(Act 24:24-25) Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was a Jewess. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus. As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgment to come, Felix was afraid and said, “That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.”
Paul’s lesson was “faith in Christ Jesus” and “righteousness, self-control and the judgment.”
“Righteousness” is a major theme of the Old Testament prophets — being especially used of honest government. Hence, Paul seems to have been speaking of the importance of governing fairly — justice, which is a key part of our mission. The same Greek word is often used for two words in Hebrews, both righteousness and justice.
(Isa 1:21) See how the faithful city has become a harlot! She once was full of justice; righteousness used to dwell in her– but now murderers!
(Isa 9:7) Of the increase of his government and peace there will be no end. He will reign on David’s throne and over his kingdom, establishing and upholding it with justice and righteousness from that time on and forever. The zeal of the LORD Almighty will accomplish this.
(Isa 16:5) In love a throne will be established; in faithfulness a man will sit on it — one from the house of David — one who in judging seeks justice and speeds the cause of righteousness.
As the commentators uniformly note, this was a very pointed sermon, essentially telling Felix to govern better and more honorably — and the consequences of not doing so.
Now, Paul certainly preached faith in Jesus, but he also preached the consequences of following Jesus in missional terms: provide justice to the people.
Ever since the Reformation, we’ve seen the scriptures through Luther’s and Calvin’s eyes, and they fought the Medieval Catholic Church over salvation by faith. I’m glad they did! But, as so often happens, their polemics led their spiritual descendants to unduly focus on just one aspect of conversion. We just don’t see the other verses and the Old Testament references that speak of things that weren’t important at the Diet of Worms.
And while the Reformation focus on personal salvation teaches many great truths, it sometimes blinds us to the bigger picture of what’s going on. For some reason, while speaking with Gentiles, Paul felt compelled to preach about the gospel as presented in Isaiah and Jeremiah, as well as the gospel as lived and taught by Jesus. He’s not just citing proof passages, arguing that the prophecies are some kind of Christian evidences. He’s explaining what’s going on — what the Kingdom is all about.
The Kingdom is certainly about individuals finding forgiveness and salvation. But it’s about much, much more, and I think we’ll be better evangelists the better we understand this and the more we teach this. Jesus saves — but he saves so that we’ll participate in God’s mission through the church. And in fairness to new converts, I think we should tell them what they’re signing up for before we baptize them.
(Luke 9:23-25) Then he said to them all: “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it. 25 What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, and yet lose or forfeit his very self?”
One more note
By the way, notice this: the classic modern evangelical conversion story is about how a sinner living in abject degradation finds Jesus and straightens out his life. But the early converts described in Acts were usually good people. The 3,000 baptized in Acts 2 had traveled to Jerusalem for Passover and Pentecost, to offer sacrifices. They were observant Jews.
Many of the apostles were disciples of John before they become disciples of Jesus. Cornelius was already a good, God-fearing man before his conversion. So were Apollos and the Ephesians. Lydia took her household to the river to worship!
And while they all surely needed forgiveness for their sins, they were good people. And yet, today, those of us who grew up in Christian households often wonder whether we’d be more motivated, better evangelists if we’d seen the seemier side of life — if we’d been saved from wretched sinfulness. But God chose as the earliest converts many who were already God-fearing, good people.
Therefore, it’s quite possible to be a great evangelist or vocational minister without having the experience of going from abject sinner to saved disciple. And, I think part of this is understanding that Christianity is about much, much more than being forgiven. I just think that the fullest expression of the gospel produces the fullest expression of Jesus in converts.