Lesson 26: Faith Models

You're reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Acts 26

The great evangelist H.A. Ironside was interrupted one time by the shouts of an atheist. The atheist yelled, “There is no God! Jesus is a myth!” and finally, “I challenge you to a debate!”

Ironside responded, “I accept your challenge, sir! But on one condition. When you come, bring with you ten men and women whose lives have been changed for the better by the message of atheism. Bring former prostitutes and criminals whose lives have been changed, who are now moral and responsible individuals. Bring outcasts who had no hope and have them tell us how becoming atheists has lifted them out of the pit!

“And sir,” he concluded, “if you can find ten such men and woman, I will be happy to debate you. And when I come, I will gladly bring with me two hundred men and women from this very city whose lives have been transformed in just those ways by the power of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”

Ironside knew that atheism doesn’t change lives.  Jesus changes lives.

If you’re a Christian, your testimony is like gold to God.  The story of how you came to Christ, how He forgave you of your sins and how He gave you the assurance that you will live with Him forever will speak volumes to those around you.

You may not consider yourself a great evangelist.  You may not feel like there’s much in your life that others would want to emulate.  But the truth is that when others see your changed life, it can lead them to put their faith in Christ, too.

The Apostle Paul knew the power of a testimony.  He shared it on many occasions, one of which is in Acts chapter 26 when he was on trial in front of Governor Festus and King Agrippa.  After hearing Paul’s story, King Agrippa said to Paul,

“Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” 

Paul replied, “Short time or long―I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.”   (Acts 26:28-29). 

Paul didn’t claim to be perfect.  But he did claim to be changed.  He claimed to have had an encounter with the Risen Christ that transformed his life and then he prayed that all who were listening to him would become what he was.

Faith models.  Just like a fashion model wears cool clothes to show others what their life might become like if they put on the same thing, a Christian model is one who shows others what their life might become if they put their faith in Christ.

I had a friend who was living an immoral lifestyle.  I knew that if he kept it up, it could kill him.  I knew because I had lived a similar life, until I put my faith in Christ.  I prayed with him one day that he would become what I had become, a Christian.  It wasn’t that I thought I was perfect.  I wanted him to follow me, because I followed Christ.

Paul called others to follow his lead when he said in 1 Corinthians, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Corinthians 11:1).   It’s not prideful to ask people to become what you’ve become.  It’s simply faithful.

An athlete once told his coach he didn’t want to be a role model.  His coach said, “It’s not a question of whether you want to be a role model or not.  You’re already a role model.  The question is whether you’ll be a good one or a bad one.”

You’re already a role model, too, whether you’re a Christian or not.  If you’re a Christian, God wants you to model your faith, to let others see it in your life, to let them hear it from your lips―that Christ has truly forgiven you, changed you and given you the assurance that you’ll live with Him forever.  If you’re not a Christian, my prayer for you is the same as Paul’s, “that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am…”

Prayer: Father, give me the faith to model my life in a way that leads others to Christ.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 25: Faith Appeals

You're reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Acts 25

Some people think that when Christians are challenged, they should roll over and play dead―to “turn the other cheek” at all times.  Oftentimes that’s exactly what we’re supposed to do as a way of submitting to one another and honoring those in authority over us.

But then there are other times when we, as followers of Christ, are called to defend ourselves, to take authority over wrongs that have been done to us, and to appeal to higher authorities.  These, too, are biblical teachings.

Throughout the book of Acts, Paul takes care to walk through this maze of when to stand firm and when to run, when to submit to others and when to defend himself against them.  In Acts chapter 25, Paul takes his boldest stand against the false accusations that were made against him:  he appeals to Caesar.  Paul says this to Governor Festus who was hearing his case:

“I have not done any wrong to the Jews, as you yourself know very well. If, however, I am guilty of doing anything deserving death, I do not refuse to die. But if the charges brought against me by these Jews are not true, no one has the right to hand me over to them. I appeal to Caesar!” (Acts 25:10-11). 

