About Us Services MinistriesSermon Message Bible Study NotesCalendar Contact Us


Statement of Faith

The Four Most Important Things We Could Ever Tell You

Listen to this week's message!

Map to the Church

Prayer Requests

Enhance your daily reading of God's word. Click here for free, printable Bible Reading and Prayer Journal sheets!

Sermon Messages

Do Not Worry About Your Life

Treasure in Heaven

Fasting Without Fanfare

Three Things You Need to Know

The Model Prayer

Remembering Our First Love

Prayer in the Secret Place

Alms in Secret


Message Archives

2004 Archives

2003 Archives

2002 Archives

2001 Archives

2000 Archives



Sermon Message


"What Must I Do To Be Saved?"

Acts 16:25-34
Theme: The story of the Philippian jailer teaches us that someone has only to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved.

(Delivered Sunday, March 6, 2005 at Bethany Bible Church. All Scripture quotes, unless otherwise indicated, are from the New King James Version.)

"What must I do to be saved?" That's the most important question anyone could ever ask. It's a question that the Bible forces us to ask. God has told us the answer; and what you or I do with that answer is the most important decision we will ever make.

When you think about it, that great question - "What must I do to be saved?" - makes us ask another question first: "What is it that we are supposed to need to be saved from?" And the Bible tells us that as well. It tells us that we need to be saved from the consequences of sin. The Bible teaches us that all of us were born - ultimately - of just two people. And the Bible also teaches us that those two people disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden. And it tells us that, as a result of their sin, they have brought the guilt and consequences of sin upon all of us who were born from them.

We learn from the Bible that "the wages of sin is death" (Rom. 6:23). It teaches us that God made us for a relationship with Himself; but it also teaches us that He is a holy God, and that the guilt of our sin prevents Him from having a relationship with us and separates us from Him. That separation is called "death". There is a physical death that results from sin; because Adam and Eve eventually died. There is also a moral death that resulted from their sin; because God had to clothe them with the skin of an animal to atone for their sin - and that means that something else had to die in order for them to be covered. And for those who are not saved from sin's consequences, there is also a spiritual death - which is an eternal separation from the God who made us for Himself.

All of us are born under the curse of sin and are touched by death because of it. The Bible tells us that "through one man" - that is, Adam - "sin entered the world, and death through sin, and thus death spread to all men, because all sinned" (Rom. 5:12). We are imputed with the guilt of Adam's sin; and each generation inherits the corruption of a sinful nature from the generation that preceded it; and because of that sin nature, we incur the personal guilt of our own personal sins as well. The Bible teaches that each of us - each person born into this world - needs to be saved from "death", which is the terrible consequences of sin.

* * * * * * * * * *

That's our great need; and that's why we must ask this great question. Now, when you frame it on those terms, people give a lot of different answers to the question, "What must I do to be saved?". Some, quite frankly, answer, "Nothing." They would tell you that the whole question of what we must do to be saved assumes that there is such a thing as sin from which we need saving at all. "You don't have to do anything to be saved;", they would tell you, "because you don't really need to be saved in the first place. In the end, there's nothing wrong with you." Such people have simply responded to the question by disbelieving what God tells us about ourselves in the pages of the Bible. Such people respond to their need for salvation by denying that the need exists at all. But of course, the Bible - as well as the testimony of our own hearts - tells us that answer is wrong.

Others, who take the fact of sin seriously, would answer the question "What must I do to be saved?" quite differently. They would say, "You must do lots of things." They would emphasize the word "do", and would give you a whole list of things to do. They would tell you that salvation is a thing to be earned; and that if your good deeds outweigh your bad deeds on the spiritual scale, then you will be saved. But that answer doesn't help either. It doesn't tell us what good deeds we're supposed to do. It doesn't tell us how we'll know that we've done enough deeds to be saved. And it doesn't tell us how we, who are fallen in sin, could do any deeds that are "good enough" to please God in the first place. We're fallen in sin; and how can we who are fallen become 'unfallen enough' to do anything in God's sight that would earn His favor? The Bible doesn't allow us to accept the answer "many things" - and neither does our own heart.

But praise be to God that He tells us, in the pages of the Bible, what we must do to be saved! He has taken away the mystery; and has given us the answer to the greatest question anyone could ever ask. No one ever needs to search and sift through the multitude of different answers that others offer. We have the authoritative answer from God - if we will but accept it.

And do you know what is wonderful about the answer? The answer isn't "nothing"; and the answer isn't "many things". The answer involves only one thing. God, in the pages of the Bible, tells us that there is only one thing that any man or woman must do to be saved. That one thing is accessible to all; and everyone who truly wishes to be saved can do it.

