14 Therefore, my beloved, flee from idolatry. 15 I speak as to wise men; judge for yourselves what I say (1 Corinthians 10:14–15, NKJV).
Many idols live in the hearts of men and women. Some are apparent, from the nearly 394-foot-tall Buddha in Japan, the 65-foot-tall Shiva in India, to the millions of shrines honoring local gods around the globe. Other idols are not as visible. Hidden in hearts, people carry these false gods like Israel took their little idols in the wilderness (Amos 5:25-26). Anything elevated to a place of honor and devotion above the only true God is an idol, a false god (Isa. 40:18-20; Jer. 10:1-11; Rom. 1:22-23). For example, greed for material possessions and power over others is a false god. Covetousness is idolatry (Col. 3:5). Wise people judge idols are “useless things” and turn away from them (Acts 14:15-17). The gospel calls us to turn “to God from idols to serve the living and true God” (1 Thess. 1:9). Only the true God lives and forgives (Acts 17:22-31; 26:17-20). Carving idols of wood, stone, metal, or in the recesses of our hearts is futile and foolish (Isa. 44:9-20). Flee idolatry. The gospel plea is to repent of sin against the living God, put your faith in Him, and obey the word of His Son Jesus Christ. Salvation is only possible in Jesus (Acts 4:12).
34 “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, but you were not willing! 35 See! Your house is left to you desolate; and assuredly, I say to you, you shall not see Me until the time comes when you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord’” (Luke 13:34–35, NKJV)!
God wanted to hold Jerusalem close to Himself, sheltered and safe. But she objected. Now, desolation would be left in the wake of their rejection of God’s prophets and the Messiah. Only in the Messiah’s salvation from her sins would she be blessed (v. 35; Ps. 118:26). Our nation faces many problems brought on by sin: Racism, hatred, division, crime, immoralities of all sorts, hypocrisy – the list goes on. Our sins disgrace our nation: “Righteousness exalts a nation, but sin is a reproach to any people” (Prov. 14:34). The answer to our nation’s ills is not political, economic, sociological, psychological, or environmental. The answer is salvation from sin, conversion of hearts and lives to Jesus Christ. His gospel truth changes hearts and lives, replacing injustice with fairness. It overcomes evil. Salvation from our sins is the prosperity we must seek. “Save now, I pray, O Lord; O Lord, I pray, send now prosperity. Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! We have blessed you from the house of the Lord” (Ps. 118:25-26).
14 But God forbid that I should boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. 15 For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. (Galatians 6:14–15, NKJV)
In contrast to the false teachers whose agenda included boasting in converted Gentiles who were circumcised (according to the Law of Moses, Acts 15:1, 5), Paul refused to boast in anything except the cross of Christ. Christ had crucified the world’s lustful allurements in his life through the power of the gospel (which included selfish, arrogant boastings). He had been crucified to the world, no longer driven to fulfill its enticements. Paul’s declarative statement in Galatians 2:20 stands as a rebuke and a call to repentance to the false teachers who sought personal advantages over others: “I have been crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me; and the life which I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” The new creation is undoubtedly the new person converted to Christ, “created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:23-24; 2 Cor. 5:17). With similar language, Paul had previously said spiritual profit in Christ is “faith working through love” (not in circumcision and keeping the Law of Moses, Gal. 5:6, 1-5). Living by faith actively obeys Christ. Glorying in position, power, preeminence, and prestige over others is not like Christ. If these things matter to us, we must put off the old person “with his deeds” of sin and put on the new person created in the image of Christ (Col. 3:9-10).
15 So I said, ‘Who are You, Lord?’ And He said, ‘I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. 16 But rise and stand on your feet; for I have appeared to you for this purpose, to make you a minister and a witness both of the things which you have seen and of the things which I will yet reveal to you.’” (Acts 26:15–16, NKJV)
Saul was traveling from Jerusalem to Damascus with authority to seize Christians in the synagogues when Jesus appeared to him (Acts 9:1-6, 13-14). Saul will go from being faithless to being faithful, from a persecutor to a preacher, from an antagonist to an apostle. His conversion is a touchstone of God’s mercy, grace, and longsuffering. It serves as “a pattern to those who are going to believe on Him (Christ, JRP) for everlasting life” (1 Tim. 1:12-16). Therefore, it is essential to expose and reject the assumption that Jesus saved Saul on the road to Damascus. That was not the purpose for which Christ appeared to Saul. Jesus plainly stated why He appeared to Saul: to make him “a minister and a witness” of Christ (Acts 26:16; 22:14-15; 9:15). Jesus appeared to Saul to appoint him as an apostle (1 Cor. 15:8-11). Saul was a believer after this miraculous event. And he was repentant toward God, as demonstrated by his praying and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). But in Damascus, three days later, his sins still needed to be washed away. Ananias said to Saul, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16). If Jesus saved Saul on the road, what sins needed washing away? Since Saul still needed cleansing from his sins, it is apparent he was not saved on the road. To follow the pattern of Saul’s conversion includes being baptized to wash away sins (by Christ’s blood, Rom. 6:3). Why are you waiting?
