Audio Worship 4/23/2023 "A Life Befitting Repentance" Acts 26.12-23

Princeton Presbyterian Church (EPC) Sermon # 1584

April 23, 2023

Acts 26.12-23   Click here for audio worship

Dr. Ed Pettus


“A Life Befitting Repentance”


In Acts 26 Paul is before King Agrippa giving a defense against the accusations of the Jews. In the first eleven verses, he gives testimony to his devotion as a Pharisee and in that position of authority, his history of persecuting Christians. As we pick up the defense in verse 12 he gives witness to what happened on the road to Damasc


 12“In this connection I journeyed to Damascus with the authority and commission of the chief priests. 13At midday, O king, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, that shone around me and those who journeyed with me. 14And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ 15And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16But rise and stand upon your feet, for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you as a servant and witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17delivering you from your people and from the Gentiles—to whom I am sending you 18to open their eyes, so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ 19“Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20but 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. 21For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. 22To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: 23that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.”


  • Testimony to Repentance


Today I want to focus on Acts 26.20, Paul’s testimony to repentance. He testifies that he declared all over the place, everywhere he had been – Damascus, Jerusalem, Judea, assuming that is to the Jews, but then adds that he even spoke to Gentiles about three things: repentance, turning to God, and performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. This is why the Jews tried to silence him. This is why the world is trying to silence the message of Jesus Christ and always has tried to silence Christians. We call people to face the Truth that is Jesus’ call to repentance, turning to God, and living out of that new contrite heart. We can go first to John the Baptist on this message because he is the first to proclaim repentance years before Paul. John preached a short simple sermon, repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.


 In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, 2“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand”...5Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, 6and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. 7But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? 8Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. (Matthew 3.1-8)


After John the Baptist was arrested and after Jesus had been tempted by the devil in Matthew 4, Jesus began His ministry with the same message as John the Baptist, From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand’” (Matthew 4.17).


This is where new life begins, with repentance...realizing and confessing sin. Crucifying the old nature. But that is not the end of the story, not the end of the testimony or the call from Jesus. Repentance is just the start of the journey of discipleship. It is not for the purpose of just getting a ticket to heaven. Too many people seek salvation without being discipleship. They want heaven without the cost of discipleship. They want a Savior in Jesus but not a Lord in Jesus. When someone is just seeking forgiveness without committing to follow Jesus day by day, this is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer called cheap grace. Cheap grace is seeking to get to heaven without seeking to yield one’s entire life to Jesus. Cheap grace is what the people on the far left in the church want to pour out on all people without any change in people’s lives. Jesus loves you without any responsibility for you to change or be changed and turn to God. You are accepted as you are without a cost. That’s cheap grace and it empties all meaning to repentance and living a life worthy of repentance.

Cheap grace ends up denying the power of the living Word of God and the person of Jesus Christ because it seeks to justify sin and excludes transformation and the justification of the sinner. Bonhoeffer was writing about this nearly one hundred years ago. Jesus and John and Paul and others were talking and writing about it thousands of years ago, and yet, here we are today with the exact same problems in the world and in the church. Grace that is worth its salt is, in the words of Bonhoeffer: “Such grace is costly because it calls us to follow, and it is grace because is calls us to follow Jesus Christ. It is costly because is costs a man his life, and it is grace because it gives a man the only true life. It is costly because it condemns sin, and grace because it justifies the sinner. Above all, it is costly because it cost God the life of His Son” (pg 47-48 Cost of Discipleship).

There is a great deal of cheap grace from the pulpits of America because there is not a lot of talk about sin and repentance. Cheap grace is offered because it is more acceptable to the world’s standards of tolerance or woke ideology, which has no standards. The sin clearly defined in the Bible is excused as “born this way” or not the right gender on the outside as what is felt on the inside. Cheap grace cheapens the Gospel, dismisses the Word of God, and makes a mockery of Jesus Christ. This too is why true repentance is needed in the world and the church today.

Repentance and turning to God is the most radical shift and about face anyone can make in their lives. Paul is the classic example of radical change because of his encounter with the risen Christ. Look at some of the major changes in Paul’s life: he has a name change from Saul to Paul, his vocation changes from persecutor to persecuted, he moves from kicking against the goad to complete obedience and zeal for following Jesus, and he shifts from darkness to light both physically in his temporary blindness and spiritually in realizing that Jesus was indeed the Savior promised in the Old Testament.

But we don’t all have such dramatic moves as Paul did. Many have grown up in the church, others came from non-churched backgrounds, but what we all encounter is the Lord who calls everyone of us to repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand. That, my friends, is not just a call to get our ticket to heaven, but also our passport to travel the way of Jesus Christ, to follow daily, to experience radical change in our lives for the rest of our lives as we grow closer and closer to Jesus and deeper and deeper into obedience to His Word.



  • Inviting Others to Repentance


Paul is testifying to the rulers of the day and he was so committed to giving his testimony that he did not care a bit about what might happen to himself. He was not concerned with the persecution he might receive. He certainly knew the consequences since he was once the one who persecuted the very persons he himself had become! Paul invited Jews and Gentiles, leaders, anyone who was before him. Paul and John the Baptist and Jesus all spoke the same message: turn your life around, change your mindset, soften your heart, this can only be done through the power of Jesus Christ who changes lives by His Spirit and His Word.

The apostle Peter also had encounters where repentance was granted and in Acts 11 it is said to have been granted toward life.


