“So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision, but kept declaring both to those of Damascus first, and also at Jerusalem and then throughout all the region of Judea, and even to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate to repentance.”
Festus had brought Paul before King Agrippa for a hearing of Paul’s defense of the charges against him by the religious Jews. Festus began the proceedings with an opening statement full of lies in an attempt to cover up his incompetence. Paul was then given the opportunity to speak and give his defense. Paul began by relating the story of the appearance of Christ while he traveled on the road to Damascus.
The heavenly vision is of course a reference to Paul’s experience on the road to Damascus. After learning some doctrine from Ananias, Paul was faithful in sharing the Gospel in Damascus, in Jerusalem and throughout the region. Remember that Agrippa was a Jew and had some human knowledge of the Old Testament. As Paul is explaining the content of the message he had been preaching, he was also sharing the Gospel with Agrippa and those present. Paul’s message of repentance and turning to God was a way of explaining the Gospel. These Jews understood the Greek language and would have understood the message. The Greek word for repent is “metanoeo” [noeo = to think objectively; meta = to change]. In other words, repent means to change your thinking. When a person believes, appropriates faith, there is something that happens at the same time and that is a change of thinking. On hearing the Gospel, into the mind comes grace, and the individual changes his mind from legalism (salvation by works) to comply with the grace (salvation by faith) information of the Gospel. Repentance (metanoeo) has a mental connotation only, it has no emotional connotation. The Greek word for emotion, feeling sorry for something, or regret is “metamalomai” and should never be translated “repent.”
In every case where “metanoeo” is used for salvation, the subject is the unbeliever and Christ is the object, although sometimes God the Father is the object as the author of grace. Therefore repentance in salvation is a change of attitude toward Christ. The Holy Spirit provides the information which causes the change in mental attitude: John 16:8-11; II Timothy 2:25. The unbeliever does not repent toward sin, but toward God in salvation, which is stated or implied in Mark 1:15; Matthew 12:41; Luke 13:3, 5; 15:7, 10; 16:30, 31; Acts 17:30; 20:21; 26:20; Hebrews 12:17; II Peter 3:9. “Metanoeo” is also used for believers, which means there are things about which believers can change their mind. In Hebrews 6:2 the believer changes his mind about human good, in Revelation 2:15, 16, 22 he changes his mind about sins and in II Corinthians 12:21 he changes his mind about carnality.
Turn (to God) is the Greek word “epistrepho” [epi = toward; strepho = to turn]. The word means to turn toward something or someone. In other words, you now make a decision. So you have Gospel information, you change your mind and believe (turn) in Christ. A change of thinking always means a decision has to be made. Once an unbeliever has turned to Christ in faith, the next step is performing deeds appropriate to repentance. The Greek word for performing is “prasso,” which means to habitually practice something. The Greek word for deeds is “ergon,” which is the production of divine good under the filling of the Holy Spirit. The Greek word for appropriate is “axios,” which means worthy of or of value. The Greek word for repentance is“metanoia” meaning a change of mind or attitude. In other words, after salvation the logical result of a grace salvation is divine production.
“For this reason some Jews seized me in the temple and tried to put me to death. So, having obtained help from God, I stand to this day testifying both to small and great, stating nothing but what the Prophets and Moses said was going to take place; that the Christ was to suffer, and that by reason of His resurrection from the dead He would be the first to proclaim light both to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles.”
So the entire issue according to Paul was grace versus works; salvation and divine good works by grace and not by human works. Paul was stating the things that the Old Testament prophets and Moses had said in the Old Testament regarding Jesus Christ. The Old Testament prophets and Moses foretold how Christ would die on the Cross and would rise again. These were the things that Paul was emphasizing; these are the things the Old Testament emphasized, and the reason he was saying this was that he knew King Agrippa was a student of the Old Testament, but had not accepted Christ as his Savior.
When Paul mentioned the resurrection for which he was actually on trial for by the Jews, he was obviously making reference to the Messianic passages of the Old Testament which foretold the coming of Jesus Christ (Messiah). Proclaim (light) is the Greek word “kataggello,” and means to make an announcement. Christ announced His victory over death, which meant, in no uncertain terms, He was the promised Messiah to Israel and the Light of the world.
“While Paul was saying this in his defense, Festus said in a loud voice, “Paul, you are out of your mind! Your great learning is driving you mad.” But Paul said, “I am not out of my mind, most excellent Festus, but I utter words of sober truth. For the king knows about these matters, and I speak to him also with confidence, since I am persuaded that none of these things escape his notice; for this has not been done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.”
Agrippa was now presiding over the hearing but at this point Festus interrupts without waiting for Agrippa to turn the hearing back to him. This rudeness was designed to cut Paul right off at that moment. Festus tried to discredit the message of Paul by saying Paul was insane, which I’m sure made the Jews happy.
