In this special baptism service sermon, Pastor Joe Babij looks at Paul’s testimony before Agrippa in Acts 26:1-32. Pastor Babij identifies three key parts of any person’s salvation testimony by looking at Paul’s model: what a person was like before conversion, what happened to a person in conversion, and how a person became different after conversion. Pastor Babij challenges listeners to ask whether they have a true testimony of transformation in Jesus Christ as a result of the gospel.
I picked this passage of Scripture this morning is because of the testimonies of the five people that are going to be baptized this morning. A testimony is something a Christian gives once there has been a change in their life. I don’t mean turning over a new leaf or anything like that. It means they have met someone and have understood God’s plan for how someone is made right with a holy God. So that is called a testimony. Not everyone has a testimony, but everyone could have a testimony if they meet the person Jesus Christ and believe in Him.
Now let me ask you a question this morning – if someone were to follow you around for a week and they were able to observe your manner of life and even read your thoughts, do you think you would be able to persuade them that you are a Christian, someone who loves and serves the living God and that Jesus Christ is indeed your Lord? Permit me to step further with this line of questioning. Suppose you were given the opportunity to freely give your testimony to someone about your present and your past life. Do you believe you would be able to persuade someone else using the historical events of your life story that Jesus has become the most important and central Person in your life? What do you think the outcome would be? Do you think you could almost persuade someone? Of course you can’t persuade anybody if you don’t know the message of the gospel. That you would be able to, in a testimony, at least give someone something to ponder concerning their own eternal soul, the judgement to come, the hope of sins forgiven, an eternal life only to be had through repentance towards God and faith in Jesus Christ. So for a believer, when the opportunity to testify comes up, they want to do it really with joy.
but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense,
And in regard to all these things, Paul says I’m ready to give in a defense of the faith. The Scripture is also recorded in the bulletin that we have. If you want to follow along with me, I’m just going to explain what is being said in this passage of Scripture. And if you do know your Bible, you can turn to Acts 26. In the first three verses of Acts 26, it says this – Agrippa, he was a ruler at that time. Paul is standing before before him to give a defense of what happened in his life. Now remember that the apostle Paul was not always a christian. His name before it was changed to Paul was Saul. So now Paul as a believer is standing before Agrippa.
Agrippa said to Paul, “You are permitted to speak for yourself.” Then Paul stretched out his hand and proceeded to make his defense:
Or an apologetic. He prepared to give a testimony. He says:
In regard to all the things of which I am accused by the Jews, I consider myself fortunate, King Agrippa, that I am about to make my defense before you today; especially because you are an expert in all customs and questions among the Jews;
or controversial issues about the Jews.
therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently.
Every time the word of God is open, someone should be at least willing to listen and listen patiently to what it says because it really has something to do with everyone because everyone is created by God. He is the Creator. So in giving his testimony, the apostle Paul lays out his past life before conversion, the circumstances which he came to believe, and then his past life after he believed, the changes that took place. Something had to happen, in other words, to a person before they can have a testimony, before they can have an apologetic.
Remember, all Christians have a testimony, have an apologetic – a defense of the hope that is in them. So I’m asking you this morning – are you able? Can you give a testimony about Christ today? I pray that if you can’t, that you will come to understand a way that you eventually can.
So let’s take a look at how Paul unfolded his life’s testimony that he gives before a public audience. First, he gives his past life before his conversion. That past life really looks like this – he was religious, but he was lost. He was religious but he was lost. Matter of fact, most likely Paul could be the quintessential religious person. A lot of people are religious. They have their own way of thinking about how they relate to God if they believe in God at all. But in Paul’s case, he did believe in the creator God. He did believe in the Old Testament, but he didn’t have the whole message. He got a lot of things wrong.
So before King Agrippa, he first brings up his past life. He says number one – I was brought up strictly Jewish. He was a thorough Jew, meaning that he did know the Old Testament scriptures. In fact in verse four, he says:
So then, all Jews know my manner of life from my youth up, which from the beginning was spent among my own nation and at Jerusalem;
So he was definitely someone who grew up around the holiest place on earth – Jerusalem, and also in the Old Testament. So he knew the Bible as revealed then. Also his vocation in verse number 5 – he was a Pharisee. Now a Pharisee was someone who was a teacher of the law, someone who studied the Old Testament. It says in verse five:
since they have known about me for for a long time, if they were willing to testify, that I lived as a Pharisee according to the strictest sect of our religion.
