THE WORDS OF SALVATION
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-21-54 7:30 p.m.
In our preaching through the Word, we are in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, and the title of the sermon tonight is The Words of Salvation. They are two, and you find them in the twenty-first verse of the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts. Paul, in describing his ministry in the city of Ephesus – which was the most effective of all of the ministries of the great missionary – Paul, in describing it, said, "I have taught ye publicly, and from house to house, testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks." Those two words, metanoia toward God and pistin toward our Lord Jesus Christ, [Acts 20:20-21] translated, "testifying to the Jew and to the Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." You find those two same words used in the description of the ministry of the Lord Jesus: "and Jesus came preaching, saying, ‘Repent ye, and believe the gospel . . . the time is fulfilled, the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel’" [Mark 1:14-15]. Repentance and faith: the words of salvation.
Now, in the providences of life, words lose their edge. They lose their meaning; they lose their connotation. By much repetition, by much saying, by much repeating, they become redundant and meaningless and worn out. For example, there’s not a schoolboy here that hasn’t read of the storming of the Bastille in the French Revolution. In those days, an aristocracy set itself apart and oppressed the people; and they had three great words: "liberty, equality, and fraternity." And with the cry of those three words, you remember, they stormed the Bastille. They overthrew the Bourbon aristocracy and kingdom of France, and they set up a republic. Those were fightin’ words in those days! And I’d like to see somebody today get enthusiastic about "liberty, equality, and fraternity." They were much used, and they went to war over them. But today, their much repetition through the years since caused the words to lose their cutting edge, and they mean practically nothing to us today; and nobody is going out here to fight for those three words.
There’s another thing that happens to words. They become twisted and misinterpreted, and they lose their original significance. For example, the word baptÃzō; anglicized "baptize." That was just a plain, ordinary Greek word that a housewife used. When she washed her dishes, she stuck them in the water and baptized them – just an ordinary Greek word. When you wash your feet, you put your foot in a bowl, in a pan, or a stone jar – that was a Jewish ceremonial – and you baptized your foot. You stuck it in the water. It was just an ordinary Greek word used every day. But as time went on the Greek word baptÃzō, which meant "to immerse, to dip," why it was pulled out and it was given a sacramental meaning until now "baptize" is an entrance into the kingdom of God in most of the face of the world. It has a priestly connotation, and it means an entrance into glory – baptize.
I can show you an instance of that today that to me is horrifying. For thousands of years, "democracy," "people’s government," and "peace" have meant a certain thing through the ages ever since the Greeks used those words to refer to the democracy of the Athenians. And by day and by night, over the radio, in all of their publications, the Soviet government, both in the orbit of Russia and in Red China, use those words "peace" and "people’s government," and "democracy" in an abominable and an unspeakable way. Blaring out over the radio, publishing it out in all of their releases – "peace" with a dove of peace – and all of the time frightfully preparing for war. What you can do with words! Words: twist them out of their connotation, and they may mean something different altogether.
Now I want to say the same thing about this thing of becoming a Christian and being saved. The words of salvation – "repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" – when those words were used from the lips of Jesus, from the lips of the Apostle Paul, they were plain, simple words; and anybody could understand them. Anybody could follow them. Anybody could respond to them. They were plain, simple ordinary words: how to become a Christian and how to be saved. And I want you to know today: Brother, it’s a devious theological process this thing of explaining the entrance into the kingdom of God. Why, you have to go to the seminary and get a theological degree for a man to stand up and adequately to explain to another fellow how to be saved. And we have invested it with all kinds of mysterious things: "Brother, don’t you go down that aisle; don’t you give that preacher your hand. Man, there are some mysterious things about becoming a Christian, and you don’t understand them, and you’d better see first what you’re doing before you get into all of that holy ecclesiasticism!" And my soul and my life, we so clutter it up with our tomes of theology, and our much-speaking, and our sermons, and sermons, and sermons, until a man is lost beneath the verbiage and beneath the redundancy of the very words we use when we call a man to simple repentance and to faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – the words of salvation.
