Isn’t it interesting when there is controversy over biblical doctrines that are presented in such a clear and forthright manner in the Scriptures? We shouldn’t be surprised though, since the enemy is always going to seek those whom he many devour, using persecution, temptation, and false teaching as his means of soul destruction. God’s Word says that we must resist him standing firm in the faith. The doctrines of the Scripture define faith for us, leading us to Jesus Christ, and we must believe God’s Holy Word about faith for genuine salvation, in order to truly know Jesus Christ. Let us reject the enemy’s devices and examine the perfect Word of God for instruction in the doctrine of repentance.
I love the story of Paul’s salvation! The account that he shared with King Agrippa in Acts 26:9-23 gives a wonderful example of repentant faith in Jesus Christ. There are those who discount the importance of repentance in salvation, but who are they to argue with what God tells us in His shining Word?
“Indeed, I myself thought I must do many things contrary to the name of Jesus of Nazareth. This I also did in Jerusalem, and many of the saints I shut up in prison, having received authority from the chief priests; and when they were put to death, I cast my vote against them. And I punished them often in every synagogue and compelled them to blaspheme; and being exceedingly enraged against them, I persecuted them even to foreign cities. While thus occupied, as I journeyed to Damascus with authority and commission from the chief priests, at midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me. And when we all had fallen to the ground, I heard a voice speaking to me and saying in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ “So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you. I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles, to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ “Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. For these reasons the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. Therefore, having obtained help from God, to this day I stand, witnessing both to small and great, saying no other things than those which the prophets and Moses said would come-that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.” Acts 26:9-23
In this passage we see the example of Paul’s repentance and the message of repentance the Lord Jesus Christ gave him to preach to the Gentiles.
Paul thought he was doing service to God by persecuting the church. What he did was in ignorance and unbelief. He was busy persecuting the church, harassing unbelievers, shutting them up in prison, and was eager to see them put to death; the thought that he might be opposing God Almighty never crossed his mind, it was actually the furthest thought from his consideration. He was engaged in this work of persecution when the Lord Jesus Christ met him on the road to Damascus. The light of the glory of the appearance of Jesus Christ knocked Saul to the ground. He must have been filled with fright and astonishment. Immediately Jesus Christ confronted Paul with his sinful opposition to the work of God, telling Paul that he was actually persecuting Him, while accosting the church of God. Paul asked who was speaking to him, and the Lord told him that He was Jesus whom Paul was persecuting. Then Jesus Christ commanded Paul to stand on his feet and proceeded to tell Paul what he would be doing from that time forward. First, it was Jesus Christ who revealed Himself to Paul, exposed Paul’s sinfulness, and commissioned Paul in the work that He called Him to. Without the intervention of Jesus Christ in Paul’s life, he would have continued his sinful course of action, persecuting the church and disrupting God’s work through His beloved saints. Secondly, just like the woman at the well, Jesus Christ exposed the evil work that Paul was doing. Apart from Jesus Christ opening our eyes to our sin, we have no legitimate reason to believe in Jesus Christ, to put our faith in Him. Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ doesn’t expose our sin so that we can continue in it, He shows us our sin so that we can turn from it and turn to Him. How could we expect our Holy God to allow us to continue in our sin while believing in His beloved pure, undefiled Son Jesus Christ?
For such a High Priest was fitting for us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and has become higher than the heavens; Hebrews 7:26.
Paul obeyed the heavenly vision, as he confessed to King Agrippa. He proclaimed the truth about Jesus Christ in Damascus and Jerusalem.
Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. Acts 9:20-22
And when Saul had come to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples; but they were all afraid of him, and did not believe that he was a disciple. But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. And he declared to them how he had seen the Lord on the road, and that He had spoken to him, and how he had preached boldly at Damascus in the name of Jesus. So he was with them at Jerusalem, coming in and going out. And he spoke boldly in the name of the Lord Jesus and disputed against the Hellenists, but they attempted to kill him. Acts 9:26-29
Jesus Christ made Paul a disciple, and Paul preached the faith he tried to destroy; the persecutor of the church of Jesus Christ became persecuted. This is the essence of repentance. It is the work of God in the heart of the sinner, so that the unbeliever becomes a believer turning from unbelief and evil works, believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and doing His works no matter the opposition or the consequences. This is the message that the Lord Jesus Christ gave to Paul to minister to the Gentiles.
When Jesus commissioned Paul with His calling, He explained the results of salvation in the life of a sinner.
‘I will deliver you from the Jewish people, as well as from the Gentiles to whom I now send you, to open their eyes, in order to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by faith in Me.’ Acts 26: 17-18
Faith in Jesus Christ, belief in His death upon the cross for our sins and His resurrection from the dead for our justification is the power of God unto salvation and performs an exceedingly powerful work in our lives. We are translated from the kingdom of darkness, Satan’s realm, to the kingdom of light, the kingdom of God’s beloved Son, receiving forgiveness of sins and an inheritance in this glorious kingdom of Jesus Christ.
For you were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light (for the fruit of the Spirit is in all goodness, righteousness, and truth), finding out what is acceptable to the Lord. And have no fellowship with the unfruitful works of darkness, but rather expose them. Ephesians 5:8-11
The light of the life of God in our lives through the Holy Spirit produces the works of goodness, righteousness and truth in our lives. As He does His work in our lives then we will reject the works of darkness and rather expose them. The light of the gospel opens the sinners’ eyes so that they are turned from the kingdom of Satan to the kingdom of God, so that God the Holy Spirit is working in the new believer’s life. This is what Jesus Christ did in Paul’s life. He exposed the works of darkness in the life of Paul, and then as Paul repented of his evil works, the Lord Jesus Christ established His works of righteousness in his life as he proclaimed the gospel to all through the indwelling power of the Holy Spirit. Paul, who had experienced genuine repentance, doing the works of repentance, preached the gospel to the Gentiles, exhorting them to turn to God and do works befitting repentance.
Paul confessed to King Agrippa, and his audience while standing before the king, that he himself did works befitting repentance. He preached the gospel to all and exhorted all to repent, put their faith in Jesus Christ, and do those things that are pleasing to God.
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and through all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. Acts 26:19-20.
Recognizing our sinfulness, our need for forgiveness, and the reconciliation that God provides for us through His Son Jesus Christ is to repent. Believing in Jesus Christ and the work that He did for us on the cross, believing that He took the punishment that our sins deserve and died in our stead, and knowing that He rose again from the dead and is seated at the right hand of the Majesty on High, soon to return to set up His kingdom on this Earth is to turn to God. Doing what is well pleasing in His sight, doing what is good, righteous, in agreement with the truth through belief in the truth is to do works befitting repentance. Obedience to God through faith in Jesus Christ is evidence of genuine saving faith. Paul perfectly modeled this faith and repentance that God has called all to for salvation. Based upon God’s Word, and example of salvation in the life of Paul, we can confidently proclaim that repentance is commanded by God, is not a work that is added to faith, but is a vital component of true saving faith. Those who reject repentance as a part of saving faith are proclaiming a powerless gospel that is ineffective to save those who hear it and believe it.
Now to Him who is able to establish you according to my gospel and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery kept secret since the world began but now made manifest, and by the prophetic Scriptures made known to all nations, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, for the obedience to the faith-to God, alone wise, be glory through Jesus Christ forever. Amen. Romans 16:25-27