Paul however had excellent poise under pressure and gave a calm response. I utter words of sober truth, was Paul’s response. When he used these words, even though he addressed them to Festus, he was obviously talking to Agrippa. Agrippa would understand that Paul was not insane but was presenting a case based on an understanding of the Old Testament Scriptures, which was something that Festus knew nothing about. Since Agrippa understood what Paul was saying, it implied that if he (Paul) was insane then Agrippa was also insane. Judaism was openly practiced by decree from Rome and the Old Testament Scriptures were read every Sabbath in the Temple. “King Agrippa, do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do.” This statement by Paul revealed that Agrippa accepted the authority of the Old Testament, however he had not accepted Christ as his Savior, as far as we know.
“Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.” And Paul said, “I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.” “The king stood up and the governor and Bernice, and those who were sitting with them, and when they had gone aside, they began talking to one another, saying, “This man is not doing anything worthy of death or imprisonment.” And Agrippa said to Festus, “This man might have been set free if he had not appealed to Caesar.”
Agrippa’s reply to Paul was one of sarcasm. The word “Christian” was a word spoken in derision. Agrippa had to maintain a front, and he could never be openly identified as a Christian. And for political reasons he must mock and use sarcasm when Christianity was stated as an issue. Agrippa rejected the Gospel because believing in Christ would have violated his approbation lust and his power lust. What Agrippa really said to Paul was “do you think with just a few words in a short speech you can persuade me to become a Christian?” It was really a question not a statement. Paul, of course, maintained his desire for King Agrippa and all those who heard him to become Christians by believing in Jesus Christ.
Agrippa’s conclusion was that Paul was innocent of all charges, but because he had appealed to Rome he would not be set free. He would have to be transferred to Rome to stand trial before Caesar. All of this of course was God’s plan to get Paul to Rome where he should have already been all along.
So what makes a person a Christian? Biblically speaking, a Christian is a person who has believed in Jesus Christ as their Savior and has been entered into union with Christ. The Bible declares that a Christian is one who is a new creation in Christ. A verse that is often quoted with regard to this doctrine of being a “new creation” in Christ (but one that is not very well understood) is II Corinthians 5:17. This verse says, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old things passed away; behold new things have come.” We must consider the context of II Corinthians 5 in order to reach an accurate interpretation of verse 17.
The content of II Corinthians 5 is the result of the baptism of the Holy Spirit. The baptism of the Holy Spirit is the placing of a believer into union with Christ. This union with Christ is neither seen nor felt. It is our union with Christ that gives us the potential for a personal sense of destiny. It is in light of this doctrinal truth that Paul tells us in verse 17 that we are new creations in Christ and that the old things passed away and new things have come.
Contrary to popular belief this verse is not a reference to a person’s lifestyle or “bad” habits. We know this from the original language and from many other passages of Scripture. Once a person accepts Christ as Savior, his lifestyle does not automatically change. If there needs to be change, then the only legitimate change must come from the spiritual growth and application of pertinent doctrine from the Word of God, not on some religious taboo. As a matter of fact, this passage refers to what God does for us, not what we do for God. (Romans 12:1-2)
Becoming a new creation is a matter of God’s grace. Therefore, all human effort is eliminated. The reason a person becomes a new creation is that he is in union with Christ. This union means that a believer shares Christ’s destiny and His inheritance. And this means that a believer has a new spiritual classification.
The first word of II Corinthians 5:17 is “therefore.” In Greek the word for therefore is “hoste” and can be better translated “conclusion.” Paul looked back at the context of the passage and drew a conclusion based on previous doctrinal information. The conclusion was “if (first class condition meaning if and it is true) any person is in Christ (baptism of the Holy Spirit) that person is a new creation.” Creation (“creature” in some translations) is the Greek word “ktisis” and refers primarily to the creative act in process. It is the believer who is being acted upon by God in this process. This act of creation is when God, at salvation, creates a human spirit in the believer. In order to better understand what Paul was teaching we will use the term “a new spiritual classification” since this describes more precisely what occurs at salvation. This creative act by God creates something in the believer that previously did not exist. It is “new,” it is “spiritual” in nature and the believer becomes a different “classification” than they were prior to salvation (Royal Family of God). (I Corinthians 2:9-14; Galatians 6:10; Ephesians 2:19)
Prior to salvation a person is merely God’s creation, but not a part of God’s royal family. Becoming a part of God’s royal family is a matter of believing in Jesus Christ as Savior. This act of faith places a person into union with Christ and he instantaneously becomes a child of God. No longer is this person merely a creation of God, he is now a new creation of God, which is a different classification, spiritually. Before salvation a person was spiritually dead (separated from God), but after salvation a person is spiritually alive (reconciled to God). (John 1:12)
This new spiritual classification is unique to the Church Age (often called the Age of Grace) in which we live. The Church Age is the period from Pentecost to the Rapture of the Church. During this age a believer fulfills a unique role as the bride (body) of Christ. For this reason every believer in this age is placed into union with Christ and is permanently indwelt by God the Holy Spirit. This is a class of believers that did not exist prior to The Church Age therefore the term “a new spiritual classification.” (Ephesians 5:23-34; Revelation 22:17)