Now for a moment, I want you to look at those words as they’re used in the Bible. First "repentance" – the word "repentance:" what does that mean, "repentance?" When a man repents, what does he do? What happens to him when he repents? What is the thing that a man does when he repents? All right, I said it’s just an ordinary word used in everyday language, and it had one meaning. Now you listen to it. We’ll take it out of the Bible. Jesus said:
The men of Nineveh shall rise in the judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: because they repented at the preaching of Jonah;
and, behold, a greater than Jonah is here"
There’s that word. "They repented at the preaching of Jonah." Well you turn back here to the third chapter of Jonah. You’ll find out what those people did, and that is repentance. Here’s what they did: Jonah came into the city of Nineveh, three days’ journey, and began to say, "Yet forty days and Nineveh will be destroyed" [Jonah 3:4]. Forty more days to live! Forty more days to get right with God! Forty more days and God shall destroy and overthrow Nineveh. Well, the king heard it, and the king’s horsemen heard it, and the man on the street heard it, and the wife in the house heard it, and everybody heard it [Jonah 3:5]. It spread like wildfire! And the king – instead of saying, "Ha!"; instead of laughing, saying, "Pshaw!"; instead of passing it by, the king stopped and he heeded. And he took off his robes, and he stepped down out of his throne, and he put sackcloth on, and he sat in ashes. And he caused the decree to be published throughout the city that every man would turn from his ways and look to God, and maybe God would be merciful and save the city [Jonah 3:6-9]. And the Lord repented Himself. That’s what the Book says here: "And the Lord repented Himself" [Jonah 3:10].
Well, I thought repentance was mourning for sin, "Oh, oh, oh!" There’s nothing in it. There’s nothing in it to mourn, to be debased, to go around "Ohhh!" There’s my word again, "lugubriously." I don’t know of a better word to describe it.
I held a revival meeting one time, and it was out there in Kentucky. And they had the inane, senseless, crazy, silly doctrine that before a man could be saved he had to mourn over his sins for a certain period of time; and they called that "true repentance, true repentance." Well I’m just talking to you out of the Book. It says here, "and God repented Him." God repented Him, and He didn’t do it. He didn’t destroy Nineveh because Nineveh had repented. Nineveh had repented. Now, whatever that was, that’s repentance.
All right, look at it once again, just once again. Now, you look at this: this is from the Word of the Lord Jesus. "What think ye?" says the Lord. "A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, ‘Son, go work today at my vineyard.’ He answered and said, ‘I will not.’" [Matthew 21:28-29]. There’s your burr haircut. Yeah! Sit down here with the department. Sit down there. "Oh, our department," he said this morning, "We all going to sit down, all right over there, all of us together." Well, he’s got an offspring that’s sitting way up there in the balcony. That’s it! "What think ye?" That’s what the Lord’s talking about: "What think ye? What do you think about that?"
A certain man had two sons; and he came to the first and said, "Son, go work today in my vineyard."
He answered and said, "I will not:" but afterward he repented, and went.
There’s that word again, "but afterward he repented, and went":
And he came to the second, and said likewise. And he said, "Yes, sir, I’ll go," but he didn’t go.
Now, which one of them did the father’s will?
And they said, "The first one, who repented."
Jesus said unto them, "Verily, I say unto you that the publicans and the harlots go into the kingdom of God before you.
For John came unto you in the way of righteousness, and ye believed Him not: but the publicans and the harlots believed him:
and ye, when ye had seen it, repented not afterward, that ye might believe him.
Now that is repentance. This boy says, "I’ll not do it;" then he changed his mind and said, "Yes, sir, I will do it." Now that’s repentance; that’s repentance.
All right, may I apply it to us? May I apply it to us? Here’s a fellow: "I was a pacifist. I was a pacifist. I didn’t believe in taking up arms for the defense of my country, but I’ve changed my mind. I’m not a pacifist any longer. I believe in defending our country." That’s repentance; that’s repentance. "I used to be a pacifist, but I’m not a pacifist any more. I’ve changed my mind. I’ve turned around."