So Paul understood that Judaism was a religious system. It was a system that did focus in on the God who created the heaven and the earth and the God who promised a coming Deliver to save people from their sin. So the real ground of Paul’s arrest and prosecution at this particular time in Scripture, it was not his having left the old religion Judaism, but his having to faithfully adhered to it.
Now saying that, he says – I stand here before you to give testimony because of the hope of the promise. That is the hope of the promise of Messiah. Messiah was going to be the anointed one who would come and deliver His people from their sin so they can have a relationship with God. So he did believe the Messiah would come. But what he did not believe is that Jesus was the Messiah. That’s what he did not believe and he gives testimony to that. So Paul was not embracing something entirely new. Paul was embracing something entirely true. It’s always been true. He came to understand three important facts about the hope of Messiah. Number one – the hope of Messiah coming was promised by the patriarchs. In verse number 6 he says:
And now I am standing trial for the hope of the promise made by God to our fathers;
In other words, in Scripture this hope came from heaven, spoken first to Abraham and then to Isaac and then to Jacob and then all the way down the line to every Jew and everyone who connected themself to Judaism, right down even to the apostle Paul. So he knew it was promised already in the Bible, that there would be a Savior a deliverer. And then also, the hope of the Messiah was prefigured in the law. In verse number 7, the Bible says:
the promise to which our twelve tribes hope to obtain, as they earnestly serve God night and day. And for this hope, O King, I am being accused by the Jews.
Now what was it? What were the people trying to obtain or attain? Well all Jews and all many people tried to attain righteousness before God by painstaking effort to keep the law, or by being good. They were trying to obtain a righteousness that would be acceptable to God, but they kept failing. And they kept failing because of the transmitted sin from Adam. All of us are born sinners. And also because of their own inherent sinfulness, that we all sin. We sin in thought, word, and deed. We are sinners. That’s what we are. Paul knew he was, but the way to have his sins forgiven he had wrong. You see, the law, the Ten Commandments, kept showing them that they needed someone to deliver them from a greater slavery than the slavery they experienced in Egypt, and that is the slavery of sin. Slavery which only leads to bondage and ultimately to death, that is separation from life and separation from the living God. It is sin that separates us from God. It is sin that keeps us from being right with God. It is sin that keeps us from going into the presence of God when we die. So this sin problem has to be taken care of in one’s life.
If you take notice in verse number 7, it says – as they serve God day and night. In other words, they were trying to be made right with God day and night by what they can do, by their works. This was pointing to the ongoing ministry of the Levitical priesthood, in which they offered sacrifice after sacrifice year after year. Yet it never really dealt sufficiently with the problem of one’s sin. The writer of Hebrews in the Bible said this about Jesus. He was talking about Jesus’ death in this passage. Let me read it to you. It says:
who does not need daily, like those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for His own sins and then for the sins of the people, because this He did once for all when He offered up Himself. For the Law appoints men as high priests who are weak, but the word of the oath, which came after the Law, appoints a Son, made perfect forever.
Then the writer of Hebrews goes on to say this, also concerning the death of Christ:
Every priest stands daily ministring and offering time after time the same sacrifices, which can never take away sin;
So even in the Old Testament, the sacrifices they offered to God – the animal sacrifices by the shedding of blood could never finally take away sin. But it says in Hebrews:
but He, having offered one sacrifice for sins for all time, sat down at the right hand of God, waiting from that time onward until His enemies be made of a footstool for His feet. For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified.
See death of Jesus Christ becomes the significant ingredient in someone being made right with God, because Jesus did something on the cross that none of us could ever do. And then the second thing is that Jesus rose from the grave. 1 Corinthians 15:16-18 says:
For if the dead are not raised, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, your faith is worthless; You are still in your sins.
