WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
5-5-68 7:30 p.m.
Every night this week we will be in this sacred place, singing and preaching the gospel of the grace of the Son of God. Tomorrow night, the subject will be What Shall I Do With Jesus Which Is Called Christ; Tuesday night, The Great Judgment Day;, Wednesday night, The Unpardonable Sin; Thursday night, The Way Made Plain; and Friday night, Where Can I Find God. And you who listen on WRR Radio, the radio of the city of Dallas, and the throng that press into this sacred place tonight, be with us every night this week. These are days of revival; it is the convocation of God’s people. And with our friends and neighbors, and these for whom especially we pray that God will send them to us in faith, in consecration and commitment of life, may tonight, as every night, be one of an outpouring of the saving Spirit of Jesus.
Now you who listen on radio and with all of us here, turn to Acts 16. Acts chapter 16, and the title of the sermon tonight is Sirs, What Must I Do To Be Saved? Acts chapter 16, we shall begin reading at verse 25 and read through verse 34. Acts chapter 16, beginning at verse 25 and reading through verse 34, sharing our Bibles with our neighbors, all of us reading out loud together:
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one’s bands were loosed.
And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.
Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,
And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.
And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.
And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.
And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
This Bible is a book of great questions. One: am I my brother’s keeper? [Genesis 4:9]. Another: if a man die, shall he live again? [Job 14:24]. Another: what shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ? [Matthew 27:22] – my sermon tomorrow night. Another: how shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation? [Hebrews 2:3]. Another: for the great day of His wrath is come; and who shall be able to stand? [Revelation 6:17]. But out of all of the questions asked in God’s Book, there is none more meaningful, significant for us than this question of my text tonight, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" [Acts 16:30].
There are three things I ask in this message. First: why it is we must be saved. Second: when is it that we must be saved? And third: How is it that I can be saved?
First: why is it that a man must be saved? The answer is first because of God, because of God’s word. "All of us have sinned" – Romans 3:23. "All of us sinned and come short of the glory of God." And Romans 6:23: "And the wages of sin is death" – spiritual death, moral death, physical death, the second death. Ezekiel 18:4: "The soul that sins shall die," and that judgment has passed upon all men, for that all have sinned.
Second: not only is the answer found in God; sin separates us from the Lord and shuts us out of heaven [Isaiah 59:1-2]. No man in unforgiven sin shall ever see the face of God. Second, why must we be saved? The answer is found in ourselves, because we are a dying and an afflicted people. We need healing. We need saving. We need deliverance.
We are like the children of Israel in the wilderness who when they sinned, when they sinned were bitten by fiery serpents, small, tenuous, deadly things. And the place where the serpent struck was almost unseen so small but the black drop was in the bloodstream, and in agony the people began to die [Numbers 21:6-9]. We are like that. In the bloodstream of human life, there is that black, venomous, poisonous drop, and we face a certain and inevitable death. Hebrews 9:27: "It is appointed unto men once to die, and after that the judgment."
Second: when is it that a man ought to be saved? The answer, first because God saith now, now. Second Corinthians 6:2: "For He saith – God saith – in a time accepted have I heard thee, and in the day of salvation have I succored thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." Nowhere does the Spirit of God ever plead tomorrow. Nowhere does an apostle ever preach tomorrow. But God says always, "Now is the time to be saved." It is now. The uncertainties of life plead now.
There was a boy from Hartley County, and because I came from Dallam County, the two far away counties in the northwestern part of the panhandle of Texas, I was immediately drawn to him because we came for the same high western prairie. And for four years, as friends we went through Baylor University together, he from Hartley County, and I from Dallam County. He had an ambition in life to be a successful businessman, and he said, "Someday I shall give a million dollars to the work of the Lord." And I said, "God has called me to be a preacher, and someday, God helping me, I want to lay souls, trophies of grace, at the feet of the Lord Jesus."
And we went through Baylor, four years together, he preparing to be a businessman and I preparing to be a preacher. The day came and we were graduated, and before I went away to the seminary and before he went into the oil industry in Oklahoma, he came to see me in Amarillo and we spent the night together. And the next day I went down to the railway station, the Rock Island railway station, and put him on the train and bid him goodbye. And I said to him, "God bless you and make you successful in your dedication to be a businessman and to give a million dollars to Jesus." And he said to me, "And Criswell, God bless you as you go away to the seminary to prepare to be a preacher. It was just a little while, a few days after that, that he was drowned in Oklahoma. You don’t know. We have visions, and dreams, and hopes, and aspirations, but they all lie in the providences of God. You never know, you never know, you cannot know.
There is a sovereignty, there is a judgment, there is a will, there is an un-understandable elective purpose that is known but to heaven, never revealed to us. But if I do something for God, I must do it now. If I serve the Lord, I must serve Him now. If there is aught of love, and praise, and gratitude, and devotion that I offer to God, I must come before Him now.
