Paul teaches that the new covenant is established at the same time that sins are taken away:

27 “and this will be my covenant with them when I take away their sins.” Romans 11:27

So, when was Paul's sins taken away?
Now seeing that there can be no salvation without the removal of sin, then it becomes quite clear when Paul was saved by examining the following verse relating Ananias's direct instruction to Paul:

16 And now why do you wait? Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins, calling on his name.’

Acts 22:16 above strongly indicates that Paul's sins remained until after he arose and was baptized, calling on the name of the Lord. The washing away of Paul's sins and therefore his salvation would have come after or at the moment of being baptized.

This seems to follow the Acts 2:38 model of “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit."

Now, how this harmonizes with the rest of the scriptures is a lot to unpack and I believe is beyond the scope of the question, however according to how Paul himself relates the events of his own conversion his sins had not been washed away before he was instructed to be baptized.

With regard to when exactly repentance occurred, it's hard to pin down since repentance is an internal change and Paul does not explicitly reveal much of what was in his mind/heart and at what point in the sequence, but it necessarily must have occurred sometime after Jesus addressed him and up to the time that He was baptized.

Note: The Greek word for repent (μετανοέω metanoeō) essentially means to change one's mind. Since one changes one's mind when transitioning from non-belief to belief, I find that, if the two words are not exactly synonymous, initial saving "belief" and initial saving "repentance" seem to both be describing two sides of the same coin.

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  • It doesn't appear to me that anyone is "freed" from sin until AFTER they are saved. Anything prior to salvation is, at best, merely a "cleansing" from sin. Salvation (for us) necessitates believing in the death & resurrection of Christ. Only after that might anyone recognize and accept Rom 6:7, and THEN become servants to God (Rom 6:22.) Therefore, it appears that these verses negate any validity to this part of your answer as it relates to Paul's salvation. Whether repentance equates exactly to believing might be debatable, but in the context of this question, I would agree.
    – Hugs
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 16:55
  • I have trouble figuring out how to direct a comment back to the person that it is directed towards. The @ sign doesn't stick the name
    – Hugs
    Commented Mar 13, 2022 at 16:56
  • @Hugs , coming back to your comment and being dissatisfied with not actually answering your objection in my previous reply and noting that you have not responded to it, I've deleted it and am responding anew. When you say "It doesn't appear to me that anyone is "freed" from sin until AFTER they are saved." This seems to contradict verses saying Jesus was born to "save his people from their sins (Matt 1:21)" Salvation is with respect to our sins as it is written, "the knowledge of salvation is in the forgiveness of our sins (Lk 1:77). It is our sins that separate us from God (Is 59:1-2).
    – Austin
    Commented Jun 1 at 5:46
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Here is the Scriptural account of Paul's conversion. Acts 9:3-19

3 As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”

5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.

“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”

“Yes, Lord,” he answered.

11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”

13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”

15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”

17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.

The order in which Paul was saved is:

  1. Revelation -verse 5
  2. Belief/faith which results in salvation. There is no time lag between belief/faith and salvation followed by obedience - verses 6 - 8, 17 - 18
  3. Baptism - verse 18

Baptism is an outward symbol of an inward change. We see the inward change in that Paul turned away from his persecution of Christians, obeyed Jesus instructions, was healed and "filled with the Holy Spirit"

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  • Good answer +1.
    – Dottard
    Commented Mar 5, 2022 at 21:03
  • I see two glaring issues with this. Primarily, it says that salvation is dependent on obedience rather than residing on faith alone. However, Paul leaves no doubt that it was Abraham's believing alone that accounted for righteousness, which he had yet being uncircumcised (Rom 4:12.) Secondly, there is no explanation or reckoning for how (or perhaps, when) it was possible that Paul knew within him was the Son of God. Wasn't this revelation given while on the road to Damascus? If so, how is that possible prior to salvation? But if not... then why not? Why think it was any later than that?
    – Hugs
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 15:06
  • anyone care to explain why this question was downvoted?
    – Hugs
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 20:21
  • @Hugs Faith results in obedience. Paul's belief, faith, was demonstrated by his obedience.
    – David D
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 23:01
  • @David That's not the point. The issue I have is whether one is saved at the time they believe vs. not until after their obedience is manifested.
    – Hugs
    Commented Mar 6, 2022 at 23:59

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