Wednesday, April 16, 2014

Repent and Believe

Apostle Paul:  I preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things (deeds) they do. Some Jews arrested me in the Temple for preaching this, and they tried to kill me. But God has protected me right up to this present time so I can testify to everyone, from the least to the greatest. I teach nothing except what the prophets and Moses said would happen— that the Messiah would suffer and be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light to Jews and Gentiles alike. Acts 26:20-23 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul of Tarsus was a strong and obedient believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. In fact, no other person, apart from Jesus Christ Himself, has shaped the Christian faith like the Apostle Paul. The Apostle Paul was truly “a servant of Christ Jesus” (Romans 1:1, NIV).  Sadly, many times Paul suffered greatly for his belief and defense of Jesus Christ. He was often stoned, whipped, and severely beaten for his faith in Jesus Christ (e.g. see Acts 16:16-40; Acts 21:27-36).

Prior to his conversation to Christianity, the Apostle Paul was an expert on all Jewish customs and laws (Acts 26:3). He was born a Jew in Tarsus, a city in Cilicia (Acts 21:39). Paul was brought up and educated in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, a well-respected rabbi in the first century (Acts 22:3; Acts 26:4; see also Acts 5:34-40). As Gamaliel’s student, Paul was carefully trained in the Jewish laws and customs and became very zealous for the Jewish heritage and beliefs (Acts 22:3; see also Philippians 3:4-14). In fact, the Apostle Paul was previously a member of the Pharisees, the strictest sect of Jewish religion (Acts 26:5) and well-trained in the Old Testament law (Acts 22:3).

Before his conversion to Christianity, the Paul was a leading persecutor of the early Christians. He breathed out murderous threats against Christians – followers of Jesus Christ – arrested many followers of the Way (Acts 9:1-2, 13-14, 21; Acts 22:4). The readers were first introduced to Paul at the stoning of Stephen, an early believing Christian (Acts 7:58). Paul stood by and kept the coats of the people who stoned Stephen (Acts 22:20). The Apostle Paul (formerly called Saul) was so passionate for his Jewish beliefs and against Christians that he began a persecution campaign against anyone (men and women) who believed in Jesus Christ. He viciously pursued believers to their death and threw some in prison (Acts 22:4). Yet, Paul’s life changed when he encountered the risen Jesus Christ – the hope in the fulfillment of God’s promise made to the Jews (Acts 26:6-8).

One day, Paul was on a mission trip to Damascus when about noon a light from heaven brighter than the sun shone down on him (Acts 26:12-13; see also Acts 9:3, Acts 22:6). The Apostle Paul met the resurrected and living Jesus Christ face to face (Acts 26:16; see also 1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8) and his life was never again the same. He fell face down and heard a voice saying “why are you persecuting Me” (Acts 26:14; see also Acts 9:4).  Jesus Christ informed Paul

I am Jesus, the One you are persecuting. Now get to your feet! For I have appeared to you to appoint you as My servant and witness. You are to tell the world what you have seen and what I will show you in the future. And I will rescue you from both your own people and the Gentiles. Yes, I am sending you to the Gentiles (non-Jews) to open their eyes, so they may turn from darkness to light and from the power of Satan to God. Then they will receive forgiveness for their sins and be given a place among God’s people, who are set apart by faith in Me. Acts 26:15-18 (NLT).

After this wonderful encounter with the living Jesus Christ, Paul was blinded by the intense light and had to be led by the hand to Damascus by his companions (Acts 22:11). Once in Damascus, a godly man named Ananias came and helped Paul to regain his sight (Acts 22:12-13). Then, Ananias told Paul

The God of our ancestors has chosen you to know His will and to see the Righteous One and hear Him speak. For you are to be His witness, telling everyone what you have seen and heard. What are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized. Have your sins washed away by calling on the Name of the Lord. Acts 22:14-16 (NLT)

The Apostle Paul obeyed Jesus Christ’s instructions from heaven (Acts 26:19). He immediately began boldly preaching about Jesus Christ in the synagogues, saying “He is indeed the Son of God” (Acts 9:20). Paul’s message was a declaration of what he had become convinced of on the Damascus road:  Jesus is the risen Messiah. The Apostle Paul dedicated the rest of his life proclaiming Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord throughout the Mediterranean world. The Apostle Paul’s vision brought him to the realization that Jesus Christ’s death and resurrection brings salvation, righteousness and life-transforming power to all who wholehearted believe in Jesus Christ as God and Savior (Romans 1:17; Romans 3:21-26; Romans 4:1-8; see also Ephesians 2:8-9).