Appealing to Caesar was no small deal.  Caesar was the king, the highest authority in the entire Roman Empire, and his decision would be final―and possibly fatal.  The appeal would be costly in terms of time and travel to Rome.  In Paul’s case, the trip itself was almost fatal, and Paul was under house arrest in Rome for at least two years waiting for Caesar to hear his case.

But there was nothing ungodly nor disgraceful about Paul’s appeal.  He knew he was innocent and he knew God wanted him to continue to testify about Christ in Rome.  At the very beginning of Paul’s trials back in Jerusalem, the Lord stood near to Paul one night and said, “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.”  While it took great courage to appeal to Caesar and be sent to Rome, he was also simply following the clear command of the Lord.

When Paul appealed, Governor Festus conferred with his council and declared: “You have appealed to Caesar. To Caesar you will go!” (Acts 25:12).

Here in the U.S., an appeal is simply another step in the legal process.  It’s not a sign of defying authority, but a way of following the steps that the authorities have set up, realizing that different people come to different conclusions, even based on the same evidence.

I’m amazed at the number of cases that are decided in the U.S. Supreme Court by a 5 to 4 decision.  These are the some of the brightest and most highly trained people in the country regarding the law, yet they still reach completely opposite conclusions.  While it could make some people cynical of the process, it makes me thankful for it, that our country has made a way to give us as many chances as possible to prove our innocence, or for someone else to prove our guilt.

There are times when your faith in Christ will compel you to submit to a decision that’s wrong, regardless of whether you simply believe it is wrong or whether it’s in fact wrong.  It can be simple prudence and godliness to submit to someone’s decision, whether it’s a judge, a boss, a spouse, a parent or a friend.

But there are other times when your faith in Christ will compel you to appeal a wrongful decision, to respectfully call upon someone else to step in and hear your case.

In the end, God Himself is the One who will ultimately decide your case.  So the important thing is to stay as close to Him as possible and follow His wisdom for whether He wants you to pursue or drop any appeal here on earth.  Maybe He’ll say to you what He said to Paul:  “Take courage! As you have testified about me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome” (Acts 23:11).

Prayer: Father, help me to hear from You if there’s ever a time You want me to appeal a decision that’s been made.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 24: Faith Flees

You're reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Acts 24

I often think of someone who is filled with faith as someone who can tough out any situation, who can stand firm in the face of adversity, who never walks away from a fight when their faith is at stake.  But as I read through the book of Acts, and other books in the Bible, I see that there are times when it’s simple wisdom to walk away―or to run―when God wants to keep you from a dangerous situation.

For all the times when the Apostle Paul stood his ground, took a beating, and faced death, there were other times when he slipped away from those who intended to harm him.

When Paul first put his faith in Christ on the road to Damascus, the Jews there conspired to kill him.  But when Paul learned of their plan, the believers in Damascus “took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall” (Acts 9:25).

Paul had to flee again when he came to Jerusalem.  More than forty men had taken an oath not to eat or drink until they had killed Paul.  When the son of Paul’s sister heard about the plot, he warned Paul.  Paul sent the young man to the commander of the centurions who immediately gave these orders:

“Get ready a detachment of two hundred soldiers, seventy horsemen and two hundred spearmen to go to Caesarea at nine tonight.  Provide mounts for Paul so that he may be taken safely to Governor Felix” (Acts 23:23b-24). 

In cases like these, Paul fled for his life.  Because he did, God was able to use him for many more years to testify to kings, governors and even us today who still read letters that he wrote after he fled.

There are even times when Jesus fled from those who meant Him harm.  One day, when Jesus had so angered the Pharisees in Jerusalem, they picked up stones in order to stone Him to death.  But John tells us that “Jesus hid Himself, slipping away from the temple grounds” (John 8:59b).

On another occasion, Jesus’ words so infuriated the people in the synagogue that Luke tells us, “They got up, drove Him out of the town, and took Him to the brow of the hill on which the town was built, in order to throw him down the cliff. But He walked right through the crowd and went on his way” (Luke 4:29-30).

