Not yet persuaded
A reader asked, “Do you believe King Agrippa in Acts 26 was a child of God?”
Here is the relevant passage in Acts 26:
As Paul was saying these things in his defense, Festus exclaimed in a loud voice, “You’re out of your mind, Paul! Too much study is driving you mad.”
But Paul replied, “I’m not out of my mind, most excellent Festus. On the contrary, I’m speaking words of truth and good judgment. For the king knows about these matters, and I can speak boldly to him. For I am convinced that none of these things has escaped his notice, since this was not done in a corner. King Agrippa, do you believe the prophets? I know you believe.”
Agrippa said to Paul, “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?”
“I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am — except for these chains.” (Acts 26:24-29)
Perhaps you can see the potential confusion here. On the one hand, Paul seems confident that Agrippa believes the Old Testament prophets, who prophesied about Christ and the redemption he would bring. On the other hand, Agrippa’s own admission is that he is not a Christian. In other words, he does not believe in Christ for salvation.
Evidently, King Agrippa knows the Jewish religion well enough to have familiarity with Old Testament Scripture. “The king knows about these matters,” Paul tells Festus (Ac 26:26). Furthermore, Agrippa is not ignorant of the major disturbance about the Way, which was an early reference to Christianity (Ac 19:23). From an outsider’s perspective, the Christian church was merely a faction within Judaism causing more than a little disruption in Israel and beyond. None of these things had escaped Agrippa’s notice.
When Paul says to Agrippa, “I know you believe the prophets,” perhaps he’s suggesting the king possesses more than head knowledge about the Jewish religion. Maybe he’s prone to believe in it, privately if nothing else. Maybe.
Did Agrippa practice the Jewish faith? I can’t answer that question, but it isn’t necessarily relevant. Jesus often condemned practicing Jews, once asking, “How can you escape being condemned to hell?” (Mt 23:33). Paul later writes about his Jewish brothers and sisters, saying, “My heart’s desire and prayer to God concerning them is for their salvation. I can testify about them that they have zeal for God, but not according to knowledge” (Ro 10:1, 2). He goes on to clarify that Israel insisted on trusting in their own righteousness rather than Christ’s righteousness.
In summary, Paul writes:
If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. One believes with the heart, resulting in righteousness, and one confesses with the mouth, resulting in salvation. (Romans 10:9, 10)
Our works cannot save us. We must lean wholly on Christ for salvation (i.e., faith). And that is what Agrippa was missing. He may have believed the prophets to one degree or another. He may have even been zealous for the religion like much of Israel, but he was not persuaded to trust in Christ. He did not want to become a Christian.
Then again, perhaps Agrippa’s denial before Paul and Festus was merely a temporary blunder similar to Peter’s denial shortly after Christ’s arrest, but I’m inclined to think otherwise.
For political reasons, King Agrippa needed to profess a belief in the prophets. Paul knows this and uses it. “I know you believe,” he says perhaps with a wink and sly smile (Ac 26:27). He’s not trying to make Agrippa look foolish or catch him in potential hypocrisy. No, he’s leading the king to Christ, and Agrippa knows it.
Paul rightfully reasons that if one truly believes the prophets, he must also believe the fulfillment of their prophecies—namely, Jesus Christ. But Agrippa knows where he’s going and stops him before he can go any further. “Are you going to persuade me to become a Christian so easily?” Agrippa asks (Ac 26:28). His rhetorical question demands a negative answer.
Paul’s response further indicates Agrippa isn’t yet a genuine believer. “I wish before God,” replied Paul, “that whether easily or with difficulty, not only you but all who listen to me today might become as I am” (Ac 26:29). Become what? A Christian. A disciple of Jesus. One with faith in Christ alone for salvation. Saved. A child of God.
Maybe Agrippa’s heart would change—or be changed—in the future. When Paul visited Corinth, God reminded him that despite all appearances, he had many people in that city (Ac 18:10). We can’t possibly know everyone who might one day belong to the family of God, but I don’t see anything in the text of Acts 26 to suggest Agrippa was yet a member of God’s family.
I’ll leave you with a passage from John’s Gospel.
Christ was in the world, and the world was created through him, and yet the world did not recognize him. He came to his own, and his own people did not receive him. But to all who did receive him, he gave them the right to be children of God, to those who believe in his name, who were born, not of natural descent, or of the will of the flesh, or of the will of man, but of God. (John 1:10-13)