The Conversion of Ananias – Acts 9:1-18
The story of the conversion of Saul tests our faith because it causes us to wonder if we really believe that God can save anyone. Saul, the one who watched people’s garments while they stoned Stephen (Acts 7:58) and the one who was breathing threats against believers (Acts 9:1), was dramatically converted on the road to Damascus. When we read this in Acts 9, we are immediately confronted with our own faith. God radically saved Saul, but can God radically do the same for my family, my friends, my coworkers, and my neighbors? All of us know people who are very worldly, very apathetic, or very devoted to another faith. All of us have been guilty of thinking that God couldn’t save that person. We sometimes think, “They just don’t care about spiritual matters…there’s no way,” “She’s too devoted to her own religion…there’s no way,” “He loves living like the world so much…there’s no way.” Our preconceived or initial judgments condemn us. Our spirit testifies to this because we know there are times when we don’t speak to someone about Jesus because we have already convinced ourselves that they wouldn’t believe in Jesus regardless. We are very quick to affirm cognitively that God can save anyone, but we are very reluctant to affirm that God can save anyone through our obedience in bringing God’s good news to that person. This is why Ananias is so important to those of us who struggle with this. Acts 9 describes the conversion of Saul, but equally important is how Acts 9 describes the conversion of Ananias.
Who is Ananias? Scripture only speaks about Ananias in reference to the conversion of Saul. Ananias is a disciple in Damascus (Acts 9:10), a devout man according to the law (Acts 22:12), and is well spoken of by all the Jews who lived in Damascus (Acts 22:12). This is an honorable description that most believers strive for. We all want to be known as a follower of Jesus in our community. We want to be known as people who are guided by a moral code. We all want to have a good reputation in our community because we know that a good reputation is a good witness for Christ. How Ananias is described is how most of us want to be described. As a relatively obscure, moral, reputable disciple of Jesus, Ananias represents us in this story of Saul’s conversion.
But why does Ananias need to be converted? He does not need a salvation conversion, but rather Ananias needed a belief conversion about salvation. Just like us, Ananias doubted if God could really save anyone. In a vision, God tells Ananias to go find Saul of Tarsus. Ananias’ response reveals his doubts about Saul, “But Ananias answered, ‘Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name’” (Acts 9:13,14). Notice the doubt, the fear, and the apprehension in his reply. This does not sound like a man who believes that God can save anyone. Ananias sounds like most of us, believing in our heads that God can save anyone but doubting that in our hearts. Despite his doubts about Saul, Ananias obeys the Lord and goes to visit Saul. His fear of God was greater than his fear of Saul, and for this reason we witness in Acts a very important kind of conversion. Ananias was converted from believing in “a God of possibilities” to believing in “a God of impossibilities.” Saul’s conversion challenged Ananias faith because Ananias had to decide if he truly believed that God could save anyone.
Jesus once said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26). Jesus said this because his disciples asked, “Who then can be saved?” This popular phrase, “All things are possible with God” was initially related to Jesus’ statement about who can be saved. Jesus himself wanted his followers to believe that no one is beyond hope. Without question, the most impossible task we will ever face in life is trying to save ourselves. On our own, salvation cannot be obtained through being good or doing good. Be absolutely certain about this: apart from God salvation is impossible. Yet this most impossible task becomes possible because of Jesus Christ. He alone makes the impossible possible. Jesus lived perfectly, sacrificed himself for us by dying on the cross, and defeated Satan, sin, and death by resurrecting three days later. Because of this, we can have confidence that God did the impossible. Jesus saved us when we could not save ourselves. Ananias came to believe this through his involvement in the conversion of Saul. Ananias too was dramatically converted.
So what can we learn from Ananias’ example? Knowing that we want to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, and knowing that we struggle at times to believe wholeheartedly that God can save anyone, what can we learn from Ananias?
- Say, “Here I am Lord.” Ananias responded to God by saying, “Here I am Lord.” This is reminiscent of Isaiah 6:8, “Here I am Lord, send me.” It’s a simple response, but it’s always the right response. Do you want to live your life as though you truly believe that God can save anyone that you might encounter today? Don’t get caught up in the details. Let it be sufficient to start by saying, “Here I am Lord.”
- Acknowledge your fears, but don’t embrace them. Ananias admitted his fears to God about Saul. He was aware of the evil Saul had already done and was capable of doing. Be honest with the Lord. In prayer, tell the Lord why you struggle with believing this person can be saved. But don’t embrace that doubt, that fear. Never. Leave the impossible to God.
- Embrace obedience. After Ananias confessed his concerns to the Lord, he listened to the Lord’s reply and responded in obedience. Go when God says go.
