As we were going to the place of prayer, we were met by a slave girl who had a spirit of divination and brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling. She followed Paul and us, crying out, “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And she kept doing this for many days. Paul, having become greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And it came out that very hour.
But when her owners saw that their hope of gain was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace before the rulers. And when they had brought them to the magistrates, they said, “These men are Jews, and they are disturbing our city. They advocate customs that are unlawful for us as Romans to accept or practice.” The crowd joined in attacking them, and the magistrates tore the garments off them and gave orders to beat them with rods. And when they had inflicted many blows upon them, they threw them into prison, ordering the jailer to keep them safely. Having received this order, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, and suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken. And immediately all the doors were opened, and everyone’s bonds were unfastened. When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Acts 16: 16 – 30
Here I am particularly interested in the last verse from this passage. When the Jailer brought Paul and Silas out of their cell he asked them, “What must I do to be saved?”
This is really the most important question that has ever been posed. And it is the most important question that can be asked to any Christian. It indicates a serious need on the part of the ones asking. And our whole duty is to seek to get people to ask this question in response to their reading of the Word of God, or as they seek to do what God has commanded in response to the teaching of others. Christians need to be prepared to answer it, and to answer it accurately and clearly. And it is part of our business to help people get to the point where they ask: what must I do to be saved?
If this question is never asked, then it will never get answered. And if never answered, then we have missed the mark and have failed in a command of God and in our duty to those around us. In my opinion, that is the main reason the church is so weak and getting weaker every day. This has been the major cause of shrinking congregations in so many places around this country. Dozens of sound churches have already gone away in various places: WHY? One of the main reasons is because ordinary Christians were getting together on the Lord’s Day, but no one was doing any evangelizing any other time. And if that is what we are doing then we have left off doing what Christ and the Apostles charged us to do as a primary responsibility: to teach the Word. Without teachers, there can be no learners, and no disciples; and without men and women being baptized into Christ, there will then be no churches.
This is a sad indictment and an unpleasant thought. If the Christians in some of these long gone congregations had left off doing their work and handed everything over to a preacher, whether a hired man, full time or otherwise, then they set up those preachers, the church and themselves for failure. If they were simply too lazy to do anything on their own, then that also helped set up failure. Had these things been left off in the generations before us, many of you reading this right now would not be Christians today. It is our business to do personal teaching and inviting folks to church or to dinner, or to simply sit and talk. And the young disciples need to be shown examples and taught to do the same. Every one of us needs to be engaged as we can in those types of activities. And if we’re not – then we need to get started. Offer to pick up a friend and bring them to a meeting one night or to Lord’s Day service. Don’t just invite them, but tell them you’ll come over and get them. Take those glossies and handbills wherever you go and leave them. Most will get thrown away, but some may get looked at and read. And I have told you of persons I have met that were converted by reading a tract left at random by a Christian. I’m not suggesting that we spend every day doing evangelism to the exclusion of other obligations. Although that would be the ultimate. But I am suggesting that an hour spent per week is a good start.
There are a lot of excuses for doing nothing. I have a whole set of my own. And unfortunately I have heard more than one preacher state publicly that they do not do personal work; and I know many who do two Sunday lessons and nothing more. I also know that the day of the visiting evangelist are all but gone. And the day when a preacher takes a meeting date and tells the church there, that instead of a couple of days out on the local golf course, or on the boat, that as a part of his visit he would like to have lunch or supper (or both) each day with some members, or to visit the sick or meet with some contacts or friends of someone in the congregation. I know that those things are not done now, and we should be ashamed to even say that aloud.
The most common situation now is for a church to “audition” and hire a full time seminary educated preacher. Friends, whether or not you like or dislike the way I put this, you ought to know you will never find any of that within the pages of the NT. But we do as we see done often without a thought to any consequences – weaving everything around a man and his family who becomes the only “full time employee” of a church. It is all fraught with its own set of outcomes and problems. Even so, it is widely accepted and the most sought after situation for nearly all of the churches. To leave these duties off to one man or one family is both wrong and unscriptural, and may not do well over time. And that may have nothing to do with the willingness or abilities of the persons. Yes, I am suggesting that some things are done outside of what is taught and some things are done by expedience, and are not based on scriptural examples, commands and inference. Some of it is done without a thought for any consequences, short term of otherwise. Plus relying upon a single person and setting them up for failure is just plain wrong.
Now many people live semi-isolated lives, and don’t seek much outside contact. Some of that is the consequence of societal decisions. But if the teachers and leaders of a congregation pass things off or just do nothing, what do you suppose everyone else will end up doing? And it really doesn’t matter what the excuses are – if we leave off doing what we have been charged to do with spreading the Word – it doesn’t matter what is behind it on our side.
