A Straight Question and Answer

Thursday: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”

Acts 16:16-40 In this week’s studies, we see how God was at work even through great opposition that came upon Paul and Silas.
“Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ”

I heard a sermon on this text once in which the preacher wrestled with the meaning of that question for a long time. “What did the jailer mean?” he asked. “Obviously he was fearing for his life. Did he mean, ‘What must I do to attain to eternal salvation?’ Or did he mean, by contrast, ‘What must I do to be safe?’” The preacher came down on the latter possibility. He said, “The context indicates that what the jailer was afraid of was that he was going to lose his life. He wanted Paul to tell him how he might be able to be safe physically and not die.” 

It is pertinent to this question, I think, that earlier in the story the slave girl used the same word the Philippian jailer used when he said, “What must I do to be saved?” Our translation has him using the verb form; she used a noun. But it was the same word when she declared by the power of the demon, “These men…. are telling you the way of salvation.” Did the jailer know the earlier testimony of this woman? Undoubtedly he did. This was a small town, the kind of town in which stories like this would spread rapidly. Besides, these men had been put in his custody. He must have asked why, and he would have been told that the slave girl had said that these men knew the way of salvation and that they had acted as messengers of salvation when they had cast the demon out of her. When the jailer came in the night, trembling before Paul and Silas in the posture of a suppliant, asking, “What must I do to be saved?” I think it is clear that he was thinking of eternal salvation. 

Regardless of how the jailer intended the question, Paul answered in the right way. The jailer might have been confused about a lot of things. He might have mixed up his physical salvation and his spiritual salvation. However, when Paul answered the question he answered it in spiritual terms, stressing the salvation of his soul, which was of greatest importance. 

Furthermore, he answered it clearly. He said to the man, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved—you and your household.” I am glad he answered so directly. 

Notice that Paul did not suggest counseling. He did not say to this jailer, “I realize you are asking a very important question, but before I answer, it is important, first of all, to understand yourself so you will know the terms by which you are asking the question. You have to begin with yourself, and after you have done that, we will talk about the Gospel.” 

He did not give a lecture on theology. He did not explore the significance of the jailer’s religious terms. 

He did not talk about the sacraments. He did not even talk about the church. Those things could be dealt with in time, but this was not the time. The man was asking about salvation, and the apostle replied directly: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved—you and your household.” 

Did the jailer understand what that meant? He must have understood some of it, because he believed and was baptized. Did he understand all of what it meant? Probably not. I am not sure we do, even with all the teaching we have received. But what he did know he believed, and Jesus saved him. Besides, not only was he converted. In the course of the evening his entire family was converted, too. 

Study Questions
  1. What are the two possible meanings of the question the jailer was asking? Which meaning was the jailer referring to, and how do we know?
  2. What was the result of Paul’s answer?

Reflection: Are you prepared to give a direct and clear answer to someone searching for eternal life?

For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Philip Ryken’s message, “Why We Need to Be Saved.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)

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