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There is absolutely no question that Paul did repent (i.e., had a change of direction in his heart), as is clearly attested to in scripture. Therefore, the question being raised isn't really an issue of exactly where (or when) this change within him may have occurred, other then how it relates to having occurred before or after his salvation. If his salvation preceded his repentance, then surely it must be attributed completely and entirely to God's grace (and foreknowledge), given that Saul/Paul was a "chosen vessel." (see Exodus 33:19;Acts 9:15.)

Peter spoke (to the whole house of Israel) on the day of Pentecost and instructed them to "repent and be saved." However, Paul preaches a slightly different message that makes little to no mention of repentance being required as a condition of salvation, referring to his message of salvation by a new name, "the gospel of the grace of God." (Acts 20:24.) In fact, Paul states that it is the goodness of God that leads one to repentance in Romans 2:4.

Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?

Repentance, at some point, is what God commands of all men (Acts 17:30)... but why is there so little mention of it in all of Paul's epistles if it is thought to be a prerequisite to salvation? Is it because the Gentile nations were not under the law (as Israel was) and would simply not relate to repentance in the same way that Israel did?

Romans 4

[15] Because the law worketh wrath: for where no law is, there is no transgression. [16] Therefore it is of faith, that it might be by grace...

This question has evolved from another question (that was downvoted twice, for reasons I do not understand) that is posted here:

When did Paul's repentance (i.e., change of heart) and salvation occur? On the road to Damascus, or only after being baptized in Damascus?

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  • We are not told exactly so we do not know.
    – Dottard
    Mar 10, 2022 at 9:30
  • This is effectively a duplicate of the other question. It hinges on exactly what 'repentance', metanoia means (noia the mind - not 'the heart' - and meta the layering of the concept over upon itself, that is to say 'another mind' but a greater mind). If people disagree what repentance is, they will not agree about when it occurred in Saul of Tarsus' case. Paul speaks of repentance experience in Romans 7, but does not specify when it occurred. (Matanoia occurs 24 times in scripture, of which 6 are Paul's usages.)
    – Nigel J
    Mar 10, 2022 at 10:01
  • Which passage is this question primarily asking about?
    – curiousdannii
    Mar 10, 2022 at 13:37
  • @Dottard ...If so, then doesn't this become a doctrinal issue? Why teach that anyone must first repent before being saved?
    – Hugs
    Mar 10, 2022 at 15:02
  • 2
    Everyone is quibbling about repentance, but I don't see anything in the question that indicates salvation. I.e. there's nothing there to make anyone think that it even might have been before repentance. So I'm missing the point of the question about the quoted text. Mar 10, 2022 at 20:02

6 Answers 6

1

Before.

"Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins,..." (Acts 2:38, KJV)

"John came baptizing in the wilderness, and proclaiming a baptism of reformation -- to remission of sins," (Mark 1:4, YLT)

"and he came to all the region round the Jordan, proclaiming a baptism of reformation -- to remission of sins," (Luke 3:, YLT)

Work backwards through it. God cannot save, or reform until we have repented. We cannot repent until we have believed. The order is belief, repent, baptism. Only then is our name added to the book of life (Phil. 4:3). Only then does the Holy Spirit put us into Christ. Only then are we covered by Jesus' sacrifice.

"And they, having heard these things, were silent, and were glorifying God, saying, `Then, indeed, also to the nations did God give the reformation to life.'" (Acts 11:18, YLT)

Giving = granting = providing = grace. God provided, gave, granted the same method of salvation of repentance of sins to both Jew and Gentile. The act of granting repentance to life does not mean that God is doing the repenting. It is just another way of saying that He made the plan of salvation available for everyone that will believe and repent of their sins.

It is the knowledge that God has provided His grace through Jesus Christ's sacrifice, that He paid the price for us that causes us to have that change of heart for repentance. Rom. 2:4 sets out that God's grace came first, that we can rely upon Him, and therefore can trust Him. Cause and effect. There has to be a cause first, before the repentance can take place.

Rom 4:15-16 is making it clear that our faith comes from God's grace, that without first having God's grace extended to us, we cannot accept the offer. And, no one accepts the offer without first believing. Our faith is made sure by acting upon the belief.

So, Paul was confronted on the road to Damascus and had a startling wake up call. Confronted with the evidence of Jesus' presence and existence, he therefore believed. After which he repented and was immersed for the forgiveness of his sins. After which God granted salvation unto remission of sins.

