When was Saul actually saved - When he was baptized or when he encountered the Lord?
I believe the Scripture proves Paul was saved on the Damascus Rd. not afterwards when he was baptized. Why? Because He, and the Scripture says so. We need to distinguish that one being baptized in water is not baptized in Christ by the spirit- Jesus said so in Acts 1:5 and was proven in Acts 2 when they were in the upper room. This distinction is made later by Peter who recounts what the Lord said about the difference between water baptism and spirit baptism that they witnessed with the Gentiles in Acts10. Acts 11:16-18 "And as I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell upon them, as upon us at the beginning. "Then I remembered the word of the Lord, how He said, 'John indeed baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.'"
Paul recollected his encounter on the Damascus road in 1 Cor. 15:8, saying he was born out of due time and pointing to this event as the time of his regeneration. “Then last of all He was seen by me also, as by one born out of due time. For I am the least of the apostles, who am not worthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.”
His encounter with the Lord he described as an abortion, (Greek) by the sudden unexpected new birth. Paul’s regeneration was not something he expected, he was not seeking it; it was an abortion (Greek - ektroma). Saul (Paul) was saved the moment as he submitted to the Lord's command: “Lord, what do you want me to do?”
In Gal. 1:12 Paul related that the Gospel he heard; “I neither received it from man, nor was I taught it, but it came through the revelation of Jesus Christ.” When was that revealed? When Paul first saw the glory and heard Jesus as he was traveling on the Damascus road. This shows what he received was directly from God and not from man. Paul received his baptism by man afterwards, by Ananias (Acts 9:18) three days after when he received back his sight.
God intervened without any believer present; there was no preacher; it was just Jesus and Paul.
In Acts 9:6, Saul, after falling to the ground and hearing the Lord's voice, in fear and trepidation responded to Jesus, “Lord, what will you have me do?” He repented of his unbelief, calling Jesus his Lord (Acts 9:6), Saul, who once despised Christ, is now ready to serve Him (Acts 26:19). The Bible tells us that “no man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Spirit” (1 Cor. 12:3).
Paul was baptized by Ananias (Acts 9:17, 18), yet he makes it clear that he did not receive gospel from man. In Gal 1:11-12: “that the gospel which was preached of me is not after man. If Paul received the gospel from Christ and not from man then baptism is not part of the gospel nor part of his salvation. Acts 9:17: “Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, 'Brother Saul, the Lord -- Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here -- has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.”’ Ananias was sent to Saul for two reasons: So that Saul would be able to see again, and so he would be filled with the Holy Spirit. Ananias told Paul he will receive his sight and immediately be filled with the Holy Spirit (prior to his baptism v.18). Some argue that Saul remain a sinner, unsaved until he was baptized? If Saul needed to be baptized in order to be saved, then he was not yet “Brother Saul.”
Paul was called to preach before he was baptized - Acts 26:15-18. In Acts 26 where Paul told of his conversion, he said that Christ told him to “rise, and stand upon thy feet; for I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles unto whom NOW I SEND THEE.” Only those who are saved are sent.
He was baptized after he has shown the evidence of repentance, faith, obedience, and prayer as proof of his conversion. All of these were present in Paul before he was baptized. He had the qualities that only a saved individual can exhibit by the new birth before his baptism. Saul received salvation and his commission as an apostle on the road to Damascus.
Paul himself also makes it clear how he received cleansing … Acts 26:18: “that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me” (Jesus). Paul clearly points out that trusting the Lord for the removal of sins was done through faith, not by baptism. Paul teaches in the book of Romans that we are justified by faith alone, and in Ephesians 2 explains how one is saved. He is consistent in his teaching that the washing away of the sins was done by calling on the name of the Lord. Paul’s theology did not allow for any work or water to save a soul.
in 1 Cor.1:14-17. Paul explains the Gospel is the “power of God to salvation” (Rom. 1:16); ). Peter makes the same point when the Gentiles were first saved: “Whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” (Acts 10:43).
The gospel Paul preached required faith in Christ's blood poured out in death for one's sins by crucifixion at Passover (being the lamb of God).
Paul said of those who preach another gospel are accursed (Gal. 1:6-9). The difference between gospels: One is by faith in God’s work; another is by faith and adds a human work to it. Faith in Jesus is the requirement for salvation. Our faith is in whom we believe, not in what we do, neither any work of obedience, be it baptism, law, tithing, praying etc. can bring the same result as what Paul said was the gospel he preached.
Paul tells us in Gal 2:2 “And I went up by revelation, and communicated to them that gospel which I preach among the Gentiles, but privately to those who were of reputation, lest by any means I might run, or had run, in vain.”
He shared what was revealed to him to the Jews first, the apostles to verify it was indeed correct. Paul was approved and he began his ministry to those he was called to.
Gal. 2:8-9: “(for He who worked effectively in Peter for the apostleship to the circumcised also worked effectively in me toward the Gentiles), and when James, Cephas, and John, who seemed to be pillars, perceived the grace that had been given to me, they gave me and Barnabas the right hand of fellowship, that we should go to the Gentiles and they to the circumcised.”
Paul states, “Christ sent me NOT TO BAPTIZE, but to preach the Gospel” (1 Cor. 1:17), here Paul makes the distinction, the gospel is spoken, baptism is a work.
And here is the gospel Paul said he preached in its entirety:
1 Cor. 15:1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare to you the gospel which I preached to you, which also you received and in which you stand, by which also you are saved, if you hold fast that word which I preached to you-- unless you believed in vain. For I delivered to you first of all that which I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.”