Paul preached about repentance
If repentance involves turning to God then Saul of Tarsus must have truly repented. He changed from being Saul, a persecutor of the church to being Paul, a preacher of the church. Late in his ministry he declared to King Agrippa that he had been fulfilling God’s role for him as a preacher, by preaching that his hearers should repent and turn to God, Acts 26:19 “Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” [Note 1] He could preach that message because he had personally done the same thing many years before in obedience to God’s call on His life, Acts 9:1-6. His life as a messenger of God bore testimony to his commitment to turn from the evil he had been doing, especially in hunting down and imprisoning the people of God.
In his final address to the Ephesian elders he reflected on his ministry in Asia among them, Acts 20:18 ‘And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.”’ His message had been both to Jews and Gentiles and was twofold. It involved the need for them to turn from their sin to God in true repentance and also the need for them to trust in God’s Messiah, Jesus Christ.
He recognised that John the Baptist had also been a messenger of God preparing the way for Jesus the coming Messiah by preaching that people should repent, Acts 13:24 “Before his coming, John had proclaimed a baptism of repentance to all the people of Israel.” And in Acts 19:4 “And Paul said, “John baptised with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus.” Paul acknowledged that John the Baptist had also preached the same twofold message, the need for repentance and the need to trust in the Messiah, the Christ.
Paul wrote about repentance
In his letter to the Romans, Paul warned his readers that they should not presume on God’s kindness. Their repentance had to be sincere. They could not go on living lives that had not changed. It was true that God had not judged them nor punished them for their sinful behaviour. However they were to understand that this was a sign of His love and mercy and patience, not of His acquiescence with what they were doing. Rom 2:3 “Do you suppose, O man—you who judge those who practice such things and yet do them yourself—that you will escape the judgment of God? 4 Or do you presume on the riches of his kindness and forbearance and patience, not knowing that God’s kindness is meant to lead you to repentance? 5 But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God’s righteous judgment will be revealed”. God’s patience with them was designed to encourage them to repent, not to lull them into a false sense of security!
A letter Paul had written to the church in Corinth had brought them grief. But their grief had been shallow. They had not allowed God to keep on changing them, 2Cor 7:8 “For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while”. His readers had become sad but their grief had become a godly grief and for that Paul was glad, 9 “As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us. 10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death.” He contrasted godly grief with worldly grief. Godly grief, inspired by God by His Holy Spirit, brought them to repentance leading to salvation. Worldly grief got them nowhere! It was a dead-end street!
In the same letter Paul expressed his concern that if he were to visit them in Corinth he might not be happy with what he would find, 2Cor 12:21 “I fear that when I come again my God may humble me before you, and I may have to mourn over many of those who sinned earlier and have not repented of the impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality that they have practiced.” This verse tells us a number of things about the nature of sin and the nature of repentance. It is worth noting that these 3 words [impurity, sexual immorality, and sensuality] are linked together in Paul’s description of the “works of the flesh” in Gal 5:19-21, [Note 2] which are the characteristics of the sinful unregenerate human nature. These sins come naturally to unregenerate humans but they are not to feature in the life of the born again Christian believer. The Corinthian believers were no longer to engage in such sinful practices and had to repent before God for having done so.
What was required of all believers was especially to be shown forth in the lives of Christian leaders. Paul lists their essential characteristics, 2Tim 2:24 “And the Lord’s servant must not be quarrelsome but kind to everyone, able to teach, patiently enduring evil, 25 correcting his opponents with gentleness.” If they were to exhibit such qualities then it would be possible that they would have a positive influence on those to whom they ministered, “God may perhaps grant them repentance leading to a knowledge of the truth, 26 and they may come to their senses and escape from the snare of the devil, after being captured by him to do his will.” Leaders who were willing to live lives embodying repentance could influence their hearers to also repent and turn to God.
It is encouraging to those of us who seek to share the good news of Christ with others to realise that when God is at work by His Holy Spirit He can accomplish things in people’s lives that we might not have thought possible. For example, who would have thought that Saul of Tarsus would so radically change as he confronted the risen Christ on the Damascus road. Who would have thought that the leading persecutor of the church would become in a very short time the leading preacher of the church? It was hard for believers to understand. When Ananias was commanded by God to go and lay hands on Saul the persecutor, he initially objected, Act 9:13, “But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. 14 And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” However, he obeyed God and was able to lay hands on Saul calling him, “Brother Saul.”
It was surprising also to those who later heard him preaching in the synagogues that Jesus was the promised Messiah, the Christ. This was their reaction to his preaching, Act 9:21 ‘And all who heard him were amazed and said, “Is not this the man who made havoc in Jerusalem of those who called upon this name? And has he not come here for this purpose, to bring them bound before the chief priests?”’ Acts 9:21. Paul had repented and turned to God. That was the difference! By the grace of God, he was no longer the same person!
Can such a thing happen in today’s world, that God can touch people in His power and radically transform them, so that their whole lives are changed for ever? The answer is “Yes!” and I hope to share an amazing transformation I witnessed, in my next article.
[Note 1] This verse contains the 3 major words regarding repentance in the New Testament. “Repent” is from metanoéō, μετανοέω. “Turn to” is from epistréphō, ἐπιστρέφω. “Repentance” is the noun metanoia, μετάνοια.
[Note 2] The works of the flesh are described by Paul in Galatians 5:19-21, “Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, 20 idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, 21 envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.”
Blog No.226. Jim Holbeck. Posted on Saturday 28th July 2017