I would like to share with you this morning God's answer from the Bible. If you have already heard it, and you have already embraced it, then I know you welcome hearing about it again. Like it says in the old hymn:

I love to tell the story,
For those who know it best,
Seem hungering and thirsting,
To hear it like the rest.

And of course, if you have never heard God's answer to that great question, then I'm even more eager to share it with you this morning. God has very wisely and wonderfully shown us the answer to the question "What must I do to be saved?" in the form of a true-to-life story. It's the story of a needy sinner just like us. It teaches us (1) why this particular sinner asked this great question, (2) what the answer was that was given to him, and (3) what he did about it.

* * * * * * * * * *

The man who asked this question was a Roman citizen who lived in the ancient city of Philippi. He had an unusual job. He was a jailer - responsible for keeping prisoners who were entrusted to him by the local officials, and for presenting those prisoners to the officials when it came time for them to be punished.

You don't have to be a historian to imagine that it wasn't a very pleasant job. I have a hard time imagining that anyone would actually want to be a jailer in an ancient Roman province - unless that person was a particularly hardened and somewhat sadistic person. It involved handling and securing some of the worst people imaginable. It also involved a sobering responsibility; because it was the law that, if any prisoner escaped the custody of the jailer, the jailer would then be made to suffer the penalty that was intended for the prisoner! A jailer, in such a situation, would know the reason why every prisoner under his custody was there, what their crime was, and what punishment was about to be inflicted on them. And he would make very sure that every prisoner was secured in place by whatever means necessary; and that under no circumstances could they escape! The jailer's very life depended upon it!1

This Philippian jailer was on the job at a time when two men came to his city - the Apostle Paul and his missionary associate Silas. They were hard at work in bringing the message of the gospel of Jesus Christ to the land of Macedonia - all in response to the call of God. They had not yet begun the actual work of preaching the gospel in the city publically; but they had already begun to evangelize. They had already met an important business woman named Lydia and a few of her friends. They had led Lydia to place her faith in Jesus Christ and to be baptized in His name; and by her invitation, they were beginning to set up a base of operations in her home.

And that's when they came into the life of this jailer. They were on their way to a prayer meeting when, along the way, they were met by a demon-possessed girl. In the original language of the Bible, we're told that she had "a spirit of Python" in her. Python was the ancient name of the region in which the city of Delphi was found; and Delphi was famous in Greek mythology for being that place in which the serpent god guarded the Delphic Oracle - where people went to hear a message from the gods. Later on, the word "Pythian" came to refer to the spirit of divination that was associated with Delphi.

Now, the fact of the matter was that this slave girl was not under the spell of Greek gods at all. She was possessed by a demon. And the people of Philippi were being deceived by this demon's work through the girl. She would function as a fortune-teller; and her masters - apparently, she had more than one - were making a lot of money off of her. And if she was at all like other Pythian women of the time, she was probably driven to a state of madness by this demon. But it was believed that the gods would take someone's sanity away from them in order to give them great insight instead; so, people ignored her madness and paid her masters to hear her tell them their fortune. Imagine the cruelty of her masters - keeping this girl in this pathetic state so they could make money off her! That's just one more demonstration of our fallenness in sin, isn't it?

Now it happened that whenever Paul and Silas walked by, this mad slave girl would cry out to everyone around, point to the missionaries, and say, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation" (Acts 16:17). No doubt, the demon in her was making this announcement; otherwise, there would have been no way for her to know. When Jesus walked upon the earth, the making of such announcements was something that He forbade the demons from doing. The Bible tells us that He healed many people who were possessed by demons; but "He did not allow the demons to speak, because they knew Him" (Mark 1:34). It's not for demons to point Jesus out to people. That's the job of those that Jesus redeems.

Apparently, this went on for many days. This demon-possessed slave girl kept crying out and announcing, "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation." And it really began to bother Paul a lot! It was irksome to him that an evil spirit was serving as his gospel-promoter! And so, he turned and said to the spirit in the girl, "I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her" (v. 18). And the demon came out of her.

That's when the trouble started. When the girl's masters saw that their hopes for profit were gone, they seized Paul and Silas, dragged them into the marketplace, and called for the authorities. They trumped up a charge - saying, "These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us to believe, being Romans, to receive or observe" (vv. 20-21). It was, of course, not true at all. They were just upset that they couldn't make any more money off the girl. But it would be a very serious charge if it stuck. And it resulted in what we might call "Justice - Philippi-Style": "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 . . ." (vv. 22-23).