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  • Evidently you are saying that salvation was only granted AFTER Paul repented and acted upon his believing. Doesn't this contradict what is written of when righteousness (i.e., salvation) was reckoned to Abraham in Romans 4:10?
    – Hugs
    Mar 10, 2022 at 16:35
  • 2
    @Hugs In Christianity, no work can earn salvation, so any work done can only be done as one's duty, and therefore cannot earn. Jn. 15:5. Therefore, repenting or baptizing is what you do to appropriate the mercy of God, not earn it. God has a right to command us to do things to be saved, without us being owed eternal life and forgiveness of our sins in return. Lk 17:10. It's a different mode of works than 'I work so I can earn God's forgiveness.' It's rather, 'God promised: whoever will believe and repent and be baptized, I will save them from their sins.' No earning. Mar 10, 2022 at 17:37
  • @Gina I made no mention of anyone being owed or "earning" salvation. Understandably, It is freely given (or granted, or reckoned.) We are talking strictly about what "conditions" there are or might be for that, which have not addressed as it applied to Abraham (and perhaps Paul.)
    – Hugs
    Mar 10, 2022 at 18:46
  • @Hugs, Abraham's faith was reckoned for righteousness. His faith was shown in obedience to the command. Did God command Abraham to repent & b baptized? You r equating applies w/ oranges. What is the command now under the gospel of Christ.
    – Gina
    Mar 10, 2022 at 19:57
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The question itself can contain a fallacy of the "complex question", when a) it contains an information that is somehow regarded as self-evident, when in fact, it is not; or, b) on the contrary, when it purposefully problematizes a self-evident thing, when this problematization is not at all legitimate on commonsensical grounds. Here, I think, the second is the case and I shall explain why.

"Salvation" and "repentance" are not independent terms, for the first - i.e. salvation - depends analytically on the second, just like "happiness" and "love" are not independent terms, for the first - "happiness" - depends analytically and is impossible without "love". As it is impossible even to imagine a happy man without love, so it is impossible even to imagine somebody achieving salvation without repentance. Furthermore, even if somebody can think oneself to be happy without love, in a Stoic sense, (while, of course this is not a real happiness but a surrogate one), contrary to this, salvation without repentance is a 100% oxymoron and cannot be thought even in the mentioned surrogate sense in separation from repentance.

Does not Paul say that Christians must have "mind" νοῦς of Christ (1 Cor. 2:16), that is to say, without this νοῦς nobody can be Christ's and be thus saved. But repentance in Greek has clearly, on etymological grounds even, a meaning of "changing-mind" or "mindset" - μετα-νοία - that is to say, "meta-minding", "changing mind", and in salvational context, accepting Christ's mind in oneself. This accepting cannot be automatic or only divine monologic act, but a reciprocation of human free will with divine will.

The quote you bring about (Romans 2:4) tells exactly this:

"Or despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and longsuffering; not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance?"

Yes, exactly! Goodness of God leads everyone, all humanity with no exception, to repentance, but, as the first clause of this verse makes it very clear, this leading by God to repentance can be defied, and indeed often is defied, by our despise, neglect and self-imposed ignorance, which is not God's but our fault, and against which even God is totally powerless, for this is a realm of our real and horrible freedom, in which even He does not interfere, respecting in us our His-like dignity, for He wants to have adopted brothers and sisters to share with Him eternity, not slaves irresistibly enchanted by His inscrutable caprice into salvation without our will and decision, as this Jan Calvin-guy thought in his madness.

2
  • Very good answer. +1.
    – Dottard
    Jan 1 at 6:27
  • @Dottard Thanks! And Happy New Year!🎊 Jan 1 at 9:27
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Since the Apostle Paul mentioned that God grants repentance to people it would be unnecessary to repeat that point excessively in Scripture. There were far more concerning things for Paul to labor in words & writings with respect to the Jewish people & Gentiles like circumcision, the law of Moses, showing that Jesus is in fact the Christ(Messiah), etc. Especially since the Old Testament deals with the basic concept of repentance already. Jewish people would have been familiar with the concept of repentance, yet not with Christ attached, Christ was very new to 1st century Israel obviously, see: Book of Acts.

Before we get into all of that, let’s address the Scripture that Paul wrote in relation to repentance:

“But avoid foolish and ignorant disputes, knowing that they generate strife. And a servant of the Lord must not quarrel but be gentle to all, able to teach, patient, in humility correcting those who are in opposition, if God perhaps will grant them repentance, so that they may know the truth, and that they may come to their senses and escape the snare of the devil, having been taken captive by him to do his will.” 2 Timothy 2:23-26

God speaking through Paul is saying that He alone grants repentance, mankind cannot produce repentance in themselves, just as you also quoted Romans 2:4.

Repentance is mentioned more often in the Book of Acts than the Pauline corpus.

A few things to consider…

1.) Paul said God manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to him and such preaching involved speaking of repentance to those outside, as you mentioned per (Acts 17:30).

We read:

“Paul, a bondservant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, according to the faith of God’s elect and the acknowledgment of the truth which accords with godliness, in hope of eternal life which God, who cannot lie, promised before time began, but has in due time manifested His word through preaching, which was committed to me according to the commandment of God our Savior; Titus 1:1-3

All Paul needed to do was preach the Gospel, call sinners to repentance through the fresh revelation he was called to expound upon in 1st first century A.D. Since God alone grants repentance there is no need to constantly hammer such a truth home to those whom he writes to.