And then we need to ask: why would you hide the gift of God? The one talent guy did absolutely nothing. How did that work out for him? The churches need Christians who are on fire for the Word of God. But most of us can’t see any flames or smell any smoke.
Dedicating only an hour or two each week to visit or teach outside of the studies that go on can accomplish a lot. There are 10,080 minutes in each week; and if you dedicate just sixty of those to God you still have plenty of time to do everything else. And the scriptures say every one of us will answer for all that we do, good or bad, just as the Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians in 2 Corinthians 5:10:
For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil.
So, “what must I do to be saved?” If I ever hear this question asked, or if I am with someone who asks it, or as I ponder its meaning, it brings with it some considerations. Its recording in the Word of God implies that it ought to have importance to everyone who seeks an answer for it or whoever utters it – if we believe in God and have any interest in the promises given within his Word. It leads us all to things eternal. It is about the beginning and end of salvation. So, if we are looking into the eye of eternity, then the answer given must be complete, as accurate as possible, and contain no more or no less than what has been revealed by the Holy Spirit in the Word of God. And it needs to come straight out of the Word of God and the same way out of our heart.
But you already know that is not how the world sees it. This question is either completely ignored or answered with the least amount of truth that can be brought into a conversation. That is part of why the Christian world is so weak, weaker by far than the Lord’s church, and the result of all of this is that many souls are being cast into Hell every single day. We need to remember that everyone who fails to do their duty before Christ and God will be lost. So, we need to wake up and be ready to answer this question and any other straight out of God’s book, and to encourage everyone who considers it to follow heaven’s answer and only that. Then we need to be able to answer the question scripturally.
Anything else amounts to doing nothing and rejecting God, and that will land the seeker in the same place with the one who gives the wrong answer. The rest of the religious world has an empty set of answers that will provide nothing at all for anyone, anywhere, at any time. So we need to get busy with what we have been given to do and stop blaming the results on somebody else or because someone else is doing nothing. It is about what I do and it’s about what you do. Each one of us will give an answer. We just read that.
As we begin, I would note that there are many issues that people bring into a discussion of this kind. And the Bible attributes salvation to a whole list of various things. And confusion sets in right away because of any failure to recognize that. For instance, no one who has read or understood anything of the Bible would deny that we are saved by love, that we are saved by God’s mercy, by faith, by grace, that we are saved by God’s goodness, by confession, by baptism or by the life, the death, the blood, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
We are saved by all of these things; and a number of others also enter into obtaining salvation. And I would be wrong to take any of these away or to isolate one from the rest; and then claim salvation stands on one action alone and to itself. So we can dispense with the backwards notion that says one single act of submission, or one single characteristic saves us or is more important than the rest.
I live by breathing; I live by sleeping; I live by caring for my body and mental health; I live by eating, drinking and exercise. It can be said that I live by working, or by a number of other things. Now, it would do you as much good or make as much sense for you or me to remove one thing from the list and then state that, for example, we live by eating alone and deny the importance of the rest. And yet as foolish as that may sound, and in the face of these illustrations to the contrary, there is a disposition in religion to think and teach just exactly this way.
The process by which we take something that has no reason to it and then make it seem reasonable and plausible is called rationality. Rationality is not a good process and it certainly is not logical. It leads to non-scientific explanations and to theories where none should ever be offered– whereby we make things that make no sense at all, seem to make all the sense in the world. Rationality tells us in religion that a single thing saves us above all others. And it should be plainly obvious to you, just as it is in everyday life – that it just isn’t so. And it should be obvious whether or not you are a student of scripture, that such reasoning is narrow and not sound.
So I pose the direct question: what must I do to be saved?
Take a minute to study its intent and application. The very first word in this sentence implies that there was something the jailer thought that he had to do; and likewise, by implication there is something all people must do “to be saved.” He did not ask, what may I do, or what can I do – but the strongest action word of language was used coupled with a sense of urgency.
If God gives us an answer for this, it is not possible for us to avoid the implications tied to it if we call ourselves Christians. To do so would be to pass off the obligations that we seek to fill, that God has given and that we try to understand. And so we ask, what MUST I do?
It is also useful to note that the question is not what can my ancestors do, or what should my grandmother do? Those questions were neither asked, nor answered. This question is personal and individual: what must I do?
Many people are convicted of the truth and see the beauty and simplicity of the plan of salvation, but refuse to accept it on the grounds that: “if I were to do that, that would mean that someone else I loved very much has gone to hell.” But if somebody else has gone to hell, what will you do to change that? Can you help them? Will you barter for them? Exchange places? Can you stop the plan of God by rejecting it? Wouldn’t we be better off to consider our own safety? No matter how much we have loved or cling to any person? And, if they have not yet gone to hell, perhaps we can do something that may help to save them. If they have gone before you, never rendering to the truth, what can you change?
