Acts 23: The Privileges and Responsibilities of Citizenship
As we read in the closing verses of Acts 22, we see Paul led away by the Roman soldiers, their commander orders Paul to be flogged( scourged) and questioned. As they are preparing Paul to be flogged, Paul said to the centurion: Is it legal for you to flog a Roman citizen who hasnt been found guilty? (Acts 22;26)
The centurion calls in his commander who questions Paul regarding his claim to be a Roman citizen. The commander admits he had paid a great deal of money for his Roman citizenship to which Paul replies he was born a citizen. With this revelation, the commander releases Paul.
However, his curiosity about this man, Paul, leads the commander to take Paul to the Sanhedrin to find out what exactly were the charges against Paul by these Jews.
Paul did not hesitate to utilize one of his most valuable possessions- his Roman citizenship. He identifies himself as a Roman citizen and proclaims his rights as a Roman citizen which brings the intended scourging to a stop.
Do you realize that as a believer you are a citizen of heaven? Perhaps it is this very situation, that prompted Paul to write those words in Philippians 3:20-´For our citizenship is in heaven, from which we also eagerly wait for the Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ, who will transform our lowly body that it may be conformed to His glorious body
Do you fully understand your new identity and the rights and privileges of your citizenship? Or have you allowed the one who is called a thief to steal your identity? Consider the following rights and privileges you possess as a Christian, a citizen of heaven, and know that with those rights comes responsibilities. Lets establish the link between our citizenship and the capability of having a good- clear conscience. For the danger of becoming a carnal Christian is to become desensitized to sin having a conscience that is defiled and rationalizes sin.
- Citizen of heaven.
- A chosen generation.
- A royal priesthood.
- Gods own special people.
- We are called the children of God, adopted
- Heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ.
- Blessed with every heavenly blessing
The list could go on- but you get the point- we have a new identity that comes from our relationship with God. With that new identity and position comes not only privileges, but also responsibilities:
*Proclaim the Praises of Him who called you out of darkness
*To not be conformed by the world
*Be transformed by the renewing our your mind .
*Face persecution and hostility.
*To be His Witnesses
* To make disciples.
If one does not take full responsibility for the demands and privilege of our citizenship- we are not true to our cause. In America, we have the freedom to be engaged in the public arena of debate and opinion having freedom of speech; we are also called to be informed citizens who vote their convictions. Are we to do no less as citizens of heaven?
PAUL BEFORE THE SANHEDRIN
Acts 23 begins with Paul before the Sanhedrin to be questioned. Lets listen to Pauls opening statement: My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all GOOD CONSCIENCE to this day.
If we are to live up to our identity and our new nature, there is one essential component: a good conscience, a clear conscience. If we are to face difficulty in this world, we must face it with a clear conscience . We must be morally clean and theologically correct. We must, in fact, live by the Word of God. We must, in other words, be good citizens of heaven.
Conscience is that faculty that God placed in man that passes moral judgment. Paul wrote in Romans 2 indeed when the Gentiles who do not have the law, do by nature, things required by the law, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show the requirements of the law are written in their heart, their consciences also bearing witness and their thoughts now accusing , now even defending them.
A conscience that is not conformed or informed by the Word of God will not necessarily pass accurate judgments. When ones mind has been transformed by the Word of God, then ones conscience has a reference of absolute truth to bear witness.
The Bible describes the following conditions of the conscience: a weak conscience ( I Cor. 8:7); a defiled conscience ( Titus 1:15) ; an evil conscience ( Hebrews 10:22); and a seared conscience ( I Tim. 4:2). A seared conscience is one so scarred by sin that it no longer responds to the proddings of divine truth. This conscience cannot assess things properly. It has been conformed to the worlds thinking. We do not realize how this has gradually taken over the conventional thinking. It is interesting our own president says and writes: Whatever we once were, we are no longer just a Christian nation. ( The Audacity of Hope.) It is sad to say as a Christian, this statement is probably true.
Again, want an example of our countrys seared conscience listen to President Obama in 2009 said: My expectation is that when you look back on these years you will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and ADMIRABLE as relationships between a man and a woman. In Genesis God established marriage as between a man and a woman. Jesus confirmed this in Matthew 19: Havent you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female and said , for this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate. Homosexual lifestyle is not presented in Gods Word as an alternative lifestyle; or admirable; it is presented as sin, as unnatural and a perversion. Yet our President, who only reflects the opinion of the majority states exactly the opposite and says it is admirable.
