“Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, ‘These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.’ And this she did for many days. But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, ‘I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.’ And he came out that very hour.
But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities. And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; “and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks. But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 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 chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:16-30)
My main interest is in the last sentence listed. But, I have chosen to list the context for the things that we are going to look into. The story is that of the conversion of the Philippian Jailer. The details are those of a conversion to Christ; but my main interest lies particularly in the last statement.
This is the most important question that has ever been asked. What must I do to be saved?
If I offer an answer to this question, I believe that it should be as accurate an answer as is possible. Many modern teachers will not do that, but will give you something else, what I call a left-handed smoke shift, and will offer false information or nothing specific or scriptural at all. Theyll probably tell you to pray something by rote and then to go on your merry way then as a saved person. But that is not what is found in the Bible and not what Christ said to do. And I know (from reading the word of God) that I have the duty to give you a complete answer and that I should not give you either more or less than that which has been revealed by the Holy Spirit. And so this will be strictly guided by that.
I know that some that will read this are Christians. I know just as well that some at least are not, and there may even be some reading now who think or believe that they are Christian, when in fact they are not. Some unscrupulous person may have told them an answer to this question that is altogether wrong and which is not at all found in Gods book.
God defined what makes a person a Christian. He also put the instructions into book form where we can read them to see if what we hear is true or not. So it is the word of God and of Christ that defined it — and when push comes to shove, that is the only thing that matters. Would you care to stake your soul on something else?
As Christians are the body of those who have been saved, then to answer the question, what must I do to be saved, will also give answer to the one just posed: “am I a Christian?” Answering the second is not my goal here, but the answer to that will also be so plain that anyone that cares to read can see it.
So my intent is to examine this first question and answer it, and to examine the validity of some of the generally accepted things that may have been offered in answer to it.
Before we begin, I would like to note that there are many issues that in some way or another enter into a discussion of this kind. There are various things in the Bible to which salvation is attributed. Confusion is all around because of our failure to recognize this fact. 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 Gods mercy, by faith, by grace, and that we are saved by Gods goodness, by confession, and by the life, the death, the blood and the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now, all these things and a number of others have to do with salvation. And it would be wrong to take any of them and isolate them from the others claiming that salvation is based on just one of these all by itself. Such things dont do anybody any good and lead to confusion and will eventually lead to destruction. So having said that, well dispense with the common and futile argument that says one single act of submission, or one single characteristic, one commandment saves us, or is more important than all others.
In this life we survive through the convergence and working of various elements. I live by breathing; I live by getting some sleep when I need it; I live by caring for my body and my mental health; I live by eating, drinking and exercise. It can be said that I live by working too, or by a number of other things. Now, it would make as much sense for you to remove one from the list and then state that, for example, we all live by eating alone as it would to deny that the rest have any part to life. And yet as foolish as that may seem, and in the face of this tried and true illustration to the contrary, there is a disposition in religion to do just exactly that. The process by which we take something that has no reason to it and make it to seem perfectly reasonable and plausible is known as rationality. Rationality is not a useful process in any form. People are led into useless endeavors through the application of rationality – whereby we make things that make no sense at all seem to make all the sense in the world. I plan to write some on rationality in the coming weeks. Rationality tells us that in religion a single thing saves us to the exclusion of all others. And it should be obvious to you as students of the scriptures that that is simply not so. It should also be obvious to you even if you are not a student of scripture that such thinking is in the shallow end of the pool, and this kind of reasoning is very, very narrow. Yet this is the most common religious thought making the rounds in churches – that all I need to do to be pleasing to God is to act like he is my buddy and say “thank you Lord, I know you, because I feel so much better now, because I have experienced some emotional lift from some mystical feeling that just passed inside me.” Dear reader, this is empty and futile thinking, and is the result of the god of this world maneuvering without any restraint from godly people and using the unscrupulous to relieve decent folks of their good sense (and usually a dollar or two in the process); and it is a host to all sorts of evil and stupidity.
But back to the point: the question is what must I do to be saved? Lets look at the intent and application. I think that with the first word uttered, it is implied that there was something the jailer, who had asked it in the listed text, thought that he needed to do. So it follows there is something that you and I need to do “to be saved.” We should also note that he did not ask, “What may I do,” or “What could I do” or “What am I willing to do.” He asked, what MUST I do. If you read the text youll conclude that this man was shaken by the events and was in fear for his life. When he asked the question, it was with a sense of urgency as he had come upon the recognition that he was in the presence of something a lot more powerful than anything he had ever known previously, and he also knew he was not in charge of the things that were going on around him.