But instead of any question of second parties, the question is given in the first person singular. What must I do to be saved? What must I, individually and personally, do to be saved? If every other man or woman is to be lost, that doesn’t argue that you or I must or should be lost. Likewise, if every other man and woman were to be saved, that is also not an argument that either you or I will be saved. It is not a question that concerns family ties or deep friendships. It is about serving God and saving yourself from eternal damnation.
It is not asking to consider what kind of mother or father I had. This is not a question of lineage, heredity or how somebody else sought the Lord. It is purely a question of “what are the things that I must do?” I hope you see the seriousness of the question.
Next – the question is: “What must I DO?” It is not what must I GET to be saved? But, “What must I DO?”
You need to know, if you’re not already aware of it, and despite opinions to the contrary, that the religion of the scriptures is from cover to cover a religion of DOING. You have heard lesson emphasizing this. It is a religion of activity. It is by implication, by instruction, and by precept a religion of practice. If you attempt through rationality to remove “doing” from the scriptures, well, you will quickly remove Jesus from the cross. You will have removed the very foundation of God’s plan of salvation from beginning to end.
But, this is not a question of how good do I feel now that I have heard about Christ, or about the folks around me, and it did not ask what must I do to save myself, but rather it asked, “what must I do to be saved? If I am to be saved it is by following some set of instructions or activities – not something of mine or someone else’s invention or for some other purpose. It is what must I do to be saved? Mankind’s part is to do, and God’s part is to save.
Now, that is the question and I hope you note we have taken a complete examination of its intent; and as noted, various answers are frequently given to it. The religious Universalist says you don’t need to do anything at all to be saved. Just pass through this life, with good feelings toward your fellow man and about Christ and pay no particular attention to anything else. And in the final round up, all will be restored to a state of holiness and happiness with God.
But, the jailer certainly did not hold that view. And that is all that needs to be said about that.
If there were followers of the ideas of Jean Calvin present, their answer would be similar to the Universalist’s except that they would want to put a number on the final group, and would note that the saved were selected and predestined to their salvation anyway, which also means they did not have a hand in the process. So why bother bringing it up?
It appears that the jailer knew nothing about any of this either. Some people have said he was a spiritual idiot. I have heard that most of my adult life. But if true, how did he manage to ask the correct question in the first place?
Moving right along: Some might say all that is necessary to be saved is to attend the church of your choice and treat your fellow man with dignity and fairness, and live a clean upright life according to the teachings of Christ. But I think that answer would have baffled the jailer, who had already witnessed a remarkable display of character played out right in front of his own eyes, but who was still dumbfounded enough to ask this question.
And we’ll simply note that nowhere in the scriptures has anyone ever been saved based upon their goodness. So the person who holds to this idea forgets that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” Therefore, morality, while a good thing and something to be desired in this life does not address the question, and leaves off Christ. You may very likely be doing good things all along in your life without ever giving a thought for Christ and obedience to God’s will.
Now, back to the question, what must I do to be saved? This question was recorded three times in the book of Acts. And each time it was asked, it got a different answer. I think that most of you are Christians and that just because the question was asked three times and a different answer was given, you’re not quite ready to label the Book of God as inconsistent. While others may accept any number of answers and think that all of them might be acceptable even if they’re altogether different.
The question was asked in just these words, as we read, in the 16th chapter of Acts. As we have already noted, the jailer of Philippi did the asking. He addressed Paul and Silas. Let’s refresh ourselves on the answer as it was given to him in the text.
Acts 16: 30 – 31:
And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Now you probably know that some people (a lot of people!) hang their salvation on this one verse. But the record continues in verse 33: And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.
We have already covered the short sided view of faith being the only thing needed to please God and be saved. So we’ll move on, keeping verse 33 in mind.
This same question was asked by the multitude on the first Pentecost following the death and resurrection of Jesus in Acts chapter two.
Acts 2: 37 – 39:
Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
Here’s the answer Peter gave and it is not the same as the first one we just read.
Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
Finally, the third time is found in Acts 9: 6, where Saul of Tarsus, stricken down on the road to Damascus, and face to face with God, trembling and astonished asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
What was the answer in his case?
And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
In conclusion to this matter as you follow out the story, in Acts 22: 16, the record states that Saul was told: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
One question: three different replies. But, of course you know that the answers were given according to the state or need of the ones who were doing the asking. In the first case, the Philippian jailer may not have been a religious man until the events of that night. We simply don’t know. While Paul had journeyed to Philippi in response to a vision; on the outskirts of the city on the Sabbath they met and converted Lydia and members of her household. In the course of their stay, Paul became agitated with the presence of a spirit of divination in a young maid. He cast the spirit out and brought about the imprisonment of both he and Silas. The jailer very likely had never seen men like these in his life. We have never seen men like this. Men who sang songs in the night and were joyous and not dismal though imprisoned. They were an apostle and a minister of Christ. And the jailer was uninitiated in the Word of God. When the midnight hour approached, there was a great earthquake, such that the foundation of the prison was shaken and the doors broke open, with the chains being broken from off the prisoner’s legs.
