Have you ever been talking with someone and the conversation began to go in a direction that you would rather not go?
In the book of Acts, we meet an interesting character named Felix who was the governor of the city of Caesarea. Located on the Mediterranean coast, the city had been enlarged by King Herod to use its ports and was a key centre of administration. After a riot in Jerusalem, a prisoner accused of being responsible but who could not be safely tried there because of conflicting reports and a minor issue with an assassination plot, had been brought here for Felix to oversee the case.
This is how Governor Felix found himself having a conversation with the Apostle Paul. (How Paul, ended up hanging out with the governor on a regular basis while under house arrest is an interesting story you can read in earlier chapters. A mob beating, a courtroom battle, secret ambush, and daring escape from the city under military escort – exciting blockbuster stuff!).
Felix was a sharp man with a good grasp of the Jewish law and he was fully aware of this new upstart group called Christians. After hearing the lawyer's accusation and Paul's version of events in a courtroom, Felix was curious enough to talk with Paul in private. (Acts 24:22-26)
'Then Felix, who was well acquainted with the Way, adjourned the proceedings.
“When Lysias the commander comes,” he said, “I will decide your case.”
He ordered the centurion to keep Paul under guard but to give him some freedom and permit his friends to take care of his needs.
Several days later Felix came with his wife Drusilla, who was Jewish. He sent for Paul and listened to him as he spoke about faith in Christ Jesus.
As Paul talked about 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.”
(At the same time, he was hoping that Paul would offer him a bribe, so he sent for him frequently and talked with him.)
Do you get the feeling that everything was going well, possibly well enough to get Paul off the hook, until suddenly the conversation got a little bit awkward!
Although Felix was interested in this character Jesus, when Paul began to explain the implications of what it meant to follow the risen Christ, it all got too much.
“That’s enough for now!”
Honestly, I love it when I sense the Holy Spirit giving me a high-five for a moment of selflessness - don't we all love words of affirmation?
But I admit, I also begin to squirm when he taps me on the shoulder and says, ‘Hey, we need to talk about having some self-control.’ (Confession: caramilk chocolate, that next episode I didn’t need to start after midnight, and yelling at my kids long after I made my point).
However, Jesus left us with no illusions about some of the things the Holy Spirit was going to speak to us about:
"When the Holy Spirit comes, he will prove the world to be in the wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. About sin, because people do not believe in me; about righteousness, because I am going to the Father, where you can see me no longer; and about judgment, because the prince of this world now stands condemned.” - John 16:7-10
In other words, the Holy Spirit is going to talk about this stuff. The religious leaders accusing Paul relished the chance to rant about immorality and disobedience and it didn't win them any private meetings with governors. On the other hand, Paul, inspired by the Holy Spirit, was discussing self-control when something begins to churn in Felix' heart (wouldn't you just love to know what Drusilla was thinking?).
When the Holy Spirit begins to highlight areas we might need to work on, we can start to feel convicted. Conviction can make us feel uncomfortable. Conviction is challenging and it is almost always inconvenient.
So, it's no surprise that when we know God wants to address something in our life, we may find ourselves having the same as reaction as Felix.
Do you feel, ‘That’s enough for now.”?
Do you find a way to leave the conversation?
Do you only listen when it is convenient for you?
Does God need to bribe you with a blessing to get you to listen?
Unfortunately for Felix, he never got his bribe. Time ran out when, two years later, he was moved on from his position. We have no indication of him ever choosing to follow Christ, but he did continue to be a political people-pleaser (and that has really never got me very far in life).
But imagine what kind of a ruler he might have been after two years if he had let the Holy Spirit set him right on a few important matters.
The truth is, conviction is an opportunity to step into more of the calling God has for you.
Jesus did not come to bring condemnation but to set us free to pursue a relationship with God and live for Him. He sent the Holy Spirit to us to expose the lies of the world so we can remain confident in our standing with God and relationships with others.
Therefore our response to the Holy Spirit when we are feeling challenged or convicted can impact what God is able to do in our lives.
So rather than living with a Felix complex, how can we engage with the Holy Spirit positively when he wants to talk about things we often react to negatively?
Turn off the fear filter
When Paul began discussing the issue of sin and righteousness, Felix wasn't just uncomfortable, he was afraid.
I remember once listening to a visiting preacher who growled out a passage from Galatians that lists 'the acts of the sinful nature' and made it clear of our destination if we didn't repent (it wasn't pretty).
As a young believer, I was convinced I was in trouble. I desperately wanted to hear God’s voice, but I was afraid of what He might have to say. If I was so acutely aware of my bad behaviour, surely God was obliged to bring down judgment? And who wants to hear about that over breakfast?