If God gives us any evidence of an answer, then I see no possible way for us to avoid the implications tied to it if we call ourselves “believers in God.” And so we should all ask, what MUST I do?
It is also useful to note that the question is not what did my ancestors do, what did my next-door neighbor do, or what should my grandmother do, or my son? It is not what would my friends do? Those questions were neither asked, nor answered. This question is individual. It is what must I do?
Many people are convicted of the truth, but refuse to accept it on the grounds that: “if I do that it would mean that somebody else I love has been sent to hell.” But if somebody else has gone on to hell, what will you do about it?
Can you help them? Will you barter for them? Exchange places? Can you stop the plan of God, by rejecting the word of God? Wouldnt we be better off by considering our own safety? And, if they are not dead and have not gone into hell, maybe you can do something that may help them to answer this question correctly and help them to save themselves. But, if they are already gone, never having come to recognize the truth, what can you change in all of that?
Instead, the question is given in the first person. “Sirs, 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 does not argue that I must be, or that you must be.
Likewise, if every other man and woman were to be saved, that is also not a very good argument that either you or I will be saved. It is not a question that concerns family ties or heritage. It is not seeking to consider what kind of mother or father I have had, whether I picked the right parents. This is not a question of how somebody else sought the Lord. And it has nothing at all to do with angels or spirits. It is purely a question of response to the given information.
Next the question is: “What must I DO?” It is not what must I get to be saved? It is not what must I say to be saved. That is not in the scriptures. But, it is what must I DO? What action must I take to be saved?
You need to know, if youre not already aware of it, and despite opinions to the contrary, that from cover to cover the religion of the Bible is a religion of DOING. It is a religion of activity. It is by implication, by instruction, through design and application a religion of practice. If you attempt through rationality to remove the doing of the things from the scriptures you will succeed in removing Abraham from the Promised Land, Moses from the Exodus, David from Goliath, and Jesus from the cross. You will, in fact, remove God from the world and saving from Gods plan of salvation. You will also die unredeemed for your efforts.
Next, this is not a question of what must I do to save myself, but “what must I do to be saved? If I am to be saved it will be by doing particular things in a set of instructions or activities. Mankinds part is to do: Gods part is to save.
So that is the question, and various answers are frequently given in response to it. The Congregationalists and Universalists say that you dont need to do anything at all. Just pass through this life and pay no particular attention to anything and in the final happy round up, all will be restored to a state of holiness and happiness with God.
Now, the jailer we read about here didnt know anything about this. Those religions were 1500 years yet in the future. In his state he felt that something must be done, and thats all that I need to say concerning that notion.
If there are followers of the ideas of John Calvin reading, their answer would be similar to the Universalists except that they would perhaps want to put a number on the group to be saved, say 144,000. And they would probably want to tell us that the saved had been identified and chosen before time began and had been predestined to salvation.
It appears that the jailer knew nothing about any of this either.
Some might say that 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. Apparently the jailer was unfamiliar with that line of thinking too.
In fact I believe that this supposed answer would have totally baffled the jailer, who himself had witnessed a remarkable display of character set before his own eyes and yet he still asked the question. So in fairness well simply note that nowhere in the scriptures has anyone ever been saved based upon their goodness. And the person who holds this idea has forgotten that Jesus said, “No one comes to the Father except by me.” Therefore, morality, while necessary and good and something to be sought, possessed and desired, will not address the question asked and serves to leave 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 Gods will.
The question, what must I do to be saved, has been asked in intent at least three times in the book of Acts. And though you may not believe it, and as strange as it may seem, each time it was asked, a different answer was given. Just because the question was asked three times and a different answer was given, are you ready to turn away, and say that you have no respect for answers to a question like this that would vary as confusion might result. Many others would accept any number of answers and think that all might be acceptable even if they were different.
The question that was asked in just these words, as I presented it to you here, is in the 16th chapter of Acts. As we have already noted, the jailer of Philippi does the asking. He addressed Paul and Silas. Lets see what the answer was, as given in the text.
