Friday, November 11, 2011

Continuity in Our Confession of Faith

In Acts 24, Paul makes a good confession of his faith before Felix. In fact, it’s not just a confession of his faith, but of the faith of ‘The Way.’ That is, it is the common confession of faith for all those who call themselves Christians. For Paul says, 
“This I confess to you, that according to the way, … I worship the God of our fathers, …” (Acts 24:14a)
Paul claims that the way he worships the God of Abraham is in accordance with the teachings of ‘The Way.’ So what does true worship consist of? What is our common confession of faith?

1. There is a complete trust in what God has revealed in his word [PAST]: 
Believing everything laid down by the Law and written in the Prophets.” (Acts 24:14b)
2. There is a great hope in the resurrection to come [FUTURE]:
Having a hope in God, …that there will be a resurrection of both the righteous and the unrighteous” (Acts 24:15)
3. Therefore it is essential to live a godly life [PRESENT]:
So I always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God and man.” (Acts 24:16)
This is the common confession of faith that can be found throughout the Old and New Testaments. Because God has shown us how he wants us to live in his word and told us we will be judged accordingly, we seek to obey. While I don’t have time right now to research how often this pattern plays out in the New Testament, the whole epistle of 2 Peter is structured around these truths (The Word, 2 Peter 1:19-21; The Resurrection, 2 Peter 2:4-10; and Godliness, 2 Peter 3:11-15 – see the whole letter really!).

Now there is something quite striking, if not scary, with this confession. Namely, where is Christ? How is this any different than what the Jews (or at least the Pharisees) would have taught? First, I think it is safe to assume that Luke may not have given us the complete transcript of Paul confession. He may have been focused on the continuity with what faithful Jews have been teaching all along.

But more importantly, it is necessary to look a few verses later in the chapter to see the missing link. After Felix was finished with Paul, he put him back in jail, only to bring him out periodically to hear more about this Jesus.
“After some days Felix … sent for Paul and heard him speak about faith in Christ Jesus.” (Acts 24:24) 
Notice now that the content of Paul’s message is explicitly Christian. There is no question now that Paul is expounding for Felix the faith that has landed him in jail. So then, what does this faith in Christ Jesus consist of?
“And as he reasoned about righteousness and self-control and the coming judgment, Felix became terrified …” (Acts 24:25)
This is quite revealing. Paul is now evangelizing, or preaching the gospel to Felix. And here too we have two of the key components from Paul’s initial confession of faith, namely the belief in ‘the resurrection of the righteous and the unrighteous’ (i.e., ‘the coming judgment’ [FUTURE]), and the concomitant need to ‘always take pains to have a clear conscience toward God’ (i.e., ‘righteousness and self-control’ [PRESENT]). This is what it means to have ‘faith in Christ Jesus.’

To be clear, the consistent teaching of the New Testament is this: belief in the perfect work of Christ, in his living the godly life which accords with the scriptures and his suffering the just wrath of God for our sins, puts us in a blessed state whereby Jesus can pour out his Spirit upon us, so that we too might be able to obey his commands and live a godly life in the present age. Faith in Christ Jesus is demonstrated by becoming holy. Or as Jesus puts it, "If you love me, keep my commandments."

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