TEXT: Psalm 38:1-18; Acts 24:24-27
The students will be able to explain that conviction is a realization of one's sinfulness before God, and that it is necessary to bring one to repentance.
Shortly after Paul's conversion, the Lord foretold that Paul would suffer for Him, and would even carry His Name before kings (Acts 9:15). By the time our lesson occurs, Paul had suffered much for the sake of the Gospel. He was witnessing to Governor Felix and would soon give his testimony to King Agrippa.
Felix had been the Roman Governor of Palestine for a number of years. He knew something about Christians, for there were multitudes of them under his jurisdiction. Now he was to sit in judgment on the most noted of all Christian teachers. Paul made a deep impression on Felix. Felix sent for him often, but his covetousness kept him from accepting Christ or releasing Paul. Drusilla, his wife, was sister of Agrippa.
Felix's behavior was similar to that of Herod Antipas (Mark 6:20). Concerning Felix, Cornelius Tacitus (one of the world's greatest historians) declared, "He exercised the power of a king with the mind of a slave." Felix's treatment of Paul's case certainly bears out this character analysis. He deliberately sacrificed duty and justice for his own selfish ambition. Paul had to languish in prison for two years on his account.
We find conviction for sin as far back as Adam and Eve, when they hid themselves from God. Also, in Genesis 4:13, Cain said unto God, "My punishment is greater than I can bear." Deuteronomy 28:65 says, "The Lord shall give . . . a trembling heart."
The dictionary lists several meanings for the word conviction, but we are concerned with the one which says, "an aroused perception of error or sin; a strong admonition of the conscience." It would be impossible to come to the Lord unless we realize our need of Him. The Spirit of God is faithful to show us our need and to draw us unto the Lord. He speaks to us through our conscience and we are made to realize that we are sinners and need to repent.
- Paul was called upon to stand trial before Felix, the Roman governor of Judea. What was Paul's attitude, and why? See Acts 24:10-13.
Response: The Apostle went to the trial with a cheerful attitude. He knew that the charges against him were false, and he hoped that Felix, having a greater knowledge of the Jewish law, would see through the accusations of the Jews. Discuss with the class other possibilities that could have been responsible for the Apostle's cheerful attitude, such as, a conscience void of offense toward God and man, and another opportunity to be able to witness for Christ. He believed in God and knew that He was able to bring him through any circumstance.
- Felix deferred sentence until the chief captain, Claudius Lysias (Acts 24:22-24), should come, but why did he call for Paul?
Response: He had some knowledge of Christianity (verse 22) and wanted to know more. Paul's appearance before Felix (verses 10-21) must have made him realize that there was something different about Paul. Discuss how your life as a Christian may bring conviction to others.
- What effect did Paul's message have on Felix? What does this tell us concerning Felix?
Response: Paul's message caused Felix to tremble. This fact tells us that God's Spirit was faithful to his heart and that his day of enlightenment had come. Why would the governor tremble when it was Paul who was on trial? The conviction that caused Felix to tremble showed him that he was responsible for his sins and that he must answer to God for them.
- The governor told Paul, "Go thy way for this time; when I have a convenient season, I will call for thee." How did his response indicate that he was being convicted? Why is it dangerous to try to evade conviction?
Response: Felix's statement shows that God was dealing with him, that he was endeavoring to put off making a decision. Some people try to evade God's convicting hand, or delay doing what the Spirit shows them must be done in order to be saved. Ask the class what is the best way to get away from conviction. No doubt their answers will bring out that the best way is to follow the Spirit to salvation and forgiveness of sin. As you consider the second question, discuss with the class that the danger lies in the fact that, as in Felix's case, the one who tries to get away from conviction without repentance may never have another opportunity to come to repentance. The Bible does not tell us that Felix ever found a "convenient season."
- What did Felix hope that Paul would do?
Response: He wanted Paul to give him money for his freedom, but since Paul didn't, he left Paul bound. Ask your students how stifling the conscience takes one deeper into sin and eventually to a lost eternity.
- In Psalm 38, David graphically portrays a man under conviction. This may well have been something he experienced personally, or it may be allegorical. In any case, it is an excellent description of a person feeling the guilt of his sins. In verse 1, what does David indirectly acknowledge?
Response: He realizes that he is deserving of the judgment of God, but he pleads for mercy. Discuss with the class how all have sinned and come short of the glory of God. See Romans 3:23. Ask your students why the realization of one's sinful state is absolutely necessary to bring him to repentance.
- Aside from physical afflictions, explain, in your own words, how conviction affected David. See Psalm 38:3-4,6,8.
Response: Verse 3 —lack of rest. Verse 4—iniquities are too heavy a burden. Verse 6—troubled and mourning. Verse 8—heart disquieted. Guide your class to the conclusion that real pungent conviction is in reality a blessing, even though the effects of it are agonizing.
- Contrast the effects of conviction on David and Felix.
Response: David repented, and Felix turned aside the conviction. Discuss with the students the difference in the responses of the two men to conviction and the importance of repentance. The class should be impressed with the fact that it is very dangerous to presume on the mercy of God. The Lord has said His Spirit will not always strive with man. See Genesis 6:3.
- Read Acts 2:37-41. What brought about the salvation of the three thousand souls who were mentioned in this passage?
Response: Your students may respond with such answers as, "Peter's message," or "the Spirit of God." Guide their attention to the phrase "pricked in their heart," establishing that conviction rested upon them. Your lesson can be brought to a conclusion by discussing the thought that though the Spirit of God may deal with a multitude of people at the same time, and though many people may be saved during the same meeting, yet the Lord deals with each person as an individual.
Find the definition of conviction in the story.
Let students illustrate Psalm 38:4.
Outline several punishments that might be given because of some wrongdoings: jail sentence, being grounded, car keys taken away, no weekend ski trip or beach trip, etc. Assign one punishment to each student. Then tell them that if they don’t want to be punished all they need to do is say they are sorry and that they will do right from now on. When they have all been forgiven, assure them that this is what God expects from a sinner, and His forgiveness is that simple.
A short writing assignment might be fun for your students. (Give them all the personal help they may want.) Offer them a choice of what to write; such as a prayer, poem, song, letter, or news item. The subject, of course, is conviction. Give them some key words to use: guilt, sin, conscience, convinced, knowledge, sorry, change, etc. If they want to, let them share what they have written. (Some children of this age are too embarrassed to share this type of thing with their peers.) This exercise will mainly be to acquaint them with a good definition of God’s conviction.
Using an overhead projector, show the outline of a ladder. On the rungs of the ladder write the steps to salvation: conviction, feeling sorry, asking forgiveness, believing, receiving.
Write the letters of the word conviction down the side of your paper. Then have each student take one letter and, starting with that letter, write a sentence pertaining to conviction.