When I was just a young boy, a man asked me this question, “Are you a Christian?” I said, “Sure, I am a Christian. I believe in God. I own a Bible. I attend church.” But he knew something was missing. He understood that Someone was missing, that is, the Lord Jesus Christ.
In Acts 24:1-27, we have an account of the apostle Paul standing before his accusers. He had been brought to a place called Cæsarea, escorted by 470 soldiers. Imagine that! He was under arrest. He was being accused of certain crimes, and we have him giving his defense in this twenty-fourth chapter of Acts.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Notice Paul says in verse fourteen in his own defense, “But this I confess unto thee.” Every Christian has a story to tell. Some are telling that story of the grand and glorious salvation they have in Christ, and others are silent when they should be telling it.
If we are going to talk about the Christian faith, there is only one source for what we believe. It is the Bible. The Bible is the only authority for our faith and practice. If we say that we are Christians, then what we say about the Christian life should line up with what the Bible says about the Christian life.
Dr. Autry is a man who is now in Glory, but he was a man mightily used of God. Dr. Autry used to use this expression in explaining the Christian life. He said, “Some people think they are Christians like barnacles on a boat; they think they are part of a boat.” He went on to explain that a ship in the sea could gather barnacles on it. The barnacles were not really a part of the ship; they were just attached to it. When the ship was taken into dry dock, an instrument was used to remove those barnacles without destroying the structure of the ship. They were not a part of the ship; they just attached themselves to it.
He went on to explain that there are many people who get some idea about Christianity, and they attach that idea to their thinking—an idea like, “It is a good thing to go to church” or “People ought to pray.” They pick one of these barnacles and begin to attach them to their lives. They think that after they have attached these things about Christianity to themselves, they become Christians.
Nothing we can attach to ourselves makes us Christians. What does it truly mean to be a Christian?
There Is a Conversion
In Acts chapter nine, Paul is on his way to persecute Christians. He is determined to make life as difficult as possible for people who follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Read Acts 9:1-6.
In verse five, Saul says, “Who art thou, Lord?” Then in verse six, he says, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” It was on the Damascus Road that Saul became Paul the apostle. It was on the Damascus Road that Paul came to know the Lord Jesus as his personal Saviour.
Here is the question: What does it mean to be a Christian? It means that there is a conversion. It means that your life has been converted. It means that by the power of God you have been redeemed by the blood of the Lamb and by faith trusted God as your Saviour. It means that you were headed one direction as a child of the Devil and God changed your life and you became a child of God. You can join every church you can imagine, take the Lord’s Supper, and be baptized, but if you have never been converted, you are not a Christian.
I have the same Saviour and the same salvation that Paul got that day on the Damascus Road. Do you have the same Saviour? Do you have the same salvation? God in His mercy has forgiven my sin. Jesus Christ came to this earth and paid my sin debt for me. If you think you are too bad to be saved, I want you to know that no one is too bad. God came to save sinners like you and I, and He will if we repent of our sin and by faith come to Christ and seek Him for salvation. When anyone says that he or she is a Christian, that means that they have been converted.
There Is a Confession
Not only is there a conversion, but also there is a confession. We are to confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus. We believe in our heart and confess with our mouth the Lord Jesus.
Notice how Paul is brought before this crowd along the coast of Cæsarea. Felix is the appointed Roman governor. Four hundred and seventy men have been used to escort this man Paul to Cæsarea. Amazingly, a representation of the Sanhedrin, the Jewish supreme court, came from Jerusalem to Cæsarea to accuse him. More amazingly, the high priest himself comes down to Cæsarea to make accusations against Paul. Listen as the orator who had been employed to accuse Paul tries with flowery words to woo the Roman governor.
The Bible says in Acts 24:2-9,
“And when he was called forth, Tertullus began to accuse him, saying, Seeing that by thee we enjoy great quietness, and that very worthy deeds are done unto this nation by thy providence, we accept it always, and in all places, most noble Felix, with all thankfulness. Notwithstanding, that I be not further tedious unto thee, I pray thee that thou wouldest hear us of thy clemency a few words. For we have found this man a pestilent fellow, and a mover of sedition among all the Jews throughout the world, and a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes: who also hath gone about to profane the temple: whom we took and would have judged according to our law. But the chief captain Lysias came upon us, and with great violence took him away out of our hands, commanding his accusers to come unto thee: by examining of whom thyself mayest take knowledge of all these things, whereof we accuse him. And the Jews also assented, saying that these things were so.”
After commending Roman governor Felix, he begins to talk about Paul. He calls him a “pestilent fellow,”meaning that he was like a disease. Then he says that Paul is a “mover of sedition among all the Jews.” He thought that would ring Felix’s bell because this part of the world under Roman domination was always a boiling kettle ready to explode. He thought the moment that Felix heard that this man was seditious it would arouse his interest to think that this man must be stopped immediately.
In other words, he was saying, “He is trying to stir up these Jews, and he is a ringleader of the Nazarenes.” They were calling the followers of the Lord Jesus “Nazarenes.” He said, “If you are trying to find the man in charge of this crowd, we have him! Everywhere he goes he is like a disease, and he is stirring up Jews everywhere.”
