Acts 7:51 – You stiff-necked people, with uncircumcised hearts and ears! You are just like your fathers: You always resist the Holy Spirit! (NIV)
Stiff-necked…bull-headed…stubborn…headstrong…obstinate…when we use these kinds of words to describe someone’s mindset, it’s never a compliment.
For a brief moment, let’s put ourselves in the sandals of the Jewish leaders that Stephen is speaking to in Acts 7. They had the strongest of convictions. They truly believed that what they stood for, what they expected others to conform to, was to follow the Law given to Moses, rather than to submit to the teachings of Jesus.
As believers we are also called to hold fast. To stand firm. To believe and not doubt. So what’s the problem?
The Jewish leaders were putting their faith in a system, rather than the Spirit of God. They believed that by following all the rules set forth in the Law, that they would be saved. Stephen is trying to convince them that instead, they need to submit to the Holy Spirit in order to be saved.
Changing the way that you think about something, especially about a conviction you have, is not easy to do. But that’s exactly why we need to rely on God’s power instead of our own wills. The Holy Spirit is a gift given to us to soften our hearts; to transform our minds, to reveal truth. If we can be more committed to being sensitive to the messages God places in our inner beings, than we are dedicated to a system of rules and regulations, we can finally live the lives that God calls us to experience.
It’s time to put aside your own system of beliefs. The abundant life starts with seeking God with all your heart.
Questions for Reflection and Discussion
How would you describe the difference between being stubborn and standing firm?
Can you think of a time when your convictions made you stiff-necked, and you missed (or nearly missed) an opportunity to be led by the Holy Spirit? If you can’t think of a specific time, what might it look like?
What do we learn about Stephen in Acts 7? What do we learn about God in Acts 7? How can what we read in this chapter change our mindset and actions this week?
Saul was a man of deep convictions. He was deeply convicted that he was doing the right thing in the eyes of God. Not only did he feel he was right in the eyes of God, I believe he truly thought his vehement persecution of Christians was God-honoring work. Perhaps he even thought he was on a special mission from God. Saul was a Pharisee and Pharisees were known for their strict adherence to the law. I think the law was like a blanket of security for him, a metaphorical checklist that he could check off point by point and be assured he was in good standing with God. How dare these Jesus followers, pushing their radical message of grace and echoing the teachings of Jesus that the contents of one’s heart far outweighed any outward action. Heresy! Something HAD to be done!
Is it possible that we are deeply convicted about something that we feel is God-approved- or even God-honoring- that in fact might not be? While we are not likely to have a flashing, blinding light from heaven to illuminate our paths and pinpoint the error of our ways, rest assured, our Heavenly Father does illuminate our paths. We have assurance from the well-known verse found in Psalms 119:105, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path” (NASB). We are also told in Hebrews 4:12: “For the word of God is living and active and sharper than any two-edged sword, and piercing as far as the division of soul and spirit, of both joints and marrow, able to judge the thoughts and intentions of the heart” (NASB). Our Damascus Road illumination often comes in the form of scripture. We must be brave enough to continually compare our convictions up against scripture and prayerfully consider if those convictions resonate with the heart of God. In many ways our Christian walk is like a perpetual Damascus-road experience- if we are open to it. If we allow Him, God will continually refine our hearts and shape us. We read in Isaiah 64:8: “Yet you, Lord, are our Father. We are the clay, you are the potter; we are all the work of your hand.”
The beauty of being a Christ-follower is that we can have a new identity in Christ. We become a new creation. Saul’s conversion was marked by a change in name to Paul. Does our name-tag still read Saul? Or are we continually striving to be a Paul for Christ?
“1Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some people, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, known and read by everyone. 3 You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
2 Corinthians 3:1-3
Have you ever had to write a letter of recommendation for someone or had one written for you?
In this passage the Corinthians are requesting a letter of recommendation from higher up disciples to prove that Paul is doing the work of the Lord. Paul explains to the Corinthians that their life should be his recommendation letter, a confirmation of his teaching.
Imagine if your life was a letter, open to anyone to read, and when they read it they would know exactly who you are, what you stand for, your convictions, your beliefs, your faith or the lack of. Paul is saying our life is a letter written on our hearts through the Holy Spirit. How we live confirms the message of the gospel. It’s a way for others to see and understand why we dedicate our time, money, and energy into church, ministry, mission work, church camps and much more. When we face the king on judgment day we will not be getting a letter of recommendation from our pastors or parents saying why we should be in the kingdom. Instead Jesus will read the letter of our hearts and our life.
If our life is a letter open to the world to read what do you want people to read? What kind of letter are you going to allow the spirit to write upon your hearts? And will you choose to follow it?