What Does "do works meet for repentance" Mean in Acts 26:20?
By David J. Stewart
"Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I [Paul] was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: But shewed first unto them of Damascus, and at Jerusalem, and throughout all the coasts of Judaea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance." —Acts 26:19,20
I recently received a letter from someone who tried to use Acts 26:20 as evidence that works are necessary for salvation. They are not. Curiously, I searched for an opinion from Dr. John R. Rice, Dr. Oliver B. Greene and Pastor J. Vernon McGee in their commentaries, but surprisingly couldn't find anything explaining Acts 26:20. However, I did find some helpful information in VINE'S COMPLETE EXPOSITORY DICTIONARY OF OLD AND NEW TESTAMENT WORDS [ISBN: 0-7852-1160-8]. I looked up the word "meet" for Acts 26:20 because it is the key word (adjective) here...
1. axios has the meaning of being of "weight, value, worth"; also "befitting, becoming, right on the ground of fitness," e.g.
Thus, we can rightly interpret Acts 26:20 as: "...that they should repent and turn to God, and do works becoming or befitting [appropriate] for repentance." We could also interpret Acts 26:20 as: "...that they should repent and turn to God, and do works on the ground of repentance." In other words, works are the evidence of saving faith; not a means to salvation. The Perseverance of the Saints is a false doctrine of Calvinism, which teaches that a person must "persevere" (i.e., continue) living a holy life 'til death in order to be saved. Satan loves Calvinism, because it leads men into Hell. The hellish doctrine of Lordship Salvation of rooted in Calvinism. John Calvin was an evil man, who corrupted the Scriptures, and is burning in Hell today. Oh, that men today would only follow the Word of God! Works are not a part of saving faith; but rather, the evidence of saving faith.
Salvation Verses Discipleship
Carefully notice that Paul states in Acts 26:20, "...that they should repent and turn to God" before he mentions "works." Salvation comes first, then the works (i.e., fruits). The works are befitting of the repentance which has already taken place. Paul states in Romans 12:1, "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service." Please notice that these men were already saved, i.e., "brethren" (see Romans 1:7). Paul pleads with them now to "present" their bodies a living sacrifice. Clearly, these men had a choice to make, i.e., whether or not they would present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God in holy living. Paul calls this their "reasonable service." This is exactly what Paul meant in Acts 26:20 when he said "do works meet for repentance." It is befitting of one who has been saved (i.e., they've repented and turned to the Lord Jesus in faith for forgiveness of sin), that they should now present their bodies as a living sacrifice to God and DO WORKS MEET FOR REPENTANCE. This is what Paul means in Acts 26:20.
We see the same statement again in Matthew 3:8 where John the Baptist tells the hypocritical Pharisees and Sadducees... "Bring forth therefore fruits meet [becoming of] for repentance." John is saying the same thing that James says in James 2:18, "...shew me thy faith without thy works, and I will shew thee my faith by my works." John was denouncing the salvation of the religious leaders, based upon their lack of works to validate their professed faith. John says, bring forth works to evidence your alleged faith. In Acts 26:20, Paul is simply saying that he won people to the Lord and then taught them that they ought to live like Christ. So we see that Paul taught both salvation and discipleship.
Repentance and Faith in Christ Happen Simultaneously
Please note that "repent and turn to God" in Acts 26:20 are not two separate events, but one and the same. Proponents of the Lordship Salvation heresy often misinterpret Acts 20:21... "Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." Although repentance and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ appear to be separate events, they are one and the same according to Granville Sharp's Rule of Greek Exegesis. A person doesn't repent, and then at a later time turn towards the Lord in faith. No, rather, to turn to the Lord by faith to have one's sins forgiven is repentance. It is a man's realization of guilt, and condemnation under God's Law, that causes him to call (i.e., repent, turn) upon the name of the Lord for forgiveness of sins and salvation.
