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Acts 14:12-28 by Robert Dean
The Apostle Paul's first missionary journey ends with an exhibition of sheer spiritual courage. He and Barnabas endure the wild swings of the pagan crowd in Lystra as they first yell out their adoration of them as gods and then erupt in a wild rage. After stoning Paul, they drag him out of town, but rather than lying low and hiding out, he and Barnabas continue on to Derbe before retracing their steps to teach and encourage the new converts. Explore the role of repentance in salvation, how God blesses all through common grace, and how to witness to those who have suppressed the truth.
Series:Acts (2010)
Duration:1 hr 8 mins 16 secs

Common Grace: Repentance and Turning to God. Acts 14:12-28


Paul has faced a lot of hostility, a lot of antagonism, and he has the spiritual courage which is what informs his moral courage to stay the course despite the threats, the anger, resentment and the conspiracies that are laid out against him that do culminate in physical violence and attacks. This happens in Lystra before they get out and go to Derby.

In this section we are going to look at we are going to see just a couple of verses that focus on his message in Lystra and on a couple of doctrines: common grace, and then aspects relating to repentance and turning and the role of repentance in salvation.

At the end of his ministry in Derbe Paul is going to reverse course. That shows the courage that the apostle Paul had because he was basically run out of town in each of these locations. Now he is going to go back because of his commitment to the ministry that the Lord Jesus Christ has given him where people are there who wished to take his life, to make sure that these groups of believers are well founded and well led.

We see that this is another example of truth suppression. The response of the unbeliever sitting on negative volition, hostility toward God, is that when he hears the truth he reacts against it. The position of the unbeliever, having rejected the evidence of God in the heavens (as articulated in Romans 1:18, 19) is that he is suppressing the truth. What happens in the psychology of truth suppression is that before long people get to the point where they are believing the lie so profoundly that they can't think in terms of truth or objectivity anymore. Two things happen. One is that they don't understand the truth anymore. It doesn't make sense to them anymore because they have completely reversed the polarities in their thinking so that as the prophets of the Old Testament say, they are now calling bad good and calling good bad. And once a culture as a whole gets so caught up in a psychosis of rejection of Scripture then you have a culture that is operating on pure fantasy. They have made up their own reality. They start with their own idea of how the human race came into existence; they hate the idea that the human race was created by God in the image of God. They hate God and they want Him out of the picture; they are suppressing and rejecting that truth, so they have to come up with some way to explain how we got here.

In the ancient world they had creation myths, and in the modern world we call it science, but evolution is just another creation myth. And it flies completely in the face of what the Bible says in terms of who man is and how man got here. Either the Bible is right completely and totally, which means that God created recently (maybe 5-6000 years ago), and He created the directly human race in six consecutive 24-hour days, and He created a perfect world for the habitation of the human race. And the human race was created as a representation of God to rule over creation, not to let creation rule over him. As Christians we should call it creation, not nature. Nature implies some sort of autonomous entity that exists as a result of happenstance, whereas creation makes it clear that it has a creator and that that creator designed the creation to be exactly what it is. And man was set over that creation and is unique as a living being because mankind is in the image and likeness of God. He is to rule over the fish of the sea, the birds of the sky and the beasts of the field. He therefore is given responsibility to watch over and to care for God's creation, not to destroy it.

There is a biblically correct view of how man is to be a steward of creation, whereas ninety-nine per cent of what we get out of the so-called green movement is politically motivated from pagan mythology where creation is worshipped over the creator, because the creation—what they refer to as nature—is autonomous, the product of an evolutionary process that is not the creation of God, and therefore nature must be maintained. If it is destroyed then they blame the human race because in the view of the mythology of the ecological movement it is mankind that is the malignant disease on the planet and it would be better for man to be removed.

A lot of people don't understand the difference between a biblical view of creation and responsible stewardship and what passes for environmentalism. But a lot of environmentalism is just borrowed concepts from Judeo-Christianity. There are numerous Mosaic Laws in the Scripture related to the proper and responsible stewardship of creation. This has always been part of the Judeo-Christian ethic. But in paganism creation is deified so that the human race now serves creation as opposed to overseeing and ruling over creation. This is all part of truth suppression where the unbeliever redefines everything from A to Z in the creation and ends up worshipping the creature rather than the creator.

