Repentance Involves Change in Behavior

Therefore, O King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus, then in Jerusalem and throughout all the region of Judea, and also to the Gentiles, that they should repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance. For this reason the Jews seized me in the temple and tried to kill me. To this day I have had the help that comes from God, and so I stand here testifying both to small and great, saying nothing but what the prophets and Moses said would come to pass: that the Christ must suffer and that, by being the first to rise from the dead, he would proclaim light both to our people and to the Gentiles.
— Acts 26:19-23

After being arrested, toward the end of the book of Acts, Paul the Apostle found himself standing before King Agrippa testifying about the grace of the Lord Jesus and boldly proclaiming the gospel.

Paul could have been intimidated by this King, but instead, Paul boldly preached the gospel in its entirety, which today would be considered unpopular, like his emphasis on the necessity of living in righteousness and holiness. Paul says in verse 20, as a part of his gospel proclamation, that people ought to “repent and turn to God, performing deeds in keeping with their repentance.”

Consider also John the Baptist’s admonition to “bear fruit in keeping with repentance” (Matthew 3:8) or the example of Zaccheus, who gave half his goods to the poor and restored fourfold to everyone he defrauded, as a deed of repentance. There’s also the example of the believers in Acts 19 who used to practice magic arts, but who then burned their books after turning to Christ, renouncing their old, sinful ways. 

In other words, repentance in a person’s life marks a change in behavior. I used to live one way, but now that I have repented, or turned away, from that life, I live differently. My life now bears the fruit of that repentance. Meaning, the internal change that took place when the Holy Spirit convicted me of my sin and I felt remorse, is outwardly manifesting in my new behavior, words and actions. Paul teaches us that repentance is not only a personal, private matter that is confined to my own heart. Rather, real repentance is always accompanied by deeds that display the internal change I have experienced. 

While it is important to clearly affirm that we are not saved by works, but by grace alone through faith alone in the finished work of Christ alone (Ephesians 2:8-1-9), it is also just as important to remember that the God who saves is also the God who sanctifies, hence “faith apart from works is dead” as James 2:2 tells us.

So, where does this leave us? In this season of fasting, prayer and seeking the Lord, we ought to remember that the Christian life is a life of repentance and faith. The Holy Spirit is always at work within us to lead us to greater places of surrender and obedience. As God continues to have His way in us, His sanctifying work in our lives will be seen in the way we “perform deeds in keeping with [our] repentance.”

What does living this out look like for you today? What is the Spirit of Jesus bringing to mind as you read this devotional? Take a few moments to still your heart and be quiet before the Lord, asking Him to lead you to a deeper place of repentance and obedience. 

Father, help us and speak to us as we still our hearts before You today. Give us grace and strength to obey You quickly, and to be doers of Your Word. Jesus, we desire to honor You and bring glory to Your name in all that we do. Speak to us, Holy Spirit, and show us what works of repentance You are calling us to today. In Jesus’ name, amen.

Fady Ghobrial
Ministry Fellow, Christian Union Gloria (Harvard College)

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