While there may be times when your faith will help you to go to the cross like Jesus did (see 1 Peter 2:23), or face beatings and imprisonment like Paul often did, there may be other times when your faith will help you to flee from situations that are potentially dangerous, just like both Paul and Jesus did.

The key is to walk so in tune with God that you know when to stand and when to run.  There’s nothing disgraceful about saving your life when God doesn’t want you to die.  There’s nothing cowardly about fleeing from a potentially harmful situation when God doesn’t want you to be harmed.  Walking away, slipping through the crowd or fleeing for your life could be the most faith-filled thing you could do.

There may be times when it’s more productive to walk away quietly from your boss who is treating you in a demeaning way, or to slip away for a time from an angry spouse while they take time to cool down, or to disengage from a conversation with someone that may be more destructive than constructive.

The ultimate goal in knowing what to do in situations like these is not to protect your pride or to defend things in which you strongly believe, but to follow God at every turn.

That’s why it’s so important to stay close to God, to cultivate your prayer life and to deepen your relationship with God and His Word.  By doing so, God can more clearly point you in the direction He wants you to go, whether it’s to stand firm or to flee.  Whatever He calls you to do, know that He’ll give you the faith to do it.

Prayer: Father, help me to stay so close to You that I can know which way to go every step of the way.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 23: Faith Keeps A Clear Conscience

You're reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Acts 23

A man who once walked across the entire United States said that the hardest thing about his walk wasn’t the mountains, or the extreme weather, or any of the things I would have expected.  He said the hardest part of the walk was the sand in his shoes.

The little grains of sand didn’t seem like a big deal at first, but over time, the sand would build up and lead to blisters, infections and ongoing pain.

It can sometimes be the same way with sin.  It may not be the big sins that threaten to undo you, but the little ones―a lie here or there, a lustful thought towards a co-worker, a glance from time to time at pornography.   Because of God’s grace, He doesn’t blast at every wrong turn.  But over time, those “little” sins build up and lead to a bigger problem.

The man who walked across America said that he learned to regularly empty out the sand from his shoes before it became a problem.  Today, you may find that your conscience is being pricked about some “little” sins in your life that God wants you to give up.  If so, I’d like to encourage you to follow those promptings, take off your shoes, and empty out the sand before it leads to a bigger problem.

The Apostle Paul knew the value of keeping a clear conscience.  He would regularly do whatever it took to ensure that he was honoring God and others with his thoughts and actions.  And the payoff was huge.

In Acts 23, when Paul was arrested and brought before the highest religious leaders in Jerusalem, Paul was asked to speak on his own behalf.  He began by saying this:

“My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” (Acts 23:1b). 

Even though the charges against Paul could have cost him his life, his conscience was clear.  He had gone out of his way when he first entered Jerusalem to enter into the strict purification rites of the Jewish people.  He wanted to honor both God and those who lived in that city (see Acts 22:17-26).

So when the accusations came, Paul was able to say with full confidence that his conscience was clear.  By the end of Paul’s testimony, at the end of chapter 23, the commander overseeing Paul’s case concluded that there was “no charge against him that deserved death or imprisonment” (Acts 23:29b).  Paul survived another day and went on to minister for many more years.

Your faith can help you in so many ways, one of which is to keep your conscience clear.

I’ve heard it said that “a clear conscience makes a soft pillow.”  God gave you a conscience for a reason:  not to make you feel guilty, but to keep you headed in the right direction.  Like the sensitive nerve endings on your fingertips that keep you from burning your hand on a hot stove, your conscience serves to warn you from burning yourself in other ways.  Not only will you sleep better with a clear conscience, but it can also save your life, your marriage, your job, your reputation, your ministry and your good witness.

As the Apostle Peter said, “Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us” (1 Peter 2:12).

Faith keeps a clear conscience.  Is there sand building up in your shoes today?  Take time to empty them out.

