“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.” (Acts26:20)
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:”(Acts 17:30)
So, did something change prior to the writing of this passage that prompted Paul to leave out repentance? Certainly, not! Why did Paul not mention repentance when he speaks of the gospel here?
In reading 1Corinthians in its proper context, 2 points stand out which shed light on this question.
Paul’s letter to the Corinthians is obviously, a letter to a church, which means that he is speaking to believers. When preaching to those who claim to be believers, or “Brethren”, the message is often quite different than a message for unbelievers or those whom you are seeking to evangelize.
e.g.: “I wrote unto you in an epistle not to company with fornicators: Yet not altogether with the fornicators of this world, or with the covetous, or extortioners, or with idolaters; for then must ye needs go out of the world. But now I have written unto you not to keep company, if any man that is called a brother be a fornicator, or covetous, or an idolater, or a railer, or a drunkard, or an extortioner; with such an one no not to eat. For what have I to do to judge them also that are without? do not ye judge them that are within? But them that are without God judgeth. Therefore put away from among yourselves that wicked person.” (1Corinthians 5:9-13)
Here we see that Paul’s instructions for believers were very different than the instructions he would have for unbelievers. Quite simply, the reasons Paul’s letters to the Churches did not specifically address repentance regarding salvation could be that he was addressing those who were already saved and had already come to repentance.
We do not see specific instructions for Evangelism or sermons to the unsaved recorded within these letters because they were written to the churches (believers). However, when we look at the book of Acts, which does tell us in detail what Paul preached, we see that Paul’s message to the unsaved was clearly a message of repentance and faith.
“Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts20:21)
“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:” (Acts14:14-15)
“And the times of this ignorance God winked at; but now commandeth all men every where to repent:” (Acts 17:30)
While that may seem to oversimplify the issue, I believe the next point answers the question a bit more clearly.
2. The Purpose.
1 Corinthians was written by Paul to address various issues that had arisen within the Church. He spends the first 15 chapters addressing sin and error and establishing doctrine regarding questions raised.
E.g. Division, carnality, fornication, going to law against one another, marital issues, the eating of meats offered to idols, liberties, and a rather large section on correcting misunderstanding regarding spiritual gifts, ending in chapter 14.
In chapter 15, he lays the groundwork to address yet another error that had begun to trouble the church- the question of the resurrection of the dead. He sets forth the message of Christ’s death, burial and resurrection, reminding them how that he has already taught them this, pointing out the eyewitnesses which testified to these. Then he goes on to ask:
“Now if Christ be preached that he rose from the dead, how say some among you that there is no resurrection of the dead? But if there be no resurrection of the dead, then is Christ not risen:” (1Corinthians 15:12-13)
He explains to them that without Christ’s resurrection, his preaching would be in vain, and our faith would be pointless, for we would be without hope. When he describes the gospel in this passage, it is not to unbelievers for evangelization, but to believers, proving Christ’s resurrection.
“For I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; And that he was buried, and that he rose again the third day according to the scriptures: And that he was seen of Cephas, then of the twelve: After that, he was seen of above five hundred brethren at once; of whom the greater part remain unto this present, but some are fallen asleep. After that, he was seen of James; then of all the apostles. And last of all he was seen of me also, as of one born out of due time.” (1 Corinthians 15:3-8)
His focus is on showing Christ’s resurrection and why it is essential to believe it. His intent is to correct and instruct believers, it was not to evangelize the lost or to teach evangelism.
He then goes on to teach of the rapture and deliverance of those who died already (which hinge upon the resurrection). He finishes the letter with chapter 16 which discusses the collection for the saints and his closing thoughts.
These are just 2 likely reasons Paul did not specifically mention repentance within this passage. His message did not change, dropping repentance as some would suggest.
The Gospel message preached by Paul and the apostles, to Jew and Gentile alike, has always been Repentance toward God and Faith Toward Jesus Christ.
“And how I kept back nothing that was profitable unto you, but have shewed you, and have taught you publickly, 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 20:20-21)
Paul tells us that he did not keep anything back. He gave them the whole counsel of God- repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
In the book of Acts, we read of Paul reasoning and disputing in the synagogue for days at a time. In chapter 17 we see him preaching to the men of Athens. He did not simply give an ABC’s or 123’s gospel message; he preached to them the true identity of God, who He is, His hand in creation & His personal relationship & availability to men. He preached God’s righteous judgment and the coming resurrection as well as the good news of Jesus Christ.
Then when some said, “we will hear you again”, and clung to him, he continued preaching to them. As a matter of fact, NEVER did he lead anyone through a prayer or pronounce them saved, even if they were convicted. Instead, he simply instructed those who repented and believed to be baptized.
When Peter preached on the day of Pentecost, “they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and to the rest of the apostles, Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37)
Why? Because Peter preached to them about their sin against God first, how that they had rejected and crucified their long-awaited Savior that died to bring salvation to them.
“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made that same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.” (Acts 2:36)
In the horror of their realization they asked, “what shall we do?” (to take away their sins and be made right with God). Peter’s answer certainly was not, “Repeat this prayer after me.” No, Peter told them to repent and be baptized.
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” (Acts 2:38)
We read in Acts 7:54 that when Stephen preached, his hearers were so angered that they gnashed upon him with their teeth and finally stoned him to death. Was this because he preached a positive message of “Hey, do you want to know how you can go to Heaven when you die? Just say this simple prayer?”
No. (I would suggest that if he had said something like that, he would have lived considerably longer than he did.) He too, told them of their sin and condemnation before God. The true biblical Gospel always included repentance toward God.
The Gospel in a nutshell is this: Repentance toward God and faith toward Jesus Christ.
The good news of the gospel is not only that Christ died and rose again the third day to save us from our sins. The good news is that our creator, a thrice holy God would love sinful man enough to desire a relationship with him, that He wants so much to bridge the separation caused by our sin that He was willing to sacrifice His only son to reconcile us to Himself.
What is the message of salvation that we should be proclaiming?
“Now then we are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us: we pray you in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God.” (2 Corinthians 5:20)
The gospel message preached by the apostles is a message of reconciliation to God through faith in Jesus Christ. What is it that separates us from God? Sin. Without repentance from sin, there can be no reconciliation and of course, no salvation.
“Salvation is far from the wicked: for they seek not thy statutes.” (Psalms 119:155)
Any gospel message that does not include repentance is a false gospel.