Remember, there had been such turmoil that this captain of the guard thought it necessary to send 470 people to escort this one man. I do not think we understand the violence in the hearts of these people against God’s man. It is in this atmosphere that we find this faithful man giving this confession.
This attitude that people have that when things get tough and times are hard that Christians ought to cower and be quiet is wrong! We ought to step forward with all boldness and courage and give our confession about what Jesus Christ means to us. This is our hour; this is our golden moment to be bold for God and to do what we do for Jesus Christ courageously. God is giving us an opportunity. People are frightened, but this is our moment!
The Bible says in Acts 24:10, “Then Paul, after that the governor had beckoned unto him to speak, answered, Forasmuch as I know that thou hast been of many years a judge unto this nation, I do the more cheerfully answer for myself.” This seems to indicate that Felix is aware of the story of Jesus Christ. He is married to a Jew; he understands something about it. His wife was the great-great granddaughter of Herod the Great. There is some background here, and Paul is aware of that.
The Bible says in Acts 24:11-15,
“Because that thou mayest understand, that there are yet but twelve days since I went up to Jerusalem for to worship. And they neither found me in the temple disputing with any man, neither raising up the people, neither in the synagogues, nor in the city: neither can they prove the things whereof they now accuse me. But this I confess unto thee, that after the way which they call heresy, so worship I the God of my fathers, believing all things which are written in the law and in the prophets: and have hope toward God, which they themselves also allow, that there shall be a resurrection of the dead, both of the just and unjust.”
He says, “This is my confession. I believe the God of the Bible, and I believe everything the Bible says about that God.” Is that your confession? Do you believe the God of the Bible? If you are a Christian, that means that you believe in the God of the Bible and you believe everything the Bible says about your God.
What about our confession? Is our confession about the God of the Bible? Is our confession about the resurrection? It is impossible to become a Christian without believing in the resurrection. The gospel message is the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. You may have become a Christian at a young age and may not have understood everything about what that means, but you cannot be a Christian without confessing that Jesus Christ rose from the dead.
When I am counseling with people, I always say to those people, “Are you a Christian?” They may take offense from that and think, “You do not think I could have done these things if I were a Christian!” That is not what I am thinking! I know in my heart that if you are truly a Christian, the Holy Spirit indwells you. If I speak to you about spiritual things, then the words I say to you the Holy Spirit will bear witness to you. I have a Friend inside of you affirming that these things are true.
There Is a Conscience
The Bible says in Acts 24:16, “And herein do I exercise myself, to have always a conscience void of offense toward God, and toward men.”
This does not mean that the man is sinless, but it means that he has a certain attitude about sin. He does not want to continue in it. I am convinced that if you have been born of God, the Holy Spirit indwells you. Paul is saying here, “I want you to know something. As a believer, there has been a conversion. As a believer, I am seeking to have a conscience that is void of offence.” In other words, he could not continue to live in sin. He would have to make things right with God.
If I started trying to tell you experiences in my life, I do not know where I would stop. I do know that when I have realized that I have offended someone and it has been me, and God convinces me of it, I have no peace until I can make that right. I want to have a conscience void of offence. There are times to say, “I am sorry.” There are times to say, “Forgive me.”
There are people who learn so well to pretend the Christian life that they actually appear to live it better than some people who actually have it. They know all the things to say and do. It is all acting; it is a role to play. The Christian life is not something that starts from the outside in. It is something that God changes on the inside and makes its way out.
Paul is saying here, “I have a conscience, and I want that conscience to be void of offence.” You cannot cheat on your husband or your job and live the Christian life without trying to make that right. You cannot lie about things and live the Christian life without trying to make that right. You cannot deceive what you have done about money, time, or people and be a Christian without making that right. God will trouble you. When that conscience begins to scream at you, you may do the most unbelievable things to try to silence it. But the conscience seeking to be void of offence is one of the great evidences that you are a child of God. Thank God for that evidence!
There is no greater blessing in the Christian life than to have this assurance that God speaks to you and you are truly one of His children. Do you have that assurance? If you tried to explain to someone what it means to be a Christian, what would you say? How would you answer?
Would you say, “It means that I have been converted. It means that I have confessed Christ publicly. It means that there has been a change in my life. It is not just something I have accepted intellectually. There has been a change inside of me. I cannot live in sin and disobedience to God. When I have sinned, I must seek always to have a conscience that is void of offence toward God and man.” Do you have that evidence?
Some of you say, “My conscience is bothering me.” Thank God! Thank God for every evidence of what it means to be a Christian!
The tragedy is that we begin to live our lives with so much going on that we lose that sensitivity to God and the things of God. We need this great evidence, this sensitivity to God that says, “I am going to keep everything as clean and right as possible.” I believe with all my heart that this is one of the great evidences of our Christian faith. It is a witness within. It does matter. God has brought me to this conviction that I want to work always to have a conscience void of offence.
What does it mean to be a Christian? Have you had a conversion? Have you confessed and identified with Christ publicly? Then, in that inner man, are you working always to have a conscience void of offence?