One day, I was moaning to God how frustrated I was with all of this, when I heard Him reply, ‘It’s because you won’t let me love you.’ Oh.
He challenged me to surrender to learning through a filter of love, not fear. That is, God's motivation is always going to be love, not condemnation. I realised the message I had heard from this preacher, though true, was void of the love and hope that Jesus himself spoke of and demonstrated. It only reinforced my fear, not faith.
Jesus himself made it clear to Paul his intentions behind sending him to Governor Felix and others like him:
“I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me.’ – Acts 26:17
Well, that’s a relief! The Holy Spirit is not guiding us into a dark corner, He is guiding us into the light. We don't need to be afraid, because for those who have put their faith in Jesus, the message reassures us of our salvation and inclusion in the family of God.
Let me put it this way; for followers of Christ, when the Holy Spirit comes, he will prove to us our condition regarding 'sin and righteousness and judgment. i.e.
Our sins are forgiven
We are made righteous because of Jesus
We will be judged as children of God
Take another look at that verse and consider what it means for you.
Go ahead. I'll wait.
Learn to lean in for anything
If we only allow ourselves to be comforted by the thought of the Holy Spirit as our encourager, we naively think his role is to simply give us a pat on the back and a cheery message of 'everything is awesome, go you!'.
Everything about the Holy Spirit is awesome, but sometimes there are things in our life and character that are not – and He wants to do something about it as He transforms us from the inside out.
We need to let God encourage us in our strengths, and encourage us through our weaknesses.
There have been many times the Holy Spirit has wanted to speak to me about things I don't want to hear. At times he has pointed out that my pride is a roadblock, that I hurt someone, or that I'm being fatalistic. Other times he's called me out on my self-righteousness or a judgmental attitude. Most often it has been to prod me into making peace where conflict has occurred in a relationship.
Like Felix, I often dodge those conversations. I may agree with him, but when it comes to being obedient to make it right, it's too easy to imitate Felix and say, 'It's not a good time, I'll send for you when I'm ready'.
Putting it off can cause more harm in the long-term, particularly if hurt is given time to grow into offense. We don't want to miss opportunities to set things right with minimal fuss rather than having to untangle ourselves later from complicated situations that spiral out of control.
When you feel The Holy Spirit nudging you, give him your attention. Our busy lives give us plenty of excuses to put it off so you may need to set aside some time to lean in to anything he might want to show you.
Turn off the phone. Stop doing the washing. Skip that show.
Find a friend. Confess your sin. Confess your fear. Give room for grief.
Read that book. Listen to that sermon. Talk to wiser people.
Lean in and let the Holy Spirit open your eyes. Like a torch turned on in the dark, he will light your way to freedom.
Correct your course
Encouragingly, conviction helps us correct our course. It steers us towards honest conversations with God and others. It means God can give us His perspective so we can recognise our blind-spots, and give us His wisdom so we can make things right.
Not to mention his grace when we can't.
Jesus: “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all the truth.” – John 16:12
Like Felix, I was familiar with ‘the Way’. It was good news and I believed it in faith, yet for many years I was paralysed by a terrible sense of dread at the thought that I had displeased God somehow.
It turned out my perception of righteousness and judgment were all skewed so I lived with heavy condemnation. The Holy Spirit went on to prove me wrong about sin and righteousness and judgment. He began to correct my course and guide me into the truth by showing me how to live from a place of grace (you can read about this in The Curious Case of Grace).
If conviction is an opportunity to step into more of the calling God has for you then we don't need to be concerned when He shows us where to change course.
Maybe, like me, poor theology hinders you from experiencing the life Jesus shows us we can have. Or some character traits might be tripping you up where He wants you to step confidently.
Jesus knew it would be hard to bear the truth at times. It's not easy to admit we've got it wrong, acknowledge any pain we've caused, or address lies we've believed. That is why He gave us the Holy Spirit to guide us: not to crush us, but to encourage us so we pursue all that God has for us.
If the Holy Spirit is talking to us about some difficult truths, we can be confident that is part of a process of redemption and restoration. It is going to require some honest heart-to-hearts, but that is where you will experience the love and grace of God in more powerful ways.
So stay for more...
...because Jesus has so much more to say to you.
When the Holy Spirit speaks, ignore the inconvenience, don't leave the conversation.
Instead of saying, 'That's enough for now'...
...let's say ‘TELL ME MORE’!
Q. How do you know when God is challenging or convicting you about something you need to make right?
Q. How can you recognise when God is guiding you towards His truth rather than our own?
Don't miss the upcoming series:
Daring to Dream
Conversations about how God uses dreams to speak to us in everyday moments.
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