Life is full of changes almost made. The smoker who almost quit, the drunkard who nearly became sober, or the liar who came close to telling the truth. Parents may come to realize they need to spend more time with their children, but then fail to follow through. They almost become better parents, but do not. This is not a unique or uncommon problem, and so I imagine many of us have tried to change something, only to disappoint ourselves and others.
We understand that a change almost made is no change at all. In other words, we remain what we were; flawed and in need of improvement. King Agrippa was a man like this. His response to Paul’s preaching was, “You almost persuade me to become a Christian”. (Acts 26:28) The king nearly changed, but instead remained in his sins. Do you think his response did him any good spiritually? Did he improve his position and condition before God, or did the defects of sin remain in his life?
Clearly, the gospel had its intended effect on Agrippa’s understanding because he realized the need to change. This same result occurred on the hearts of about three thousand people in Acts chapter two, except they obeyed the message. We know that most people do not usually adjust their behavior without first believing they need to. Why would a pagan give up idolatry to believe in the true God or why would a Jew accept Jesus as Lord without something to convince them. This is where the gospel comes in, since it reveals God’s will and the changes we need to make to please Him. (2 Peter 1:2-4)
What was the difference between King Agrippa and those who became Christians on the day of Pentecost? It was not in their understanding, for they all knew that a change needed to occur. Rather, it was a dissimilarity of heart. The people in Acts two willingly gave up their former faith and life-styles, while Agrippa was unwilling to do so. The Bible teaches us that a sincere heart responds to God’s Word, as is obvious by those who obeyed on the day of Pentecost. It also states that a hardened and impenitent heart will refuse to take proper action, as was the case with Agrippa. (Rom. 2:4-10)
There is another example of someone who came close to obeying the gospel, but whose heart was not right. It is the story of Felix, which took place two chapters before the one about Agrippa. There can be little doubt that he understood the need for change because Paul’s preaching made him afraid. However, rather than becoming a Child of God, he answered, “Go away for now; when I have a convenient time I will call for you.” (Acts 24:25)
The converts in Acts two heard about how they had crucified Christ. I would imagine this information was terrifying for them, and yet they asked, “What shall we do”? (Acts 2:37) Peter’s answer was to “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins”. (Acts 2:38) Their response comes a little later, “Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them.” (Acts 2:41) It was not a socially, economically, or religiously convenient time for them to obey the gospel, but they did. Unlike Felix, they had a good and honest heart.
How many of us know that we need to make changes, based on God’s word, and yet we still drown in the guilt of sin? Perhaps we have tried and failed, and then just given up. Maybe we think it will be easier down the road, so we put it off for a while. Please understand, doing right is never easy or convenient because worldly lust and pressure get in the way.
There is no hint Agrippa or Felix ever obeyed the gospel, and if they did not change then they will face God’s wrath. Sad as their two stories are, they are not the only biblical examples of people with hardened hearts. In Acts seven Stephen accused the Jewish leadership of “stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears!” He said that they “always resist the Holy Spirit.” (Acts 7:51) Their reaction proved his point when they stoned Stephen to death. (Acts 7:54-60)
Paul speaks of the Gentiles as “having their understanding darkened” and being ignorant “because of the blindness of their heart.” (Eph. 4:17-24)) Some in the church had come from such a background, but now as Christians they must put off their former sins. So we recognize paganism for what it is, a life-style based on error and a closed mind. While everyone comes from a sinful background, God’s people open their hearts to His Word and obey His Will.
We should all compare our lives with the teachings and principles of God’s Word. (2 Cor. 13:5) So when Scriptures talk about morality, faithfulness, and love we must listen and comply with its message. Anyone who wants to please God must address and correct sin in his life. “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life.” (Gal. 6:7)
Do not be the person defined by changes almost made. If you know you need to adjust your behavior, do so before it is too late. Maybe you need to do a better job of controlling your tongue, your anger, or your thoughts. Don’t put it off for a more convenient time or say “I was almost persuaded”. If you need to attend services more faithfully or do a better job of focusing on worship, do so now. Remember, changes almost made are no changes at all.