Sin, Righteousness and Judgment


22 But Felix, having a rather accurate knowledge of the Way, put them off, saying, “When Lysias the tribune comes down, I will decide your case.” 23 Then he gave orders to the centurion that he should be kept in custody but have some liberty, and that none of his friends should be prevented from attending to his needs.

24 After some days Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish, and he sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus. 25 And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix was alarmed and said, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.” 26 At the same time he hoped that money would be given him by Paul. So he sent for him often and conversed with him. 27 When two years had elapsed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus. And desiring to do the Jews a favor, Felix left Paul in prison. Acts 24:22-27 ESV

Having listened to the impassioned pleas of Tertullus, describing Paul as a radical and dangerous heretic; and the reasoned defense of Paul, expressing his innocence of any and all charges against him, Felix forestalled judgment. He sent the Jews away and left Paul in protective custody, providing him with certain freedoms, including visitations from his friends. It appears that Felix was reluctant to pass judgment, not wanting to infuriate the Jews by siding with Paul. But at the same time, Luke leaves the impression that Felix was anticipating some kind of a bribe or payoff from Paul. This appears to be the motivation behind the frequent discussions he had with Paul over the next two-year period. “He also hoped that Paul would bribe him, so he sent for him quite often and talked with him” (Acts 24:26 NLT).

So, for the next two years, Paul was held in Rome, permitted certain freedoms, but provided no judgment as to his guilt or innocence. It is important to note that Paul was nowhere near Rome yet. He was being held in the city of Caesarea and would remain there for two long years. And during that time, he was given repeated opportunities to meet with Felix and his wife, Drusilla. One of the things this royal couple asked Paul about was faith in Christ. Luke doesn’t tell us the reason behind their curiosity. He provides no insights into what may have motivated their desire to discuss these matters with Paul. He does insinuate that Felix was hoping that some form of cash payment might be a byproduct of their conversations, but it would seem that the curiosity of these two individuals became increasingly greater. They were intrigued by what Paul was telling them. And Luke is very specific about the content of Paul’s discussions with them.

…he reasoned with them about righteousness and self-control and the coming day of judgment… – Acts 24:25 NLT

There is a very strong similarity between these three topics and what Jesus had said the Holy Spirit’s role would be when He came. Just prior to His betrayal, arrest, trials and crucifixion, Jesus had given His disciples the following explanation regarding what the Holy Spirit would do when He came:

And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment. The world’s sin is that it refuses to believe in me. 10 Righteousness is available because I go to the Father, and you will see me no more. 11 Judgment will come because the ruler of this world has already been judged. – John 16:8-11 NLT

Notice that he lists three things: Convicting the world of its sin, convicting the world of God’s righteousness, and convicting the world of the coming judgment. The NET Bible translates verse 8 in this way: “he will prove the world wrong concerning sin and righteousness and judgment.” It seems that Jesus was saying that the Holy Spirit was going to expose and demand a change in mind regarding three things: Sin, righteousness, and judgment. Every individual who has ever lived has had a viewpoint on these three things. Each of us has a personal perspective on what is right and what is wrong. We may not call it sin, but we inherently know that there are some things that are off limits and unacceptable in terms of behavior. And we know that there are certain things that are deemed by us and the society around us, as acceptable or righteous. For the most part, all men live with a mindset that if you sin (do what is wrong), there will be consequences. If you do what is righteous (or good and acceptable), you will be rewarded. Thus, the judgment. Wired into mankind is the God-created sense of right and wrong, with the accompanying ideas of merit and punishment. But Jesus was teaching that the Holy Spirit was going to prove the world wrong in terms of their view on these important topics. One of the Holy Spirit’s primary roles is that of conviction, showing men and women that they are sinners in need of a Savior. He also exposes the futile nature of mankind’s attempt to achieve a righteousness on its own. The Bible makes it painfully clear that “No one is righteous–not even one” (Romans 3:10 NLT), and that the penalty or judgment against unrighteousness is severe: “the wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23 NLT).

These were the very same concepts that Paul discussed with Felix and his young wife. Pretty heavy topics, and they were making an impact on this royal couple. And it’s interesting to note that Paul used the term egkrateia, when discussing the topic of sin. It is a Greek word that refers to self-control, but particularly in regards to one’s sexual appetites or sensual passions. This was a very specific topic that Felix and Drusilla needed to here. It is believed that Drusilla was no more than 16 when Felix married her, and this would have been his third marriage. She was was the youngest daughter of Herod Agrippa I who had been king over Palestine from A.D. 37-44. So, she was from royal blood. Felix had married each of his wives in an attempt to further his career. He was a man driven by his lusts – for physical pleasure, political power, and financial success. They were a power couple, who struggled with self-control, and who operated under the own definition of what righteousness looked like. As long as something met their own selfish desires, they would have deemed it as right and good.

But as Jesus promised, the Holy Spirit convicts and Luke records that the discussions Paul had with Felix left the governor alarmed and a bit shaken. He reached the point where he told Paul, “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you” (Acts 24:25 ESV). And these impromptu conversations went on for two solid years, and all the while Paul remained in a permanent state of house arrest in the city of Caesarea. We are not provided with much in the way of details concerning Paul’s stay in Caesarea. We know he was able to have visitors and was likely in communication with and through Luke all during his time there. While there are a few scholars who believe that Paul may have penned some of his letters during this time, the majority insist that he wrote Ephesians, Philippians, Colossians and Philemon at a later date, while a prisoner in Rome.

This lengthy period of relative silence and forced inactivity must have been difficult for Paul. He was a mover and shaker. He was used to teaching, preaching, debating and discussing spiritual matters. He was a missionary, but was forced to take a two-year hiatus from the road. But he remained zealous to share what he knew with anyone who would listen. In this case, it happened to be one of the most powerful men in the entire Roman empire. And this ongoing dialogue with Felix provided Paul with a warmup for even more significant encounters that were coming his way in the not-so-distant future. God was at work, even in the seeming setback of a 24-month-long delay. And, in spite of the lengthy delay, the Jews never stopped plotting and planning for ways to get rid of Paul. He may have been out of sight, but he was never out of their minds. So, when Felix was replaced by Festus as governor, the Jews would see it as an opportunity to reinvigorate their vendetta against Paul. But God was still in control.

English Standard Version (ESV) The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT) Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

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