By Mark E. Hardgrove, Ph.D.

Text: Acts 22:17-30; Read 22:25-30


25 And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, "Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?"

26 When the centurion heard that, he went and told the commander, saying, "Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman."

27 Then the commander came and said to him, "Tell me, are you a Roman?"

He said, "Yes."

28 The commander answered, "With a large sum I obtained this citizenship."

And Paul said, "But I was born a citizen."

29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.



          On this Independence Day we take time to pause and remember the cost in human lives and great sacrifice of personal fortunes that our forefathers paid to free the citizens of American Colonies from the tyranny of the imperial rule of Great Britain.  Before that day on July 4, 1776, when the Declaration of Independence was signed by the Continental Congress in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania at Independence Hall, the inhabitants of the Colonies endured a time of intense economic pressure from England as King George III exacted from the Colonies exorbitant taxes through coercive means, and did so without giving voice to the very people who were forced to pay those taxes. 

Eventually the sheer weight of the tax burden and coercion of the British government upon the people resulted in the cry from the Colonies that there should be no more taxation without representation and an armed revolution against England that would last for more than eight years and cost 25,700 American lives was birthed (World Book Encyclopedia).

          As one can imagine, England was not inclined to release her cash cow, so British troops were sent to reinforce England’s rule, but the Colonies came together to form their own militia and the Revolutionary War began.  The war actually began on April 19, 1775 and the formal end of the war did not occur until the Treaty of Paris and Treaties of Versailles were signed on September 3, 1783 and the United States Congress of the Confederation ratified the Paris treaty on January 14, 1784.

          Now, everyone born in the United States is given the legal status as a citizen and afforded all the rights and freedoms associated with that citizenship.  Some would argue that throughout history there has been a slow but steady erosion of those freedoms as government, courts, legislators, and politicians have attempted to gain more power at the expense of the citizens.  However, even at that, it still remains that American is one of the freest societies in the modern world.  We still have certain inalienable rights that have been afforded to us by our Creator and which are still recognized by the laws of this great country.  However, all the rights in the world are of little value if we do not, or will not claim those rights, demand those rights, and exercise those rights.

          If we have rights and we do not use those rights, then the fault lies with us and not with the one who has given us those rights.  If we chose to stay at home and refuse to elect representatives who stand for Christian values and virtues, then we have no right to point our finger at the elected officials and blame them.  We have rights and we have the responsibility to exercise those rights in the pursuit of human dignity and godly virtues.

          What does all this have to do with our text?  Well look at it with me.


The text we read is a continuation of events that transpired in Acts chapter 21.  Paul and his team (including Luke who is writing this firsthand account) were in Jerusalem returning from a series of successful missionary travels.  When they returned they were received warmly by the believers in Jerusalem, and once again the Jewish Christians affirmed the faith of the Gentile converts with the one caveat being that which they had earlier stated that Gentiles “should observe no such thing, except that they should keep themselves from things offered to idols, from blood, from things strangled, and from sexual immorality” (v. 25).

          Later, Paul went to the Temple in Jerusalem to pray and certain non-Christian Jews who had previously seen Paul with some Gentiles in the city, jumped to the conclusion that Paul had also allowed the Gentiles to come into the Temple without observing the ritual of circumcision.  For devout Jewish men, this was a terrible breach of religious protocol and they worked themselves into a frenzy of hatred for Paul.  Indeed, the people dragged Paul out of the temple and intended to kill him, but then the Roman commander of the garrison saw that that a riot was about to break out and he took soldiers and centurions and stopped the people from beating Paul.

          The commander didn’t know what was going on, but he knew that if a riot broke out in Jerusalem, word would get back to Rome and he would lose his job.  So he seized Paul, put him in chains, and asked who he was and what he had done.  Of course the people were all shouting out accusations, but the commander couldn’t figure out what the truth of the matter was so he commanded Paul to be taken to the barracks as the mob followed.


At this point Paul asked the commander if he could speak to him.  The commander wanted Paul to speak in Greek and asked him if he was some Egyptian insurrectionist.  Paul affirmed that he was not that person, but that he was Jew from Tarsus, in Cilicia, and he asked again to speak to the people.  The commander agreed and Paul began his speech, which begins in chapter 22.

          Paul addressed the Jews in the Hebrew language and began giving his testimony.  He tells them of his religious training under the great Rabbi Gamaliel, confessing that he too used to persecute the Christians, but then Paul said that he encountered Christ and he saw the light.  Paul admits that he even held the coats of those who stoned the follower of Jesus named Stephen.  Paul says that Jesus changed his life and that Jesus Himself sent Paul to preach the good news to the Gentiles.

          These people were so prejudiced against the Gentiles, that just the mention of the Gentiles caused the people to stop listening and to begin again to cry out for Paul’s punishment.  They shouted, “Away with such a fellow from the earth, for he is not fit to live!”   They were so blind in their religious rage until they wanted Paul to be killed. The Bible says, “23 They cried out and tore off their clothes and threw dust into the air.” 