- Lay your hands on Saul. Ananias didn’t just pray for Saul from a distance. He got personal. He got involved. Ananias obeyed God and got so close to notorious Saul that he put his hands of him. If you believe God can save anyone, don’t be a witness from a distance. Have them in your home. Go to their home. Become friends with them. Learn what it means to rub shoulders with the people you once thought were beyond hope. You’ll likely be surprised how they have been crying out for truth, grace, and people from God all along.
- Speak Jesus to Saul. Ananias came to Saul as an ambassador of Jesus. He shared Jesus with Saul. That’s what people need to hear. Give them Jesus. No matter what, make sure you give them Jesus because Jesus is their only hope.
- Disciple Saul. Ananias played a role in baptizing Saul. We must not only be ready to believe that God can save anyone, we must be prepared for that reality. Be ready to disciple. Believe that God can save them, and be ready to show them the Christ-filled life.
There are Sauls all around us, people we thought would never believe, yet God disagrees. God is asking us to be Ananias. We must go get God’s Sauls. Believe that God can save anyone.
by Russell Young
Does the Lord know you? This might be a strange question to ask. It is commonly accepted that the Lord knows everything about everyone. That is, he is omniscient. However, Christ said that “on that day” he would plainly say to some of those who had served in the development of his kingdom, “I never knew you. Away from me you evil doers!” (Mt 7:23 NIV) This is a disturbing prophesy. These people were expecting to be received by him; they had prophesied in his name, driven out demons in his name, and had performed many miracles (v.22); they were confident in their hope.
Many start their evangelizing with the question, “Do you know the Lord?” Perhaps, that is a good place to start, but even in this question consideration needs to be given to the word, “know.” In any event, as the confessor progresses in his or her walk, the question needs to be asked, “Does the Lord know you?” Those he does not “know” will be cast from him. The justification that he had presented for casting away those referenced above was because they were “evil-doers.” Even though they had participated in ministry in his name, they had walked through their world in an “evil” manner, in violation of the law, or unrighteously. At the beginning of this discourse the Lord had stated, “Not everyone who says to me ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father in heaven.” (Mt 7:21 NIV) It is a person’s “doing” that is important to the Lord, not their profession of his lordship.
The word “knew” is translated from the Greek ginosko which means “to know absolutely, to be aware (of), feel, have know(-ledge), perceived, be resolved, can speak, be sure, understand.” (Strong’s Greek Dictionary #1097) Perhaps the “knowing” that the Lord spoke of can best be understood in relation to the Lord’s absolute knowledge of a person’s conviction; he was “unsure” of the integrity of their confession, or “didn’t understand” them. In this manner, he had chastised the church in Laodicea for being “lukewarm—neither hot nor cold” (Rev 3:16 NIV) and said that he was about to “spit them out of [his] mouth.” A person’s testimony through his or her life practices is the manner in which the Lord comes to know him or her. He has stated that his saints overcame Satan, “by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death.” (Rev 12:11 NIV) He is not saying that ‘the testimony of their word’ overcame Satan but that “the word of their testimony’ or the speaking of their actions as they revealed Christ through righteous living and obedient practices. It should be appreciated that both the blood of the Lamb and a person’s own testimony through righteous living are needed to dwell in the kingdom of heaven.
To the Thessalonians Paul wrote: “He will punish those who do not know (appreciate) God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.” (2 Thess 1:8─9 NIV) As is recorded above, Christ said that, “only he who does the will of my Father in heaven” will enter his eternal kingdom. It is through obedience to him that God gets to “know” or to become sure of a person’s commitment. This thought should not be taken lightly. Does the Lord “know” you? Do you obey Christ as he leads you by his Spirit? Those who do will present a righteous testimony and will be participants in building his kingdom, and they will be part of it. The only way that a person’s state of faith can be known by God is through their degree of submission to him as they obediently comply with his requirements in their lives. Obedience is faith in practice. “[Christ] became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.” (Heb 5:9 NIV)
The Lord gets to know a person as he or she seeks him for righteous living. The reason that Christ claimed not to know or to be sure of them was because their practices did not show evidence of his life having been lived through them. They had not humbled themselves to his sovereignty. They had lived apart from him. Christ said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life,” (Jn 14:6 NIV) and they had not recognized his life even though they had called him “Lord.” They had continued in their evil practices; they had lived life on their terms.
This passage should instruct everyone who desires to dwell in the Lord’s eternal presence to recognize his lordship, his indwelling ministry, and the need for righteous living. Misleading representations concerning God’s grace should not prevent the life of Christ from being lived, as he would, through the believer. Christ admonished, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say?” (Lk 6:46 NIV) How well does the Lord “know” you?