Paul preached first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that all must repent of their sins and turn to God—and prove they have changed by the good things they do (Acts 26:20; see also Acts 16:29-34). “Everyone who believes in Him (Jesus Christ) will have their sins forgiven through His Name” (Acts 10:43, NLT). “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, along with everyone in your household” (Acts 16:31, NLT).

The message of the Good News (Gospel) is simple: turn from your sins, believe in the Lord Jesus Christ (God) with your whole heart, and be committed to obey Him (John 13:34-35; Romans 10:9; 1 Corinthians 12:3; Ephesians 2:8-9; Philippians 2:11). The Apostle Paul repeatedly proclaimed that Jesus Christ’s sinless life, sacrificial death on the Cross, and resurrection from complete death assures our salvation and new life (e.g., Romans 3:23-26; Romans 5:6-11; 2 Corinthians 5:14-21). God freely gives all people forgiveness of their sins and eternal life as a gift of God's grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Ephesians 2:8-9).  

All who believe in Him (Jesus Christ) are made right with God. . . .If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved. . . . Everyone who calls on the Name of the Lord will be saved. Romans 10:4, 9, 13 (NLT)

Many Jews harassed and persecuted Paul for preaching this Good News, and they even tried to kill him (Acts 26:20; see also Acts 9:23-24). But God protected Paul as he taught a message that the Jews should have embraced (Acts 26:22-23). The Apostle Paul preached from the least to the greatest what the prophets and Moses said would happen (see also Acts 9:15-16). He preached that Jesus Christ (Messiah) would suffer,  be the first to rise from the dead, and in this way announce God’s light and inheritance to all people – Jews and Gentiles alike (Acts 26:22-23; see also 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). This inheritance is the promise and blessings God made to Abraham (Genesis 12:1-3; Romans 4:1-8).

As Paul’s preaching became more and more powerful, the Jews in Damascus could not disprove his proofs that Jesus Christ was indeed the Messiah (Acts 9:22). In fact, the Apostle Paul preached boldly in the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ and encouraged the people to live their lives for good and God’s glory, not evil lives any longer (1 Corinthians 10:31; see also Matthew 5:13-16; Matthew 7:15-23). He encouraged believing Christians to live a life of love and truth that is fully submitted to Jesus Christ (Romans 13:8-14; 1 Corinthians 13; Galatians 5:6, 14; Ephesians 5:1-2). Our good deeds and good works do not bring our salvation either before or after acceptance of Jesus Christ, but they are a sign to the world of our true repentance (Acts 26:20).

The conversion of Apostle Paul was very important to the early church. In fact, the author of Acts (Luke) recounts Paul’s conversion story three times (Acts 9:1-31; Acts 22:1-21; Acts 26:1-29). The Apostle Paul’s experience with the risen Jesus Christ convinced him of the truth of the Gospel (Good News) and that became the foundation of his theology. On this fact, Paul based his qualification to be an apostle (1 Corinthians 9:1; 1 Corinthians 15:8). Even more, Paul’s conversion reveal God’s power to reach, redeem, and use anyone for His holy purposes—no matter our background (Luke 1:37).

Apostle Paul:  Let me now remind you, dear brothers and sisters, of the Good News I preached to you before. . . . It is this Good News that saves you if you continue to believe the message I told you. . . . I passed on to you what was most important and what had also been passed on to me. Christ died for our sins, just as the Scriptures said. He was buried, and He was raised from the dead on the third day, just as the Scriptures said. He was seen by Peter and then by the Twelve. After that, He was seen by more than 500 of His followers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then He was seen by James and later by all the apostles. Last of all, as though I had been born at the wrong time, I also saw Him. For I am the least of all the apostles. In fact, I am not even worthy to be called an apostle after the way I persecuted God’s church. But whatever I am now, it is all because God poured out his special favor on me—and not without results. For I have worked harder than any of the other apostles; yet it was not I but God who was working through me by His grace. 1 Corinthians 15:1-11 (NLT)

Life Application Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2005.
NLT Study Bible. Carol Streams, IL: Tyndale House Pub., 2008.
Zondervan NIV Study Bible. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2008.

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