If Jesus didn’t die in the place of sinners and if Jesus didn’t rise from the grave, we’re all doomed, all of us. See, the Mosaic Law always aimed at continually pointing toward the hope of Messiah, the hope of someone who could actually deliver us from our sins. That He would be the one, Jesus would be the one who delivers His people from their guilt and the condemnation of sin. This has always been the common thread woven through the fabric of Israel’s daily life in history. It was common to the apostle Paul. Here, it was common to the Jews who were hearing him.
So you see, the hope of Messiah was prefigured in the law, in that what the law could not do Christ did for all time. Now what couldn’t the law do? The law could not forgive sins. The Ten Commandments could not deliver someone from the condemnation of sins. The Law could not save anybody or make anybody right with God. So what were the Ten Commandments given for? They’re still important. They’re still relative. The Ten Commandments were designed to show people that they were sinners and point them to the One who could actually save them, and that is Jesus Christ. So what the law could not do, Christ did for all time – forgiving sin, washing it away forever and declaring one right before God based on the righteousness of another man, that man Christ Jesus.
But not only that, the hope of Messiah was predicted in the prophets. That’s why it says in our next passage in verse number 8. Paul says:
Why is it considered incredible among you people if God does raise the dead?
God’s powerful enough to raise the dead. When it came to Jesus, it was Jesus who raised Himself. It was the whole trinity – Father Son and Spirit, that raised Jesus from the dead. The resurrection was the crowning proof of the messiahship of Jesus Christ. Now Paul came to believe all that was fulfilled in Jesus Christ, but he is still talking about his past life. It’s the resurrection that divides Jesus from the rest of humanity. His eternal deity was strikingly and clearly manifested through His physical resurrection, which designated Him as the Deliverer, as the Messiah, as the One who would come and save His people from their sins. In other words, the resurrection is what essentially makes Jesus different from all the earthly and would be prophets and messiahs that would come down the pike and claim to be him. They did not raise from the dead, not one of them. They all died, left decaying in corruption. But not so with Christ. He’s risen. In fact Paul wrote in Romans 1:4:
who was declared the Son of God with power by the resurrection from the dead,
that is the crowning point that makes Jesus Christ and His death different than anything else that could ever happen in order to save people from their sin.
So my friend, the resurrection enables us to see Jesus as He really is and who He really is – God in the flesh. That’s good news. And without Jesus, there is no good news. There is no hope of eternal life. There is no freedom from the slavery of sin. There is no being made right with God. There is no future hope without Jesus Christ. He is unique and different than any other human being because He was the God-man. He came to live a perfect life and His goal was to go to the cross to die in the place of sinners, the just dying for the unjust.
But there’s one other thing mentioned about Paul’s old past life before his conversion and that was this – his reason for a living before he became a believer. In verses 9 through 11, the french call it the reason de la vie – the reason for his living everyday, getting up every day. What was it? It was to destroy this movement called the Way in Scripture. That means anybody who followed Jesus Christ was put in a package called the Way. They were considered to be by the Jews a cult. So Paul is saying here – I did not believe Jesus was the Messiah. So what can I do if I didn’t believe Jesus was the Messiah, but I believe the Messiah was coming? I had to believe Jesus is a false Messiah if I still thought he was coming. So what did Paul do? He says the only thing I could do, and it’s recorded in verse 9 through 11. This what he says. Listen to all the “I’s” he puts in here.
So then, I thought to myself that I had to do many things hostile to the name of Jesus of nazareth. And this is just what I did in Jerusalem; not only did I lock up many of the saints in prisons, having received authority from the chief priests, but also when they were being put to death I cast my vote against them. And as I punished them often in all the synagogues, I tried to force them to blaspheme and denounce the name of Jesus;
And then it says here – here is his motive:
and being furiously enraged at them,
Now it’s funny that Paul did not consider his passion as sin because it caused him to not only persecute other human beings but also cast his lot when they were being stoned to death. He didn’t consider that a sin. He thought it was something he ought to be doing. See Paul is saying quite strongly – I used all my passions, all my influence, all my powers to destroy this movement. That was his life’s mission. In other words, Paul is the picture of a very religious, very zealous person for his religion, but he was lost as anything. He was not a believer. He wasn’t doing things that pleased God. In fact, anybody who offered another way to be right with God by keeping the law, if you didn’t believe that way, he would persecute you.
