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What Shall I Do to Be Saved?

July 6, 2008

Acts 16:25-34

Tonight at 6:00 o’clock, we will continue our series The Life and Letters of Paul. We had very good response to our first session, and you are invited to come tonight for this special discipleship training event.

Paralleling our Sunday night discipleship training is a series of sermons on questions raised by the Apostle Paul. Last Sunday, we considered the relationship between the church and state, certainly one of the issues Paul raises that deserves our consideration. Today, the question is actually one raised by a Philippian jailor: What must I do to be saved? I could not imagine a series on the Apostle Paul without this topic because it is so much a part of all that he wrote. It was also the concern of his heart that people understand the grace God had given and how that grace impacted not only his life but the lives of so many others.

The Romans were master engineers, master builders. They built wonderful buildings, so many structures; but they also built a series of roads out of stone that had been quarried. When you think of a Roman road, you must not think of it as being made of tar and gravel. Do not think of it as being made of crushed rock. The Romans fitted huge stones into deeply excavated places. Think of our own interstate highway system, certainly a marvel of the modern world. The Roman highway system was no less a wonder in that day and time. It extended about 57,000 miles across the Roman Empire.

Paul owed a great deal to the Romans. One of the reasons is the system of roads, which he traveled throughout his ministry. Acts 9 tells us that when his name was still Saul, Saul of Tarsus, he was breathing threats against Christians all along the road to Damascus. He was intent on persecuting Christians. He planned to arrest them and bring them back to Jerusalem so that they could be tried before the Sanhedrin. In one of his testimonies, Paul said that he himself voted to put Christians to death.

Along a stretch of road to the Syrian capital of Damascus, Paul had a conversion experience. The very word conversion means to do an about-face. Think of a person walking in one direction, making a 180 degree turn, and walking in the completely opposite direction. This man’s encounter changed not only his life, but also the whole world. Paul’s conversion did not change his basic personality though. Paul, with his Type A personality, was an aggressive go-getter. Once converted, he still exhibited that trait. Whereas he had once been so aggressive in persecuting Christians, now he became so intent, so insistent, in trying to help others know Christ.

That conversion experience on the Damascus Road was remarkable. He saw a blinding light, literally, blinding him for three days. Others with him also saw the light but did not hear the voice that questioned, “Saul, why do you persecute me?”

Saul cried out, “Who are you?”

The voice identified himself as Jesus. This encounter with the Living Christ gave Paul the right to call himself an apostle. He had been an eyewitness to the resurrected Christ.

As God often does in these circumstances, He was working on both ends of the situation. He was not only working on Saul of Tarsus, but He was also working on a man named Ananias in Damascus. God told Ananias to go to a street called Straight where he would encounter Saul of Tarsus. Ananias was worried because he knew of this man’s reputation for persecuting Christians. When Ananias protested, God told him, “Saul is a chosen vessel for me.” Ananias went as God had directed, laying his hands on the eyes of Saul. Something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, restoring his sight. I am not sure his sight was completely restored. He might not have been able to see physically as well as he could before that encounter on the road to Damascus, but his eyes were opened spiritually. Saul’s experience changed his life, and he became an agent that changed his world.

These Roman roads went through a town called Philippi, the first place Paul the Apostle came when he entered the continent of Europe. Going to Europe was really his second choice. Can you imagine what would have happened if Christianity had never come to Europe? He actually wanted to go deeper into Asia, but something prevented him from doing so. At a place called Troas, he received what is called the Macedonian Call, a call to come across a narrow channel of water and enter the continent of Europe. Paul made his way to the upper reaches of the Greek peninsula to the Roman colony of Philippi. He met with those gathered by a river and preached to them. The first convert in Philippi, the first convert in all of Europe, was Lydia, a woman of Thyatira. Lydia was so won over to Christ that she invited Paul and Silas to begin meeting in her home. Her home became the church in Philippi where Paul and Silas conducted their ministry.

A slave girl lived in that area. She was enslaved not only to her owners but also to an evil spirit. The Greek word used to describe this spirit is the same word used for the dragon that guarded the oracle of Delphi. This spirit gave her the gift of fortune-telling. She could apparently see into the future. She said of Paul and Silas, “These are men of the most-high God. They will tell you the way to be saved.” Nothing could have been any truer than that. She was so persistent in her outcries, however, that Paul finally became exasperated. He turned and, in the name of Jesus, performed an exorcism, casting out that spirit.