At this point the jailer became so distraught he drew his sword and would have ended his own life. But, Paul calmly and quietly stopped him by saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
The jailer called for a light, came in trembling, fell down before them, and then asked this most important question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
What kind of candidate for conversion is this? Answer — one who is starting out at the beginning: one who had just taken his first step. And therefore, when he asked the question, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul answered him as one who knew little. He said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Now, the idea of believing carries with it the notion of knowing and of having faith. And faith is believing (if you’ll pardon that expression: one a noun, and the other a verb) and faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God. Now watch what the record states in verse 32, “Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”
Following this the record is completed. And after he had heard the Word of God preached to him, his obedience resulted. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.
Notice that after baptism the record states that, he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.
So, what in fact did he do when given response to his question: “What must I do to be saved?” First, he heard the word proclaimed by the apostle of the Gentiles; second, he believed what he heard. Well, somebody thinking there is a hole in here somewhere, might ask, did he repent? The scriptures don’t mention that, and yet by inference all of us must grant that he did, for Paul would never have baptized a man who had not. And I believe the same inference can be drawn concerning confession of Christ as the Son of God. So in addition to having heard, believed, and repented, the scriptures state that he was baptized the same hour of the night.
This has been posted here before by me and by others, but I’ll say it again, as it will certainly not hurt: nowhere in the scriptures is there a record where any man or woman who rejoiced on account of his or her sins being forgiven until after they had been baptized.
Here is another important fact. You cannot find a single case of a candidate for conversion, where they stopped to eat, or drink, to go home, to sleep, or rest, until they were baptized; and yet the world says that it is unnecessary to be baptized. Do you suppose that that is coincidental? Or are these things accounted this way to emphasize the importance of rendering complete obedience to the Word of God?
Now, take a look at the case of the conversions on Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2. Unlike the jailer, these men gathered on this occasion were all religious Jews and proselytes. By the time that they asked the question, they had already heard about some of the events of which Peter had spoken. Then they heard the preacher and they knew what he said was true. So convicted of their sin they said, Men and brethren, what shall we do? Peter didn’t reply by saying, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved,” as they were past the point where belief was at issue. So he told them the way from where they stood, Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.
The record states, then those who gladly received his word were baptized.
Did the conversion of these and the conditions obeyed differ from those of the jailer?
If we compare the two we will find the following: all heard the gospel; all believed what they heard; all repented of their sins, and the scriptures say specifically that all were baptized. Therefore, according to the language of Christ and in the commission given to his apostles, all of those were saved and had reason to rejoice because of the forgiveness of sins, and in the hope of everlasting life.
Finally, let’s quickly go to the record of Saul of Tarsus, whose conversion is found in Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26 in detail. What are the facts in his case?
He was on his way to Damascus as a persecutor of those who walked according to the Way. As he drew near to the city, a bright light blinded him, and he heard a voice saying, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?” To this Saul replied, “Who are You, Lord?”
The answer was, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.” Then as Saul had dropped to his knees in a fully humbled state said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
There never was a time when a direct answer was more in order. But remember that the gospel had by this time already been delivered into the hands of men and women like you and I. And it was not the Savior’s duty to answer this question as he had already been glorified, given authority and handed the Kingdom. So the Lord said: “arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” And the record states at this point Saul was taken into the city, where for three days and nights he prayed and fasted.
The Lord appeared to Ananias, a prophet and one of those earthen vessels, and with some coaxing directed him to the future apostle. Ananias did not tell Saul to believe, as Paul would tell the jailer to in the years to follow. This had plainly already been accomplished. Neither did he tell Saul to repent, as was the case on Pentecost. And why not? Because Saul had heard the story of the cross, had himself been called directly by Christ, and Ananias, his prophet, had seen evidence that Saul was in a state of submission, as a penitent believer. So he told him what he needed to do from that point: “And now what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
This is what the Lord said must be done.
Therefore, the question, what must I do to be saved, was answered on three different occasions considering the level and circumstances of the folks who had asked it. And yet the answers are the same though at first they might seem different.
We’re at the end of this tour of the book of Acts of the Apostles. And the summary is this: hear the gospel, and believe on Jesus with all your heart, confess him as the Son of the living God. Repent of your sins and be baptized, to rise and walk in newness if life just as all of these people did. As did all the others of which we have record in the scripture, including the Ethiopian treasurer and Lydia.
So, if you follow these patterns and do these things — when the angels come to bear you away they will be sure to take you to the paradise of God.
And so you should ask the question, “what must I do to be saved?”
Have you been to Jesus for the cleansing power,
Are you washed in the blood of the lamb?