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.