2.) Not only that, but for every Epistle Paul wrote; he wrote with an intended purpose. (Example: A letter of rebuke/correction {1&2 Corinthians} or a letter of encouragement {Philemon}.).

Another example is the Epistle to the Galatians. There was such a problem with the Judiazers & their influence upon the Galatian Church that Paul had to correct them of their neglect of the true gospel:

“I marvel that you are turning away so soon from Him who called you in the grace of Christ, to a different gospel, which is not another; but there are some who trouble you and want to pervert the gospel of Christ.” Galatians 1:6-7

According to Galatians 1:1-3 it would appear that Paul was writing to people whom God had already saved & granted repentance to. The issue then wasn’t to call the Churches of Galatia to repentance but to call them to repent of the deliberate straying of the Gospel of Christ .

3.) Just as with the letter to the Ephesians, which was a circular letter intended for more than one church, so too were the 4 Gospels being copied and circulated during Paul’s time. This being the case, Paul & the other Apostles & the early church by extension, would have had the opportunity to preach the words of Jesus in their evangelistic efforts. The Book of Acts reflects such preaching as per the Scripture which records Jesus’s own statements:

“Now after John was put in prison, Jesus came to Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent, and believe in the gospel.” Mark 1:14-15

“There were present at that season some who told Him about the Galileans whose blood Pilate had mingled with their sacrifices. And Jesus answered and said to them, “Do you suppose that these Galileans were worse sinners than all other Galileans, because they suffered such things? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish. Or those eighteen on whom the tower in Siloam fell and killed them, do you think that they were worse sinners than all other men who dwelt in Jerusalem? I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.” Luke 13:1-5

These foundational words from Christ is what propelled the early church to continue that message in evangelism:

“Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.” Acts 2:38-39

As Paul said also:

“…how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” Acts 20:20-21

Paul was more active “testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks… repentance”. Such activity by Paul was more in line with him preaching rather than writing.

4.) Final consideration: The Apostle Paul only had a limited amount of room to write his epistles in terms of the God breathed message The Lord wanted Paul to write. Since “All Scripture is God breathed”(2 Timothy 3:16), God only desired a limited scope of the knowledge of repentance to be revealed in the Pauline Epistles. So if God grants repentance, it’s through the Gospel of Christ since it brings salvation, and salvation, repentance, grace, justification, eternal life, being heirs, receiving mercy, God’s love toward us, all go hand in hand:

“For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes, for the Jew first and also for the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “The just shall live by faith.” Romans 1:16-17

Preach the Gospel, and God will use it to bring His elect to faith & repentance.

“For we ourselves were also once foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving various lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful and hating one another. But when the kindness and the love of God our Savior toward man appeared, not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior, that having been justified by His grace we should become heirs according to the hope of eternal life. This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that those who have believed in God should be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable to men.” Titus 3:3-8

Titus 3:3-8 is a prime example of what comes with repentance, not that repentance is mentioned in Titus 3:3-8, but if anyone is to be justified by His grace, they will also be granted repentance or they too will perish (Luke 13:1-5).

So to answer the when of Paul’s repentance, it would be when Paul conversed with Ananias:

“And Ananias went his way and entered the house; and laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you came, has sent me that you may receive your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” Immediately there fell from his eyes something like scales, and he received his sight at once; and he arose and was baptized.” Acts 9:17-18

So compare Acts 9:17-18 with Titus 3:3-8, the Holy Spirit would have regenerated & given new life to Paul then. Paul was granted repentance right at salvation, totally granted by God, (2 Timothy 2:25, Philippians 1:29)

CONCLUSION:

The teaching of repentance alongside salvation is a multifaceted reality in Scripture.

“When they heard these things they became silent; and they glorified God, saying, “Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life.” Acts 11:18.

NOTE: the repentance is to life, obviously a short way to say “eternal life”.

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  • I have read all of this and I still do not know when Saul of Tarsus repented. Did I miss it ?
    – Nigel J
    Mar 10, 2022 at 10:03
  • @NigelJ I am mainly answering his question of: “ but why is there so little mention of it in all of Paul's epistles if it is thought to be a prerequisite to salvation?”
    – Cork88
    Mar 10, 2022 at 18:56
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When did Paul repent?
The moment Jesus revealed Himself and Paul realized that Jesus is God he said: "Lord, what do You want me to do?" (Act 9:6) Repentance in the NT context means to turn away from whatever you are busy with to Jesus. The first thing Paul did when he saw Jesus was to repent.