16And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you will be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ 17If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ, who was I that I could stand in God's way?” 18When they heard these things they fell silent. And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.” (ACTS 11.16-18)

Repentance that leads to life. I think of this as a phrase that echoes Paul’s words of repentance, turning to God, and then a life of discipleship. This is the life that comes from repentance. This is the life that only can come from genuine turning around to new life in Christ.

Another time when Peter preached Christ, it was on the day of Pentecost, the people responded by seeking what they could do...

37Now when they heard this they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” 38And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” (ACTS 2.37-39)


Repent, be baptized, receive the Holy Spirit, for the call comes from the Lord. The invitation to repent comes from the Lord God through all who spoke on God’s behalf, John, Jesus, Peter, Paul, and today every one of us, all Christians have the invitation to invite others to repentance and to then live in accordance with that change of direction.



  • A Life Befitting Repentance


So, we are called to live a life befitting repentance. The invitation is empty unless we are leading the life, walking the talk. Like a proud family that calls on the children to live up to the family name. “You are a Smith! Act like one!” We are to reflect the attributes of Jesus Christ, the One whom we represent on this earth. Live worthy of being called by Jesus, sent by Jesus, saved by worthy of the grace and truth that has been bestowed upon you by the call in our life, by the cross that testifies to sins forgiven, by the Lordship of Jesus over our life. We were bought with a price! Paul teaches this in his letter to the church at Corinth when teaching about how to live in Christ...


18Flee from sexual immorality. Every other sin a person commits is outside the body, but the sexually immoral person sins against his own body. 19Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, 20for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body (1 Corinthians 6.18-20).


Now, let’s take a closer look at the message of Paul in Acts 26.20. His declaration is not long, three phrases, the first two telling people how to turn their life around. First, “they should repent”. Second, “Turn to God”. Repent and turn to God. This is the message we, as the church, have for the world. It is the solution to all our ills and sins and corruption and crime and confusion and gender idiocy and utter lack of common sense in the world.

But as I have stated, it does not stop with repentance and turning to God. In fact we are to always be repentant, confessing our sins, and always turning to God – keeping our focus on Jesus. That is a way of life for the true believer. It is not about our own will, not about our feelings, not about anything the world might try to dish out to us, but it is all about a disposition toward God constantly and consistently. It is about the third phrase from Paul, “performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.” “Performing deeds” is just a way of saying living life! Keeping with repentance means a life that reflects and honors and lives out turning away from sin and the world, and turning toward holiness and God. Paul teaches this over and over through his epistles, the letters to the church.


 4.1I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, 2with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, 3eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. 4There is one body and one Spirit—just as you were called to the one hope that belongs to your call—5one Lord, one faith, one baptism, 6one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all. 7But grace was given to each one of us according to the measure of Christ's gift. (EPHESIANS 4.1-7)


Walk or live in a manner worthy of the calling! No cheap grace. Live up to the fact that in repentance and by God’s grace we have been saved. And we have been saved for more than just getting to heaven, but to walk and live with all humility, gentleness, patience, in love, maintaining unity and peace. These are some of the marks of living in keeping with our repentance. These are the ways we live in the fear of the Lord. These are the attributes of Christ and walking with Him.


27Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, 28and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. (PHILIPPIANS 1.27-28)


The way we are to live, the manner of life, is to be worthy of the Gospel. What that certainly includes is the message of repentance to which Jesus called all in the New Testament and calls us to today. A worthy life has particular marks: standing firm in one spirit, one mind for the faith of the Gospel. That is, we stand in the Truth of God’s Word and in the very person and name of Jesus Christ by the power of the Holy Spirit.


9And so, from the day we heard, we have not ceased to pray for you, asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all spiritual wisdom and understanding, 10so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God; 11being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, for all endurance and patience with joy; 12giving thanks to the Father, who has qualified you to share in the inheritance of the saints in light. 13He has delivered us from the domain of darkness and transferred us to the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. (COLOSSIANS 1.9-14)



Walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, then he gives another list of what that looks like – pleasing to God, bearing fruit in good works, increasing in the knowledge of God, strengthened with power in God’s glorious might, in joy, giving thanks, knowing that we share in the inheritance of the saints.


One more from Paul,

6Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, 7rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. 8See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ. 9For in him the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily, 10and you have been filled in him, who is the head of all rule and authority. (COLOSSIANS 2.6-10)


Walk in Christ. Jot down Colossians 2.6-10 as homework to see more attributes of what it means to live in keeping with our repentance.


The Bible gives us everything we need to understand and live out in keeping with our repentance. Repent, turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with repentance. Maybe we could express it to people in other ways like – confess your sins, turn to the Lord, and live for Him. This is how to become a Christian. This is what it means to believe. This is our life story. This is what we sincerely trust as the work of God’s grace and mercy by the power of His Spirit and Word. This is the answer for all the problems in the world. This is where our nation must find its way.

If you are a Star Wars fan and watch The Mandalorian, they have a motto that I believe the creators took from the church. When the Mandalorians affirm themselves and their way of life they say to one another and sometimes together, “this is the way.” Well, that is what the church was first called in Acts 9.2 and other places in Acts. Before Paul was Paul, when he was Saul and persecuting the church

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest 2and asked him for letters to the synagogues at Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.” (Acts 9.1-2)

The Way proclaims the way to salvation – repent, turn to God, and live in and for Jesus in keeping with repentance. This is truly the way. Jesus is the Way. Jesus is the Truth. Jesus is the Life. Three simple truths to remember and share (and invite) – repent, turn to God, and live in keeping with repentance. Amen.