Having a Clear Conscience
Sermon Text: Acts 24:1-27
Sermon Theme: Having a clear conscience before God and man means we speak and live according to the truth while never putting off obeying the truth.
See here the unhappiness of great men having their services praised beyond measure, and never being told of their faults; hereby they are hardened and encouraged in evil, like Felix. God’s prophets were charged with being troublers of the land as well as our Lord Jesus Christ who was charged with the perversion of the nation The very same charges were brought against Paul. The selfish and evil passions of men urge them forward with the graces and power of speech has too often been used to mislead and prejudice men against the truth… Let not Christians value the applause, or be troubled at the reviling of ungodly men, who represent the vilest of the human race almost as gods.
Paul gives a just account of himself, which clears him from crime, and likewise shows the true reason for the violence against him… It is very comfortable, in worshipping God, to look to him as the God of our fathers, and to set up no other rule of faith or practice but the Scriptures. This shows there will be a resurrection to a final judgment… Paul’s aim was to have a conscience void of offense. His care and endeavor was to abstain from many things, and to abound in the exercises of religion at all times; both towards God and towards man. If blamed for being more earnest in the things of God than our neighbors, what is our reply? Do we shrink from the accusation? How many in the world would rather be accused of weakness, even of wickedness, than of an earnest, fervent feeling of love to the Lord Jesus Christ and devotion to his service! Can such think that He will confess them when he comes in his glory, and before the angels of God? If there is any sight pleasing to the God of our salvation, and a sight at which the angels rejoice, it is being a devoted follower of the Lord, acknowledging that he is guilty of loving the Lord who died for him, with all his heart and soul and mind and strength. And that he will not in silence see God’s word despised, or hear his name profaned; he will rather risk the ridicule and the hatred of the world, than one frown from that gracious Being whose love is better than life.
The apostle reasoned concerning the nature and obligations of righteousness, temperance, and of a judgment to come; thus showing the oppressive judge and his self-indulgent mistress, their need of repentance, forgiveness, and of the grace of the gospel. Justice respects our conduct in life, particularly in reference to others; self-restraint in the state and government of our souls, in reference to God. He who does not exercise himself in these, has neither the form nor the power of godliness, and must be overwhelmed with the Divine wrath in the day of God’s appearing. A prospect of the judgment to come, is enough to make the stoutest heart to tremble. Felix trembled, but that was all. Many are startled by the word of God but are not changed by it. Many fear the consequences of sin, yet continue in the love and practice of sin. In the affairs of our souls, delays are dangerous. Felix put off this matter to a more convenient season, but we do not find that the more convenient season ever came. Behold now is the accepted time; hear the voice of the Lord today. He was in haste to turn from hearing the truth. Was any business more urgent than for him to reform his conduct, or more important than the salvation of his soul! Sinners often start up like a man roused from his sleep by a loud noise, but soon sink again into their usual drowsiness. Be not deceived by occasional appearances of religion in ourselves or in others. Above all, let us not trifle with the word of God. Do we expect that as we advance in life our hearts will grow softer, or that the influence of the world will decline? Are we not at this moment in danger of being lost for ever? Now is the day of salvation; tomorrow may be too late.
