There are several very good reasons for postponing a decision: not enough information, a wrong attitude, or waiting for others to catch up. But there comes a moment when a decision must be made. To delay is fearful or cruel. I might pretend that the reason Im delaying is that I dont have enough information, but the truth may be that I simply dont have the courage to do the right thing, so I do nothing. I play out in my mind what I think people might do to me, or what the results would be if I make a certain decision. Then I play out in my mind what would happen if I made a different decision. Often when I do this, I see trouble down both paths, which leaves me immobilized. Im afraid to go one way and Im afraid to go the other. No path seems safe, so I try to stay precariously balanced in the middle, by not making any decision at all.
As the judge in Pauls trial, Felix was caught in the middle. If he gave Paul justice he faced political backlash from the Jewish leaders and he was already in trouble with Rome for doing a poor job as governor. If they complained to the emperor he could lose his job or worse. On the other hand, Roman law protected Roman citizens, and nothing had been proven that would justify Pauls imprisonment or death, and he came from an influential family who might demand an investigation. We know Pauls family probably would not have done so because Paul had become a Christian, but Felix didnt know that. All he could see was potential trouble. So, he tried to keep everybody partially happy. He left Paul in custody, that would keep the religious leaders happy, but at the same time, he gave Paul some personal freedom so he wouldnt suffer too much. Faced with a difficult decision, and trying to protect himself, he tried to handle the situation by choosing inaction and compromise.
The governors decisions (Ac 24:22-27)
The new life we long for doesnt come by magic. We must never assume that once we become a Christian everything will go smoothly. What opens the door to a new quality of life is that we start making new decisions. Now, as a person who has surrendered to Christ we make decisions with a very different attitude. We no longer lean on our own understanding (Pr 3:5-6). We no longer choose based on whats best for us. Even the deepest hopes and dreams in our hearts have changed. And the more we read the Bible the more our thinking about why we are even alive changes. Some things we used to think were right, we now realize are wrong, and some things we used to think were wrong, we now realize are right. And as this renewal of our mind takes place (Ro 12:2), the decisions we make change
and thats how our lives become new. The old saying is still true, If you always do what you always did, youll always get what you always got. If we continue making the same kind of decisions we made before we became Christians, our lives wont improve. Our decisions will continue to bring trouble on us and those around us. The promises Jesus made about a new, abundant life (Jn 10:10) are based on the assumption that when He becomes our Lord, we will begin following Him, obeying His commands, and therefore making entirely different kinds of decisions.
People often talk about putting the past behind them and moving on, but unless we change our decision-making process, our future will be just like our past. The past that were desperately trying to escape, at least in part, is the fruit of our past decisions. Even those problems which werent our fault confronted us with choices of how we would respond to those problems and the attitudes we would hold toward particular people. Its possible when someone sins against us to respond so sinfully that we become our own worst enemy.
Decisions are like seeds. Every time we make a decision its as though we plant a seed in the ground. We might even forget that we planted that seed, but as time passes it still grows and produces its own kind of fruit. If we planted good seeds well receive good fruit, but if we planted bad seeds well reap bad fruit. Listen to Paul:
Do not be deceived, God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit, will reap from the Spirit eternal life (Gal 6:7-8).
Sure weve all done dumb things and pray for crop failure and sometimes the Lord can show us how to uproot young seedlings, but there are things we can do that cant be undone. But even then, if we change the way we make decisions, Gods grace can help us overcome, and what began as bad can eventually produce something good.
When Jesus Christ really becomes our Lord, when Gods Word really becomes our guidebook, when we finally stop planting bad seeds and start planting good seeds, our quality of life changes. At first there is a natural season of overlap when were still living with the results of some bad decisions, and our good decisions have yet to bring real change. But if were patient, change is inevitable.
One reason it is so important to constantly read the Bible is because the way we humans naturally think, the way we decide matters, is so different from the way God thinks and decides matters. For real change to take place we need to let Gods Word challenge our thinking in that moment in which were actually making decisions. The Bible will:
1) Build our faith, so we stop making fearful decisions.
2) Strengthen our love, so we stop making selfish decisions.
3) Teach us how life really works, so we stop making foolish decisions.
4) Show us the reality of heaven and hell, so we stop making hopeless decisions.
5) Open our eyes to both the presence of a spiritual enemy and the authority we have been given in Christ, so we stop making weak decisions.
6) Show us our unity with other believers, so we stop making decisions alone.
