The church of our day carries a different message than the old one of long ago. Today’s modern gospel leans to the softer more tolerant side. Men are thus led to believe themselves free to go the way they choose, thinking they have God’s smile. Yet have you ever really pondered the simple message of the Apostle Paul? A theme permeating the whole of God’s old Book. Paul testified in Acts 26 of the day God called him to ministry, expressing again the message God gave him with the mission.
“Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision” (Acts 26:19)
Paul’s was an instant obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, and ever after. And obedience “to the heavenly vision”. It was a message from the Lord Himself. Paul ever after carried a certainty that he was God’s man on God’s mission carrying God’s message, rather than a man appointed or taught by men.
“But showed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance” (Acts 26:20).
A bit of a summary here of the Apostle’s work, involving ministry to both Jews and Gentiles. And don’t miss how the message was the same throughout! “Repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.” It was a message involving three parts.
I. “That they should repent”
At its root the word translated “repent” combines the ideas of change and thinking, that men must change their thinking. It’s a word very common to the sermons of God’s apostles in the book of Acts. Repentance never speaks of superficial change, but of that which penetrates to the core, to the very inner principles or purposes that give rise to the outward practices of a life. It’s a hard word implying some rather objectionable concepts, like human fault or defect. Extremely unpopular ideas to throw at folks anymore in our super-sensitive so terribly humanistic modern world.
Look at it! Look at the obvious! The message Paul was called of God to carry to Mr. Everyman was the simple plea that he must change his mind or purpose. And that essential message was the same for Jews or Gentiles, men or women, Europeans or Zulus, Muslims, Hindus, Polynesians, or Eskimos! It’s a repentance required of all, every people group, every person! When earlier speaking to the Greek philosophers in Athens Paul proclaimed, “God . . . now commandeth all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). All men. Everywhere. And again, commanded by the God of heaven! There at Athens this message of repentance was spoken to men with no Bible background. Paul assumed they knew of the God they were denying, as Rom. 1:19-20 affirms. He felt no need to prove the Bible over other books, or the God of the Bible over other gods, or the fact of creation and Creator. He simply assumed that any man can and most certainly does discern these things. Paul felt no need to confront his hearers with the law, God’s broken standard of right. He assumed men understand their guilt as well. Paul did not hedge anything, conceding that people are sort of O.K., suggesting only some part-way need of perhaps a few messy views in them to be cleaned up. No! A core change is required, and required for all. We don’t meet the unsaved world at any kind of half way on this score, folks! That’s not where God met us. When rescuing a man from a sinking ship you don’t meet him half way. You pull him all the way across to safety on the stable vessel. One must come all the way to Jesus Christ or he has nothing at all, he has not moved at all from the place of God’s wrath. A man cannot add Jesus to his personal pantheon of other “worthy” gods. This clear, straightforward message of repentance implies some things;
- Outside of Jesus Christ all men are on the wrong track (hey, there’s an endearing sentiment!). Indeed, “the whole head is sick, and the whole heart faint, from the sole of the foot even unto the head there is no soundness in it” (Isa. 1:5-6).
- Not only are all who are outside of Jesus directed wrong, but God faults them for their flawed direction.
- That a man would be called to carry such a simple message of repentance to all indicates that there is indeed a right track, and he has found it. Thus some men are right and some are There is right and there is wrong! A man actually does not have the right to think and do as he chooses and expect that all, including God, must respect his choices as “right for him”.
- Implied in God’s demand of repentance is an absolute standard of right. A standard to which all are answerable, and by which God will judge every man, both in his inward attitudes and outward actions.
- All must come to recognize their fault in denying the one and only true God, and to agree with God’s righteous standard, and to regret their failure, and to wholly hate and abandon their current trusts. Every soul must see that not only is their way a wrong track, it is a sinful track, a rebellious way, a wilful walk.
- Implied is the vital need of every man to find God’s pardon, for outside of Jesus he simply does not have this!
All of this is implied, yea announced in God’s demand of human repentance. It is a fundamental heart change in relation to the Lord and sin, right, and wrong. It involves genuine sorrow for my sin, with sincere regret and hatred for the arrogance of my past evil trusts. We can well imagine how objectionable such a concept would be to the common run of unsaved men. “Oh you unimaginably arrogant bigot!! Where do you get off assigning me with wrong and you with right, me in the dark and you in the light?” Thus saith man who refuses to see that “thus saith the LORD”! “Repent” is the essential message every true man of God has always carried to his world, and was hated for it.
II. “That they should repent and turn to God”
In the original language behind our English translation there’s a measure of emphasis on the motion of turning here, something like “turn thoroughly”. Turn right around, fully “to God from idols to serve the living and true God”. Cast aside every critical thought that ever kept you from the God of the Bible and wholly embrace Him without reservation, yea with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength. In the apostle’s preaching to “all men everywhere” he insisted on this as well, that a soul must “turn to God”. Hear Paul’s words to the crowd at Lystra, saying we “preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the living God” (Acts 14:15). See how Paul just dismissed the ancient religion of their ancestors as “these vanities”, insisting that they must “turn” from the empty foolishness of their false religion “unto the living God”. The obvious implication is that their back was turned to the Lord before. “Enemies” is the word the Lord used of you and me before our repentance. “And you, that were sometime alienated and enemies in your mind by wicked works, yet now hath He reconciled” (Col. 1:21; Rom. 5:10). Turn thoroughly! Turn right around. Such a turning to God implies some things as well;
- It indicates faith toward God, the One to whom all must turn.
