The Warning Light Syndrome (Acts 24)

My wife, Lisa, drives a 2014 Toyota Highlander. It is a fine automobile and it has given us great service now for more than five years.

A little while ago, while I was driving the car to church, I noticed that there was a warning light that came on every time the car was started. “Maintenance Required,” said the light. I pressed the button on the steering wheel that switched off that light and asked Lisa, “When did that light start coming on?”

Many of you have probably had this same experience. The warning light comes on in the car telling you that it is time for some maintenance. What do you do? Like most people, including myself, you note the light and then quickly turn it off and forget it. Every time you turn the car on that silly light comes on and you diligently turn it off and forget about the warning light.

Pretty soon two things have happened: first, turning off the light has become an unthinking, automatic reflex as the warning light has just become so much unheeded and barely perceived noise; and second, you have long since forgotten when the light first started coming on. “Was it two weeks ago? Or was it two months ago? Or more? Oh, well.” The urgency for action that the warning light was designed to create has become an unconscious response to ignore the light and to take no action. This is the “warning light syndrome” and it can have serious consequences.

The problem is that there is a reason why the car’s manufacturer programmed that warning light. Something about the car’s design mandates that you respond to the light and take the action that the light urges you to take and, if you don’t, there is a good chance that something may go very wrong. But you are busy, and this is a good car from a reputable manufacturer, and you will get around to this warning light someday. Just not today.

Then one day when you are off on a desert road between Needles and Palm Springs, CA, the car just stops running. The warning light is on and it won’t go off and the engine is still as a stone. Maybe it would have been a good idea to do something about that warning light when it first came on rather than when it was way too late to do anything about the problem.

But this “WARNING LIGHT SYNDROME” is not just true for cars. This phenomenon can occur in other areas of life that are even more critical than your car’s health. One of those critical areas of life involves a person’s response to the hearing of the gospel. The gospel declares a warning from the Bible about God’s wrath and about His coming judgment against sin and urges the hearer to flee to Jesus Christ for refuge and salvation. Thus, the warning light has flashed on, but will the hearer respond, or will they ignore the light until it is too late?

In Acts 24, we have a biblical example of this “warning light syndrome” as it relates to the gospel of Jesus Christ. Felix is the presiding Roman governor in Caesarea, and he has the unfortunate task of hearing the case against a zealous Jew from Jerusalem named Paul. This Jew-become-Christ-follower is on trial for some unspecified crimes and so is given the opportunity to present his defense before Felix. In his speech, Paul makes his defense and declares his innocence, but he also speaks about the gospel of Jesus, and concludes with a statement about being on trial for the resurrection of the dead. Felix apparently has some knowledge of this religious movement (“the Way”) and decides to end this preliminary trial and wait till the Roman commander comes from Jerusalem (24:22-23) before making any decision.

A few days later, Felix and his wife Drusilla decide to send for Paul to hear him speak again. This time the apostle preaches to Felix the pure gospel about righteousness, self-control and the coming judgment (24:25). The “warning light” of God’s coming judgment is now burning brightly and Felix is frightened, so he silences the message and sends Paul back to his prison cell. What will Felix do now that the “warning light” has been turned on? God has shown the piecing light of the gospel into this man’s life, but Felix, like so many, refuses to repent and believe. Instead, having dismissed his initial fear of judgment, Felix gradually becomes indifferent to Paul’s warnings about sin and becomes skillful at dodging Paul’s calls for commitment to Christ. For two years (24:27), Paul’s persuasion (2 Cor. 5:11) falls on deaf ears as Felix avoids and ignores the warning light of the gospel. In the end, Felix leaves Caesarea and thus leaves the sphere of the gospel forever. For two years Felix heard the gospel from God’s chosen evangelistic instrument (Acts 9:15), but he never committed to Christ. He never repented. He never passed from death to life. The warning light went unheeded, and Felix finally perished.

From this passage from the Scripture and from the concept of the “warning light syndrome I offer two applications.

First, there is the possibility that you are a lot like Felix, in that you have heard the gospel message many times, but you have never really responded to it as the Bible demands that you respond. For example, you have gone to church many times, thinking that surely going to church is all that God requires. Surely that will turn off the warning light. Or perhaps you have tried to be a hard-working employee and have sent your kids to good schools. You usually obeyed the speed limit and you didn’t cuss nearly as much as some people. You rarely drink to excess and you never drink and drive. You think to yourself, “What more could God possibly require than that? Surely, I have taken care of the warning light of guilt! I know I am okay. I am a LOT better than most people; I can tell you that!”

Well, I have bad news for you that can lead to incredibly good news. None of your attempts at being good will do you any good before our holy God. “All your righteous deeds are as filthy rags” – Isaiah 64:6. “For by the works of the Law shall no flesh be justified in His sight.” – Romans 3:20. God is not impressed with your attempts at righteousness. Your sins have condemned you and your only hope is to find a savior who will deliver you from your sin. That is the bad news. But, the good news is that Jesus Christ has died on the cross to provide a way for you to be reconciled to God and to be forgiven of your sin. The only way to be saved from your sins, to “turn off the warning light,” so to speak, is to repent of your sin and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.

Second, there is a possibility that you are like Paul, in that you have done your best to tell others about Jesus Christ and about His saving gospel and have gotten no response. You have tried your best to “turn on the warning light,” and you have encountered people who are content to turn off the warning light any way possible and then just move on with the conversation or move on with their life. What are we to do in those situations? My encouragement to you is that you continue proclaiming Jesus and proclaiming His gospel and trust that the Lord will save some of those. Some (not all, but some) of those people for whom you declare the truth of sin and righteousness and judgment and for whom you proclaim the salvation that is found only in Jesus will eventually repent of their sins and will place their faith in Jesus as Lord. Therefore, persevere! Persevere in obedience and tell of Jesus and trust that God will save those whom He will save.

SDG                       rmb                        10/12/2019

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