All right, take another one: Here’s a fellow – and I’m talking about people that I know who’ve said these things to me: "I used to be a wimp. I used to believe in legalizing liquor. I used to believe in selling it on every corner, but I’ve changed my mind. I’m against it now. I’ve turned around." That’s repentance; that’s repentance.
I’m thinking of another man: "I used to be a gambler." And he said, "One day I saw a ragged boy, underfed and undernourished, going to school with a little bitty lunch basket in his hand and not enough in that basket for him to eat." He said, "The night before, I had gambled with that boy’s father, and I had won everything that the father had." He said, "When I saw that boy, ragged and hungry, going to school with that little bitty lunch basket in his hand empty," he said, "I said ‘I’ll never gamble again; never again.’" That’s repentance: "I’ve changed my mind. I’ve turned around. I’m going to do something else." That’s repentance.
Coach, here’s a boy going to Texas University. He comes to see you. He says, "Listen here, Coach, I’m not going to Texas University. I’m going to SMU and play on that Baptist team out there at SMU!" That’s repentance. "Yes, sir, I’ve changed my mind. Turn it around. I’m turning around."
Now a man such as Paul would describe here in the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts: he pled with them "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 20:21]. Let us take it back to his day. What would that mean when Paul used it there? Well this is what it would mean. They’d stand up in the congregation in the middle of the church at Ephesus and one man would say, "I used daily to go up to the great temple of Diana of the Ephesians, and I used to bow down and worship at the shrine of Diana. But today, I’m bowing the knee to the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve changed." That’s repentance. "I’ve changed. I’ve turned around to the Lord."
All right, take another fellow. Not all of those people were idol worshipers in the days of Paul. There were many, many learned intellectuals, and they were mostly atheists. They were Greek intellectuals, Greek scholars; they were learned people, very learned. Some of them were sophists, and they went around talking about Greek learning, and cultural developments, and oratory, and rhetoric, and philosophy. They were called sophists, and they were everywhere! I can see a sophist sitting up in the middle of that congregation there in Ephesus and saying, "I used to be an atheist – used to be an atheist. I used to go around over this country teaching sophistry to the people" – all those philosophical terms and passages that the Greeks so greatly loved. "But," he said, "I’m not a sophist anymore; and I’m not a Greek philosopher anymore; and I’m not an atheist anymore. I’m a humble believer in the Lord Jesus Christ. I’ve changed!" That’s repentance. "I’ve turned around."
Now let’s apply it to us. Let’s apply it to us today. Here’s an old boy. Here’s Jesse today. Here’s Jesse today fooling around this church for a generation. Just once in awhile he’d drop in. Just once in a while he’d drop in – just once in awhile. His wife here; just once in awhile he’d drop in. I went down there to the plant to see him, and I cornered him where the machinery was – a great big wheel going round and round. I talked to him a little while. I got him to go into the little office there, and I sat down by his side; and I talked to him about the Lord and about putting his life in the church, and about being here, and about coming, and about raising up those children – five of them now – in the love and nurture of the Lord.
Upon a day, he came down the aisle and took me by the hand and said, "Preacher, here I am. I’ve decided for the Lord and for the church, and I want to be baptized." That’s repentance: "Here I am. I’ve been passing it by. I’ve been passing it by. I’ve been going down the way. I’ve been allowing other things to come in and interfere, but preacher, from now on, count me in. I’m with you. Here I am, and here I come." That’s repentance. That’s repentance: "Heretofore, I’ve been saying ‘no’ to my wife, and ‘no’ to the preacher, and ‘no’ to the appeal. I’ve been out there on the outside. I’m not going to be out there anymore. Preacher, here I am. Here I am, and here’s my hand." That’s repentance: turn it around, turn it around, turn it around. A great change – a right about-face in conduct, in life, in commitment, in the things you love and the things to which you’re giving the energy of your day. "I’m turning around, preacher; heretofore, I’ve passed you by, but here I’m coming to you and walking by your side." That’s repentance. That’s repentance.