Whatever you might think of abortion personally, as a Christian we must consider what Gods Word says His eyes saw my unformed substance and all my days ordained for me were written in your book. Do you believe the Word of God? For if you do believe it- God says we were a living being in our mothers womb even before the body was formed. The Bible says we reap what we sew. Since 1973, there have been over 50 million abortions. The law of our land, says this is a womans right. Want some cold, hard facts: what would 50 million additional consumers do for our economy? What would these additional taxpayers mean to our governments budget? And what about the additional 20 million children we could reasonably predict would have been born to those aborted between 1973 and 1989. That would give us over 70 million additional people living, working, spending a paying taxes and guess what- helping to support the 77 million baby-boomers entering retirement.
Do you see how bold the enemy has become? Do you understand what has happened? Our nations collective conscience has become seared. The enemy, the thief and murderer who comes to steal and destroy has stolen the birthright and citizenship of our country.
Ever since the Garden of Eden, the serpent has been on the attack. His attack is launched at the Word of God. Against the Absolute Truth, for he is the father of all lies. He began an attack with this one question: Did God really say- You must not eat of every tree of the garden? ( Genesis 3) The enemy questions the authority- did God really say it? He questions the accuracy- is it every tree ? And he questions the application- you shall not eat. He also questions Gods motives- intimating when they eat of this tree they will be like God. In other words, God is restricting your freedoms. The devil says God is a liar, whose word cannot be trusted.
Here is our problem as a nation and as believers- we have changed our foundation from Gods Word to mans word. Is this not what happened to the nation of Israel? Havent these men before whom Paul now stands, added to the Word of God- mans word and held it in as high regard as the Word of God?
On the other hand, the Bible commends a good conscience ( I Tim1:15); a blameless conscience, and a clear conscience. How do we attain this? A Christians conscience must be informed and shaped by the standards of Gods Word. If we are to strengthen our consciences we must expose them to the truths of Scripture.
Solomon wrote, there is nothing new under the sun. Paul faced a culture shaped by sinful lifestyle, sexual immorality and religious leaders who would not stand on the Word of God as absolute truth and claiming to be wise, they became fools exchanging the glory of God for images made to look like mortal man and birds and animals and reptiles. ( idols in other words, symbols.) These men in the Sanhedrin were powerful. They had great influence on the people. Ananias as High Priest was all about control.
What does the world and our culture do when we proclaim the absolute truth of Gods Word as Paul did? There is the same three responses: the Truth will divide, it will revive or it will cause a riot. The authorities wanted to shut the mouth of Paul. Ananias, the High Priest, orders those standing close to Paul to strike him where? In the mouth. Shut his mouth. Do you remember what these same Sanhedrin members did when listening to Gods truth as spoken by Stephen in Acts &? They covered their ears and yelled at the top of their voices
Our culture does not want to hear us proclaim the truth. Have you noticed what has happened in the Book of Acts, ever since the Lord Jesus told them before He ascended to heaven: to be My Witnesses. He also instructed them to wait for the Holy Spirit who would empower them. Ten days later the Holy Spirit came and on the Day of Pentecost the church of our Lord Jesus began. And so did persecution. The apostles were called in and told not to speak in the name of Jesus anymore or face further punishment.
James was beheaded. Peter was imprisoned. They were flogged. Paul was stoned and left for dead, imprisoned, flogged and barely escaped death on numerous occasions.
The Sanhedrin was composed of two main bodies- the Sadducees and the Pharisees. Their beliefs were very different- the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection of the dead, nor in angel or spirits. In other words, the Sadducees did not believe in the supernatural. The Pharisees did believe in the resurrection of the dead and angels and spirits. Interesting we find these two types of philosophy in the world and in our churches today. The liberal who does not believe in literal interpretation of Scripture and those who believe the Word of God is inspired and infallible. Paul would later write: If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain; but He is risen indeed. This the central truth of Christianity. It is interesting to note of those early Jewish believers who became Christians, i.e. Nicodemus, were Pharisees. We see Pharisees become Christians, but there is no recorded conversion of Sadducees. A Pharisee could become a Christian and remain a Pharisee- a Sadducee could not become a believer and remain a Sadducee. He would have to renounce his former life. Deny self and take up his cross and follow Jesus. Like the rich man who was told to go sell all his possessions and give them to the poor and come follow Jesus went away sad because he had rather have silver and gold than Jesus.
Once again we see the truth that divides, revives and causes riots. Paul is whisked away to safety by his unique protector, the Roman Commander. The Lord assures Paul that night Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem so you must also testify in Rome.
