An Uncomfortable Gospel

tulipc_2314Isn’t going to church supposed to make you feel good? Paul’s message to the Roman governor, Felix and his Jewish wife, Drusilla, made them so uncomfortable that Felix dismissed Paul, Acts. 24:24-25. Claudius Lysias, the Roman commander in Jerusalem, had spirited Paul out of the city to save him from an assassination plot and had sent him to Felix in Caesarea. Felix was familiar, not only with Judaism, but also with the Way, but was a notoriously evil and cruel ruler. Drusilla, his wife (whom he had enticed away from her husband), was Jewish, a daughter of Herod Agrippa I, who had executed Peter. Paul gave an eloquent defense, but Felix kept Paul imprisoned. Now Felix and Drusilla take advantage of the presence of a leader of the Christian Way, and summon Paul to explain his teaching.

As Paul explains the good news about Jesus, he makes the point that the gospel has implications, and names three specific areas. The first is righteousness. Paul’s hearers had not only God’s revelation in nature and in their consciences, but both had some knowledge of God’s requirement for holiness. Their lives failed to reflect that. Tertullus’ expression of gratitude for Felix’s benevolent administration had simply been flattery. You, together with all mankind, are made in God’s image and have a responsibility to reflect his righteousness. Sin is not just a violation of some social norm, but contradicts God’s character. Beware of de-emphasizing the need for righteousness, for that also depreciates the depth of Christ’s work. Believers, as well as those who do not know the Lord, need to hear of his righteousness.

The gospel has implications for self-control. The feeling-oriented life of Felix and Drusilla make them look like a thoroughly modern couple. Although not limited to that area, self-control includes the area of sexual morality. Paul does not hesitate to speak of self-control, even though he knew of his hearers’ lack of it. Self-control is part of the fruit of the Spirit, Galatians 5:23. Self-control has to characterize your life as you do battle with sin, 2 Timothy 2:3-7. As you live in a culture that is increasingly and self-consciously rebellious, the fruit of self-control in a marriage, a faithfulness patterned after God’s faithfulness to his people, is a powerful testimony.

The third implication gives urgency to the first two: judgment. The fact of the resurrection gives hope to those who trust in Christ—and that is usually Paul’s emphasis. But don’t forget that for the unbeliever it is a resurrection for judgment, verse 15. Judgment flows out of God’s holiness. He cannot and will not allow sin to go unpunished. It means separation from God’s favor and blessing, experiencing only separation from God. Judgment not only warns unbelievers, it motivates Christians to persevere in their faith. “Intrinsic to the apostolic gospel is the return of Jesus the Christ, and particularly the reality of the coming judgment. Before Felix, Paul insisted that his Christian faith was simply an extension of the confidence that he shared with his fellow Jews (at least the Pharisees, 23:6), namely, ‘that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked’ (24:15 NIV). Paul’s later discourse on righteousness, self-control, and coming judgment evoked such fear in Felix that the governor interrupted Paul to bring the discussion suddenly to a close (24:25).” (Dennis E. Johnson, The Message of Acts in the History of Redemption, p. 151).

The gospel calls you to respond. Do not put off repentance to a convenient time. Felix’s response is a natural one—not wanting to think about the unpleasant. But that does not work! Beware of delay. Felix did not openly reject the Way. He simply put off dealing with Christ and Paul’s message about him until a more convenient time. That was a time that apparently never came. The discomfort of a faithful presentation of the gospel is beneficial. Don’t get comfortable with your sin. It is a contradiction of what you are in Christ.

Instead of delaying, trust in Christ Jesus. Paul’s message to Felix was not moralism, not a plea to live a better life. Rather, Paul was speaking about faith in Christ Jesus, the setting for the specific topics Luke mentions. The purpose of talking about sin is not to make you uncomfortable as an end in itself, but rather to drive you to Christ. It does that for the unbeliever. But the gospel also functions that way in the life of the believer, motivating continual turning from sin to Christ. What you need is Christ’s righteousness and the self-control that he gives by the work of his Spirit. Christ made a good confession as part of his redemptive work, and summons you to persevere in the good struggle against sin, 1 Timothy 6:11-18. Genuine faith is living and active. It changes your life. The righteousness of the law being fulfilled in you is the reason for Christ’s work. Instead of abandoning yourself to doing what feels good, submit to the control of the Spriit of Christ.

In the proclaiming of the good news, whether by Paul to Felix or as you hear the Word today, Jesus Christ comes to you in the gospel. His righteousness alone enables you to face the judgment, not with terror, but with the confidence that your Judge is also your Savior. Don’t wait for a convenient time. Trust him today! Keep on trusting.

About jwm

I serve as pastor of Trinity Presbyterian Church, Newberg, Oregon.
This entry was posted in Reflections. Bookmark the permalink.

Comments are closed.