Seeing that they were about to work themselves into another riot, the commander ordered Paul to be brought into the barracks, and said that he should be examined under scourging, so that he might find out why the Jews were so angry with him.  Scourging involved tying a man up and beating him with leather straps imbedded with pieces of bone or metal.  It was very painful and could be fatal, but it was seen as a way of getting the truth out of someone.  I’m sure anyone would trade scourging for water boarding any day.


It is at this point that Paul pulls out his rights as a Roman citizen.  Not only was Paul a Jew, but he was also Roman citizen.  Verse 25 says, “And as they bound him with thongs, Paul said to the centurion who stood by, ‘Is it lawful for you to scourge a man who is a Roman, and uncondemned?’”

The Roman philosopher and constitutionalist Cicero said, “It is a misdeed for a Roman citizen to be bound; it is a crime for him to be beaten; it is almost as bad as to murder a father as it is to kill a Roman citizen.”  So when Paul mentioned that he was a citizen, it struck terror in the heart of the centurion who could himself be brought up on charges and punished for binding a Roman citizen who has not even been charged with a crime, not to mention what crimes he might have been guilty of if he had beaten Paul.  So the centurion went to the commander and said, “Take care what you do, for this man is a Roman.”

Friends, when you are in the right and you are doing the Lord’s work, God will use the government, the law enforcement officials, the courts or anything else He needs to use, to protect and defend you.  The very man that was going to oversee the scourging of Paul is now going up the chain of command on Paul’s behalf and saying, “Stop what you’re doing, this man is a Roman!”

The commander seemed doubtful, and we don’t know how someone proved he or she was a Roman citizen, but he asked Paul, “Are you a Roman?”

Paul answered with one word, “Yes.”

          Notice that Paul didn’t call down fire from heaven, or ask the Lord to send a legion of angels to save him.  All Paul did was exercise the rights that he already had.  Sometimes we need to stop waiting for the angels to show up and just use the rights we have to put our foot down and say, “I’m not taking this abuse any longer.  I don’t have to let the schools push homosexuality on my children.  I don’t have to sit back and elect politicians who approve of aborting unborn children.  I don’t have let the government rob me of my religious freedoms.  I am a United States citizen and according to our own Declaration of Independence, I have been endowed by my Creator with certain inalienable rights, among them, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.”

          We need to do the same thing in the spiritual realm.  When you get tired of being whipped by the devil, you need to put down your foot down on his head and say, “That is enough!  My citizenship is in heaven.  I am a child of God.  I am the head and not the tail.  I am blessed coming in and going out.  I am more than a conqueror in Christ Jesus.  I am who He says I am, I have what He says I have, and I can do what God say I can do!”

          The Bible tells us in Philippians 3:20 that “our citizenship is in heaven.”  You have rights in the kingdom of God.  You have authority in Jesus’ name.  You don’t have to take it anymore.  Paul asserted his rights when he said, “I am a citizen of Rome,” and we can assert our rights as citizens of heaven.  The commander, sort of, minimized Paul’s citizenship.  He said in verse 28, “With a large sum I obtained this citizenship.”  In other words, “Anyone with enough money can be a citizen.”  Then Paul said, “But I was born a citizen.”  Boom!  He just one-upped the commander.  Look at what happened next in verses 29 and 30:

29 Then immediately those who were about to examine him withdrew from him; and the commander was also afraid after he found out that he was a Roman, and because he had bound him.


30 The next day, because he wanted to know for certain why he was accused by the Jews, he released him from his bonds, and commanded the chief priests and all their council to appear, and brought Paul down and set him before them.


If you’ve been Born Again, then you are a child of God.  You have rights.   You have the right to peace that passeth understanding (Jn. 14:27).  You have the right to joy unspeakable and full of glory (1 Pet. 1:8).  You have the right to put the devil and all his power under your feet (Lk. 10:19).  You have the right to lay hands on the sick and the sick will recover (Mk. 16:18).  You have the right to power (Acts 1:8). 

You may have had a rough week this past week, maybe it’s been a bad month or a bad year, and every time you come to church you feel bound up in your spirit.  You feel like the devil has been whipping on you and it seems like everyone around you has been joining in.  Well today is your day.  Today is the day you tell the devil that you ain’t taking it any more.  Today is the day you point your finger under the nose of the devil and tell him, “This is my independence day.  I know who I am.  I am born again.  I am a citizen of heaven.”

Right where you are, if you’re ready to claim your rights as a child of God, if you’re ready to put the devil under your feet, if you’re ready to be free from the bondages that the enemy has put on you, just stand up and lift your hands toward heaven.  Lift up your voice and say, I am a child of God.