Repentance from Sin and Faith in God
Conversion is a turning way from sin in heart-felt repentance and responding in faith by trusting Christ alone for salvation. My change of heart produces belief in truths of Christianity, a genuine belonging to the community of God, and a commitment to righteous behavior. My conversion is the result of God’s gracious grace. This grace is God’s undeserved, loving commitment to rescue me from his wrath and judgment. In Christ, he delivers me from sin and transports me into his loving kingdom of forgiveness.
If we ask what caused Saul’s conversion, only one answer is possible. What stands out from the narrative is the sovereign grace of God through Jesus Christ. Saul did not ‘decide for Christ’, as we might say. On the contrary, he was persecuting Christ. It was rather Christ who decided for him and intervened in his life. The evidence for this is indisputable … But sovereign grace is gradual grace and gentle grace. Gradually, and without violence, Jesus pricked Saul’s mind and conscience with his goads. Then he revealed himself to him by the light and the voice, not in order to overwhelm him, but in such a way as to enable him to make a free response.
Divine grace does not trample on human personality. Rather the reverse, for it enables human beings to be truly human. It is sin which imprisons; it is grace which liberates. The grace of God so frees us from the bondage of our pride, prejudice and self-centeredness, as to enable us to repent and believe. One can but magnify the grace of God that he should have mercy on such a rabid bigot as Saul of Tarsus, and indeed on such proud, rebellious and wayward creatures as ourselves.
[John Stott, The Message of Acts, The Bible Speaks Today series (Leicester, England: InterVarsity, 1990), 168, 173.]