Now please don't miss this. Repentance is not a turning from committing sins; but rather, a turning from the guilt and realized condemnation which sin brings (Romans 3:19)... to the Lord Jesus Christ to be cleansed of those sin by His precious blood. The forsaking of one's sins should come as the result of repentance; not as part of repentance itself. We read in Romans 3:19, "Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law: that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God." The word "guilty" in the Greek is "hupodikos" and means "under judgment, one who lost his suit; of liable to punishment from God" (SOURCE: Enhanced Strong's Lexicon). Hence, a person must realize their GUILT to be saved, i.e., that the condemnation of God is upon them because of their own sins.
This is vastly different from a FEELING of sorrow or remorse over one's sins. To FEEL sorry for one's sins is an act of self-EMOTION; whereas, GUILT is a matter of self-AWARENESS. The two are often NOT connected. Many convicts are sorry (emotionally) for their crimes, but only because they got caught. They have no genuine awareness of the sins they've committed. Likewise, a person may walk down to a church alter and cry with emotion over their failures in life; YET, have NO awareness that they are under God's condemnation and awaiting judgment. So you see, a feeling of emotion, i.e., sorrow over one's sins is not Biblical repentance.
Biblical repentance is when a lost sinner becomes AWARE that they are under the condemnation of GOD'S LAW for their own sins, and they TURN in faith to the Lord Jesus Christ, trusting upon His shed blood to forgive and take away those sins... "Forasmuch as ye know that ye were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold, from your vain conversation received by tradition from your fathers; But with the precious blood of Christ..." The reason why salvation is found alone in Christ, and why we are to believe ONLY upon Him, is because Jesus paid the price for our sins with His precious blood. Muhammad never did this. Confucius never did this. Buddha never did this. In fact, if you'll look in those graves, you'll find the bodily remains of each of those men; but Jesus' tomb is EMPTY, because He is alive forevermore. What a Savior!!!
Forsaking the Act of Committing Sin is NOT Biblical Repentance
Again, Biblical repentance is a "change of mind" (i.e., a turning) from the guilt and realized condemnation which sin brings... TO the Lord Jesus Christ to be cleansed of those sin by His precious blood. Repentance and faith are not two separate steps in a process of salvation. When a man TURNS to the Savior for salvation, he has simultaneously TURNED from sin (not the act of committing sin itself; but rather, from the guilt and condemnation of sin). Galatians 3:24 states, "Wherefore the law was our schoolmaster to bring us unto Christ, that we might be justified by faith." The purpose of God's Law is simply to show us our GUILTY condition and desperate need for the Savior, Jesus Christ. God never intended for a man to keep the Law, or BE WILLING to keep the Law, in order to be saved. Salvation is a free gift from God, paid for by Jesus' precious literal physical blood (1st Peter 1:18,19; Hebrews 9:12).
Interestingly, the word "repent" is not even found in the Gospel book of John. Obviously, "repentance" is a part of "believing." Dr. John R. Rice agrees with this...
“To repent literally means to have a change of mind or spirit toward God and toward sin. It means to turn from your sins, earnestly, with all your heart, and trust in Jesus Christ to save you. You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ. The jailer repented when he turned from sin to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ” (John R. Rice, What Must I Do to Be Saved?, 1940).
Now, the above statement can really be distorted if you don't read carefully what Brother Rice says. Dr. Rice clearly states that he views repentance and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ as one in the same... "You can see, then, how the man who believes in Christ repents and the man who repents believes in Christ." Thus, the "turning from sin" which Brother Rice speaks of is only in the sense of a realization of one's guilt, not actually ceasing from committing sin.
Some critics, like David Cloud, have misapplied the above quote by Dr. John R. Rice, in an attempt to support the unbiblical position that a sinner cannot be saved unless he is ready to forsake his sins after he is saved. In effect, a person is told he cannot be saved unless he is willing to depart from sinful living after he is saved. This is damnable heresy! Although David Cloud denies believing in Lordship Salvation, he certainly takes a backdoor approach to it. Although Mr. Cloud states that he does not believe in works salvation; he contradicts himself by teaching that a man who is unwilling to give up his sinful lifestyle cannot be saved. The Bible does not teach that. Scripturally, Jesus said in John 6:37, "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out." Please read, The Raging Battle Over Repentance.
"But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." —Romans 4:5
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