Even a cursory overview of Paul’s life is alarming. Paul put himself through stuff that makes the Badwater 135 look like “treat-yo-self” spa day! Paul received countless beatings, he was often near death, and frequently in prison. Five times he received forty lashings minus one. Three times he was beaten with rods. Once he was pronounced dead from being pummeled by stones! Three time he was shipwrecked. He frequently faced danger from rivers, sea, wilderness, robbers, and angry mobs. He was constantly toiling and experiencing hardships, sleepless nights, hunger and thirst, often completely without food, and regularly suffering exposure in frigid temperatures.
So when the Roman governor Felix met Paul face-to-face, he was unnerved to say the least. Prior to meeting Paul, Felix had an academic knowledge of Christianity, but when he met the scar-riddled, battle-tested, rough and rowdy apostle he was taken aback! You couldn’t encounter Paul and retain your merely academic understanding of Christianity. Paul was not a complacent theological thinker, he was a FOLLOWER of Jesus of Nazareth. One look at Paul forced Felix to the palpable realization that Christianity was not a philosophy, it was radical and revolutionary way of life!
Felix had some knowledge of The Way, but this was his first encounter with someone who had actually mountaineered the route! It’s kind of like the difference between watching a documentary about people who’ve climbed a Himalayan 8,000 meter peak, and actually crossing paths with a person who has just finished climbing K2 – still bearing the smells and scars of having just trekked to the summit and back!
Felix had planned to interact with the apostle Paul the way Americans interact with church. He figured that chatting with Paul probably had some social, financial, and familial value, and he was willing to listen to the idea of faith in Jesus. But when Felix sat face-to-face with Paul, and heard him talk about righteousness, self-control, and the coming judgment, FELIX WAS ALARMED! (see Acts 24:24-25)
Obviously, Paul’s approach to self-control was unsettling (see 1 Corinthians 9:27). One look at Paul told Felix that – if he were to embrace THE WAY of JESUS, he would be seriously jeopardizing his life of comfort, commodity, predictability, insurance, status, and ease! The cares and worries of this life, and the deceitfulness of riches were obsessions for Felix, and to walk in THE WAY of Jesus would clearly require a very scary, supernatural, and alarming level of self-control!
Moreover, Paul’s words about righteousness caused Felix to realize that The Way didn’t merely jeopardize his comforts, but it also gravely endangered his accomplishments! When Paul talked to Felix about righteousness he was essentially admonishing Felix to REPENT of his accomplishments! For example, Paul talks about the extreme impact of real righteousness on his own puny pedigree and hard-earned scanty accomplishments in Philippians 3:
If anyone thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless. But whatever gain I had, I count it as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For His sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faithPhilippians 3:4-9
Just as Jesus demanded that the highly-credentialed supreme court council member Nicodemus be BORN AGAIN, so Paul was telling Felix to forsake his own hard-earned righteousness in favor of clinging to the alien righteousness of Jesus. This is foundational to THE WAY of Jesus! Jesus forced EVERYONE to quit their own righteousness in order to cling to the righteousness of Christ! We see Jesus doing this quite dramatically to His good friend Peter. When Peter fancies himself sufficient and promises undying faithfulness to Jesus, saying, “Though everyone else may fall away, I will never fall away!” Jesus rebukes him, saying, “Truly, I tell you, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will deny me three times.” Peter’s paltry ‘righteousness’ is NOT worth hanging on to! Peter must let go of his sense of self-sufficiency, and he must repent of his ‘hard-earned righteousness’; and he must instead cling to the accomplishments of Christ! Jesus makes this point quite dramatically all-throughout His ministry. For instance, in Matthew 7 Jesus points out that many people will try to flaunt their resume as an admissions ticket to heaven, saying, “Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And Jesus will say to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness. Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it. The work that you must do, is to believe in the One whom God sent to do the work for you! (see Matthew 7:23; Mark 10:15; John 6:28-29).
Finally, Felix was alarmed by the way Paul told him about the coming judgment. Of course there is a very primal sense in which we’re all scared of judgment, because we’re all aware of the fact that “none is righteous, no, not one.” But Felix is also aware of the fact that – as an earthly judge – he promotes certain norms, and he cultivates particular WAYS of life. Best case scenario, Felix will be in-tune and in-step with the WAYS of the coming Judge; but Felix knows that he is actually promoting cultural norms and preferred ways of life that make it more difficult for people to enter the kingdom of heaven (see Matthew 19:23-24; Matthew 19:7; Matthew 19:13; and Acts 24:26-27). In his meeting(s) with Paul, Felix is becoming increasingly aware of objectively better ways to influence society and establish healthy cultural norms – namely, that he ought to be encouraging citizens to know Jesus and the power of His resurrection, and share in His sufferings, becoming like Him in His death, so that by any means possible, they may attain the resurrection from the dead (see Philippians 3:10-11).
The alarming apostle Paul tells us to examine ourselves, to see whether we are in the faith; to test ourselves, and realize that Jesus Christ is in us! (see 2 Corinthians 13:5). If Jesus is in us, then we are compelled to walk in THE WAY of Jesus; taking up our cross daily and following Jesus – seeking to save our lives by losing our lives, and believing that it does not profit us to gain the whole world and forfeit our souls.