And here's where our jailer comes in; ". . . 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" (vv. 23-24). You can see why he took the command to guard these particular prisoners very, very seriously!

* * * * * * * * * *

So; these are the events that led Paul and Silas into the hands of this jailer. And I can't help but notice that it was something that began in the context of prayer. Paul and Silas were eager to share the message of Jesus Christ with the people of Philppi; but they hadn't begun to do so in an official, public way yet. They were still preparing for their work by investing time in prayer; and it was while they were engaged in the work of prayer that they ended up in this particular jailer's prison.

These circumstances were not because God didn't hear their prayers. They were, in fact, the answer to their prayers. These events resulted in this jailer asking the greatest of all missionaries the greatest of all questions.

This leads us, then, to consider . . .


The jailer discovered very quickly that he hadn't been entrusted with ordinary prisoners. These two men were remarkable! Here they were in a deep, dark prison at midnight; with their feet fastened in the stocks. Historians tell us that these stocks were not built for comfort. They would spread out the feet of the one who wore them, and stretch out their legs in a very painful way. They were intended to discourage any thought of trying to "penguin-walk" their way out of jail. And what's more, Paul and Silas really didn't know yet what the plans were for them. Perhaps they would be executed in the morning. From a strictly human standpoint, what a dismal situation that would be!

The jailer had, no doubt, seen many, many prisoners locked up in his prison in such a situation. And we can be sure that he would be used to hearing such prisoners weeping in the night in fear and despair - or moaning in pain - or cursing in anger. But this evening was very unusual. This was the first time he ever heard prisoners signing! We're told, "But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God" (v. 25). They figured that, since they were in a prison cell, with their feet locked in stocks and unable to go anywhere, they might as well stay and have a worship service and praise the God who is in control of their situation! And what's more, we're also told, "and the prisoners were listening."

Before we go on, let me ask you, dear brother or sister in Christ - you who have placed your trust in Him; what do you do when you're in a time of trouble? Times of trouble are great opportunities to let it be known who it is that we really trust. James tells us, "Count it all joy when you fall into various trials" (James 1:2). And Paul and Silas set a great example for us in doing just that, don't they? They trusted that God was even able to turn their current circumstances into something that would advance His gospel and result in His glory. And so they rejoiced in it. And God used them as they rejoiced in Him.

Do you rejoice at such times? And what's more, do you realize that people who do not yet know your wonderful Savior are watching and listening to you at those times? They are looking at you during those times very intensely! What an opportunity for a witness for Christ our trials can be - if we will "pray and sing hymns" in them!

Back to our story. Here was Paul and Silas praying and singing hymns to God while in one of the most desperate situations anyone could be in. The other prisoners where, no doubt, fearful for their own futures; but they couldn't help but listen to them sing about Jesus. I'm sure that the jailer had heard something about Jesus from their singing too.

And that's when another remarkable thing happened: "Suddenly, there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken" (v. 26). Earlier in the Book of Acts, when the believers were being pressured by the authorities to stop proclaiming Jesus, they gathered together to pray for boldness. And God responded to their prayers by allowing the place where they were gathered to be shaken, and by filling them with the Holy Spirit and with boldness to speak the word of God in spite of the pressure to stop (Acts 4:31). God has chosen at times to let the greatness of His power become known to His suffering people in a great shaking of the earth. We may not feel the earth shake when we pray as they did; but the God we pray to is the same as the one to whom they prayed!

Then we're told, "and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone's chains were loosed" (v. 26). It's within the power of God to open prison doors and loosen chains without doing it through an earthquake. He sent an angel to release the apostle Peter from prison in secret a couple of times (Acts 5:19; 11:7-10). But in this case, there was no secret about it! The very foundation stones of the prison were shaken by a great earthquake; until all the prison doors jiggled open, and all the chains that held the prisoners bound were rattled off. God certainly made Himself known! He is the God who sets those who trust Him free!

Now this definitely wasn't a kind of "Jailhouse Rock" that Elvis was singing about! And the earthquake apparently woke the prison guard up. You can probably guess that, given the seriousness with which he was entrusted with his charge, it was a bad thing that he had fallen asleep. And imagine his horror when, upon waking up, he saw that every prison door was opened and every chain was loosed. His immediate thought was that all his prisoners had escaped; and then, it hit him that he would have to bear upon himself the penalty intended for every one of those prisoners that had escaped from under his watch. We can only imagine what he understood that to mean; because as the Bible tells us, "supposing the prisoners had fled", he "drew his sword and was about to kill himself" (v. 27). I don't believe he was ready to die and slip into eternity; but the circumstances must have made him feel that he had no choice. The knowledge of what he faced for the loss of all those prisoners had apparently frightened him so much that he was willing to take his own life.