His actions created all kinds of problems for himself. The girl’s owners became furious because she could no longer make money for them with her ability to tell fortunes. They dragged Paul and Silas to the marketplace before a magistrate and spoke in anti-Semitic terms, “These are Jews. They do not follow our Roman customs.” The magistrates ordered them to be stripped, flogged, and carted off to prison. The Scripture says they were put in the inner cell, which is like saying they were placed in maximum security. For added security, their feet were placed in stocks under lock and key. The jailor was charged to take very careful precautions with them.

During the night while Paul and Silas were in prison, they sang and prayed. About midnight, an earthquake shook the foundations of the prison, causing the doors to open and the chains to fall off the prisoners. Once awakened and realizing that the doors were open, the jailor almost committed suicide by thrusting his own sword into his body. Paul shouted out, “We are all here! Do not harm yourself!” Once lights were lit and the jailor saw that the prisoners were there, he fell trembling before Paul and Silas and asked, “What must I do to be saved?”

His question was very pragmatic. Reworded, his question was actually, “What can I do to avoid being killed by the Romans?” A jailor who lost his prisoner would be sentenced to death, executed, by the Romans. That may be why he was going to kill himself. Death by suicide may have been preferable to death by the Romans. Paul answered the jailor in a spiritual manner, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.” He offers a very simple plan of salvation in a single sentence. The way of salvation is very simple. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.” The jailor believed.

Can you imagine the jailor taking those prisoners to his home in the middle of the night, past midnight? Can you imagine what his wife said when he brought these men into the house? The jailor cleaned their wounds and ordered that a meal be prepared for them. Everybody in the house accepted Christ, and all were baptized. At daylight, Paul and Silas were released by the magistrate.

The conversion story of Paul and the conversion story of this Philippian jailor are parallel. You see in both instances a dramatic conversion. Not everyone has that type of conversion. For some of us, we grow and develop to a point when we realize that accepting Jesus Christ is the right way for us.

You can use “The Roman Road: The Grace of Salvation” as a reference for your own life. It is also a handy way to keep before you the way of salvation so that you can witness to others. Beginning in Romans 1:20-21, Paul makes a remarkable reference to the creation:

Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – His eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that all are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened.

Sometimes people ask me, “Can a person who is Buddhist know God? Can a person who is Hindu know God? Can a person who is Islamic know God?” The answer is yes. Paul says that from creation, what we call general revelation, people can know God. They can see His invisible qualities, His eternal power, and His divine nature. You may ask, “What about John 4:6? ‘I am the way, the truth, the life. No one cometh unto the Father but by me’?” That is exactly right. You can know God, but you cannot know Him as Father except through the Son.

Every great faith in the world is searching for salvation, but there is only one Savior – Jesus Christ our Lord. Sometimes people will say, “This preacher saved me.” A preacher does not save a person. There is no such thing. I have never saved anyone. I know the Savior. The Savior is Jesus. He is the way we come to salvation.

Romans 3:23 states, “For we have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” We fall short of what God expects from us as human beings. Paul, the Philippian jailor, you, I, all of us fall short. There are no exemptions. We all have sinned and the penalty of sin is death, as stated in Romans 6:23.

Paul’s theology takes us to about the third chapter of Genesis. God intended to have a relationship between the people He created; but by the third chapter of Genesis, all has gone awry because of human sin. God spent decades, centuries, trying to make these relationships right. He made a covenant with the Patriarchs: Isaac, Jacob, Joseph. People broke the covenant. No sooner had God made a covenant with Moses, the Ten Commandments, than the people broke the covenant. God made a covenant in the wilderness and promised to bring the children of Israel into the Land of Promise. He tried to renew the covenant at the time of the Judges. Again, people broke the covenant. He tried to make a covenant through the Kings, through the Prophets, but repeatedly people broke the covenant. I suppose we could say that Jesus is God’s answer to a bad reputation. People got the idea that God was against them, that He was only a God of wrath, that He was only interested in punishment. This reputation was certainly not deserved.

Then God made a covenant in the flesh, the greatest covenant ever made. Here it is in a nutshell. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). God made a covenant by sending His own Son, Jesus, into the world. God gives to us a gift. It is a gift that must be received. What was God’s motive for doing such a thing? Romans 5:8 tells us, “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” God’s motive is love. You realize this gift is not something we can earn. We do not deserve it nor can we ever be good enough to get it. Only God can give this gift. It is without merit.

