The call to repent – in straight talking, plain language

Acts 26: 15-23

Wednesday, 26 June, 2013

The call to repent – in straight talking, plain language

Acts 26:20
…I preached that they should repent and turn to God, and prove their repentance by their deeds.

Here Paul, back in Jerusalem, has experienced riots and a plot to kill him but because he was a Roman citizen, he was protected and held under guard in Caesarea for two years. During that time there were hearings before the Roman governor, Felix, his successor Festus, and King Agrippa, the last of the Herod dynasty in which Paul told the story of his conversion and call, starting at Damascus.

The key verse is Acts 26: 20-21 when he says:

First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem, and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. That is why the Jews seized me in the temple courts and tried to kill me.

Paul defines what he means by repent: Turn to God, demonstrate a changed life. This, he says, caused attempts on his life. Why?

It is the fight between form and fruit – religious form and regenerate fruit. The religious mind set puts the emphasis on form – following a religious way of doing things as an end in itself – and if you have the lifegiving, transforming Holy Spirit active in you, you are heading for a fight when you encounter a religious spirit that has got itself embedded. You and I know that religious people are little different to those who never set foot in a worship meeting. In fact, if you want to find someone who is nonjudgmental and helpful, you might do better to ask the first person you see in a car park!

Coming into the kingdom requires a change of heart – from being independent of God, to turning towards God. This turning to God is for Paul the central thrust of his message. It was in his speech to the men of Athens (Acts 17:22-30) – there must be this turning, there must be change, and it will be seen in the evidence of transformed lives.

To the person who has put their trust in observance of religious rules and rituals, which do not bring that kind of fruit, the call now to ‘get real’ and turn to God in a personal way, rather than just following a pattern of religion, is quite a difficult step for them to take.

And it’s a challenge for us, too. We have to find a way of expressing the call to repent in a way that connects today. This is where the evangelists among us should step forward. Listen to them. You will hear them say things like “God is challenging you to change” or “Let go of the things that you think are security, and turn to God who is the ultimate security”. In a way, God is saying to all of us “Turn to Me, put your trust fully in Me”.

So we need to find ways of saying it which do not appear to condemn or denounce, but are straight with the truth. Paul did well when he was on trial (read Acts 24, 25 and 26) and he did not hold back from speaking directly about righteousness and the coming judgment. In fact, Felix became convicted and afraid and adjourned proceedings. It was a model testimony sermon and no one could have done better.

However, we will see that simply preaching it, however persuasively, may not reach hard hearts. There are other divine strategies!

Picture a not-yet-Christian friend you would like to explain this to. You have an opportunity coming up. They are coming to your home group (attracted by the cake!) and this is your moment to prepare. As you picture them, write out your way of telling them the truth – that they need to repent and get right with God (at which point they will experience His love) – without using those expressions!


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