If someone was to ask you why you live how you do, why do you believe what you do, how would you answer? How would you use this single chance? We might talk about the gospel’s power to save, the good news contained in that message. We might appeal to the so-called steps of salvation. By these qualities, we might defend our hope.
Paul, in Acts 24, has this opportunity when he presents his defense before Felix, and he takes an approach quite different from one we might make. In verse 42 of this chapter, Felix and his wife inquire of Paul about the path he has chosen. In verse 25, Paul reasons from righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come.
Righteousness is simply holiness in daily thought and action. Our conduct and our attitudes reflect our righteousness. Romans 12:1-2 instructs us to present ourselves as a living sacrifice in our spiritual service. Paul calls on us to be different from the world, separate and distinct in our thoughts and actions. I Peter 1:13-16 instructs to prepare our minds, setting our hope on God and reflecting His holiness in our lives. Romans 1:16-17 affirms God’s power to save through the gospel, demonstrated in those who live by faith, those whose lives are defined by their service to God.
Romans 10:1-3 records Paul praising the zeal of his national brethren, but he warns that they should not be satisfied by their own standard of righteousness. The same is true of us today. God does not compare our level of righteousness to those around us. He compares us to His standard, even if those standards call for changes in our lives that we may be hesitant to make. Our standards must raise to God’s standard.
Self-control is a personal application of what we know to be right as guided by God’s will. Proverbs 25:28 calls one lacking self-control like a city whose defenses are destroyed. (Remember the importance of walls and defenses around cities during this time period.) Self-control is our defense against forces that can tear us down. Galatians 5:22-23 groups this quality with other fruits of the spirit like love and kindness. II Peter 1:5 instructs us to work on self-control as we develop the qualities of our faith. Also, Titus 1:8 applies this quality to those who would help oversee a congregation.
We don’t always want to be in control of self. We don’t like others to monitor us, and sometimes we neglect to monitor our selves. We want to do what we want to do, but God tells us to guide ourselves by His will rather than by our own will. In I Corinthians 7:5 warns against the devil’s willingness to tempt the limits of our self-control. We cannot drop our defenses, or our adversary will overtake us. We must use God’s word to equip us to control ourselves.
God’s judgment emphasizes personal accountability. Romans 13:12 warns that all will give an account before God, and Ecclesiastes 12:14 says all works will be brought to judgment, secret or otherwise. II Corinthians 5:10 tells us we will all be revealed for who we are before Christ’s judgment seat. However, we may convince ourselves that God will take us in even when we have rejected Him. He has demonstrated His love to us by offering up His own son in our place, but we cannot continue to resist Him. Matthew 25 depicts God dividing people on His right and His left. We should be living so, when we are judged, we know that we will have an Advocate in Christ.
The faith we have in Christ Jesus is not dependent on my feelings or my own standards. It is rooted in our confidence in God’s word and our submission to that word. In Acts 24, when presented with these arguments, Felix sends Paul away until a more convenient time. He leaves Paul in jail, does visit him in hopes of a bribe. It seems Felix’s convenient time never comes.
What are we waiting for to make the changes in our lives that we need? Will we, like Felix, simply put God off? He is waiting for us to come to Him, but we must come to Him on His terms, striving to reflect His righteousness, exercising self-control, and submitting to His mercy preparing for that judgment to come.
lesson by Tim Smelser