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Text: Acts  24:22-27

Why did Felix Not Repent?

Text: Acts  24:22-27

When I was a teenager there was a popular song being sung in evangelistic meetings by choirs and soloists.  Here’s a verse and chorus.  “There’s a line that is drawn by rejecting the Lord, Where the call of His Spirit is lost, And you hurry along with the pleasure-mad throng— Have you counted, have you counted the cost? Have you counted the cost if your soul should be lost, Though you gain the whole world for your own? Even now it may be that the line you have crossed—Have you counted, have you counted the cost?”

The idea that underlies the Hymn ‘Have you counted the cost,’ is that you must come to Christ, make your decision, right now while the Spirit of God is striving with you, because if you don’t there may come a day when the Holy Spirit will stop striving, and for you it will be too late.  You have put off salvation, God has abandoned you to your eternal fate and you are lost forever.  You can never be saved.  The technical term for it is ‘semi-pelagianism,’ and it is directly contrary to the orthodox biblical doctrine of how God saves sinners.    There are many people who believe that our passage in Acts is an example of a man who was awakened by God, was convicted by the Holy Spirit, and who hesitated, procrastinated, put off salvation, – until it was too late and he was lost.  But is it? 

A Convenient Time?

Paul has presented his case in the local Roman court, presided over by the governor of Judaea, Claudius Felix.  He has ordered Paul remanded in custody, under house arrest in the Praetorium, – a kind of ‘open prison’ arrangement, where he could receive visits from friends and they could bring him gifts and food. Acts 24:23  Paul will spend two years imprisoned under Felix, but look at what the text tells us about the ongoing interaction between the two men…

1 Felix is ‘Enlightened.’  Acts 24:22  

When the Bible refers to ‘The way’ here it probably ought to have a capital letter. It is capitalised in some of the more modern translations as ‘the Way,’  It’s the same phrase that Paul himself had used to describe the Christian life, in V14, when he is defending himself against the lies and accusations of Tertullus.  It seems that the early church frequently referred to their Christian faith as ‘The way.’  Acts 19:23 Acts 22:4 So, the question then is, HOW did Felix have a reasonably accurate knowledge of the Christian Faith?  One possibility is that he may have heard about it from his wife, Drusilla, a Jewess, and presumably she would have known about Jews who were coming to Christ, and would have heard of this man Jesus, who had been crucified.  Her father was King Herod Agrippa, who in Acts 12:1 had persecuted the church, and perhaps as a child her curiosity had been roused as she listened to stories about Peter, who had literally walked out of a heavily guarded gaol…. Who knows?  But certainly Felix had a certain level of enlightenment…  He had a RATHER ACCURATE UNDERSTANDING OF THE WAY (Amp.). Just keep this in mind as we go forward here – Felix KNEW the gospel story!

2 Felix is ‘Frightened! V24  

I can’t imagine that Caesarea would be an exciting location for Felix and Drusilla.  Drusilla was still in her early twenties, and her older husband would have been kept under pressure from work…. But she liked a good religious debate, so as a diversion from state duties, the Governor and his young wife would bring Paul up from the prison and seek some religious entertainment, – a friendly philosophical discussion,  an exchange of ideas.  But was that what he got?  Look at what we are told here of Paul’s discussion with Felix and Drusilla:-