[From Matthew Henry’s Concise Commentary]
- Notice the lack of integrity in Tertullus, the hired attorney for the Jews. He begins the prosecutor’s case in the conventional manner with some careful flattery, designed to make a favorable impression upon the governor Felix. But what does the Bible say about flattery? Is it wrong to flatter another person as long as you are being honest? Flattery can be defined as “the act of giving excessive compliments, generally for the purpose of ingratiating oneself with the subject.” The difference between flattery and a compliment is the benefactor. Flattery has a selfish motivation. The flatterer hopes to gain approval or advantage over the one being flattered. Compliments, however, are sincere acknowledgments of admiration spoken to praise someone else. A compliment is intended to benefit the recipient, whereas flattery benefits the flatterer. The Bible has a lot to say about flattery. The book of Proverbs warns of the “flattering lips of an adulteress” (Proverbs 6:24; Proverbs 7:5; Proverbs 7:21). Flattery is often the first step to an adulterous affair. A wise person learns to recognize it and separate flattery from sincere compliments. Flattery is often coupled with lying, as a flatterer is not concerned with whether or not he or she is being truthful (Psalm 5:9; Romans 16:18). Unfortunately, flattery can also be used within Christian circles under the guise of encouragement. Since biblical times, some false teachers have used flattery to lead people astray and to benefit themselves. In 1 Thessalonians 2:5, Paul reminds the church that the apostles had never resorted to flattery in spreading the gospel: “You know we never used flattery, nor did we put on a mask to cover up greed.” Scripture warns of false teachers who use flattery to introduce heresies intended to deceive Christ’s followers and line their own pockets (2 Peter 2:3; Romans 16:18; Daniel 11:32). Jesus’ message did nothing to inflate the self-importance of His hearers. Rather, He stressed the need to die to ourselves, take up our cross daily, and follow Him (Luke 9:23). He said that those who desire to keep their lives now will lose them (Luke 17:33) and that, if we love anyone more than Him, we are not worthy of Him (Matthew 10:37-39). These teachings are the opposite of flattery. Jesus never shied away from stating what someone needed to hear (Mark 10:21-22; Luke 9:61-62) because His motivation was always to do His Father’s will (John 8:29). Jesus spoke the truth whether it was popular or not. He refused to compromise the Word, even when great multitudes left Him (John 6:66). He spoke in love, but He never resorted to flattery for personal gain. As His followers, we should be careful to do likewise.
- Paul’s whole defense was based on submission to the Scriptures and a life of integrity. He was living his life as the same person in public and in private, among Christians, Jews, Romans, Greeks, pagans, slaves and governors. Can you say you are walking in the Word and living one life ― not living two lives (one for public and another for private or one for work and another for church)? Consider that the only thing that endures in this life is character. But talking about character and living it are two different things. When we find a man whose life radiates integrity, we should pause and learn from him. The apostle Paul was such a man. In his defense before Felix to the charges that the Jewish leaders brought against him, Paul proclaimed his integrity by saying, “I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men” (Acts 24:16). He not only proclaimed his integrity, but he lived it. We can live with integrity by speaking the truth, by living in line with Scripture, and by keeping a blameless conscience before God and men. If this world were made up of basically good people, a man of integrity would be well loved and have no enemies. But since this world is made up of sinners who love darkness rather than light, and since a life of integrity exposes their evil deeds, sinners will often slander the man of integrity. We are naïve if we think that if we live with integrity, we will be protected from false accusations and slanderous attempts to bring us down. We can live with integrity by speaking the truth in every situation. Paul’s integrity enabled him to give a calm, straightforward reply to the accusations against him. He lived openly before God and men, and thus he didn’t have to weave a tale of half-truths or misleading statements to defend himself. He simply spoke the truth, refuting each of the charges in order. Being a person who consistently speaks the truth is a freeing concept ― you don’t have to worry about what you said to whomever. You just speak the truth to everyone. As Christians, we are commanded to speak the truth (Ephesians 4:25). The devil is the father of lies (John 8:44), but God is the God of truth, who cannot lie (Titus 1:1-2). Jesus Christ claimed that He is the way, the truth, and the life, and that no one can come to the Father, except through Him (John 14:6). As His followers, we must become people who speak the truth in every situation.
- Are you failing, like Felix, to do the right thing with a rather accurate knowledge of the Way of Christ? Are you frightened, like Felix, when righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment are discussed? So why was Paul focusing on righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment when speaking about faith in Christ Jesus? You can see Paul’s priorities shine through here and elsewhere when you see him in action. His life was committed to the Lord Jesus Christ and the gospel. Everything that Paul did was with a view to furthering the kingdom and glory of Jesus Christ. He told the Philippians (1:20-21) that in his imprisonment, his aim was that “Christ shall even now, as always, be exalted in my body, whether by life or by death. For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” It would have been tempting for Paul to set aside the gospel and focus on his release. After all, if he could get out of prison, many more could hear the gospel. Why risk offending Felix and Drusilla with the gospel? Why not at least give them a more pleasant version of things? Why focus on righteousness, self-control, and the judgment to come? The answer is, because Paul’s priority was, as ours should be, to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. You cannot have integrity if you are not focused on truth and righteousness. But Paul would not compromise his priority of testifying to the gospel of Jesus Christ, both by his words and by his life. He lived in light of the coming judgment, and he trusted that God would deliver him from prison if and when it was God’s will to do so. Do you live every day in light of standing before the Lord in all His glory and hearing, “Well done, good and faithful slave” (Matthew 25:21)? Your first priority should be “to be pleasing to Him. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may be recompensed for his deeds in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” (2 Corinthians 5:9-10). How awful it would be to hear on that day, “I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23).
