Acts 24:16 “So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.”
Luke’s very faithful record of what went on in this courtroom sounds like it could have happened yesterday. People haven’t changed! That’s why the Bible is as relevant today as it was when it was written, despite many changes in technology. The world we live in today would have been unimaginable to people back then, and indeed, things we take for granted were literally the stuff of science fiction less than a hundred years ago. That said, the people living with all that technology are still completely human, with the same hopes, fears, and motivations. With that awareness, what Paul says here is very important. He is stating that he lives according to his faith, which his accusers also claim to do. The thing is, what we really believe is shown by our actions. Paul’s conviction that there would be a resurrection and subsequent judgment caused him to live an exemplary life. Recently Elon Musk said that he expected to go to hell, but it didn’t bother him because he knew that the majority of mankind was going there too. As Bill Whittle and Alfonzo Rachel pointed out, that shows that he doesn’t actually believe in hell, or in heaven for that matter. The Beatles’ song, Imagine, is widely loved, but it is an attempt to deny our accountability before God. That is foolish in the extreme! If it didn’t matter what we believe that would be one thing, however not just the Bible but all of human history shows us that what we believe makes a huge difference. Paul’s enemies on this occasion were so vehement against him precisely because he had been one of them, a “Pharisee of Pharisees,” as he had proclaimed before the Sanhedrin just days before. (Acts 23:6) The thing is, they weren’t living out the faith they proclaimed, and Paul was. We are very quick to attack those who make us look bad. It is vitally important that each of us ask God to show us how we are being inconsistent with what we say we believe, so that we may repent. As James pointed out, we are experts at deceiving ourselves! (James 1:22) Only the Holy Spirit working in us can keep us straight, but as Paul said, “May God himself, the God of peace, sanctify you through and through. May your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ. The one who calls you is faithful and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:23-24)
This naturally applies to me. I have long felt that James 1:22 was written expressly (though not exclusively) for me. I am quite good at deceiving myself! As a pastor I deal constantly with people who are struggling with the gap between what they honestly say they believe and how they live their daily lives. I have that same struggle! I can’t “fix” myself, much less anyone else, but I can point them to the One who can, just as Paul wrote to the Thessalonians. I am not to despair at failures, my own or anyone else’s, but yield everything to God and keep pressing in toward Him. I need to believe He won’t give up on me, or on anyone else, and live accordingly!
Father, thank You for this encouraging reminder. I had been wondering what I was to share with the congregation on Sunday! I pray that I would be increasingly faithful in living out the faith You have placed in me, so that Your purposes may be accomplished in and through me for Your glory. Thank You. Praise God!