So here is Paul. He’s actually under God’s condemnation for what he is doing. He is not actually heading to heaven. He’s actually heading to hell. And he’s not looking for God, but God is looking for him. And that’s what’s so unique about his testimony, because in verses 12 through 15 Paul tells what happens. He’s on his way to Damascus – to do what? To do the same thing he’s been doing – to persecute believers. He said that while I was heading there with this motive to kill Christians, to persecute them at midday,
O King, I saw on the way a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining all around me and those who were journeying with me. And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew dialect, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’ And I said, ‘Who are You, Lord? And the Lord said to him, ‘I am Jesus whom you are persecuting.’
At that particular moment, everything became clear to Paul. He was not just persecuting a group of people, he was actually persecuting Jesus who had already rose from the grave. So that means if the crowning point for being the Messiah is resurrection, he knew Jesus rose from the grave. He knew he wasn’t in the tomb anymore. He knew that. And so it all came together. At that moment when the Bible says that the light shined brighter than the sun, that is a picture of divine presence. That all the people fell to the ground when the voice of God was heard, that is also a picture of the divine presence. In other words, Paul was rebellious, but he needed to be rescued. And what does God do? He steps in to rescue. That’s what God does. He steps in to rescue us, to save us, because we can’t save ourselves. The Law can’t save us but Jesus can save us. And He is the only Savior. There is no other Savior. There are not many ways to God. There is one way to God. Jesus is the only way to God.
So after Paul becomes a believer, he goes from becoming redeemed or bought out of the slave market of sin to be being returned back to God for service. He just gave his actual conversion. Now he gives his present life after conversion. And what was that? In verse 16, it says God gave him a new reason for living. He says:
But get up and stand on your feet; for this purpose I have appeared to you, to appoint you a minister and a witness not only to the things which you have seen, but also to the things in which I will appear to you.
He also gave Paul a new protection. He says – listen, the people that you’re persecuting are now going to turn around and persecute you, but I’ll protect you from them. Verse 17:
rescuing you from the Jewish people and from the Gentiles, to whom I am sending you,
And then He gave Paul a new message – a complete message. In verse 18, there are five things to the gospel message. In other words, it’s not by works that we can do to be saved. It’s by God’s grace that we’re saved. It’s His unmerited favor toward us that we’re saved, that we could be saved. In fact, there are five things in the gospel message that you could never accomplish, even if you had an eternity to think about it. You could never yourself open up your spiritually blind eyes and make alive your spiritually dead soul – you cannot do that. You can never deliver yourself from the domain of darkness and Satan – you cannot do that. You can never transfer yourself to the dominion of God and light – you cannot do that. You could never free yourself up from the slave market of sin and the sins that we have committed, both past, present, and future. God keeps records and His records are accurate. He knows everything about us. And you could never set yourself apart from God and received an inheritance because you are brought into the family of God. Verse number 18 says this – what was Paul’s new message? Here It is:
to open their eyes so that they may turn from darkness to light and from the dominion of Satan to God, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who have been sanctified by faith in Me.
See, it is only Jesus Christ that can do these things. Christ not only will set someone free, transfer them into the kingdom of God, He will also cancel every sin debt that a person has, every sin that a person has ever committed. And He will do it in a way where those things will never enslave that person again, and then Satan can’t make any more indictments, at least indictments that could stick against any person.
The amazing thing about it is that God gave Paul and He gives all who believe in Jesus a new heart. And what is a new heart anyway? It’s a heart that obeys God. It’s a heart that believes God. It says in verse number 19 that he went from a stubborn, pig-headed, anger-driven, covetous, religious fellow to an obedient, humble servant of Jesus Christ. And he says in verse number 19:
So, King Agrippa, I did not prove disobedient to the heavenly vision,
I didn’t prove disobedient to the heavenly voice, but I obeyed it and now here’s the message – that they should repent of their sin and turn to God, performing deeds appropriate for repentance.