Paul says our lives will be transformed when our thinking is transformed. He says it this way, Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind..., and then he shows us what the result of this change of mind will be. He says, ...so that you may prove (examine carefully in order to discover whats genuine) what the will of God is, that which is good (the path that will produce the best results) and acceptable (the path that pleases Him and therefore He will support throughout by His Spirit) and perfect (the path that leads into His full will for you so that you will accomplish everything He has planned for you, not just part of it).
The Holy Spirit
God never leaves us alone to make a decision. He will not force His wisdom on us, and the sad fact is He will actually let us make bad decisions if we choose to go it alone. But whenever we want His council, Hes there. Listen to what Henry Blackaby says,
God never hides the truth. He is always open and honest with us. We are the ones who tend to overlook, or not hear, all that God is saying. He is always taking the initiative to make His assignment known, and we must be actively alert to receive it (Henry Blackaby, What the Spirit is Saying to the Churches, Multnomah, 2003. p.53).
Jesus says it this way,
You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you slaves, for the slave does not know what his master is doing, but I have called you friends, for all things that I heard from My Father I have made known to you (Jn 15:14-15).
James says this,
But if any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask of God, who gives to all generously and without reproach, and it will be given to him. But he must ask in faith without doubting, for the one who doubts is like the surf of the sea, driven and tossed by the wind (Jas 1:5-6).
So, we need to approach God confident that He will guide us, not wondering whether or not He will.
Natural human reasoning
The normal way humans decide things is by deductive reasoning guided by our own self-interests. We picture various scenarios in our minds and ask ourselves, If I make this choice what do I think will happen? Will this decision be good or bad for me? Or, if I choose that path what will happen? Will that turn out good or bad for me? There are, at least, two major problems with this approach. One is that we dont know the future and tend to let fear of what might happen make the decision for us. Sadly, we often discover later on that those fears were wrong and we passed up a great opportunity. And the other problem is that our goal is entirely selfish. Its all about whats best for us, not whats best for others, or even Jesus. If we step back and look at what were doing, its easy to see why the fruit of this kind of decision is bad. It violates a deep principle Jesus teaches. He says the abundant life were looking for is found in the opposite direction.
For whoever wishes to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake, he is the one who will save it (Lk 9:24).
In other words, its counter-intuitive. What seems to be the right path to happiness, is the wrong path. And what seems to be the wrong path, is actually the right path. Thats why we cant rely on our own judgment. We humans simply dont understand how life works. Only God does. So we have to make decisions by faith, based on what He says is right. Its scary, but time always proves Him right.
The governors problem (v25)
Our problem isnt always a lack of insight, not knowing whats right or wrong. Sometimes our problem is simply a lack of courage to do whats right. We know what we should do but were afraid to pay the price. That was Felixs problem. The saddest part of his story is that he didnt have the caourage to repent and trust Jesus Christ, even when he was heavily under conviction for his sins and saw the judgment he would face without Christ. He handled that decision like he handled all the others. He postponed it. Basically, he said, Im not ready yet. Lets talk later. But that blessed moment of conviction, of seeing his own spiritual condition, apparently never came again. Something had hardened inside him. By closing his spiritual eyes and deafening his spiritual ears in that moment when the Holy Spirit was all over him, he damaged himself. Its not that God closed the door and wouldnt have received Felix if he repented later on. God would. The problem was Felix had very little integrity left, but in that moment when he was listening to Paul the Holy Spirit found a way into his calloused heart. A part of it was still alive. But it seems that last little bit died when he said, Not now
maybe later! He did meet with Paul numerous times after that, but in those meetings, that level of conviction didnt come again. He just sat there listening, hoping for a bribe. Had he instead responded bravely when God showed him the truth, had he chosen to pay the price for eternal life, he may well have suffered for his faith. There are indications that his wife, Drusilla, grew angry at Paul, so she might have left him. And Nero might have executed him. That almost happened anyway. But theres one thing we do know. If hed had the courage to make the right decision about Jesus Christ, when he had the chance, he would have made the best decision in his life.
Our future, yours and mine, are still in front of us, waiting for the fruit of the decisions you and I are making right now. Are we planting good seed for a good harvest? We surely need Gods guidance to know the right path to take, but as this tragic man proves to us, we also need the courage to walk that path.
1) Whats the toughest decision you ever had to make? Did you make the right one?
2) Describe a time when you wanted to go one way but God wanted you to go another. Did you obey? What happened?