The Scripture is clear, both in Old and New Testament passages, that there is enough evidence in the universe, in the heavens and on the earth, of the order and purpose and structure of everything in creation, that there is a creator; enough evidence to make man accountable so that, as Romans chapter one puts it, "they are without excuse." So that when they stand at the end of time before the great white throne judgment they will be held accountable for having rejected God. Romans 1:20 NASB "For since the creation of the world His invisible attributes, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly seen, being understood through what has been made, so that they are without excuse."

This really does form a backdrop to Paul's message in Acts chapter fourteen. Initially they performed a miracle where this man who was a cripple from birth. It was such a profound miracle that all of the people in Lystra knew about it and they made this assumption from their pagan, non-biblical worldview that these must be the gods of their pantheon, the Greek gods Zeus and Mercury. Acts 14:12, 13 NASB "And they {began} calling Barnabas, Zeus, and Paul, Hermes, because he was the chief speaker. The priest of Zeus, whose {temple} was just outside the city, brought oxen and garlands to the gates, and wanted to offer sacrifice with the crowds."

As soon as Paul and Barnabas catch on and realize what is going on they have a typical Jewish response to something that is blasphemous and they begin to tear their robes. Acts 14:14 NASB "But when the apostles Barnabas and Paul heard of it, they tore their robes and rushed out into the crowd, crying out." There was an immediate reaction and immediately try to stop what is going on.

Paul begins to challenge them and he gives a succinct message to them. Notice the difference between this message and the message he gave in the synagogue at Antioch in Pisidia. When he started in Acts chapter thirteen in Pisidian Antioch he starts with the Old Testament. Acts 13:16, 17 NASB "Paul stood up, and motioning with his hand said,  'Men of Israel, and you who fear God, listen: The God of this people Israel chose our fathers …'" By "our fathers" Paul means the patriarchs of Israel. That started in Genesis chapter twelve. Because he recognizes that his audience is scripturally informed and educated; they know the Old Testament. So he doesn't have to define God for them. They know who God is because they are familiar with the Old Testament. But this is a different group in Acts chapter fourteen; they are pagans. When they hear the word "God" they think of the gods of the Greek pantheon, which are just grandiose images of human beings. The Bible says that God created man in His image, but in paganism the human race returns the favor and creates the gods in their image.

So Paul has to address this crowd differently from another crowd. This is a principle that we have to learn. Not everybody we witness to is going to be the same. They are going to have different backgrounds, different understandings, and what we need to do sometimes is talk to them, and not just use vocabulary familiar to us because they may not have a clue what we are talking about, and when we talk about God we have no idea what they are hearing and what they are listening to. When we talk about Jesus they may have no idea of who Jesus is. 

Acts 14:15 NASB "and saying, 'Men, why are you doing these things? We are also men of the same nature as you, and preach the gospel to you that you should turn from these vain things to a living God, WHO MADE THE HEAVEN AND THE EARTH AND THE SEA AND ALL THAT IS IN THEM.'" What Paul says to these men as unsaved, untaught, scripturally ignorant Greeks is that they should turn from these useless things to the living God. The emphasis is on the living God. The Lord whom we worship is the Lord Jesus Christ who rose from the dead. He is a living God who is the source of life. Notice he is teaching by way of contrast.

Paul isn't being politically correct here. He says, "I want you to turn from these useless things." He would immediately be thrown out of America because he is too negative, too critical. How arrogant can he be to call their religion useless?!! But if you are a biblically-based thinker you have to recognize that any religious system other than biblical Christianity is useless, it is not going to provide anything for you. Paul immediately brings in creation, and he is paraphrasing here from Exodus 20:11 NASB "For in six days the LORD made the heavens and the earth, the sea and all that is in them, and rested on the seventh day; therefore the LORD blessed the sabbath day and made it holy."

Paul doesn't even explain the gospel here, does he? The closest he gets is, you have to turn from these useless things to the living God. He is going to develop it eventually, but not right here. It is important to understand the terminology here. The word is "turn." The Greek word is epistrepho. It means simply to turn, to return, or to turn back. It is the word used in the LXX to translate the Hebrew word shub, the word used in Deuteronomy 30:2 NASB "and you return to the LORD your God and obey Him with all your heart and soul according to all that I command you today, you and your sons…"

What is interesting is that we have a tendency to equate this word as if it was a perfect synonym to another word that is really loaded theologically, and that is the word "repent." Repent is not an exact synonym to turn. In the Old Testament the Hebrew word for "repent," nacham, is never translated by epistrepho in the LXX; it is always translated by word group metanoeo. 

