One of the arguments of those who claim that Paul’s teachings contradicted the teachings of Jesus is that Paul taught justification by faith alone without repentance.
Is this true?
To begin, consider Paul’s words to the elders of the church of Ephesus:
… Ye know, from the first day that I came into Asia, after what manner I have been with you at all seasons, serving the Lord with all humility of mind, and with many tears, and temptations, which befell me by the lying in wait of the Jews: and how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have showed you, and have taught you publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. ~ Acts 20:18-20
Notice that Paul says that he taught “repentance toward God.”
In Acts 26, Paul testified of Jesus as he stood on trial before King Agrippa, and recounts how he previously lived as a zealous Pharisee who persecuted and put to death some of the followers of Jesus (v.4-11). Beginning in verse 12 Paul recounts his experience on the road to Damascus where he was confronted by the Lord Jesus Christ (v 12-18). Paul then says the following:
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 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. ~ Acts 26:19-20
Those who say that Paul did not teach repentance claim that Paul taught justification through faith alone and cite verses like Romans 4:4-5
Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness. ~ Romans 4:4-5
The context, to which the verses above belong, actually begins in chapter 1. Throughout Romans, Paul expounds on justification through Christ, in contrast to boasting in the works of the Law which separated the Jews from Gentiles.
To claim that Paul is teaching a salvation with no repentance in Romans 4 is the result of careless proof-texting. Paul has already spoken of the necessity of repentance in the second chapter of Romans
Therefore thou art inexcusable, O man, whosoever thou art that judgest: for wherein thou judgest another, thou condemnest thyself; for thou that judgest doest the same things. But we are sure that the judgment of God is according to truth against them which commit such things. And thinkest thou this, O man, that judgest them which do such things, and doest the same, that thou shalt escape the judgment of God? Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?
Paul taught that the goodness of God leads ungodly men to repentance.
In Acts 13, Paul preached to the people and reminded them how John the Baptist had first preached repentance to all the people of Israel (v.24).
When Paul was in the city of Athens (Acts 17), he was stirred in his spirit because he saw that the whole city was give over to idolatry. When Paul found that they had made an altar with the inscription – TO THE UNKNOWN GOD – Paul used it to preach the gospel to them. Paul’s message can be read beginning in verse 22. In verses 30-31 we read the following:
And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men everywhere to repent: Because he hath appointed a day, in the which he will judge the world in righteousness by that man whom he hath ordained; whereof he hath given assurance unto all men, in that he hath raised him from the dead. ~ Acts 17:30-31
Notice that Paul says that God has commanded “all men, everywhere to repent.” Paul says this within the context of the coming Day of Judgment, wherein God is going to judge men through Jesus Christ.
While at Lystra (Acts 14) Paul and Barnabas preached the gospel to the people and a man who had been crippled all his life was healed. This caused quite a stirring among the idolatrous people at Lystra who then attempted to worship Barnabas and Paul.
And when the people saw what Paul had done, they lifted up their voices, saying in the speech of Lycaonia, The gods are come down to us in the likeness of men. And they called Barnabas, Jupiter; and Paul, Mercurius, because he was the chief speaker. Then the priest of Jupiter, which was before their city, brought oxen and garlands unto the gates, and would have done sacrifice with the people. Which when the apostles, Barnabas and Paul, heard of, they rent their clothes, and ran in among the people, crying out, And saying, Sirs, why do ye these things? We also are men of like passions with you, and preach unto you that ye should turn from these vanities unto the Living God, which made heaven, and earth, and the sea, and all things that are therein… ~ Acts 14:11-15.
Notice that Barnabas and Paul preached to the people to turn from their idolatrous practices and serve the living God. Turning from idolatry to serve the Living God is repentance.
In Acts 15, the Jerusalem counsel (of which Paul and Barnabas were a part) concluded that the Gentiles in Antioch were brethren in Christ because they had “turned to God.”
Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Wherefore my sentence is, that we trouble not them, which from among the Gentiles are turned to God: But that we write unto them, that they abstain from pollutions of idols, and from fornication, and from things strangled, and from blood. ~ Acts 15:18-20
When Jesus appeared to Paul on the road to Damascus, Jesus said the following to Paul:
… I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me. ~ Acts 26:16-18
Paul interprets this commission by Jesus as preaching repentance and that is why he says:
Whereupon, O king Agrippa, I was not disobedient unto the heavenly vision: 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. ~ Acts 26:19-20
Turning from sin and idols to serve the Living God is core to Paul’s doctrine regarding salvation through Jesus Christ. In Romans 11:26 Paul refers to Jesus as the deliverer who shall come out of Zion and shall turn ungodliness from Jacob.