This is what happens, that when a person has a testimony, they have met Jesus Christ. They have understood the gospel message, meaning that by faith you believe in Christ and trust in what He did for you on the cross. He died in the place of sinners. He paid for all the sins before the Father. He’s satisfied the justice of the Father because the Father is a just God. And then He remove the wrath of God from the sinner so no longer is someone under God’s condemnation because of their sin. And then He takes your sin and nailed it to the cross and He takes His righteousness and He puts it on your account.
So when God sees your life now, he does not see your sin. He sees Christ’s righteousness, that you believed in Him by faith. See, that’s genuine and real salvation. And when that happens, you’re different. You’re changed. You can say, like the apostle Paul, I’m not the person I used to be. Thanks to Calvary, I do not do the things I used to do anymore. I do not believe the things I used to believe anymore. I believe the truth and the truth has set me free. So he went from being lost to being found. He went from being rebellious to being obedient.
Everybody who’s going to stand in the waters of baptism in a few minutes have a testimony. And they have a a past life in which they didn’t believe in Jesus. And they have a time where there was an actual conversion experience. And they also know that after they believe, their life was different. They started loving God’s word. They started loving God, whom maybe they thought before they did and they found out no, you didn’t love God. God first loved us and then we learned how to love God.
Now anytime someone gives a testimony, and it’s no different in the case of Paul, there’s certain responses that come back to him. And what was one of the response after Paul gave this testimony before King Agrippa and the people that were there? In verses 24 to 26, here’s the first thing that was said about Paul – Paul you are out of your mind. You’re nuts. You have one brick short of a load. You have lost your marbles. You’re off your rocker. Paul, you’re in that cult the Way. And Paul says this to them – I’m not out of my mind. Matter of fact, I see more clearly now than I’ve ever seen in my life. I utter, he says, sober words of truth. There is something about truth that you cannot get away from. You know when it rings in your ears. And believe me, the gospel of Jesus Christ is the truth. There is no way to go to the Father except through Jesus Christ, who is the doorway. So when you become a real Christian, you finally for the first time in your life actually come to your senses and you see clearly.
There was also a claim to sanity in our passage, where Paul says to King Agrippa:
do you believe the Prophets? I know that you do. Agrippa replied to Paul, “In a short time you will persuade me to become a Christian.”
There’s the persuasion of the gospel, the persuasion of wherever you stand now in your life, the question is if you were to die right now, where would you go? According to the scriptures, there is only two places you can go. There is no purgatory in Scripture. There is either heaven to go into the presence of God, and there is a place the Bible calls the lake of fire. It’s considered before that as hell. So either person is going there or there. There’s no other place to go. The only one that can rescue a person from going to hell is Christ Jesus. He is the Savior. That’s why he came into the world – to save.
So can it be that one can be persuaded to believe the gospel? Yes, but not without the convicting power of the Spirit of God, not without the word of God. So where today do you stand? Because the overarching goal of the gospel and what Paul is saying here is the cure for all humanity. Now what is the cure for humanity? This is what Paul said:
I would wish to God, that whether in a short or long time, not only you, but also all who hear me this day, might become such as I am, except for these chains.
Such as he was – what does he mean by that? That I became a believer in the Messiah Jesus Christ, and I understand that He died in my place and He rose again to give me eternal life. Now I am no longer a lost but I’m saved. I’m no longer dead, but I’m alive. No longer blind, but I see. I’m no longer held captive by sin and Satan, but I am free. See, that’s what he was hoping for people. And it only comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ, a change that comes, a transformation that comes. A person understands are forgiven by God, that they’re saved from God’s wrath, and then finally they’re awaiting a heavenly inheritance, waiting to go into the presence of God. And while they’re here, they’re serving God.
So then King Agrippa says – you know what, Paul, if you didn’t appeal to Caesar, you would have been innocent. Paul was physically bound because of chains and he was in prison, but spiritually he was free, while Felix and Drusilla and Festus and Agrippa and his sister Bernice remains spiritually enslaved to sin.
