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Q: #583. What is the meaning of "works meet for repentance" in (Acts 26:20)?

     A: (Acts 26:20) “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.”

     Let me begin by sharing a portion of my study on “repentance” (more here).

     ““Repentance” (Gr. “metanoia” [a noun] describing the “thing or idea”) means to “change your mind,” and “repent” (Gr. “metanoeo” [a verb] an “action” word) means to “take action.” In regards to sin, in the Old Testament, “repent” (Heb. “shub”) is often translated as to “turn” from sin (i.e. 1 Kin 8:33-34, 2 Chr 7:14).

      Repentance is made up of three connected, and inseparable “elements:” intellectual, emotional, and volitional (Berkof – Systematic Theology). Intellectually, we must “change our mind” about our sin, and feel “personal guilt” over it. Emotionally, we must feel “sorrow and remorse” for our sin, and feel heartbroken that we have sinned against a holy God who loves us so much. Volitionally, we must “take action” to “turn” from our sin.”

     As we see in (Acts 26:20), both the (noun) = “repentance,” and the (verb) = “repent” are used. They are also used both used in a section of verses in (Mt Ch. 3), with (Mt 3:8) being similar to (Acts 26:20). Let’s look at these.

     In (Mt 3:3), John the Baptist says to the people of Judea, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand!”

     (Mt 3:5-8) then follows, saying, “Then went out to him Jerusalem, and all Judaea, and all the region round about Jordan, (6) And were baptized of him in Jordan, confessing their sins. (7) But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation (brood) of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come? (8) Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:”

      Notice in verses 3 and 6 that in conjunction with their being baptized by John, the people were “confessing their sins.” Using our “three elements of repentance” from above, “intellectually,” they had “changed their mind” about their sins, and felt “personal guilt” over them. “Emotionally,” they felt “sorrow and remorse” over their sins. “Volitionally,” they “took action” to “turn” from their sins, by “confessing” them, and getting baptized.

      However, in verses 7-8, when the Pharisees and Sadducees come, John refuses to baptize them until they “bring forth fruits meet for repentance.” As you later see, all through the New Testament, the Pharisees and Sadducees were self-righteous, believing that they kept the law perfectly, and therefore, they did not feel the need to “repent.” They did not see themselves as “sinners.”

     Again, if we use our “three elements of repentance” from above, they displayed “none” of them (intellectual, emotional, volitional). Because of this, John refused to baptize them. John was performing a “baptism of repentance” (Lk 3:3)(Acts 13:24)(Acts 19:4) (to prepare the way for the Messiah [Jesus]), and they were not repentant.

     If they “had” been “repentant,” they would have displayed the “three elements.” And, if they had displayed them, the result would have been that they had “fruits meet for repentance.”

     This brings us again to our similar phrase in (Acts 26:20), where Paul says, “should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance.”

     What these phrases mean is that when we have: (#1.) “changed our mind” about our sin, and felt “personal guilt” over it, (#2.) felt “sorrow and remorse” over our sin, and (#3.) “taken action” to “turn” from our sin, our lives should “reflect” that we have turned from our sin. We should look different, and people should be able to see that.

     This is what is meant by “WORKS meet for repentance.” Looking at a few other versions of the Bible, the NIV translates this phrase as: “demonstrate their repentance by their deeds,” and the NASB as “performing deeds consistent with repentance.”

     In other words, if we have truly “repented,” our lives will change, and our “works” and “deeds” will display this. Here are a few examples from the Bible:

The Thessalonians “turned from idols to serve the living God” (1 Th 1:9).

When Jesus came to his house, Zaccheus told him “Look, Lord, I give half of my goods to the poor, and if I have taken anything from anyone by false accusation, I restore fourfold.” (Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house…”) (Lk 19:1-9).

David took a census of Israel and Judah, to know the size of his army. This was a prideful thing, done with wrong motives. God judged David’s sin, and brought a plague upon Israel, which killed 70,000 men. David repented, buying a threshing floor, building an altar, and offering “burnt offerings and peace offerings” (2 Sam Ch. 24).

     You can find a few other examples here:
(2 Sam Ch. 11-12 / Ps Ch. 32 & 51)(1 Kin 21:17-29)(Lk 15:11-32 – a parable)(Lk 23:39-43).

     In particular, note this verse in the Book of Jonah, Ch. 3, verse 10 “Then God saw their WORKS, that they turned from their evil way; and God relented from the disaster…”

     Before we close, let me share one more similar section of Scripture in James regarding “faith and works” that can help us to understand.

(James 2:14-17)(NKJV) “What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? (15) If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, (16) and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? (17) Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.”

     Some people (i.e. Martin Luther) have criticized the book of James for saying that it teaches a “works” based salvation. This is untrue. What James is saying is that if we claim to have “faith,” and say we are a Christian, good “works” (helping others) will follow. Our “works” (actions) will reflect our “faith.” If we don’t have good “works,” it shows we don’t have “faith.”

      Related to our topic here, if we claim we are “repentant,” and our “works” (actions) don’t reflect that, it shows that we aren’t repentant. We must “do works meet for repentance.”


      Finally, going on a small rabbit trail, and looking again at (Acts 26:20): “should repent and turn to God, and do works meet for repentance,” I would like to quickly touch on the phrase “turn to God.”

     As I speak of extensively in my study on “repentance,”, I believe that when we sin, the “primary” sin that we need “repent” of, and to “turn to God” over is “putting ourselves before God.” In doing this, we have committed several sins.

     The first sin is “pride,” which is at the root of “all” sin. It is an “abomination” to God (Prov 16:5), and God “hates” it (Prov 6:16-19).

     The second sin is “idolatry,” which is “anything or anyone that we love or worship more than God, place ahead of God, or put in place of God.” God hates this sin so much, and it was so rampant in the OT that the first two of His “10 Commandments” address it (Ex 20:3)(Ex 20:4-5). This sin is called an “abomination” as well (Deut 7:26)(Deut 27:15)(Isa 44:19).

     The third sin is that we have “missed the mark” of Jesus / God. The word “sin” is used 448 times in the Bible, and the vast majority of times it is used, it literally means “to miss the mark.” The “primary” goal of all Christians should be to become more and more like Jesus (2 Cor 3:17-18)(Eph 4:13)(Phil 3:12-14). When we sin, we have “missed the mark.”

     The fourth sin is the “greatest sin” of all. In (Mt 22:36-37)(Mk 12:28-30), Jesus was asked, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment,?” and Jesus replied, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul, and with all of your heart, and with all of your mind.” Based upon this, “What then is the greatest sin?” The opposite would be the “greatest sin,” right? Not loving the Lord with all of our soul, heart, and mind.

     A failure to obey the “greatest commandment” is ultimately why we commit the first three sins. When we sin by “placing ourselves before God,” we have “loved ourselves” more than we have “loved God.” Remembering back to the “self-righteous” Pharisees and Sadducees in (Mt Ch. 3), this was their greatest sin. This is “our” greatest sin too.

     Yes, when we sin, we do need to “repent” of whatever sin we have committed. However, if we always “repent” of committing our “primary” sin (the “greatest sin”) first, I truly believe that our desire to commit other sins will decrease. Our lives will be changed, and we will show “works meet of repentance.”

Copyright: © Steve Shirley

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