Paul summarizes this concept in Ephesians 2:8: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith.” This is not your own doing. This gift of salvation is motivated by God’s love. The way to salvation is for us to acknowledge what God has done. If you confess with your mouth Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved. The basic Christian affirmation of faith is that Jesus Christ is Lord. Jesus Christ – the man of Nazareth, the one anointed, the one prophesied by the Old Testament, the one known as the Messiah, the historical figure – is Lord. He is God. He is Yahweh. That is the basic Christian affirmation.

Who can receive this salvation? Everyone – “Red, yellow, black and white, They are precious in his sight.” Every person can receive this gift, just by asking for it. Ask in prayer. God will grant this gift.

The gift of salvation gives us freedom, not freedom to do whatever we please. Basically, the gift of salvation, the freedom of salvation, is an exchange of masters. Paul puts it clearly, “We are freed from the law of sin and death” (Romans 8:2). We are freed to be servants of righteousness, servants of God. We change masters. No longer are sin and death our masters. Now, Christ is our master.

Salvation offers us peace. Paul says that this peace comes to us because we have accepted Jesus. Christians understand peace least well. The Hebrew word Shalom and the Greek word Eirene do not mean the absence of conflict. Paul’s life was filled with conflict. He was writing from another prison back to these same Philippians. I have to believe this jailor was present when the letter was read. Paul says that we can have peace beyond human understanding. We can have peace of heart and peace of mind in Christ Jesus.

Salvation offers us hope in eternal life. John 3:16 says that whoever believes in him shall have eternal life. Eternal life is not just life in the “sweet by and by.” Eternal life is not just more and more life after we die. Eternal life is life with an eternal quality, life that is different.

Paul started experiencing eternal life before he ever got to Damascus. The Philippian jailor started experiencing eternal life before he ever got home that night. Once we accept Christ, we start experiencing eternal life. It is life with a different quality. Romans 12:1-2 tells us that having life with a different quality is our grateful response to the gift of salvation.

I tried to imagine what would happen if we took a person like the rich young ruler through just the first ten passages of Scripture listed on The Roman Road: The Grace of Salvation. If that is all we did, the rich young ruler would go away pretty happy because he would not have to give up anything. The rich young ruler lived the life he thought was so good. He had kept every aspect of the law, but Jesus saw that his preoccupation with things, with stuff, impeded his acquisition of eternal life. Accepting Christ requires that we change our priorities. We are to “Seek first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness” (Matthew 6:33). Paul wrote in Romans 12:1-2,

Therefore, I urge you…present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. Do not be conformed to this world. Do not let the world squeeze you into its mold but be transformed by the renewing of your minds (Paul often spoke about having the mind of Christ, thinking differently, thinking the way that Jesus thinks.) by the renewing of your mind that you may prove what is the good, acceptable, and perfect will of God.

Salvation was a gift to the Apostle Paul, a gift to the Philippian jailor, a gift to you, and a gift to me. If somebody gives you a gift, do you respond, “No thanks. I do not need that”? Can you just graciously and humbly accept the gift of salvation? Just take it. Just receive it. The Philippian jailor was so ready. “What must I do to be saved?” The answer was so simple. “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved.”

Have you made that decision? Have you accepted Christ as your Savior? Have you received this gift of salvation? Many of you have, but some have not. What better day than today to make that decision?

THE ROMAN ROAD: THE GRACE OF SALVATION

THE HUMAN PREDICAMENT

Romans 1:20-21 Since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that all are without excuse. For although they knew God, they neither glorified him as God nor gave thanks to him, but their thinking became futile and their foolish hearts were darkened. THE NATURE OF SIN

Romans 3:23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

THE PENALTY OF SIN

Roman 6:23a For the wages of sin is death.

THE GIFT OF SALVATION

Romans 6:23b The gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

THE MOTIVE OF SALVATION

Romans 5:8 God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

THE WAY TO SALVATION

Romans 10:9 If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.

THE SCOPE OF SALVATION

Romans 10:13 Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.

THE FREEDOM OF SALVATION

Romans 6:10-11, 14, 17-18 The death he died, he died to sin once for all; but the life he lives, he lives to God. In the same way, count yourselves dead to sin but alive to God in Christ Jesus. For sin shall not be your master, because you are not under the law of sin, but under grace. Thanks be to God that, though you used to be slaves to sin,…you have been set free from sin and have become servants of righteousness.

THE PEACE OF SALVATION

Romans 5:1 Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.

THE HOPE OF SALVATION

Romans 8:1-2, 24 Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit of life set me free from the law of sin and death. For in this hope we were saved.

THE GRATEFUL RESPONSE TO SALVATION

Romans 12:1-2 Therefore, I urge you, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

© 2008 Kirk H. Neely

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