Was the Apostle Paul’s salvation a conversion and new birth, or was it a call to preach the Gospel to all people? We don’t know the answer to this statement because Paul himself never quite gives us a clear distinction in his letters and never directly called himself a Christian, even after the church began to do so. When one looks at the scene in Acts where Jesus speaks to Ananias to go and restore Saul’s sight (Acts 9:10-19), we hear Jesus telling Ananias that Saul is to be the one who proclaims the risen Christ to the Gentiles. In my opinion, this is a call to ministry. Paul still retained his Jewishness and still followed the ways of Judaism throughout his mission, never once saying that he was anything other than a Jew through and through, the same a Jesus never acting like He was anything but a Jew. When Paul was called by Jesus, Christianity was not even a name the church called itself until much later in Antioch. Jesus has told us not to be of the world, but He never told us that we had to lose the heritage that makes us us. God never told the Jews to stop being Jewish, so I believe that Paul remained Paul in all his ways except spiritually. Like all of us, I believe his conversion came later as he learned more and more from the Holy Spirit as he spent time in prayer and growth from watching the Holy Spirit work in his life day after day. As the Scriptures say, we are being made new every day until we come to meet the Lord at the time of our deaths.
Interpreting Paul’s letters should always be done by remembering that Paul was speaking to Jewish and Gentile peoples. We must always interpret any Scripture based on the culture they were written in. whether or not Paul was converted or called, his letters still speak to us today even though we are far removed from the culture of two thousand years ago. We should always interpret his letters through the eyes of the Holy Spirit, who removes the years in between then and now and helps us to understand what Jesus intended these letters to say to all who heard them. Whether Paul was converted or called is not the issue. The issue is, is Paul speaking the truth from God, or is he speaking the truth of Paul? I’d say that God speaks through the words of Paul, and that, whether converted or called, the heart of the man belongs to Jesus and the words of that heart are divine.
Comment: “While conversion and that of being called is similar, there are distinct differences such as; a conversion usually results in a reevaluation of virtually everything in your life but mostly results in conforming to a new set of beliefs, or even an overall worldview. Whereas, being called into something is more like being set apart for it.”
Author Response: To me, a call is an immediate thing – I call you on the phone and ask you to do something for me and you do it right away. A conversion is more like a car being converted from a junker to a hot rod – it will take a lot of time, love, and effort to get the car to where I can drive it legally and safely. I would not expect a brand new Christian to go out and proclaim the Gospel if they haven’t even read the Bible yet once. But a Christian who has studied the Gospel and has mastered all that the Holy Spirit has told him I expect to proclaim the Gospel clearly and correctly. A calling to be a Pastor to me means that Jesus wants me to be a Pastor in the future because I would then have to go to Bible school to learn all that a Pastor does and how to successfully run a church. It is in this schooling that I cam converted from a man with a calling into a man who can know pursue that calling in all it ways. I believe that it is very rare that Jesus calls anyone the way he called Paul. Even Paul had a few years of “training” to do before he could go up to the Jerusalem Council to get permission to being his call.
Comment: “I believe that Saul became Paul called by God to be an apostle but he had to be converted in order to fulfill the calling on his life.”
Author Response: Something came to mind when I read the above statement. When we all talk about what came first – the conversion or the call – we are all placing them in different orders. But what suddenly came to mind is the fact that don’t we have to be converted first before we can be called to do ministry for God? It is said that sinners can’t hear God unless He calls them to salvation, but those who are saved can hear the voice of God everywhere they go. Don’t we need to belong to God before He can use us for His glory? Is it possible that it is rare that a call and the conversion can both happen at the same time, as it seemed to be in Saul/Paul’s case? God needed Paul to stop killing Christians, so couldn’t He have converted and called Paul at the same moment in time so the killing would quickly stop? These are just some thoughts I have been thinking about in the last couple of days.