20 Immediately he preached the Christ in the synagogues, that He is the Son of God. 21 Then all who heard were amazed, and said, “Is this not he who destroyed those who called on this name in Jerusalem, and has come here for that purpose, so that he might bring them bound to the chief priests?” 22 But Saul increased all the more in strength, and confounded the Jews who dwelt in Damascus, proving that this Jesus is the Christ. (Acts 9:20–22, NKJV)
Saul’s conversion from persecutor to preacher was exemplary. His transformation of heart and life demonstrates the change of heart and life to which Christ calls every disciple (Eph. 4:20-24). 1) The immediacy of a disciple (v. 20). Saul immediately changed his life of sin against Jesus after being baptized to wash away his sins (Acts 22:16). He began preaching the gospel without delay. One does not become a Christian in phases. It is not a decision to be different, “one of these days.” Salvation in Christ brings an immediate change of faith and conduct (Rom. 6:4-6). 2) The identification of a disciple (v. 21). People recognized the change in Saul. Becoming a Christian means making drastic and dramatic changes in character and conduct. People will see the difference. 3) The increase of a disciple (v. 22). Saul grew in strength and vigorously preached and lived his faith that Jesus is the Christ. Christians must not shrink back into sin’s destruction, but “press forward toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 3:14).
3 knowing this first: that scoffers will come in the last days, walking according to their own lusts, 4 and saying, “Where is the promise of His coming? For since the fathers fell asleep, all things continue as they were from the beginning of creation.” (2 Peter 3:3–4, NKJV)
It is a sad reality that many people scoff at the truth that a day of judgment is coming. Preferring to fulfill their selfish lusts, they forget that God sees and knows their every thought and action. This wicked person says in his heart, “God has forgotten; He hides His face; He will never see” (Psa. 10:11). But, God always sees (Heb. 4:13). The fact that judgment has not yet come does not mean it will not. Indeed, Peter charged such scoffers of his day with willfully forgetting God’s judgment of sin with the flood in the days of Noah (2 Pet. 3:5-6). Things have not continued “as they were from the beginning of creation.” Ignoring God and His judgment against sin will not make the day of judgment any less real, any less painful, or any less permanent in the finality of its condemnation of sin. The gospel pleads with us not to thumb our noses at God and His judgment of our sins. Jesus calls us to repentance and conversion to escape eternal death and to enter eternal life (Rom. 6:23). Do not scoff at God and His word; judgment is coming. Reward awaits the righteous, but “ungodly men” will be destroyed on that awesome day (2 Pet. 3:7-13; 2 Thess. 1:9-10).
39 And many of the Samaritans of that city believed in Him because of the word of the woman who testified, “He told me all that I ever did.” 40 So when the Samaritans had come to Him, they urged Him to stay with them; and He stayed there two days. 41 And many more believed because of His own word. 42 Then they said to the woman, “Now we believe, not because of what you said, for we ourselves have heard Him and we know that this is indeed the Christ, the Savior of the world.” (John 4:39–42, NKJV)
Many emphasize “witnessing” for Jesus, and “giving their personal testimony” of Christ to convince others to believe. But, today’s passage shows a personal testimony did not cause others to believe. It was “His own word” that led many Samaritans (in addition to the woman at the well, Jno. 4:5-26) to believe Jesus is “the Christ, the Savior of the world” (v. 41, 42). They did not believe “because of what (she) said” (v. 42). It is not her word, my word, or your word that produces faith – God’s word does that (Rom. 10:17). The power to convert and save lost souls in Christ is in the gospel. The gospel saves when it is believed and obeyed (Rom. 1:16-17). Personal testimonies focus attention on self (a “personal” experience). The “testimony of the Lord” (the gospel, 2 Tim. 1:8) focuses attention on Jesus Christ, His atoning sacrifice, and His call to believe and obey Him for salvation (Heb. 5:8-9; Mk. 16:15-16; Matt. 11:28-30). Believe because of Christ’s word, and then your faith will be in Him and not in another.
19 Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, 20 but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance. (Acts 26:19–20, NKJV)
We dare not overlook the necessity of repentance in God’s plan to save sinners. Paul was true to his commission from Christ to be His witness to the Gentiles (Acts 26:16-17). As he preached the gospel, he explained that “they should repent” in order to “turn to God” (conversion, Acts 3:19). Without a fundamental change of heart (repentance) toward God and the sin we have committed against Him, we cannot be saved (Acts 20:21; 2:37-38; 17:30). When repentance occurs, changes in one’s life necessarily follow. That is what conversion means. The Christians chooses to stop practicing sin. The Christian chooses to begin and continue living for Christ (Gal. 2:20). Obeying the command to be baptized, without first having real faith and genuine repentance, is powerless to “wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16). Neither will it wash away unholy relationships; they, too, must cease (“works befitting repentance”). Minds must change toward God and sin to be saved. Repentance is not being sorry for sin. It is the complete change of heart that occurs because of godly sorrow for sin (2 Cor. 7:10). Without it, you cannot be saved.
8 But then, indeed, when you did not know God, you served those which by nature are not gods. 9 But now after you have known God, or rather are known by God, how is it that you turn again to the weak and beggarly elements, to which you desire again to be in bondage? (Galatians 4:8–9, NKJV)
It brings us to tears to see Christians, who have tasted heaven’s gift of salvation and freedom from sin, turn back to its bondage and spiritual death. Before your conversion, you did not know God. Like the idolaters of Galatia, you served the false gods of worldliness, materialism and self. Yet, God acted with great love for you, and gave His Son as the ransom for your sins and the whole world (1 Tim. 2:6). Freedom from sin and death came to you when you believed and obeyed the gospel of Christ. Now, fellow Christian, do not be enticed by sin’s attractions to abandon God and turn back to the impotent and contemptible things of the world. God knows you, and you have experienced His goodness. There is no good reason to turn again to what held you in bondage. Instead, remain faithful and true to God.