- It implies no more confidence in the old faulty trusts, views, gods, idols, rituals, etc.
- It’s an acknowledgment at last that God is true and all other gods but the lies of liars.
- It points to a yearning within for God’s pleasure, and sorrow for ever being turned from Him.
We find a similar idea in Christ’s words to Paul a few verses earlier in Acts 26:18, calling him to the work of turning folks “from darkness to light”. Such a turning to the true God is indeed “from darkness” and “to light”. To so turn to God is at the same time to turn from “the power of Satan”, the one in whose lap the world lies (I Jn. 5:19), the one currently deceiving the whole world (Rev. 12:9). Again the indications come clear. Can we not conclude that all that is not of God and Christ is of Satan and darkness, of that other kingdom? Yes or no? Don’t leave it foolishly dangling somewhere in between! Yes or no, my friend?!
Indicated as well in Acts 26:18 are the immediate results of so turning;
- “Forgiveness of sins”. Implying no man can truly know this before his vital turning to Jesus.
- Heavenly “inheritance”. Referring to a believer’s title deed to heaven, and suggesting one has no such hope before his turning.
It is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself who affirms here in vs. 18 that all comes to a soul “by faith”, and a “faith that is in Me”, faith in Jesus Christ. Here alone is where forgiveness of sins and eternal inheritance can be found.
III. “And do works meet for repentance”
Literally, “be practicing works befitting repentance”. Let your works be consistent with a true change of heart and sorrow for sin, or it is no true change of heart and sorrow for sin. A man sincerely sorry for doing some wrong will honestly not want to do it again! It will affect his actions. In truth we could never be saved by our good works. Yet it is equally true that we are most certainly saved “unto good works” (Eph. 2:8-10). Has there been a change in your life since you believed? No? Were you truly “created in Christ Jesus” then? “Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith”!
“Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon” (Isa. 55:7).
The one forsaking his wicked way and thoughts is the one truly returning to the Lord and finding His mercy. As James explains, there is a kind of “faith” that is without works, which is in fact quite dead (James 2).
Here is a forgotten message in our modern world and church. The simple must of true repentance. Here is the essential core of the true church’s ministry and message to every people group of this globe, the clarion call of God to repent, and that displayed in a changed life. Not some surface renovation, but a complete revolution!! Every man must recognize in his false religion the desperate nature of his wrong heart, direction, and destiny. Every man must thoroughly turn from dependence upon his own way. Every soul must completely turn to the God of the Bible, casting himself upon Him alone for salvation. To all men the core message is the same. You must repent and turn right around to the living God! And the reality of that turning must be evident in a life that shows sorrow for sin and a forsaking of it. Such a message is of course supremely unpopular! Seems so bigoted in a world demanding equal respect for every twisted, errant view. And equally unpopular among many “Christian” circles, so concerned with popularity in the world, or to put it in their terms, with “seeker-sensitivity”. Is it not better to just be up front with the true seeker, and leave all the others to their rage?
When you read modern new gospel (neo-evangelical) writings, don’t miss what they’re not saying any more. You’ll find their messages so graciously suave, all about the happy life God wants for you, and how kind and sweet the Lord is, and the wonderful plan for your life He’s longing to lay out before you. “Agh, shame man, but things went a bit wrong in your life perhaps. But the good news is that God is willing to make it all good and sweet for you.” Seems like in the eyes of such folks the greatest problem man faces is his own unhappiness, rather than God’s! Where is the Almighty, full of wrath toward man’s sin and rebellion in the modern gospel? Strange that so little can be found there of words such as repent or sin or condemnation or hell. Little to bring a soul to fear, to anguish, to sorrow over wilful rebellion against the true God of heaven. Seems most of the church of our day would insist that you can’t just tell people they’re wrong anymore. A more diplomatic (subtle? crafty?) approach must be employed. But if it’s wrong to just tell them they’re wrong, how shall we ever lead them to the right?
Please understand what’s happening out there. This core message of the Apostle Paul does not tend to be the message of the modern floating church anymore. Theirs is a continual slow drift, farther and farther from such a sound biblical mooring. And the “Christians” love it to be so! As prophesied, they heap to themselves ear-ticklers (II Tim. 4:3). But in spite of what’s happening out there in the world and worldly church, oh you be wise to look here to the one standard by which we conduct our lives and ministry. What is our message according to the Word of God?
Repent – Your way is wrong to the root my unsaved friend. God does not look lightly upon your arrogant rejection of His truth. Outside of the light in Jesus Christ you abide in Satan’s darkness! Turning from your evil trusts is not an optional thing but a command from the God of heaven, to “all men everywhere”.
Turn to God – The only true and living God as revealed in the Word of God, the Bible, must be the centre of your focus. The empty “vanities” of your god or idol will never do. God’s only way to His pleasure is through His Great High Priest and Saviour the Lord Jesus Christ. “No man cometh unto the Father but by Me”, Jesus said.
Do works fit for repentance – Be sure of true conversion, shown in a life of willing change for God’s glory. Many are those calling themselves saved or “Christian” with their words, yet showing themselves otherwise with their ways.
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Lord, I confess that I am a sinner who deserves no mercy, but only Your righteous judgment…
I believe Jesus died in my place for all my sins…
I ask you to forgive me…
I now receive Jesus as my own Saviour!