So there’s only two ways. There’s actually only two religions in the world, if you want to call it that. There’s the religions of good works. I’m trying to work my way to heaven. And there’s religion of God’s free grace, received by faith. Turn from what you’re trusting in. Trust in Jesus Christ alone. So in one way, if you’re trying to get to heaven by works or by being good, the result is you are actually rejecting God like Paul rejected God in the beginning. You’re trying to run your own life. You’re trying to do it your own way, but the end result is going to be being condemned by God and facing death and judgement. And then God’s way though is you submit to Jesus the Savior, and he’s also Lord ruler of your life. That’s why we now obey Him. And then we rely on Jesus’ death and resurrection because that is what saves us. He saves us.
And then what is the result of that? Being forgiven by God and given eternal life. Wouldn’t you want to know that today, if you don’t know it yet? And if you do know it, then you rejoice in that fact every day, that you could never in a million trillion years save yourself. There is nothing you can do to offer God. Nothing you can do to equal what Jesus did on the cross, nothing.
So what must a person do? Well, the first thing that you need to do is you need to pray for God to change your heart so that you may submit to Jesus as your Savior and Lord and then rely on Jesus for forgiveness of sins and eternal life. You must turn from what you’re trusting and trust in Him. Then when that happens and you follow the Lord the rest of your life, you have a testimony. You have something to say about this change that has come in your life after you met Jesus Christ. Only those who have submitted in obedience to the call of the gospel of Jesus Christ are saved and have a testimony, a defense of the faith, and have a new position before God because of Jesus Christ and only because of Jesus Christ. So not only does Jesus save us, He keeps us saved and He brings us into His presence. That’s the promise that He gives all those who trust in Him. And that’s why the gospel is considered good news.
But remember, you got to get the bad news first before the other news becomes good, or the gospel could become bad news to you if you don’t believe it. So this morning, I don’t know some of the people who are visiting. I’m glad you came to celebrate some of the baptisms that are going to happen soon as I’m done here. I’m glad you’re here, but I don’t know where you’re at spiritually. And I don’t know if you ever gotten an alternate view of what it means to be right with God. I try to give you something from Scripture this morning for you to at least know that number one – you’re a sinner and you can’t save yourself, that God’s supplied a substitute for you to die in the place and to take care of your sin that you could not take care of and that’s Jesus Christ. The way to obtain that is you turn from your sin and what you’re trusting in and you by faith ask Jesus to save you. Call upon Him as Lord and Savior, and then obey Him. And part of obeying Christ is being baptized. Baptism doesn’t save anybody, but what it does is it identifies you with the work of Christ and what Christ has done. That’s what it does. It’s almost the first step of obedience for a believer. So this morning the people that are actually are being baptized, you can be dismissed and get ready.
This morning let’s just pay attention and see and listen to the testimonies that are given today. I prayed that you wouldn’t walk out of here and go home and just forget everything that was said both by me and by the testimonies. I pray that you would think about it and ask yourself where do you stand before God. Where do you stand before God? If you can’t answer some of those questions, you can you can come and talk to someone in our church, someone that you know in our church, and they would be able to share the gospel with you and help you to know how to be right with God.
Let me have a word of prayer and I’m going to turn it over to Joe and then we’ll see these baptisms. Let’s pray. Father this morning I do thank You so much for sending Your Son into the world to live an obedient life and with a goal to go to the cross to die in the place. He was not a sinner, Christ. He was the just, dying in the place of sinners so that all those who hear the gospel and believe the gospel, repenting of their sin and trusting in Christ alone, can be saved. Thank You Lord for saving me. Thank you Lord for saving those who are giving their testimony this morning. I pray Lord the testimonies are evidence You’re still at work in people’s hearts. You haven’t left us alone. And I thank the Lord even in these dark days that we live, in the craziness that’s going on all over the world, You’re still working. That doesn’t affect Your plan and what You’re doing. You’re still saving people, bringing people into Your family. And I pray Lord, someone here today doesn’t know you but wants to, I pray that You would show them. Convict them of their sin, bring them to a saving knowledge of Jesus Christ. And I ask it in Your precious name. Amen.