In Acts 11:18 the early church recognized that God had granted even to the Gentiles, “repentance unto life.” Leaving aside the early church’s Jew/Gentile controversy, this statement encapsulates an essential message of the early church. Consider the following:
- John the Baptist challenged his listeners to repent (Matthew 3:8, 11)
- The “tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him” - they repented
- Jesus tells the woman caught in adultery: “go . . . and sin no more,” John 8:11
The ministry of John and Jesus carried the same message: repent. Though the word has some religious connotations, essentially it means ”change,” or “turn your life around.” More specifically: stop sinning and reorient your allegiance and devotion to serve God and obey his commandments.
Most of us agree that something is wrong with the world, but many of us chafe to think that the problem is sin. The Bible assumes this, hence the command to stop sinning.
Rather than stubbornly refuse to accept this challenge, think about the positive side of it: Peter suggests that turning from wickedness becomes a means of blessing (Acts 3:26), and in Acts 11:18 we hear that repentance leads to life.
Our unwillingness to repent denies us a blessing from God and keeps us from obtaining eternal life. God has opened the door for anyone to experience forgiveness and life. Repent is not a bad word; it is the first step toward eternal life.
- Bob -
Acts 10 tells us about the conversion of Cornelius, the first Gentile admitted to the church. The narrative describes him glowingly: devout, generous, well-respected, and prayerful (10:2). Later in the story Peter acknowledges that God accepts anyone “who fears him and does what is right,” (10:35), implying that Cornelius is one such individual. We would be hard-pressed to find a better person.
Yet this “good” man is instructed to hear the message of the Gospel. Peter presents it to him, and he receives baptism for the remission of his sins. Church officials will eventually glorify God for granting him and all Gentiles “repentance that leads to life,” (Acts 11:18).
We are tempted to think that such a man has no need to repent; he is good, decent, and well-respected. Perhaps we have met his type in our own experiences, and though we hold such people in high esteem, we often fail to realize that they need salvation like everyone else: “all have sinned, and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23).
Cornelius had a need inherent in all humanity: redemption from sin. Despite his apparent goodness, he was still as lost and dead as the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. His story is a reminder of humanity’s sinfulness, something that transcends nationality, race, and family identity. Even “good” people need the grace of God.
- Bob -
Some readers may not be aware of the origin of this title. It refers to an experience by a man who became an apostle and advocate for Christianity in its early days. Saul of Tarsus was a rabid persecutor of Christians: he was one of the ones who approved of the murder of Stephen (mentioned in a post two weeks ago).
Considered the leader of the faith’s early opposition movement, he encountered the risen Christ in a bright light as he was traveling to Damascus. Though planning to arrest more believers when he arrived, three days after ”seeing the light” he did exactly the opposite: he agreed with the Christians and let everyone know of his dramatic reversal. You can read the story in Acts 9:1-22.
Since then, “seeing the light” has become a proverb for any form of enlightenment or change of thought, but as with numerous biblical allusions, the original story carries a significant amount of context that we lose if we don’t know it. For example, the Gospel of John identifies Jesus as the “light of the world” (John 8:12), adding a layer of meaning that transcends the simple notion of “gaining a new insight.”
This experience has particular relevance to me. When I became a Christian in 1972, an office worker said to me, “So I hear you saw the light . . . ha, ha, ha” (think snigger, smirk, and eye roll). I was and still am unafraid to say, “Yes, I did.”
Mine was not a literal vision with a bright light shining around me, but it was certainly an enlightenment about the message of the Gospel and the truth about the lordship of Jesus Christ. Like Saul of Tarsus, who became the Apostle Paul, it is an experience I wish for everyone.
The Gospel of John characterizes our world as one caught in the grip of a paralyzing and blinding darkness. Only by seeing the light of Christ is the darkness pierced and the heavy burden of blindness lifted. I’d like to think my readers are at least curious enough to learn about that light for themselves.
- Bob -
After the death of the church’s first martyr, Stephen, opposition to Christianity picked up steam. The rage that fueled his death (Acts 7:54) found a suitable outlet in Saul of Tarsus, a zealous persecutor of Christianity who began dragging Christians off to prison.
Stephen’s death and Saul’s persecutions drove many of the disciples out of Jerusalem and into the countryside (Acts 8:1). However, like trying to douse an oil fire with water, the opposition did nothing more than spread it: “Those who were scattered went about preaching the word” (Acts 8:4).
If the opposition’s attempt was to stamp out this allegedly pernicious movement, it didn’t work. Historically it has never worked, and the persecution and intimidation generated by its critics usually serves to make the church stronger.
In many circles today anti-Christian bias has become a acceptable, and Christians in countries controlled by Islam are experiencing persecution and slaughter on an unprecedented scale.
However, what seems to work in the short run doesn’t work in the long run. The Book of Revelation reminds Christians that though things seemed bleak near the end of the first century, by enduring they would be victorious. The church and its message have endured many efforts since then to stamp it out.
Persecution may dampen the courage of many, but Christians believe that even the gates of hell cannot destroy the church.
- Bob -