Conversion: The Non-Conversion of Felix

By Cecil Willis

Previously we studied various cases of conversion. We studied about the fiery persecutor of the church in Jerusalem, Saul of Tarsus, later called Paul the Apostle. We have considered the salvation of the Ethiopian nobleman on the road from Jerusalem to Gaza. We have traveled with Paul over to Philippi to witness, by divine revelation, the transformation of a business woman from Thyatira, named Lydia. We have gone to Caesarea to witness the redemption of a subordinate officer in the Roman army, Cornelius by name, the first Gentile convert. Last week we stopped in Jerusalem to see what the three thousand did to become Christians. Thus we have studied the cases of conversion of individuals in various places and occupations.

This week we want to study a rather sad case-a case of n on -conversion. Not all the sermons preached by the apostles received the desired results. For that matter, not all the instructions given by our Lord were obeyed by His hearers. In every instance in which one comes face to face with the teaching of God, there are but two alternatives. When one understands the teachings of the Word of God, he may either accept them or disobey them. There is no middle ground. The Bible impartially records instances in which individuals accepted the teaching and obeyed it, but it equally as plainly sets forth the account of those people who rejected the Word. Theirs was a case of non-conversion.

Felix Before the Gospel Came

Felix was a Roman Procurator at the time that the apostle Paul came before him for his judgment as to an accusation made against him by the Jews. The Bible tells us little of the background of this man, but historians have a great deal to say of him. With information taken primarily from Josephus, the Jewish historian, and from Tacitus, the usually impartial Roman recorder, we can see something of the character of the man, and why he was not converted. Felix, before he was appointed Governor of Judea, was one of the household slaves of Agrippina, the mother of Claudius then the reigning Emperor. He was a slave in a heathen court which was known for its lude and licentious living. This certainly was no place to develop a good character. He became a favorite of Claudius Caesar, and when Caesar became Emperor, he appointed Felix to the headship of one of the provinces in the empire.

His wife, Drusilla, is also mentioned in the Bible. Drusilla was previously the young and beautiful wife of Aziz, the king of Ernesa. But Aziz was king over a very insignificant kingdom, so with the offer of greater honor and power, Felix persuaded Drusilla to leave her rightful husband and become his wife.

We see another insight into the character oil Felix when we read the inspired statement that the reason Felix had called Paul before him was because he had hoped that Paul would give him money, or would try to bribe him into giving a favorable decision. Even after Felix said that Paul had deeply moved him and that he would call him unto him later, the Bible says that again and again he sent for Paul hoping to receive money from him (Acts 24:25-27).

So in order for Felix to have been converted, he would have had to make a tremendous change, which Felix was obviously not willing to do. He was reared in an heathen home, married to an adulteress, and seeking to better himself by bribery. He was not willing to make the change necessary to becoming a Christian. Hence Paul’s preaching did not convert Felix.

God’s Attempt to Save Felix

This man Felix was of such disposition that he would not go seeking to learn the truth, God’s terms of pardon. Yet God made a special concession to him in that even though Felix did not seek out the truth, yet in God’s benevolent providence, Felix did have opportunity to hear gospel preaching from the mouth of God’s servant, Paul. Paul had been maliciously treated by a mob who protested his preaching. Had it not been for the intervention of a Roman official, Claudius Lysias, with his soldiers, Paul would likely have been killed. This man who interceded in Paul’s behalf addressed Felix as follows: “Claudius Lysias unto the most excellent governor Felix, greeting. This man was seized by the Jews, and was about to be slain by them, when I came upon them with the soldiers and rescued him, having learned that he was a Roman. And desiring to know the cause wherefore they accused him, I brought him down unto their council: whom I found to be accused about questions of their law, but to have nothing laid to his charge worthy of death or bonds. And when it was shown to me that there would be a plot against the man, I sent him to thee forthwith, charging his accusers also to speak against him before thee” (Acts 23:26-30).

The Bible reveals one of the reasons why Felix listened to Paul. There is no indication that it was with a sincere desire to learn the truth, but he expected Paul to pay for his release, but instead Paul preached a good gospel sermon to Felix and his wife, Drusilla. Possibly, also, Felix wanted to hear this man who was causing such a stir throughout the country. A lot of people will go out to hear some sensational preacher, not with the interest of learning what the Bible teaches, but to say, I have heard him preach. We have some denominational preachers today who travel far and wide whose audiences, though vast, are primarily composed of curiosity seekers, rather than seekers of truth.