But praise God - there was one more miracle in store for him. Perhaps through the darkness, Paul was able to see by the moonlight that the jailer had drawn his sword and was holding it to his own chest. And Paul - in great love for his enemy - called out to him with a loud voice, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here" (v. 28). Can you imagine that? Even though all the prison doors were opened, and all the chains were loosed, not one prisoner stepped out of his cell. I believe that, because of the songs that the prisoners heard, and because of the clear miracle of the earthquake, such a sense of holy awe utterly prevailed over that prison that not one one prisoner stirred from his place!

The Bible tells us that the jailer called immediately for a torch. He wanted to check and make sure everyone was where they should be, and that everything was secure. I don't blame him, do you? And after all that he had heard and seen that night, we're told that he ran into the place where Paul and Silas were, and fell down trembling before them (v. 29).

Now all of these things clearly had a tremendous impact on the jailer. It had brought him to the end of himself. He had heard a remarkable testimony of joy and faith in Jesus for much of the night. I'm sure that, as he fell asleep, he was thinking about all that was sung and prayed. And then, he had been awaken by an earthquake that set all the prisoners loose from their chains. Perhaps that was exactly what he had heard Paul and Silas pray for! And then, he had seen the miracle of every prisoner staying in his place; even though all the doors were opened. He himself had been brought to the very edge of death by his own hand, and then yanked back again - in an undeserving way - by one of his own prisoners. And somehow in all of it, the Lord had brought the man to a realization of just what a desperately needy sinner he himself truly was. If he were to die right then - as he thought he was about to do - he knew that he was not ready to enter eternity. He knew that he was a sinner, hopelessly lost because of the guilt of his sin.

And this explains what we read in verse 30: "And he brought them out and said, 'Sirs'" [By the way - can you imagine that anything but a tremendous sense of conviction of the heart could have compelled the jailer to call his prisoners "Sirs"?], "what must I do to be saved?"

* * * * * * * * * *

It may have been that he recalled what was said about these two men by the Pythian woman; that "These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation". And this explains what we read in verse 30: "And he brought them out and said, 'Sirs'" [By the way - can you imagine that anything but a tremendous sense of conviction of the heart could have compelled the jailer to call his prisoners "Sirs"?], "what must I do to be saved?"

If you have come to that place in your life, then you need to know that it was God who has graciously brought you there. He has allowed you to see the truth about your need. And once you've seen the truth, and have cried out from the depths of your soul, "What must I do to be saved?", then you're ready to hear the answer.

That's where the jailer was. He cried out to Paul and Silas - two men that he knew had the answer, and he asked, "What must I do to be saved?" And now, notice . . .


"So they said, 'Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household'" (v. 31). The answer was not that there was nothing he could do. The answer wasn't that there was nothing he needed to do. Nor was the answer that there were many things he had to do. There was only one thing he needed to do; and that one thing was enough to save him: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ . . ."

I want you to notice three very important things that he was told. First, he was told who it is that he must look to - the Lord Jesus Christ. The jailer had called the apostles "sirs" (a word that can also translated "lords"); but they directed his homage to THE Lord. It was to the Lord Jesus Christ - the very one whom they had been preaching - that he was urged to believe.

It was to Jesus as He truly is that the jailer was urged to look. I can't stress the importance of that enough. The jailer was not being called to believe on the Lord Jesus as he might wish to conceive Him to be. He was called to to believe on Lord Jesus Christ as the apostles and the testimony of Scripture had declared Him to be. He was called to believe on everything that the message of the gospel says about Jesus - that He existed eternally as the Son of God, the second Person of the Trinity; but that, because of our sins, He condescended to become conceived in the womb of the virgin Mary and be born into the human family as one of us - the only member of the human family that was not touched by the sin of Adam; that He lived a sinless life in perfect obedience to the Father; that He submitted Himself willingly to death on the cross, bearing the guilt of our sins on Himself and dying in our place - fully paying the penalty for our sin; that He died and was placed in the tomb for three days; that He arose alive from the dead as testimony of the Father's satisfaction over His sacrifice for our sins; that He showed Himself alive to the apostles, who then bore witness of Him; that He ascended bodily to the Father; and that today, He sits at the right hand of God - interceding for us, and promising one day to return for us. It was that Jesus - and no other - that the jailer was told he must believe.

