“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 26:20
Acts 26 is an unnecessary source of confusion for students of Pauline truth. For example, in Acts 26:20 Paul says that he taught Jews and Gentiles to repent and turn to God and do works. Yet, we know that Paul taught the gospel of Christ’s free righteousness imputed unto us without our works.
“But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.” – Romans 4:5
Is Paul teaching a works based message? Is this evidence that Paul taught the same as the works of Jesus and Peter in Matthew through Acts?
Of course not.
Repent and Turn to God
The confusion begins with a wrong definition of the word “repent”, which does not mean to “turn from your sins”, or to “stop sinning”, or “promise to live a better life”. Repent simply means a change of mind.
This is what it meant when the prophets told Israel to change their mind and hearts about disobeying the law, else God’s wrath would be invoked.
This is what it meant when John, Jesus, and Peter charged Israel to change their mind about the coming of the Lord. While they were living in sin thinking the end would not come, they were told of the “last days” and the coming of the Lord to set up his kingdom.
This is what it meant when Paul exhorted his brethren to change their mind about Jesus, and to the Gentiles to change their mind about sin and “dumb idols”.
The admonition to “repent and turn to God” is an appropriate message since the beginning of the world. All men are called to change their mind about their own sin and turn their mind and hearts to God.
Every gospel message includes this generic teaching.
However, what is conspicuous by its absence is the will of God in the present dispensation. That is, the preaching of the cross for salvation is missing from this verse. Paul leaves it out in his apt defense unto a Hebrew-friendly king and Jewish prosecutors.
Works Meet for Repentance
While some would make a big ado about the works meet for repentance that Paul mentions, this is no more than the good works that God has always called his people to do.
Before the flood, Noah preached righteous living. Moses taught good works under the law. Jesus and the Twelve taught good works in their ministry to Israel. Paul also encourages us unto good works in the dispensation that does not require works for salvation.
“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:10
“Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works.” – Titus 2:14
Just as God’s message to mankind has always included a change of mind about sin and towards the will of God, what follows is the exhortation to do good works.
At no time, including this dispensation of grace, does God fail to encourage good works. Although, in this dispensation alone works are excluded as part of the faith unto salvation.
So then, to the law abiding prosecution, and the king familiar with the righteous teachings of the law of the Jews, Paul explains that he was not teaching lawlessness or disobedience to God.
This in no way contradicts Paul’s message in his epistles, nor does it conflate the mystery of Christ with the prophetic message to Israel.