Does Paul write about repentance as a condition of salvation?
To me, this was an alarming discovery. Repentance was the one and only thing John the Baptist, Jesus and his disciples preached and can be found everywhere and all the time. This is not so in the writings of Paul. It is missing except for about two, or three places.

Why does Paul not write about repentance?
For me, the answer is that repentance was the message to the Jews who were guilty of rejecting and killing Jesus the Christ. They had to repent of this one big sin and believe in Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit.

Paul was sent to the Gentiles and they were bound by Idol worship. The Gentiles had to believe in the Name of Jesus and be filled with the Holy Spirit and be delivered from many perverse sins. The message is not repentance as one acts before believing. It is deliverance by the Holy Spirit (or many repentances) after believing and calling on the name of Jesus. The process is different.

Today this is still true:

  • For a Jew to believe in Jesus requires a big work from God and a big repentance. It is the ultimate shame for the family if a member believes in Jesus.
  • For a Gentile (non-Jew) it is simple to believe in Jesus but it is hard to stop sinning. Paul's message is all about fighting the good fight and to stop with sin. His message was to the Gentiles. That is also why he had to write so much about marriage (but he himself was never married).
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Paul had a change of direction in his heart (repented) immediately upon receiving his vision on the Damascus road. However, repentance is not the same as salvation according to Paul's definition. Salvation entails both changing ones attitude and receiving God's forgiveness. Acts 9:18 is as good a place as any to mark the moment.

Immediately things like scales fell from his eyes and he regained his sight. He got up and was baptized...

Prior to this, however, Paul went through a massive internal change, including recognizing Jesus and fasting for three days. Clearly he had already repented. As with any Christian, the exact moment of his salvation was internal and deeply person. But the moment of his baptism is a good bookmark for us to refer to.

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Focusing on the essential Gospel calls in the Gospels, and Acts, and Epistles:

1. Repent is the prerequisite for salvation in logical sequence

a. Jesus proclaimed:

Matthew 4:17 - From that time on, Jesus began to preach, 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.' (cf. Mt 3:2 - 'Repent, for the kingdom of heaven has come near.')

Mark 1:15 - 'The times has come,' and 'The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!'

Luke 24:47 - '...that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be preached in His name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem,'(cf.Luke 13:3,5 - 'No, I tell you; but unless you repent, you will all likewisew perish.')

b. Disciples were sent out to preach, 'that they should repent,' (Mark 6:12)

c. Peter (Acts 2:38): 'Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit' (cf. Acts 3:19,11:18, 26:20).

d. Paul (Acts 17:30): 'The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent,' (cf. 26:20)

Notes:

1). In Matthew 4:17,'from then on began to preach' means a continues work of preaching(herald) of the same message was set in motion by Jesus, and disciples were to follow.

2). In Luke 24: 47, Jesus was explicite that 'repentance for forgiveness' is the order. In OT & NT, 'to repent' or 'turn or return' to God, with a sincere change of heart, turn to God-centered life, from the self- cetered, is the prerequisite for forgiveness and restoration of the broken relationsip with God (salvation).

2. Paul was saved after Repentance

a. Paul turned (repent) to Jesus, confessed Jesus is 'Lord.'

For Paul, a tremendous spiritual reality took place when he encountered the glorified Jesus who he vehimently persucated. The repentance, forgiveness, and salvation,were occurred.

b. Verse 5 - 'Who are you, Lord?

A close examination of Paul's pivotal question, its potential dual interpretation, 'Who are you?' 'Lord?'

In the New Testament, the term κύριος is used to refer to God in specific divine contexts, such as the angel of the Lord, the way of the Lord, and worship of the Lord. Most frequently in the New Testament, it is used to address Jesus Christ.

In particular, in extraordinary circumstances, for example, when Peter caught a great many fishes, he said, 'Oh, Lord, please leave me - I am such a sinful man' (Luke 5:8).

Paul used the Greek word κύριος to refer to Jesus almost 280 times. As a highly educated rabbi who initially opposed the 'new way,' he wouldn't have used this term to describe a mere superior being.

Similar to Peter, who, after being overwhelmed by the 'catch,' referred to Jesus as κύριος, Paul had a divine encounter when he heard a voice and saw a bright light. This extraordinary experience instantly made him realize the true nature of Jesus. (cf.Gamaliel, an influential Pharisee and expert of the Law, was Paul's mentor, and he also recognized the divine nature of Jesus, as stated in Acts 5:39.)

c. As Paul, who confessed that he received teaching from the Lord, said (Romans 10:10-13):

'For with the heart one believes and is justified, and with the mouth one confesses and is saved. For the Scripture says, “Everyone who believes in him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek; for the same Lord is Lord of all, bestowing his riches on all who call on him. For “everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.'

In sum, 'repentance' is the prerquisite for salvation, for all, the Jews and the Gentiles. And, Paul was no exception. He repented before he was 'saved.'

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