Reasoning about Righteousness, Self-Control, and Coming Judgment
Luke now pauses from his long narrative which began with Paul’s travels to Jerusalem, arrest, change of venue and trial in Caesarea to interviews between Paul and the governor and his wife. We read yesterday that Felix had “a rather accurate knowledge of the Way” (Luke’s preferred term in Acts for the Christian life), but how he came by it we do not know. It is surmised that his Jewish wife Drusilla had informed him, but even if that were the case, do not for that reason think her a “good girl,” as we know from the Jewish historian Josephus that she was wooed away from her rightful husband by Felix. At any rate, the fact that Luke mentions that Felix “came with his wife” might indicate that it was for her sake that they spoke with Paul on at least one occasion together.
And what did Paul talk about: faith in Christ Jesus, righteousness, self-control, and coming judgment—nothing that these reprobates wanted to hear! We read that “Felix was alarmed and said, ‘Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.’” Such is the man who hears the gospel but wants none of it. Oh, he may indeed hear it and tremble for its condemnations of his wicked lifestyle, but he will not come to faith out of preference for his filthy pleasures. “And let them pretend what they please, the true reason why any despise the new birth, is because they hate a new life” (John Owen, Pneumatologia, WJO 3:216).
But let us consider for a moment these topics of which Paul spoke. Let us set aside for the moment faith in Christ, for that is the answer to our lost condition. Let us consider righteousness. I am of the opinion that Paul was not talking about the justifying righteousness of Christ which covers believers upon saving faith, for why should Felix then shudder? No, I believe Paul spoke of the righteousness that we are required to maintain before God, that is, the righteousness of the law. Paul spoke of self-control as that condemns increasing worldly goods, over-indulgence and slavish compulsions, living in luxury while others starve. And finally, Paul mentioned coming judgment that must meet these sins, for that is what a righteous God must do. It is the preaching of righteousness, self-control, and coming judgment that drives one to the cross (or in Felix’s case, away), and it is then faith in Christ which saves. But upon saving faith in Christ, it is by righteousness and self-control that the believer lives as a free man in Christ Jesus in the power of the Holy Spirit. Paul preached the law to Felix, then the gospel. Some will reject. But we need to pick that biblical method up once again.