Speaking to Felix about righteousness

As Jesus said Paul would “carry [his] name before Gentiles and kings and the people of Israel” Acts 9.15, the apostle preached righteousness to Felix, the Roman governor.

The subject of righteousness makes up part of the gospel and should be proclaimed today. See these points from the text of Acts 24.

1. Righteous and unrighteous will be resurrected

As Paul answered the false charges against him, he noted the great truth shared between him and his accusers.

I have a hope in God (a hope that these men themselves accept too) that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous, Acts 24.15.

Paul mentioned the resurrection was for the righteous and unrighteous. Both groups will appear before God at the end. Jesus was clear about this in his teaching. Read, for example, Matthew 25. Both groups will receive their respective rewards, which will last forever. There will be no hell on earth, just as there will also be no heaven on earth. There are great similarities in their rewards, in this way.

But the quality of their rewards will be different in the extreme. Their destinies are determined by whether they were righteous or unrighteous during their life on earth.

This truth makes it imperative that you and I seek to be righteous people. We start by accepting the justifying sacrifice of Christ, through faith and obedience. Then we live that justification by our righteous living. There can be no continued righteous status before God without righteous living, because unrighteousness removes the benefit of Christ’s sacrifice for sin from us, Hebrews 10.26-27. The most cursory reading of 1 John results in the same conclusion.

2. Righteousness makes up a part of the faith

Acts 25.24 reads, “After some days Felix and Drusilla, his Jewish wife, summoned Paul and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus” (McCord, Everlasting Gospel).

“The faith” indicates, not a subjective faith in Christ, but the objective use of the noun to describe that body of teaching from and about Christ.

Thus, in verse 25, Luke details what the proclamation of the gospel included: righteousness, self-control, and coming judgment.

Righteousness would include both what God did in Christ to make us right with himself, as well as that holy life that he expects of a follower of Christ. (REB’s “question of morals,” is in the right direction, but perhaps too restrictive.) It seems to have this latter sense in verse 15, when Paul declared before Felix his hope in God, “that there is going to be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous.”

In order to have this righteousness, self-control was necessary. Felix was a dissolute man. His passions overpowered him. He was dominated by sensuality and greed, v. 26. He gave no thought to the coming judgment. The mention of it terrified him, especially when connected to self-control.

3. Righteousness must be pursued, not avoided

Paul preached what Felix needed to hear. His words had good effect in that “Felix became frightened.” He felt the pressure from the truth of the gospel. But he did not want to leave Drusilla or give up his greedy ways. So he sent Paul away with an excuse. “Go away for now, and when I have an opportunity, I will send for you” v. 25.

In spite of his fear, the governor was not willing to repent. He claimed it was not the right time. The word for opportunity here could be translated, “When I find the time.” It appears Felix never found the time to obey Christ. He preferred to pursue other gods. When he sent Paul away, he was actually banishing his salvation.

If we want to be righteous people, we must have the opposite reaction of Felix:

  1. By showing sadness over our sin and resolving to change our lives;
  2. By responding immediately, at our first opportunity, to obey the gospel;
  3. By putting away illicit relationships and covetous pursuits and seeking righteousness for ourselves and others.

The guiding conscience

When our conscience is pricked by the hearing of the truth, let it be our guide. Let us not evade our fear. Let us acknowledge the ugly truth about ourselves.

May we seek God in order to become righteous people, learn self-control, and have confidence before the coming judgment. This is the blessed faith in Christ Jesus.

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