Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 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. –Acts 26:19-20
The words of the Apostle Paul above, which summarize his teaching, may be some of the most ignored directions on teaching, preaching, and evangelism from both private platforms and public pulpits in our day.
These words come from Paul’s defense before the Jewish king (Agrippa) and the Roman Procurator for Palestine from AD 59-62 (Porcius Festus). What does Paul proclaim?
First, that he obeyed Jesus, who had commanded him not only to preach, but what to preach. The “vision” Paul refers to in this defense was his Damascus Road experience related to us in Acts 9, then confirmed by Paul both in Acts 22 and here in Acts 26. He saw the risen Christ, and the risen Christ told him to preach to everyone that they should repent, turn to God, and demonstrate that repentance by acts done in faithfulness to him. This was Christ’s word to Paul (at least in part).
Second, Paul preached to all with whom he came into contact. First to people in Damascus, then he taught in Jerusalem, and then he went throughout Judea. But don’t miss this important part: He also preached to Gentiles. The gospel, according to the vision from Jesus, was not just for one ethnic group, but for all people.
Third, genuine gospel proclamation includes the good news that we are all sinners, that we need a Savior, and that the way to know that Savior is to repent from our unrighteous acts, turn to God who saves people from sin, and demonstrate that our repentance is real by “turning over a new leaf,” as we might say in our modern parlance. Paul is summarizing his teaching here, not going into minute details, nor laying out an entire theological program. Nevertheless, it is a summary of gospel preaching.
So, why do I say this may be some of the most ignored directions on teaching from the Scriptures today? Because so much of our witnessing and preaching today centers on how we feel about God, or how we feel about life, or how we feel about justice, or how we feel about any number of things, and not on what it means to experience genuine conversion to faith in Jesus Christ. Too many pulpits today are bully pulpits for politics, or self-fulfillment, or proclamations that most people know instinctively cannot be true — that we are, deep down, really good, and if we just try to be happy and friendly and don’t pass judgment on anyone, all will be well in the end (or that we don’t have to be any of these things, because if God exists, he certainly will not pass judgment, and again, all will be well in the end). But it isn’t just pulpits that this teaching is coming from. It is coming from a slew of books, television programs, podcasts, social media, and many people who fill seats in churches every Sunday. At some point, basic gospel proclamation became distorted, and not just a little bit.
The result has been nothing short of tragic. Relativism, Pluralism, Universalism, and a basic concept of “me-ism” that is all about how we think God should be, rather than how God has declared himself to be. All of this, of course, reinforced by a world that, if it gives any thought to God at all, prefers to think of him as a distant force or quasi-helpful sage who loves to stroke our egos and wink at our minor indiscretions.
What do the Scriptures teach instead? A hateful, vengeful God who loves to inflict misery and keep us under his thumb? Hardly. It teaches us about the God who hates evil and loves good, who declares things to be exactly as they are and invites us to see reality through his eyes, which are the only eyes that see things clearly. About the God who loves his creation, not the least of which includes human beings. That this God sent his only Son, who willingly obeyed his Father and went to a cross, suffered, died, rose again, fulfilled the law in every aspect, ascended to heaven and now sits in authority at the Father’s right hand. All this so that sinful humans might know salvation.
The Bible is about God, not about us. It does, however, tell us clearly how we can have a relationship with this God that is based on reality, not on wishful thinking or “wouldn’t it be nice if…” Paul doesn’t tell Agrippa and Festus everything about the gospel message, but he does get to the heart of it. Would you know hope in Jesus Christ? Repent my friends, turn to God, and allow the Holy Spirit to work in your life so as to cause you to do good works in keeping with your repentance.
Grace and peace,