- In what contexts do you hear the word sin? When is it conspicuously absent? The world has to do something about yesterday’s sin if it is to live in unrighteousness. In 1973, Dr. Karl Menninger published a book, Whatever Became of Sin? He pointed out that the very word sin has gradually dropped out of our vocabulary, “the word, along with the notion.” We talk about mistakes, weaknesses, inherited tendencies, faults, and even errors, but we do not face up to the fact of sin. “People are no longer sinful,” said Phyllis McGinley, American writer and poet. “They are only immature or underprivileged or frightened or, more particularly, sick.” But a holy God demands righteousness ― that’s the bad news. Yet the good news is that this same holy God provides His own righteousness to those who trust Jesus Christ (Romans 3:21-26). We can never be saved by our own righteousness of good works. We can be saved only through Christ’s righteousness made available by His finished work of salvation on the cross.
- How are you dealing with self-control with today’s temptations? Man can control almost everything but himself. Here were Felix and Drusilla, prime illustrations of lack of self-control. She divorced her husband to become Felix’s third wife, and though a Jewess, she lived as though God had never given the Ten Commandments. Felix was an unscrupulous official who did not hesitate to lie, or even to murder, in order to get rid of his enemies and promote himself. Self-control was something neither of them knew much about. Paul’s words on the need for self-control hit this couple with their own sins of lust, adultery, greed, and selfish indulgence. Perhaps he said to them, “For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to deny ungodliness and worldly desires and to live sensibly, righteously, and godly in the present world” (Titus 2:11-12).
- Are you motivated for a life of integrity in the reality of eternity and the coming judgment? We must do something about tomorrow’s judgment since we have a certainty of the resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked (Acts 24:15-16). If there is no God, no resurrection, and no future judgment, then you are a fool to live as a Christian (1 Corinthians 15:19). If there is no eternity, then live for all the immediate pleasure that you can get, because you will die soon. But if God lives and if He is going to raise every person to stand before Him in judgment, then everyone should repent of his sins, trust in Christ as Savior, and live all of life with a blameless conscience before God and before men. If today you cannot have a clear conscience before God, your greatest and most urgent need is to get right with God. For God has “appointed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness” by the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 17:31). Jesus Christ is either your Savior or your Judge. How do we know that Jesus Christ is the Judge? “He has given assurance of this to all by raising Him from the dead” (Acts 17:31).
- What did Felix do when hearing the Word? He procrastinated! “When I have a convenient time, I will call for you,” he told the apostle. “Procrastination is the thief of time,” wrote Edward Young. Perhaps he was thinking about the English proverb “One of these days is none of these days.” Procrastination is also the thief of souls. The most “convenient season” for a lost sinner to be saved is right now. “Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Corinthians 6:2). But Felix had a foolish attitude toward God’s Word, thinking that he could “take it or leave it.” Except God “commands all men everywhere to repent” (Acts 17:30). When God speaks, men and women had better listen and obey. But Felix knew he was a sinner, yet he refused to break with his sins and obey the Lord. He had a foolish attitude toward God’s grace. The Lord had been long-suffering toward Felix, yet the governor would not surrender. Felix was not sure of another day’s life, yet he foolishly procrastinated. “Do not boast about tomorrow, for you do not know what a day may bring forth” (Proverbs 27:1). The governor’s mind was enlightened (Acts 24:22), his emotions were stirred (Acts 24:25), but his will would not yield. He tried to gain the world, but as far as we know, he lost his soul. He procrastinated himself into hell. Think about how God may use His Word, the preaching of the Word, or someone’s godly words or behavior to prick your conscience. You can pay attention to the warnings and take appropriate action, or you can ignore the warnings by making up excuses and pretending that the problems don’t exist.
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