Paul will be headed to Rome as he will next transferred to Caesarea as plots to kill him are uncovered. We will continue with the story of Paul as he enters the Roman judicial system.
Today many of the intelligent agnostics and professed atheists cannot believe because in their pride- they must admit they were wrong- dead wrong. They have believed the word of man, rather than the Word of God. They believe everything must be accounted for by science, natural actions and one cannot take into account that anything can occur supernaturally. In other words, they have a Sadducee philosophy that does not believe in the resurrection of the dead or angels or spirits.
Who made that rule? A rule that says we cannot take into account the role of supernatural intervention. It is the unbelievers who have made this rule. It is the Sadducees of the world, the ones who do not believe in the supernatural or absolute truth. They say we are to decide and base our truths on what they ( being more intelligent than us average bumpkins) say happened rather than what God says happened.
It was true in Pauls day and it is true today.
Ever been told, even by a Christian, that the creation account cannot be taken literally. That science has proved otherwise. The Big Bang theory, evolution, millions and millions of years, dinosaurs and all those things. Lets think about this: First of all those who do not believe the Word of God as absolute truth believe the word of man. Remember science does not accept as an explanation or reason anything supernatural occurring. Isnt it interesting this is exactly what the Sadducees believed. They did not believe in anything that could not be explained by the natural.
Do you, as a Christian, believe in the supernatural? Of course you must believe in the resurrection of the Lord Jesus to be saved according to Romans 10:9. That is a belief in the supernatural.
If we do not believe in the creation account as recorded in Gods word, then how do we account for the fact that Jesus believed in it, as he quoted it as fact in Matthew 19:4 Havent you read that at the beginning the Creator made them male and female.. ( Interesting to note- Jesus knows what happened- because He was there. John 1.)
The first eleven chapters of Genesis are the chapters that are debated by scholars, theologians and scientists as being not an accurate and scientific account of the beginning creation. Since science will not take into account the possibility of supernatural intervention, many in the church have attempted to explain how we can adjust the creation account to fit within science. Why? If we believe in the supernatural- why is this even a question?!
Consider the importance of the first eleven chapters of Genesis. They are our foundation. We have creation- how man came to be and the purpose for which he was created; the corruption ( the fall, sin enters the world and death), catastrophe- the flood, and we have confusion in Genesis 11 at the Tower of Babel. If we do not believe the first 11 chapters- which explain sin, death, and the solution to mans problem designed by God our doctrine is flawed because our foundation is flawed. For if we do not believe the first 11 chapters as truth, then how can we explain the obvious belief of Jesus that the creation account is true? Do you really believe Jesus could be mistaken about creation? For in the New Testament we have Christ, the Cross and the Consummation in Revelation. If those first four Cs are not true- then neither are the last three Cs.
The unbeliever wants to remove sin- redefine right and wrong and remove guilt. You can then indulge in sin and be comfortable. To do this the unbeliever must conclude there is no God. Creation and the universe are a couple of huge stumbling blocks. How did we get here? How did all of this- earth, space, stars, galaxies,etc. get here? Evolution is their explanation of creation without God. And slowly the heat is turned up, the lie is repeated and the conscience is seared.
Whatever we once were .remember what we once were?
we are no longer a Christian nation. ( Barack Obama, Audacity of Hope)
My expectation is that when you look back on these years .. you will see a time in which we as a nation finally recognize relationships between two men or two women as just as real and admirable as relationships between a man and a woman. President Obama, 2009
The Spirit clearly says that in later times some will abandon the faith and follow deceiving spirits, and things taught by demons. Such teachings come through hypocritical liars, whose consciences have been seared with a hot iron. ( I Timothy 4: 1,2)
If you point these things out to the brothers, you will be a good minister of Christ Jesus, brought up in truths of the faith and of the good teaching you have followed.: ( I Tim. 4:6)
So I encourage you- to expose yourself to Gods truth. It is your privilege and responsibility as a citizen of heaven.
The Bible is Gods word, the absolute truth. Read it to be wise. Believe it to be safe. Practice it to be Holy. Let it fill your memory, rule the heart and guide the feet. Read it slowly, frequently, and prayerfully. It is given you in life, will be opened at judgment, and be remembered forever. It involves the highest responsibility, will reward the greatest labor, and WILL CONDEMN ALL WHO TRIFLE WITH ITS SACRED CONTENTS.
(Gideon Bible Foreword)Copyright © 2010 Linda Benthal
Last modified: 08/12/14