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.”
And further the record states, 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.
Well, 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?”
Now, here the answer is not the same as the first we 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.”
The third time, as recorded in Acts 9: 6, Saul of Tarsus, stricken down on the road to Damascus , face to face with God, trembling and astonished asked, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”
What was the answer in this case?
And the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
In conclusion as you follow out the story, in Acts 22: 16, the record states: “And now why are you waiting? Arise 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 need of the ones doing the asking.
In the first case, the Philippian jailer was probably not a religious man until the events of that night. Paul had journeyed to Philippi in response to a vision. On the outskirts of the city on the Sabbath they met and soon converted Lydia and the members of her household. In the course of their stay in the city Paul agitated with the presence of a spirit of divination in a young maiden, 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. Men who sang songs in the night and were joyous and not dismal though imprisoned. They were the ministers of Christ, while he was an unlearned heathen. When the midnight hour approached, there was a great earthquake, the foundation of the prison was shaken and the doors broke open, with the chains being broken from off the prisoners.
At this point the jailer became so distraught that he drew his sword and would have ended his own life. But, Paul calmly and quietly stopped the jailer by saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”
The jailer called for a light, came in trembling, fell down before Paul and Silas, and then asked this question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
What kind of candidate for conversion was this? Well, he was one who was starting out at the beginning of a long road: one who had just taken his first step. Some have said that he was a spiritual idiot – but I think that is too strong and they have doubted his sincerity when there was no reason to. And therefore, when he asked the question, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Paul answered him as one who is unversed in the Way: “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 youll pardon that expression) and you should know that faith comes by hearing the word of God. Watch what the record states, “then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.”
Following this the brief record is completed. As a result of having preached to him the word of the Lord, further 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 his entire 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 that word. Well, somebody thinking theres a hole in here somewhere, might ask, did he repent? The scriptures dont 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 can be stated 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 that same hour of the night.
This has been said here before by me and by others, but Ill write it down again, as it will certainly not hurt: nowhere in the scriptures is there a record where any man or woman ever rejoiced on account of his or her sins being forgiven until after they had been baptized.
Heres another one for you. You cannot find a single case of a candidate for conversion, where they stopped to eat, or drink, or 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 obedience to the word of God?
Now, I would call your attention back to the case of conversions on Pentecost, in Acts chapter 2. Unlike the jailer, these gathered at this occasion were religious men. By the time they asked their question, they had already been witness to some of the events Peter spoke to them of. They then heard the preacher and believed what he said. Being convicted of their sin they said, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” Peter didnt 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 the point at which they then 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 then states that, “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 incidents well 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 in the commission given to the apostles, all then were saved and had the right and good reason to rejoice because of the forgiveness of their sins, and the hope of everlasting life.
I finally direct your attention to the record of Saul of Tarsus, whose conversion is found in Acts chapters 9, 22, and 26 in attendant detail. What are the facts in his regard?
He was on his way to Damascus as a persecutor of Christians. 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 Saul in a fully humbled mind responded, “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 earthen vessels, and it was not the Saviors duty to answer the query. And so he said: “arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” Saul was at this point taken into the city, where for three days and nights he engaged in prayer and fasting.
The Lord then appeared to Ananias, one of those earthen vessels, and directed him to go to the future apostle. Ananias did not then tell Saul to believe, as Paul would tell the jailer to in the years to follow. This had already been accomplished. Neither did he tell Saul to repent, as was the case on Pentecost. Why not? Because of the fact that Saul had heard the story of the cross, and Ananias had seen that he was an obviously penitent believer. And so he told him what he must do from that point: “And now why are you waiting? Arise 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 important question, what must I do to be saved, was answered on three different occasions considering the circumstances of the persons by whom it had been asked. And yet the answers are the same though they appear at first glance different.
The final summary is simply this: hear the gospel, and believe on Jesus with all your heart confessing him as the Son of the living God. Repent of your sins and be baptized, to rise and walk in newness of life just as these did and as did all the others of which we have record in the scripture, including the Ethiopian treasurer and the magician. Then walk all of your days in the light of the truth of the scriptures. If you do this, when the angels come to bear you away they will be sure to set you down in the paradise of God.
And so that is the answer to the question, what must I do to be saved?
(Based upon a sermon by N. B. Hardeman.)