Paul’s Sermon

What should Paul preach to his auditors, Felix and Drusilla, who held Paul’s hope for release? There are many subjects that Paul might have chosen upon which he could have gained their agreement. But preaching with Paul was never a matter of preaching materials; to him it was a matter of preaching to people. He intended to preach what these two people most needed. In beginning Paul denied the charges alleged against him, and challenged his accusers for proof. But he readily admitted that the source of the entire controversy was over his belief in the resurrection of Christ from the dead. The account reads: “Or else let these men themselves say what wrong-doing they found when I stood before the council, except it be for this one voice, that I cried standing among them, Touching the resurrection of the dead I am called in question before you this day . . . But Felix, having more exact knowledge concerning the Way, deferred them, saying, When Lysias the chief captain shall come down, I will determine your matter. And he gave order to the centurion that he should be kept in charge, and should have indulgence; and not to forbid any of his friends to minister unto him. But after certain days, Felix came with Drusilla, his w1fe, who was a Jewess, and sent for Paul, and heard him concerning the faith in Christ Jesus. And as he reasoned of righteousness, and self-control, and the judgment to come Felix was terrified” (Acts 24:20,21,24-25).

Paul’s subject to these people consisted of three points. He spoke first of righteousness. The Bible defines righteousness in Ps. 119:172; “all thy commandments are righteousness.” To preach on righteousness to these people was to speak of the opposite of all things prevalent in their life. Felix, through a sorceror had persuaded Drusilla to leave her husband, and begin living with him. They must have considered Paul’s preaching insulting, and personal. When he spoke of self-control, he condemned them on many points. And the third point in Paul’s sermon was a projection into the future, at which time God would call them before his throne of justice to give account for all of their unrighteous and profligate living while here on the earth. Some preachers today do not believe in searing people into repentance. Some time ago I read where some church had asked a preacher to delete the word “hell” from his vocabulary. It sounded too uncouth, and unpleasant. But on another occasion Paul said, “Knowing therefore the fear of the Lord, we persuade men” (2 Cor. 5:11).

Effect of the Sermon

Notice the effect of the sermon: “Felix was terrified” (Acts 24:25). The King James Version reads, “Felix trembled.” This was the very effect that Paul intended his preaching to have on this sinful man. There are some people that cannot be moved to repentance but by the preaching of punishments of a hell of fire and brimstone. On other occasions Paul said, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of a living God” (Heb. 10:31), and “our God is a consuming fire” (Heb. 12:29). This occasion when Felix was terrified by righteous preaching is about the only statement worthy of commendation in Felix’s behalf. When he reflected on his past life, he well knew he had ample reason to be in terror. There is not a sinner on this earth but that would be terrified by what God has in store for him if we Could really make him believe there is a God who will punish him in hell for eternity because of his sin.

Felix’s Fatal Mistake

While Felix should rightly be in terror, his fatal mistake was in his manner of responding to the righteous demands of gospel preaching. He said to Paul. “Go thy way for this time; and when I have a convenient season, I will call thee unto me” (Acts 24:25). He could see what was implied by Paul’s preaching. Perhaps he thought of the woman at his side whom he could not rightly have as his wife. She could not easily and conveniently be put away; so instead he put away the preacher. Think of the thousands of people, who through sin have gotten themselves entangled in alliances, marriage, business, and otherwise, who unserstand the gospel demands, but find it inconvenient at the present time to do what is required.

When is a convenient season to put away sin? Will such a time ever come when one can easily turn aside from that which is wrong? It takes a person who is willing to put God ahead of everything else in this world to rightly obey the gospel. It takes sacrifice. And if you are waiting for a time in your life when you no longer will find it necessary to give up anything to become a Christian, you are waiting in vain!

This is the last time the Bible mentions Felix. So far as we know he died waiting for a convenient season; thousands of others have and will do likewise. His fatal mistake was in putting off doing what he understood God demanded of him. It was not that he could not grasp the import of gospel teaching, but he was not willing to obey it just then. It required giving up too much.

We have been, and shall continue to study cases of conversion. Regardless of how much you may learn that you should do, if you like Felix, put if off until a convenient season, your’s also will be a case of nonconversion rather than conversion. When is the acceptable season for obeying the gospel? Paul said, “Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2). Please do not gamble until tomorrow the most priceless possession you will ever have entrusted to your care, your soul, lest you like Felix put away the only opportunity you ever have.

Truth Magazine XX: 48, pp. 755-757
December 2, 1976