The basic meaning given from the New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology for metanoia means change of mind, repentance or conversion. The verb metanoeo means to change one's mind. Some would put in there that it means to have remorse or regret. There is a problem with that. Sometimes we have remorse or regret but sometimes when we change our mind about something it is not accompanied by any kind of emotion. The word "remorse" is really a tough term because in translations across the board there are people who want to translate "confess sin" as fell sorry for sin or have remorse for sin. It is taking a secondary feature, emotion, and making it a primary part of the meaning of the word. The primary part of the meaning of this word is simply to change your mind: meta is the Greek preposition which means "after"; noieo has to do with thinking, the mind, and so it is an afterthought. You have done one thing, you have second thoughts, and so you change your mind and you go in another direction.

But there is an element there of regret, and that may accompany the sense of the term. metanoeo does seem to have at times an emotive idea. But that is a different idea than the word "turn" or shub.

The question that comes up with people is: Do we need to repent of our sins in order to be saved? This is the answer of many Calvinists or many legalists who say: "Oh you haven't repented of your sins." Well which sins? The ones I have committed or the ones I haven't committed yet? That is just a facetious question that needs to be asked. What sins am I repenting of? The past ones or the future ones? And how much should I repent?

Here's another thing to think about. If you think repentance is necessary to be saved then the Gospel of John, written specifically so people could be saved (John 20:31), uses the word "believe" over 95 times but he never uses the term "repent." If repentance is necessary for salvation then either repentance doesn't mean what people think it means, or you can't get saved reading the Gospel of John. Those are the only basic conclusions that you can go to.

New Testament thought is shaped on Old Testament thought. This can be demonstrated simply by when John the Baptist and Jesus showed up on the scene in Israel the message was: "Repent for the kingdom of God is at hand." The word used was metanoeo. So preaching "repent" to the people, the people had to know what it meant. Where did they get the idea? They got it from the Old Testament, so they already knew what repent meant. They were not like modern Christians who have had two thousand years of bad theology to confuse them over the meaning. So we have to go back to the Old Testament to get the meaning of this word. We have one very clear passage which gives us a good understanding of what the word "repent" means.

Jeremiah 8:6 NASB "I have listened and heard, They have spoken what is not right; No man repented of his wickedness, Saying, 'What have I done?' Everyone turned to his course, Like a horse charging into the battle." So this is how they would repent of their wickedness—"Saying, 'What have I done?'" The word there for "repent" is nacham, and to repent means to second guess what you've done. It doesn't necessarily imply remorse. It may imply regret. Regret does not have to be a heavily emotive term. It can be: "I've made a bad decision; now I have to straighten it out." That gives us the idea. What we have there is that this idea of repent means, what have I done? It is regret; it is changing the mind.

Repent has a narrower meaning. You can repent in the sense of just being sorry for your sins, or sorry that were caught. But you have to turn. Turning is a volitional concept which also includes the idea of changing your mind. The turning goes beyond repentance, it is the next step.

Putting it on a logical timeline the first thing that has to happen when a person hears the gospel is for them to change their mind. They repent. But that is not enough. Maybe you just have more of a sense of regret. This is if it is addressed to an audience of unbelievers. If it is addressed to an audience of believers it doesn't mean what it means of you address unbelievers. For believers it means basically the idea of your need to confess your sins. You need to admit you're wrong, admit your sins, and then get back in fellowship. But with an unbeliever it means they need to change their mind about those false gods or those false systems of thought that they have had, and then they need to turn—the mental shift from where they were to where they need to be, and that is followed logically by belief.

If someone says, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," then when you believe what have you done? You have without stating it changed your mind (metanoeo), turned and believed. It summarizes the whole process. Some people say you have to repent, but repent isn't mentioned everywhere. It is not mentioned here, Paul just says to turn. But in order to turn it presupposes a changing of the mind. So these terms are not precise equivalents but they really describe statements of what happens prior to faith. Faith is simply believing in Jesus Christ: that He is the one who died on the cross for your sins.   

Acts 14:16 "In the generations gone by He permitted all the nations to go their own ways." This is the doctrine of common grace basically. In the ancient world God worked only through the Gentiles from the time of the creation of Adam until the call of Abram in Genesis 21:1. But because of the rejection of God on the part of the human race, especially as it was exhibited at the tower of Babel, God sort of turned away from the Gentiles and focused on blessing the entire human race through the descendants of Abraham—specifically Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. What Paul is describing here is that in bygone generations, i.e. back at the time of Genesis 12, God allowed the nations to walk in their own ways.