All right, we’ve got to go to the second word: "repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ." All right, we’ve got that word faith now. Repentance is a turning to God. The world? No, sir! It’s cause? No, sir! It’s way? No sir, not anymore! Not anymore! Looking to God, facing toward God; I’ve been out there, but not anymore. I’ve been enmeshed in it; not anymore. I’ve been serving the devil; not anymore. I’ve been walking his way; not anymore. I’m facing up to God now. I’m walking to Him. I’ve turned around. I’m in His church. I’m with His people. Now that’s repentance – looking to God.
Now what’s that thing of faith? Trusting – repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ – pistis, faith; now what is that? Well, you have a whole chapter illustrating it. Here in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, "By faith Noah – by faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear, prepared an ark for the saving of his house" [Hebrews 11:7]. Why it was a hundred and twenty years before the flood came when God said to Noah He was going to destroy the world by water [Genesis 6:3]. Do you know what Noah did? For a hundred and twenty years, for a hundred and twenty years, with hammer and saw he and his three boys began to build an ark a thousand miles away from any water big enough to float it. Now that’s faith. The skies were clear. The day was fine, and the neighbors all laughed at Noah. But God said, "A hundred twenty years and the world will be destroyed by flood, by water." And Noah believed God. That’s faith. Noah believed God [Genesis 5:28-9:19].
The next verse: "By faith Abraham" [Hebrews 11:8] – and then you have a long discussion of the faith of the Abraham – what it is to trust in God [Hebrews 11:8-19]. Look at Him. God came to Abraham and said to him, "Abraham, I’m going to give you a country." And Abraham said, "Where is that country?" And God said, "I’m not going to tell you. I’m not going to tell you. You just go out, and I’ll direct you, Abraham" [Genesis 12:1-3]. And Abraham got up and left, and he didn’t know where he was going – he didn’t know where he was going [Genesis 12:4]. And when he got there, he never owned a piece of it [Genesis 12:6-7; 23:4]. In his old age, he bought a cave in which to bury Sarah his wife [Genesis 23:1-20]. That’s the only thing that he had. But God said, "I’ll give it to you and your family forever" [Genesis 15:18, 17:8]. And he left, not knowing whither he went, just trusting God [Hebrews 11:8].
And then He gives a second instance there, in the twelfth verse – eleventh and twelfth verses. God said to Abraham, "Out of thy loins, and out of the womb of Sarah, you’re going to have a boy; and in him will all of the families of the world be blessed" [Genesis 15:4-6; 17:15-19; 18:9; 22:18; Hebrews 11:11-12].
Old Abraham got to be a hundred years old, and Sarah his wife got to be ninety years old. Did you ever see a woman ninety years old have a baby? You never did nor did anybody else – nor did anybody else. And one day, Abraham complained to God and said, "You promised me this child, and I’m a hundred years old. My wife is ninety years old, and there’s no child born yet" [Genesis 17:15-22]. You know what God did? God took Abraham out under the stars of the sky and said, "You look at the firmament. Can you number the stars?" And Abraham said, "No, I can’t count them all." And God said, "So shall thy seed be. You’re going to have a child, born out of the womb of Sarah, your wife, and that child will be the father of a nation who shall number like the stars in the sky [Genesis 15:1-5]. And Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness [Genesis 15:6; Romans 4:2, 16-22]. He trusted in the Lord – faith.
All right, here’s one other, here’s one other. When the boy, here in the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, God came to Abraham and said, "You take this boy," he’s about thirteen years old, "and you offer him up as a sacrifice to Me" [Genesis 22:1-2; Hebrews 11:17-18]. So Abraham took the boy, Isaac – "laughter," the joy of the hearth, and home, and family [Genesis 21:1-8] – took the little boy Isaac, and on Mount Moriah bound the boy, and laid him as a sacrifice, as an offering before God [Genesis 22:9]. And here, what the Book says is by faith: "Accounting that God was able to raise him even from the dead" [Hebrews 11:19]. God said, "In this boy – in this boy, shall thy seed, and thy name, and thy generations be called" [Genesis 17:19-21]. But when Abraham lifted up that knife to slay the boy at God’s command, the Bible says Abraham believed that God would raise the boy from the dead. If he slew him, God would raise him from the dead [Genesis 22:5-8, 9, 11; Hebrews 11:19]. That’s faith. That’s faith: just trusting God for it, trusting God for it. Looking to God for it, just believing in God: that’s faith; that’s faith.
