Today we read Acts 26 when Paul, having been accused of Blasphemy and Sedition, makes his defense. It is important to understand when this is happening. This scene is after Paul has completed his missionary journeys. This is after Paul has appealed to Caesar. This is when he has begun the last leg of his journey. He is going to Rome where he will ultimately be martyred. Paul is now by far an expert in delivering the gospel to others. This is in effect a summation.
Let’s look at what Paul says. He recounts again that he began by persecuting the Christians and recounts his conversion. However, this time he gives us more detail about what Jesus said to him:
14 And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me? It hurts you to kick against the goads.’ 15 And I said, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ And the Lord said, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting. 16* But rise and stand upon your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to appoint you to serve and bear witness to the things in which you have seen me and to those in which I will appear to you, 17 delivering you from the people and from the Gentiles–to whom I send you 18* to open their eyes, 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.’
In the previous two times we have read about Paul’s conversion I made the point that Jesus says, “Why are you persecuting ME”. That Jesus made no distinction between Himself and his followers. In this version of the conversion story Paul says that Jesus told him the purpose for which Jesus is appearing to him. Jesus is appointing Paul an Apostle to bear witness “to the THINGS IN WHICH you have SEEN ME and to THOSE IN WHICH I WILL APPEAR to you.” Notice, Jesus again does not separate himself from his followers OR their actions.
This is the intimate connection Christ has with his followers who make up the Church. This is why Paul will have written in his letters, that the eye cannot say to the hand “I have no need of you”. This is why Paul will have written in his letters that, “it is not I who live but Christ that lives in me.” This is why you cannot have two versions of any doctrine. Can one eye of the body say that something is black and the other eye says something is white? Can the foot say that it is the hand?
This union between Christ and the Believer is so close, so intimate, that it mirrors the union of the persons of the Holy Trinity. After conversion, the separation between the believer and the Lord is lost. But we do not feel this intimate connection in every minute of every day. However, we know that the Lord’s commitment to us is complete and unqualified. Therefore, we also know that it is us who resists or fails to trust the connection. By experience we know that on some occasions we stop resisting and allow the Lord in. Anyone who has ever got really bad news knows that in those moments of despair we throw off pretense and rely on the Lord (and thus we see why the Lord allows suffering). From this we can tell that salvation is a process by which over time we learn to completely rely on the Lord.
Next we see Christ telling Paul that his mission will be to bring the Gospel to the Gentiles. Jesus says that this is being done, “that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are SANCTIFIED by faith in me.” Notice, the word used in sanctified, not saved. Personally, I don’t want to over emphasize the difference in the words. However, I do read “sanctified” as the beginning or first step in a process. That what was not holy is being made holy or sanctified. Whereas “saved” implies a finality, that there is nothing left to be done.
Let’s look at Paul says about what he has done since his conversion:
19 “Wherefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those at Damascus, then at Jerusalem and throughout all the country of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.
So here, in making his defense of his life and actions, Paul is telling the king (and us) that conversion those who are in the process of sanctification should repent; turn to God and do deeds (WORKS) worthy of our repentance. This is what Paul has been preaching his whole career throughout the world! Thus, we must read all of Paul’s letters in this light. Hence, this is sort of an Answer Key, something that shows whether we are interpreting the meaning of Paul’s other writings correctly.
In the coming weeks, as we move into Paul’s letters we will see that sometimes he preaches against the value of “works”. How can we reconcile these seemingly conflicting statements by Paul? Generally speaking, when Paul preaches against works he will be speaking to Jews about “works of the law”. This is a Jewish idiom, a phrase that specifically means “works that are required by the Mosaic Law”. We know these no longer bind us and Paul will be stressing to the Jews that it is no longer necessary to keep the rules of the old covenant to stay right with God. These legalistic requirements of the old covenant are fundamentally different than the “good works” done under the new covenant. In the New Covenant Jesus says, “DO unto others as you would have them do unto you” and “what you DO TO the least of my brethren you do to me”. Good works, done out of an abiding love for the Lord, are fundamental to the way we are supposed to behave as Christians. If we keep this general idea in mind, the difference between “works of the law” and “good works”, Paul’s letters will open up to us.
As an aside note that the word “should” modifies the sentence. It states, “… that they should repent and turn to God and perform deeds worthy of their repentance.”
The word “should” implies choice, i.e., free will.