At the end of Paul’s third missionary journey, he returned to Jerusalem for the first time in many years. He was bringing a gift from Gentile Christians for the needy Jewish brethren in Jerusalem. While Paul was in the temple grounds with some of the Jewish Christians of that city, the Jews took exception to his presence and began to beat him. Roman soldiers came to his rescue and when order had been restored, they allowed Paul to address the crowd of Jews.
The record of Paul’s defense is found in Acts 22:1-21. In the course of his defense Paul declared his heritage as a Jew and publicly admitted that he had personally persecuted Christians, even going so far as to obtain letters from the leaders of the Jews so he could go to Damascus in search of Christians. In vs. 6-11 Paul told the crowd what happened to him as he approached the city. A bright light shined on him from heaven, and the Lord spoke to him, commanding him to go into the city where he would be told what he must do.
In vs. 12-16 Paul told of the visit by Ananias, who had been sent to him by the Lord. Ananias restored Paul’s sight, which had been lost when the bright light shined upon him. Then Paul related what Ananias told him on that occasion. Ananias said, “Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). This statement is extremely important because it tells us that Paul was not yet saved, even though he had seen Jesus and spoken to Him. He was not yet saved, even though a miracle had been performed on him. He was not yet saved, even though he had spent three days fasting and praying while waiting in Damascus (Acts 9:9, 11).
Paul’s conversion is important because it contradicts the things that many people believe save them today. Some believe that some kind of supernatural overwhelming by the Holy Spirit is what saves them. Paul saw and spoke to Jesus, but Ananias commanded him to be baptized to wash away his sins. Some believe that praying in penitent contrition saves them. Paul prayed and fasted for three days, far longer than anyone does today, and still Ananias told him to be baptized to wash away his sins. Some believe that all one has to do is call on the name of the Lord in order to be saved, so they offer a prayer in order to do so. Ananias, however, told Paul that being baptized to wash away his sins is how one calls on the name of the Lord.
A few years after the incident in Acts 22, Paul stood before the Roman governor of Judea, Porcius Festus, and the Jewish King Agrippa. As Paul made his defense before these rulers, he again told his conversion story. In Acts 26:19 Paul said, “So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision.” In this brief statement Paul affirmed Luke’s record in Acts 9:18 that he immediately obeyed Ananias’ command to be baptized to wash away his sins. Paul understood that his soul was in jeopardy before God, and that his only hope was to have his sins washed away by the blood of Jesus. He also understood that his sins would only be washed away when he submitted to baptism into Christ. This is why he did not delay to obey.
All who have not yet been baptized into Christ for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38-39), are still covered with their sins. All who face God in judgment in this condition will be lost for eternity. This truth makes this matter urgent. We do not know when we will die, and we do not know when the Lord will return for judgment. We do know, however, that when the Lord returns, He will deal out “retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Th. 1:8). So then, why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name.