Now in a feeble, poor sort of way, may I apply that to myself? I’m going to take myself. There’s no need for me to be up here talking to you about faith, a thing that if I haven’t exercised it myself then I ought not to speak of it. Trusting God for it; trusting God for it. Young fellow, Ives, when I was out there where you’re preaching – out there where you’re preaching at the Pecan Grove Baptist Church – I was seventeen years old when I first went out there to preach; seventeen years old. And I stayed there. I was called soon after that, and I stayed there until I went away to the Southern Seminary in Kentucky. While I was out there, I got down there on my knees one day. I got down on my knees, and I said something to God. This is what I said: "Lord, when I stand up to preach, help me Lord to preach with just an open Book in my hand. That’s all. No manuscript and no notes: just stand up there and preach. Lord, You help me."
It scared me to death, scared me to death! Well, what if you forget? What if you forget? What if it goes out of your mind? What if you do? When I preach at these evangelistic conferences, any number, I couldn’t tell you the number of preachers that come around and say to me – once in a while I quote poetry by the yard in those addresses, those special addresses, and go through any number of things – and they come around and say, "Where do you put all that? We have looked, and there’s no manuscript anywhere!" They sit up in the balcony, and there are no notes anywhere. "How do you do that? How do you do that?" It scared me to death when I started out.
Do you realize I’ve been preaching to you for ten solid years, almost, lacks a few months now. Every Sunday morning, every Sunday night, and you’ve never seen me yet stand up here with a manuscript or any note. You never are going to either. You’re not going to. I stand up here with this Book in my hand. And I study hard, and I prepare this message; and I stand up here, and I preach. And I try not to duplicate what I’ve said and what I’ve done. I try to have a new message every Sunday morning and every Sunday night. And I settled that back there on my knees: "Dear God, I’m going to trust You for it – that my mind will think when I stand up; that it’ll be clear, and that I won’t stumble or stagger or forget. And I’m depending on You, Lord. I’m trusting You for it." That’s been twenty-five years ago, something like that, and the Lord has never failed me one time. Not one time. I have never yet forgotten. Once in awhile, I may stagger and stumble and hesitate mostly because my mind works a lot faster than my mouth is able to talk. But the Lord has never let me down. He never has. He never has.
All right, another thing, just trusting God for it. Every once in awhile, I go out and hold a revival meeting. Now, I’m a pastor and not an evangelist, and I can’t stay at a church but just about one Sunday. So I build toward one great appeal on that one Sunday. And our people – I pull them into it – and we pray, and we work for that one great appeal on Sunday. Did you ever think, "What if nobody came? What if nobody responded? Why, you never saw such a colossal failure, such a blah, such a washout in your life! You’ve prayed and preached and worked toward that hour on Sunday, and what if nobody came? What if nobody came?" All right, I want to show you how it is.
Back yonder, after I watched C.E. Mathews one time, I said, "Lord, that’s the best way I can do as a pastor – to win a great host of people to the Lord Jesus; and I’m going to trust You for it. I’m going to trust You for it that people will respond." And I went to a church and held a revival meeting. The boy was about to lose his pastorate; he was in all kinds of trouble, and he needed a revival. And I prayed God; and we worked toward that day, and we had them all in the congregation. We had one of those services that started at Sunday School hour and went clear on through until God said it was enough. You know what I did? I pled for one solid hour, and not a soul came – not a soul came, not a soul came. I gave the invitation. I prayed. I pled; I begged; I interceded. I did everything I knew how to do as we sang those invitation hymns for a solid hour, and not a soul moved, not a soul came. Nobody was converted, but I believed God. I prayed to God about it, and I trusted in the Lord.
