And Agrippa said to Paul, “In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” (Acts 26:28 ESV)
This passage is sometimes used to support the duty and ability of believers to ‘persuade’ non-believers to become Christians by using their personal testimonies as evangelistic tools. If Paul tried to persuade Agrippa to become a Christian with his testimony, shouldn’t we also try and persuade others? If that’s what Paul was trying to do, certainly! But is that what was really going on in that encounter? Let’s look at the text and context, shall we?
Our story begins back in Chapter 25, with Festus, procurator of Judea presenting Paul to King Agrippa, in Cesarea where Paul was being held. Festus had tried to convince Paulo to be tried in Jerusalem, but Paul appealed to Rome, as was his right being a Roman citizen. Festus speaks:
“And Festus said, "King Agrippa and all who are present with us, you see this man about whom the whole Jewish people petitioned me, both in Jerusalem and here, shouting that he ought not to live any longer. But I found that he had done nothing deserving death. And as he himself appealed to the emperor, I decided to go ahead and send him. But I have nothing definite to write to my lord about him. Therefore I have brought him before you all, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write." – Acts 25:24-26
The drama continues:
So Agrippa said to Paul, "You have permission to speak for yourself." Then Paul stretched out his hand and made his defense: "I consider myself fortunate that it is before you, King Agrippa, I am going to make my defense today against all the accusations of the Jews, especially because you are familiar with all the customs and controversies of the Jews. Therefore I beg you to listen to me patiently." Acts 26:1-3
Paul then proceeded with his personal testimony, however with the principle objective to defend himself against the accusations of the Jews. That eloquent discourse covered Paul’s conversion on the road to Damascus, the call to repent and turn to God, and the proclamation that the death and resurrection of Christ pertained to both Jews and Gentiles. In addition to being a ‘defense’ that would make Perry Mason envious, it was indeed a clear presentation of the gospel message.
It is important to note that Paul did not offer his ‘changed life’ as the message of the gospel, and that God would change Agrippa’s life for the better also. That would have been ridiculous! Paul was standing there bound in the chains of a prisoner bound for Rome.
Paul’s testimony and presentation of the call to repentance and belief resulted in Festus calling him ‘out of his mind’, as well as the question from King Agrippa:
“In a short time would you persuade me to be a Christian?” – Acts 26:28
Apparently, Paul’s testimony, presented primarily as a legal defense, caused Agrippa to think Paul was intentionally trying to persuade him to become a Christian. It would not be surprising that Paul was using the occasion to present the gospel to Agrippa, however other scripture from Paul tells us clearly that he did not consider himself the ‘persuader’.
“I planted, Apollos watered, but God gave the growth. So neither he who plants nor he who waters is anything, but only God who gives the growth.” – 1 Cor 3:6-7
Paul did express his desire that Agrippa would become a Christian, but he didn’t offer him a better life. After all Agrippa’s life was getting along very nicely, thank you! We could learn something from that, I think. A ‘gospel’ based on a changed life, or that offers ‘your best life now’ is lost on those who already have a great life! We would add that there is not a single instance of that approach in all of scripture.
Finally, after agreeing among themselves that Paul had done nothing deserving of imprisonment, Paul was sent to Rome, as protocol required, where he lived under house arrest until his execution.
So what are we to take from this account?
First, that even the direst of circumstances in our lives present opportunities to deliver the precious message of the gospel of Christ’s death for our sins.
Second, that presenting the gospel message will get us accused of trying to persuade others to become Christians. And yes, Paul did say “we persuade men’, but to what end? He tells us.
“For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil. Therefore, knowing the fear of the Lord, we persuade others. But what we are is known to God, and I hope it is known also to your conscience.” – 2 Cor 5:10-11
We present the gospel message as if lives depend upon it – and they do – eternal lives.
Third, while we deliver the gospel message with persuasive speech, we need to be mindful that our efforts are merely planting ‘seed’ that needs watering and nourishing,but it is God who is the ‘great persuader’. Of course we should be enthusiastic in presenting the gospel, but in the end it is God alone who saves. Ours is the great privilege of being used to provide the message to hearts He has opened to hear and respond. It is God who both ordains the end (salvation) and the means (preaching the gospel).
And last, this Paul’s encounter with Agrippa does not imply that we, as believers, have the ability to personally persuade non-believers to hear and receive the gospel message. That attitude, when adopted, usually results in us omitting the ‘offense’ of the gospel (man’s sin), and our trying to ‘attract’ people to Jesus. Paul’s discourse before Agrippa did present his personal testimony, but it also addressed the need to repent of sin and return to God.
If we use personal testimony in our witnessing, we should be speaking of having faced our sin in all its ugliness, repented of it and turned to God, trusting in Christ for our salvation.
Our duty is to present the truth in love, call sinners to repentance and belief in Christ, and leave the ‘persuading ’to God.