If you’ve sinned, confess it to God and then to a trusted friend.   If you’re caught in some lies, come clean today by telling the truth.  If you’ve started a habit that’s taking you where neither you nor God want you to go, give it up today.  If you’re in a relationship that’s crossing lines that should never be crossed, break it off now before it destroys you and those around you.

May we all get to the point where we can say like Paul, “My brothers, I have fulfilled my duty to God in all good conscience to this day” (Acts 23:1b).

Prayer: Father, help me to empty my shoes of the sands of sin in my life before they bring me down completely.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.

Lesson 22: Faith Testifies

You're reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

You’re reading ACTS: LESSONS IN FAITH, by Eric Elder, featuring thirty inspiring devotionals based on the lives of the very first followers of Christ. Also available in paperback and eBook formats in our bookstore for a donation of any size!

Scripture Reading: Acts 22

Has God touched your life in a special way?  If so, that’s part of your testimony―and God loves it when you testify to others about what He has done for you.

But I also know it can be hard to share your testimony.  When I first put my faith in Christ, I was asked to share my testimony with my singles class at church.  “No way,” I thought!  It wasn’t that I didn’t want to talk about what God had done, but I didn’t want to talk about what I had done.  I was way too embarrassed to talk about the sin from which God had delivered me.

Yet over the years, as I’ve shared my testimony with more and more people, I’ve seen God give hope, encouragement and eternal life to others.  Some people who hear my story are encouraged because they’ve struggled with some of the same things with which I’ve struggled.  Others are encouraged because they realize that the God who could deliver me from the depths of my sin can deliver them from the depths of theirs.

The Apostle Paul had a lot of good reasons not to share his testimony with others.  Not only did he have to share some difficult things about himself personally, but he also faced the real possibility of being killed every time he shared it.  While Paul could have been afraid for his life, he wasn’t afraid to testify about what Christ had done for him.  As a result, he brought encouragement and eternal life to many.

When Paul’s friends warned him not to go to Jerusalem because he might be bound and possibly killed, Paul went anyway, regardless of the outcome to his own life.  Starting with the very first day he was bound in Jerusalem, look at how many times Paul was able to share his testimony:

  • Paul testified to the crowd in Jerusalem (Acts 22:1-21),
  • he testified to the chief priests and religious leaders in Jerusalem (Acts 23:1-10),
  • he testified to Governor Felix in Caesarea (Acts 24:1-26),
  • he testified to Governor Festus and King Agrippa in Caesarea (Acts 26:1-32),
  • and he testified to the people in Rome while awaiting to testify to Caesar (Acts 28:28-31).

Paul could have been killed for his testimony, but he wanted to use every opportunity he could to share this new life he had found with others.

One of the things that helped me overcome the fear of sharing my testimony was to stand in the middle of a cemetery and think about what it meant from an eternal perspective.  In the end, what did it matter if I lost my pride―or even my life―by sharing my testimony?  If God could use it to do for others what He had done for me, it would be worth it.

That perspective has given me a tremendous freedom to be able to share my testimony when God wants me to share it.  I’m still careful and prayerful about it, but my focus now is more on how it will affect those who hear it than on how it will affect me.  Even Jesus spoke about the importance of timing when He told His disciples, “I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear” (John 16:12).  We still need to be in tune with what our listeners need to hear.

But whatever the timing, know that the words of your testimony are like gold to God and that they have tremendous power.  The Bible says:

“They overcame him by the blood of the Lamb and by the word of their testimony; they did not love their lives so much as to shrink from death” (Revelation 12:11). 

It’s by the blood of the Lamb―Jesus―and by the word of your testimony that you can overcome Satan.  When you share your testimony, you can give hope, comfort peace, strength, encouragement and life to those who are losing theirs.

What has God done for you that could bring hope and eternal life to others?  Reread Paul’s simple testimony in Acts 22, then consider sharing your testimony with others, too.

Prayer: Father, give me the faith to share my testimony with others.  In Jesus’ name, Amen.