I felt as I stood up there and pled and begged and made invitation for the Lord for over an hour, I felt that God was just testing me to see whether really I’d trust Him or not. And I didn’t quit. I didn’t stop. And after an hour of pleading and interceding, after an hour, somebody came. And then somebody else came. And dear people, I want you to know that’s the only revival service I’ve ever held in my life on one of those great day Sundays [that] when I said the benediction and the service was over, everybody in divine presence was in the kingdom of God, everybody. Wasn’t a one that walked out of that church lost; they, everyone was saved, every one of them, every one of them. The Lord was just trying me, and I believed in Him and I knew He’d help; and I knew He’d bear His arms to save, and He did: just trusted in God, believing in Him.
Our program here: "Preacher, what a staggering thing!" Once in awhile, they’ll say to me, "What debt do you have on that church?" And I tell them, "We’ve got a debt of a million, two hundred to three hundred thousand dollars. We’ve got that big a debt on this church. We’ve got that big a debt on it." And then they say to me in amazement, "What? We never heard of any such debt as that. What are you going to do? What are you going to do?"
I’ll tell you what we’re going to do. Sunday by Sunday, we’re going to jam this church, and we’re going to pray, and we’re going to give, and we’ll pay that debt before you realize it, before you know it. God will help us. God will help us! Trust in God for it. He’ll see us through. After all, didn’t He give these things to us, and hasn’t He given you gifts – you? Trust in God for it.
Now, may I go back to the day when I was boy, when I was ten years old, ten years old – a boy ten years old. I went to a morning service, in a revival, a weekday morning service. And the preacher preached; and when he got through with his sermon, he said, "Is there somebody this morning who will give his heart in trust to the Lord Jesus?" He said, "We’re going to stand and sing." And they sang "There Is a Fountain Filled with Blood." We stood up to sing. Dear, blessed mother turned to me – I just happened to be seated back of her – and she said to me, "Son, today, don’t you want to trust Jesus as your Savior?" I said, "Yes. Yes. I’ll trust Him today as my Savior."
I stood by the side of one of my old deacons one time, in another church, and I wouldn’t see Him again; he was in another place. And I said to him, "Everything’s all right between you and God?" He put a feeble, bony, emaciated hand on my arm and said, "Son, I settled that over sixty years ago. Over sixty years ago, I settled that." And when I left, I turned around and looked one last look at that godly old man who so greatly befriended me. When I turned around and looked at him, he took that same bony, emaciated hand and pointed up to glory like that. I said, "Goodbye." He nodded and pointed up. He meant, "I’ll see you in glory;" and a little while after that, he slipped away to be with the Lord.
I settled that when I was ten years old, ten years old. And someday, I don’t know when – tomorrow’s day, fifty years of age, sixty – however God shall let me live, but whenever the time comes, whenever it comes – whether I’m in Dallas or I’m in a plane; whether I’m beyond the sea, wherever it is – when that time and hour comes, I settled that when I was a boy ten years of age; and I’m still trusting Jesus. Faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ: I’m looking to Him. It’s in His hands. It’s in His hands. Not in mine, not in mine; it’s in His. I have entrusted my soul – now, tomorrow, at the end of the way – I’ve given it to Him. It’s up to Him. As God’s Book says, and that’s safe, when I turn, repent, when I trust, looking to God, that’s it. That’s the way to be saved.
Down that aisle, up to the front, by the side of the pastor, "Here I am, preacher, here I come." That’s it: plain and simple but eternal and significant. The words of salvation: repent and believe, trust and obey, come and be saved. Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you? Wouldn’t you do it now? Somebody you, anybody you, in the balcony around, from side to side, somebody you, tonight: "Here I am, preacher, here I come. I’ll make it now. I’ll do it tonight." Somebody into the fellowship of the church, a family of you, two of you, a man and his wife, or one of you, somebody you, while we make this appeal, while we sing the song, would you do it? Would you do it? "Here’s my hand, preacher, I’ve given my heart in trust, in repentance, in turning to God." Would you do it? Make it now while we stand and while we sing.