  1. He Preached Christ!  V27, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ.  Paul began with Christology.  He made sure that Felix knew that Christianity was about Christ, about how all the OT was fulfilled in Him, about how God sent his own son into the world, about who Jesus was and is, and what he did on the cross for sinners.    So, for Felix, Paul teaches him about Jesus, and that is good news for sinners.
  2. He Applied the law.  Now this is where we learn a lot.  Having clarified the gospel of Jesus Christ, Paul drives its implications home for Felix and Drusilla.  He does not hold back, he speaks plainly and straightforwardly to these sinners. He doesn’t try to be ‘nice’ or to spare their feelings.  Felix and Drusilla are sinners under the law of God and condemned.  Paul is simply doing what he himself taught in Galatians 3:24    He is bringing Felix’s conscience under the weight of the Law, so that he will know the consequences of his sin.  John Calvin wrote: “If we do not perceive our wretchedness and poverty, we will never know how desirable is that remedy that Christ has brought to us.” So, see Paul’s application of the law for this couple:- V25 And as he reasoned of righteousness, temperance, and judgment to come,  Look at the application…
    1. RIGHTEOUSNESS. Thou shalt not kill. Doing what is right in the eyes of God. Felix knew little about this.  He was a dishonourable man, a thief, a man who had hired contract killers to dispose of his friends whom he considered where becoming political rivals. Doing what is right wasn’t high on Felix’s agenda.
    2. TEMPERANCE. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Some modern versions translate this as ‘self-control.’  This would have been particularly cutting for Felix and Drusilla.  Let’s look at the history of this marriage.  Felix had a series of marriages, – married three times and every one of his wives was of aristocratic birth. Drusilla was his third wife.  It was while he was still married to his second wife that he met her and began to lust after her.  Drusilla was just 16 at the time and had been married off by her brother Herod Agrippa II to the priest-king of a small city in Syria (modern day Homs) Gaius Julius Azizus.  But Felix wanted her.  ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbours wife…’ He divorced his second wife, and lured her to him with promises of perfect happiness!   There was nothing of self control in these people. Only lust and adultery and a string of destroyed families and broken marriage vows.  
    3. JUDGEMENT. Thou shalt not steal The third application of the law as probably what scared Felix the most.  Felix knew all about judgement.  As the local governor, he was responsible to Caesar for the administration of justice in the courts.  He was a judge.  His method of judgement was simple.  He could be bribed.  He even hoped that Paul would bribe hm! v26  He’d heard that Paul had brought a great sum of money, – his collection for the poor saints at Jerusalem from the Gentile churches, which had been brought to be distributed at Jerusalem.  In his own court, Paul had admitted this very fact in Acts 24:17  Felix would have no concept of free-will giving, such as the Gentiles who contributed to this offering had learned from Paul.  He had taught them to give, as the Lord had blessed them!  1 Corinthians 16:1-3…  Felix would have reasoned that Paul was a wealthy man, bringing these large amounts of money to feed the poor – and he wanted some!  That was the basis of his ‘justice.’  His judgements could be bought.  But Paul was telling him now about another judge, before whom he would stand. A judge whose justice was impeccable, and who would not be bought off, or bribed and who would judge him according to his deeds and who would surely punish him for all his sins.  

Let’s recap. Felix knows the Gospel. He’s been taught about Christ and he has been brought by Paul under the crushing weight of the law.  He knows that what Paul is saying is true.  He is not holding back from speaking the truth.  Felix is one seriously worried man.  Life WILL end and he will stand before the God whose law he has broken and he will have no hope.  Felix literally trembled under the conviction of sin that was upon him. Look at his reaction:  Felix trembled, and answered, Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee.  

Perhaps the AV phrase ‘a more convenient time’ has gained a ‘mystique’ among evangelicals that it doesn’t deserve and under the influence of those who want us to contribute something to our salvation, we read too much into it. It’s a lot simpler than it looks. ESV “Go away for the present. When I get an opportunity I will summon you.”  Felix did get that opportunity to listen to Paul again, and he seems to have taken it for it seems he met with Paul and heard him fearlessly witness on more than one occasion.  FF Bruce comments, “Felix trembled and decided he had had enough for the time being, but he was sufficiently interested to call Paul to his presence fairly frequently and engage him in conversation, although (as Luke suggests) there was a further motive for these repeated interviews.”

There is a simpler explanation.  Felix was one of those who have heard the good news, but had not experienced the effectual call of God to salvation. What does the Bible say, about how God converts the soul of the sinner?  LOOK UP AND READ:  Romans 8:30 Ephesians 2:1ff   2 Thessalonians 2:13-14 

Here’s the Shorter Catechism:  Question 31 Effectual calling is the work of God’s Spirit, whereby, convincing us of our sin and misery, enlightening our minds in the knowledge of Christ, and renewing our wills, he doth persuade and enable us to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to us in the gospel.  We call this ‘the effectual call’ – and without it a sinner cannot be saved!  It is God alone who does the work of conversion, there is NOTHING we can add to it.  The faith which we exercise to receive God’s saving grace is in itself a gift of God, and the repentance that must occur at conversion is a response to regeneration, not a pre-requisite for it.  Felix was enlightened, he was awakened to his sin, he was blessed in that he heard the greatest gospel preacher this world has ever know, after Christ himself – but without the effectual call of God in salvation Felix cannot be saved.  He was – quite simply, not one of God’s people.  Listen carefully to the words of Jesus: Matthew 22:14 For many are called, but few are chosen. John 6:37 All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out. John 6:44 No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him: and I will raise him up at the last day.

3 Felix is Reprimanded27 But after two years Porcius Festus came into Felix’ room: and Felix, willing to shew the Jews a pleasure, left Paul bound.

Felix and Drusilla heard Paul after that day, but there is no record of him ever becoming a believer in Christ.  But at the end of two years, Felix was recalled to Rome on charges of mismanagement. Paul was left imprisoned at Caesarea, – Felix hoping that it might appease the Jews and they might just drop the charges.  They didn’t and he was replaced with a man called Porcius Festus.  

Felix never got to hear Paul again.  He never got to hear the Gospel again, he went to face that great eternal judge with his sins unforgiven and as we speak he is in hell, in eternal conscious punishment.  

© BobMcEvoy October 2021

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