Second, notice that he was not told that he merely needed to believe "in" the Lord Jesus Christ. Many people believe in Him in the sense that they would intellectually agree to everything that the apostles and the scriptures testify about Him. They absolutely agree that He existed. They believe "in" Him. But no one is saved by a mere believe "in" Him.

Paul and Silas told the jailer that he must believe "on" Him - and there's a world of difference between believing "in" Jesus and believing "on" Him. The word that is used (epi) communicates not just the idea of an intellectual consent to His existence, but rather to a settled and active reliance upon Him. It's an act in which you consciously and deliberately hang your hopes for eternity "upon" what He did on the cross for you - just as you would prove that you place your confidence upon a chair by the fact that you sit on it.

And everyone who does this will be saved. Notice that Paul and Silas said, ". . . And you will be saved, you and your household" (v. 31). What they were saying to the jailer was, "If you place your trust on the Jesus that we preach to you for your salvation, you will indeed be saved - and the same goes not only for you, but for everyone in your household." It's true for everyone who trusts Him. It's true for you too.

Perhaps the members of the jailer's household were there as Paul and Silas spoke - having run out of bed to see what had happened in the earthquake. We're told in verse 32, "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him" - that is, to the jailer - "and to all who were in his house." His wife, all his children, and all his servants - all of them got to hear about Jesus Christ, as Paul and Silas preached the word to them.

They had been praying for an open door - and boy; did the doors ever open!!

* * * * * * * * * *

Did the jailer believe? Was he truly saved? Let's look now at . . .


We're told, "And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes" (v. 33). This is a remarkable thing for a jailer to do. A jailer would never bother to wash the stripes of his prisoners. He's just charged with the task of keeping them in bondage and turning them over when required. He's not responsible for being their nurse! And though this jailer probably hadn't been the one to administer the stripes, he probably hadn't shown any mercy to his victims in the course of their suffering from them either. But now, his heart had been convicted. He had heard the news of salvation, and he was grateful; and the first thing he wanted to do in response was to wash the stripes of these two men of God who had revealed the good news of salvation to him.

And then, notice what happens after he had washed their stripes: "And immediately he and all his family were baptized" (v. 33). Baptism is a symbolic act - a public testimony of a faith that someone has already placed in Jesus. It testifies that he or she has placed a trust on Him; and that by faith, they have been crucified with Him, have died with Him, and have been raised with Him to newness of life. It's interesting that the jailer didn't see fit to be baptized until he had first washed the stripes of Paul and Silas; but "immediately" after washing the stripes of his prisoners, his prisoners washed him in the waters of baptism.

AndWe're told, "And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes" (v. 33). This is a remarkable thing for a jailer to do. A jailer would never bother to wash the stripes of his prisoners. He's just charged with the task of keeping them in bondage and turning them over when required. He's not responsible for being their nurse! And though this jailer probably hadn't been the one to administer the stripes, he probably hadn't shown any mercy to those who bore those stripes either. But now, his heart had been convicted. Perhaps Paul and Silas had told him what it says in Isaiah 53:5 about Jesus; that "by His stripes we are healed." The jailer had heard the news of salvation, and he was grateful; and so the first thing he wanted to do in response was to wash the stripes of these two men of God who had revealed the good news of salvation to him.

Here, you see three great areas in which genuine faith in Jesus Christ demonstrates itself: in repentance from sins, in public declaration of faith, and in a whole-hearted fellowship with the saints with joy. This man was clearly saved. Personally, I have no doubt that if you believe on Jesus yourself, you will one day meet this jailer in heaven. What a story he'll have to tell!

* * * * * * * * * *

So there it is. The greatest question anyone can ask is, "What must I do to be saved?" And the simple answer - the answer that has all the authority of God Himself behind it - is "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved." It's not true to say that there's nothing to be done; but neither is it true to say that there are many things that need to be done. There's only one thing that need to be done - because everything else that needs to be done has already been done for us by Jesus Christ on the cross.

And what you do with the answer to the most important question, is the most important decision you will ever make. So, I urge you - believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.

1We get a hint of this from Acts 12:19. When Herod had put Peter in prison, an angel came at night and released him. In the morning, when a search was done for Peter, the bewildered guards were examined - and then put to death!

Missed a message? Check the Archives!

Copyright © 2005 Bethany Bible Church, All Rights Reserved

Printable Version
Bethany Bible Church, 18245 NW Germantown Road, Portland, OR 97231 / 503.645.1436

Site Map | Privacy Policy | Copyright Information