Acts 14:17 NASB "and yet He did not leave Himself without witness (Romans 1:18; Psalm 19:1-3), in that He did good and gave you rains from heaven and fruitful seasons, satisfying your [unbelievers] hearts with food and gladness." He provided for all of the Gentile nations. This introduces the concept of common grace.

Common grace means that God extends to all human beings through His general providence or His oversight of history general blessings for all human beings in relation to their course of life. Matthew 5:45 NASB "… for He causes His sun to rise on {the} evil and {the} good, and sends rain on {the} righteous and {the} unrighteous." Psalm 145:8 NASB "The LORD is gracious and merciful; Slow to anger and great in lovingkindness. [9] The LORD is good to all, And His mercies are over all His works." Romans 2:4 NASB "Or do you think lightly of the riches of His kindness and tolerance and patience, not knowing that the kindness of God leads you to repentance?" So the goodness of God is designed to lead people to that point where they can change their minds about God.

In terms of grace there are general blessings to all mankind. There are blessings related to God's sovereign plan. God had a sovereign plan related to the British empire in the 19th century. And as the British empire sent out its soldiers to establish colonies and to conquer nations and people they always had missionaries with them who took the gospel to numerous places around the planet. That was part of God's general blessings to all of mankind. It doesn't mean that God was putting His stamp of approval on everything that the British empire did but God in His general common grace used that to bring the gospel to millions of people. 

We have blessing by association. We have generations of Americans who are blessed by our association with the founding fathers who established a just and righteous form of government, and one that while not perfect contained within itself means of correction so that it could continue, if the Constitution is followed, to provide liberty and freedom to all.

There are blessings related to the general quality of life that apply to both believers and unbelievers. It has nothing to do with what they have done. And God also restrains evil. 2 Thessalonians 2:7 NASB "For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only he who now restrains {will do so} until he is taken out of the way." That is a reference to the restraining ministry of the Holy Spirit during this age.

This is common grace, and this is what Paul began with. Acts 14:18 NASB "{Even} saying these things, with difficulty they restrained the crowds from offering sacrifice to them."

Acts 14:19 NASB "But Jews came from Antioch and Iconium, and having won over the crowds, they stoned Paul and dragged him out of the city, supposing him to be dead." Notice how the crowd turns on a dime. One minute they want to worship them as gods, the next minute they are stoning them. That is a perfect picture of truth suppression. They didn't fit with that pagan idea. They tried to absorb and redefine what they were teaching. And when Paul and Barnabas said no, what was the pagan response? They went from adoring them to hating them and they began to stone them. The Greek word translated "supposing" is nomizo which usually means to suppose something that is not true; a false assumption. Paul wasn't dead. If he was Luke would have said he was dead. [20] "But while the disciples stood around him, he got up and entered the city. The next day he went away with Barnabas to Derbe."

In vv. 21 to the end of the chapter we have a summation of what they did. Acts 14:21 NASB "After they had preached the gospel to that city and had made many disciples, they returned to Lystra and to Iconium and to Antioch." A disciple is not equivalent to a believer. A lot of believers are not disciples. A disciple is somebody who is a student of Jesus. There are a lot of people who are just believers. They are going to be saved but they haven't made a decision in their soul to be a student of the Word of God. So they made disciples and then returned back to all of those places that ran them out of town, [22] strengthening the souls of the disciples …" They did that by teaching them the Word of God again. " … encouraging [challenging] them to continue in the faith, and {saying,} 'Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.'" Don't give up. Just because you are saved that is not the end game. The end game is to grow to spiritual maturity so that you are prepared to go and rule and reign with Jesus Christ in His kingdom.

Who is Paul talking to here? He is talking to disciples, those who have already been saved. They want to press on to spiritual maturity. So when he is telling them about entering the kingdom, entering the kingdom doesn't mean getting saved. They are already saved. Entering the kingdom is talking about the future role and responsibility to rule and reign with Christ in the millennial kingdom. That only comes through going through Tribulations. All believers are heirs of God but only those who suffer with Christ will be joint heirs of Christ and will rule and reign with Him in eternity. This is that second category. Paul is encouraging them to press on in the adversities of life, stick with their beliefs in Christianity and the Word of God so that they're prepared for their future in the kingdom of God. 

Acts 14:23 NASB "When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they had believed." Notice the emphasis again is always believing in the Lord. [24] "They passed through Pisidia and came into Pamphylia. [25] When they had spoken the word in Perga, they went down to Attalia. [26] From there they sailed to Antioch, from which they had been commended to the grace of God for the work that they had accomplished."