Paul also says the following to the Thessalonians:
For from you sounded out the word of the Lord not only in Macedonia and Achaia, but also in every place your faith to God-ward is spread abroad; so that we need not to speak anything. For they themselves show of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the Living and True God; And to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come. ~ 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10
Later, in chapter 4 Paul says the following to the Thessalonians:
Furthermore then we beseech you, brethren, and exhort you by the Lord Jesus, that as ye have received of us how ye ought to walk and to please God, so ye would abound more and more. For ye know what commandments we gave you by the Lord Jesus. For this is the will of God, even your sanctification, that ye should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honor; Not in the lust of concupiscence, even as the Gentiles which know not God: That no man go beyond and defraud his brother in any matter: because that the Lord is the avenger of all such, as we also have forewarned you and testified. For God hath not called us unto uncleanness, but unto holiness. He therefore that despiseth, despiseth not man, but God, who hath also given unto us his Holy Spirit. ~ 1 Thessalonians 4:1-7
These words to the Thessalonians regarding sanctification are consistent with Paul’s gospel which calls men not only to repentance, but to live holy and godly lives. Paul’s preaching and teaching of repentance is well documented throughout the New Testament, not only in the book of Acts, but in the epistles as well.
In 1 Corinthians 5:1-2, Paul confronts the Corinthians for the sin of fornication in their midst.
It is reported commonly that there is fornication among you, and such fornication as is not so much as named among the Gentiles, that one should have his father’s wife. And ye are puffed up, and have not rather mourned, that he that hath done this deed might be taken away from among you. ~1 Corinthians 5:1-2
Paul’s rebuke of the Corinthians moved them to repentance. In 2 Corinthians 7, Paul says the following to them:
For though I made you sorry with a letter, I do not repent, though I did repent: for I perceive that the same epistle hath made you sorry, though it were but for a season. Now I rejoice, not that ye were made sorry, but that ye sorrowed to repentance: for ye were made sorry after a godly manner, that ye might receive damage by us in nothing. For godly sorrow works repentance to salvation not to be repented of: but the sorrow of the world works death. For behold this selfsame thing, that ye sorrowed after a godly sort, what carefulness it wrought in you, yea, what clearing of yourselves, yea, what indignation, yea, what fear, yea, what vehement desire, yea, what zeal, yea, what revenge! In all things ye have approved yourselves to be clear in this matter. ~ 2 Corinthians 7:8-11
Paul later expresses his concern about the lack of repentance of some among them.
For I fear, lest, when I come, I shall not find you such as I would, and that I shall be found unto you such as ye would not: lest there be debates, envyings, wraths, strifes, backbitings, whisperings, swellings, tumults: And lest, when I come again, my God will humble me among you, and that I shall bewail many which have sinned already, and have not repented of the uncleanness and fornication and lasciviousness which they have committed. ~ 2 Corinthians 12:20-21
Paul did not preach a gospel void of repentance, nor did he teach doctrine void of repentance. In his letter to Titus Paul says the following:
For the grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Savior Jesus Christ; Who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works. These things speak, and exhort, and rebuke with all authority. Let no man despise thee. ~ Titus 2:11-15
Notice that Paul tells Titus that the saving grace of God teaches us to deny ungodliness and worldly lusts by living soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world. This is consistent with the commission given to Paul by Jesus in the book of Acts, “… I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; Delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, To open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins, and inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” ~ Acts 26:16-18
One only needs to read what Paul actually said (examples, Ephesians 4:21-32, Ephesians 5:3-13, Colossians 3:5-10, Romans 6) to understand that Paul’s gospel was not void of repentance and that Paul taught that we are to turn from sin and live godly and holy lives in the fear of the Lord.
For more teachings regarding Paul please follow the links below:
DID PAUL TEACH OTHERS TO EAT FOOD OFFERED TO IDOLS?
WERE JAMES AND PAUL ON THE SAME PAGE?
PAUL AND THE JEWS RELIGION
WAS PAUL A RICH PREACHER?
PAUL AND HEAVENLY VISIONS