The first evidence of Saul’s penitent heart was his question to Jesus, “What would you have me to do?” (Acts 9:6). Jesus instructed him to go into Damascus and he would be informed what he needed to do. “And Saul arose from the earth; and when his eyes were opened, he saw no man: but they led him by the hand, and brought him into Damascus. And he was three days without sight, and neither did eat nor drink” (Acts 9:8–9). Saul had been made blind by the Lord, and another significant evidence of Saul’s penitent heart is revealed: He fasted for three days.
What would cause one to not eat or drink for three days? Grief, sorrow, a broken heart. Saul was experiencing all, and they are needful and logical emotions for a person who recognizes his sin against God and his state of being lost. This same man would later write: “For godly sorrow worketh repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world worketh death” (2 Corinthians 7:10). This passage informs us how that godly sorrow is necessary for true repentance and true repentance is necessary for salvation.
Saul could not be converted to Christ without his penitent heart. On the day of the church’s inception, Peter commanded, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). While in Athens, Paul (formerly Saul) preached that God “now commandeth all men every where to repent” (Acts 17:30). The term “repentance” means “a change of mind.” In my preaching, I often say: “a change of mind which leads to a change of life.”
It is easily defined, but it is not easily accomplished. Hearing and believing that Jesus is the Son of God is relatively simple (Mark 16:16; Romans 10:17). Confessing with our mouths that Jesus is the Son of God is relatively simple (Romans 10:10; Acts 8:37). Being baptized is relatively simple (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16). At the center of the steps of salvation is the most difficult—repentance: “a change of mind which leads to a change of life.”
There are three major misconceptions about repentance. The first: A person can be saved without repentance. The Scriptures plainly contradict this. The second: Some believe they have to master their change of life before they can become a Christian. Such is false and detrimental. One who tries to master his change of life without first becoming a Christian is continually carrying their burden of sin, and he is deceived into thinking he can do such without Christ. The third misconception: A person is saved at the point of repentance. Saul’s conversion is an explicit refutation of such an idea. If he was saved at the point of repentance, he was the most miserable saved man. Salvation is an occasion of supreme rejoicing (cf. Acts 8:39).