Again, why now? The usefulness of life pleads now, now. Some of the things that I have observed in my years of ministry are sometimes overwhelming. I want to tell you one. When I was a country pastor, I looked upon the county seat town as a city and the county seat church as a tremendous church, and my attitude towards the county seat and its citizenry was one of great admiration and ambition. Maybe someday I could be pastor of a county seat town. Oh, I think of so many things! When I was pastor of a church of eighteen members, I was called to be pastor of a church of forty members, and I just couldn’t imagine being pastor of a church that big, forty members.
And then I can remember that as the ambition swelled in my heart and I thought about doing great things for God, I can remember praying, "O dear Jesus, could it be that someday I might be pastor of a church of a hundred members." I wonder what the dear Lord thought about that when I got on my knees and started talking to Him, "Lord, someday let me be pastor of a church of a hundred members." And I can just see the Lord smiling to Himself up there in heaven and saying, "Son, some of these days you are going to be pastor of the biggest Baptist church in the world." Good thing He didn’t tell it to me then or it would’ve scared me to death.
Well, in that county seat town, in that county seat town was a lovely girl, sweet beautiful Christian girl, and she married a man who turned out to be worthless. And when God gave them two precious darling little girls, that man went off with another woman, and then with another woman, and then with another woman. And he lived from one category of downwardness into another category of more downwardness, and profligate, flung his life away. Well, that precious girl who had married him, left with two darling little girls, rented a place on the edge of town and took in washing and took in sewing and supported those two little girls. She toiled, she worked, she slaved, and she gave them the finest opportunities in life. They had music lessons, and they went to school and finally to college. She literally poured out her life supporting those two little children, living in a little cottage on the outskirts of town.
I want you to know that as the years passed and as the days multiplied, there came into the town on a freight train a worthless, profligate bum. He asked about such-and-such an one, and made his way to that little cottage, and knocked on the door. And that girl, now a worn out and haggard woman from the years and the years of the toil and strain and suffering and agony and labor of life, she came to the door. She did not recognize him. And he introduced himself, her husband and the father of those two beautiful girls. And he asked if he might come in, and then asked if he might stay, and to the amazement of the people in that county seat town, she took him back, and she nursed him and cared for him and ministered to him until he died.
Now I have nothing but words of admiration for a young woman who toils and slaves to old age. I have nothing but admiration for the Christ-likeness of her forgiveness, and her receiving back into her heart and home and life such a profligate husband and father. But I want you to tell me, you answer the question: is that a something that you would stand up and say, "He did a fine thing, didn’t he? Wasn’t that a noble thing that he did, wasn’t it?" Why, for me just to recount just a part of the story is for your heart to rise up within you and say, "What a tragic thing that a man would treat so beautiful and precious a girl like that! And what a sordid and sorrowful thing that a man would forsake his two darling children and be profligate and forsake them like that!" Isn’t that the way you feel?
I apply it to God. You tell me: is it right, is it right for a man to give the strength of his life and of his manhood and of his days to the world, and then as the end time come and offer a husk and a shell to Jesus? Is that right? Is that right? Isn’t it right for a man to come in the prime of his life, in the youth time of his life, and offer to God his highest, noblest best. Isn’t that right? Isn’t that right? The usefulness of life, the very meaning of life pleads now. Man, listen, do you intend to be saved? Do you hope that God someday will take you to Himself? Do you have a vision someday of not falling into damnation and hell, but of being in heaven with God’s saints? Do you? Then if you ever hope to be saved, saved, don’t you think you ought to be saved now? Don’t you believe you ought to come to Jesus and give Him your best?
"Lord I count so much in Thee and so much for Thee, Lord, I depend on Thee. I’m coming now to offer Thee the best I have. Here, Lord, is my manhood and the strength of my life. All that I have and am, God in heaven, I devote to Thee," and let God bless you every step of the way, every passing day. Do you have a family? Look at the influence of your home. How many times, times, times, times do I hear wives and mothers lament that the example of the father in the home is a curse to the children. Do you want to do that? Mother, is your example a benediction and a blessing to those that are in the home, to your children?
Everything you love and God in heaven above, everything argues, pleads, intercedes, begs for now. When should I become a Christian? Now. God says so. Human life says so. The meaning of life itself avows so. When? Now, tonight, this night.
How do I become a Christian? "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" [Acts 16:30]. I repeat as I began, there is not more significantly meaningful vital question in the Bible or in human life than that question. "What must I do to be saved?"
That was the question of the learned Nicodemus when Jesus said to him, "Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" [John 3:3b]. And the learned Nicodemus said, "But I don’t understand how a man can be born again. Can a man who is old enter again into his mother’s womb and be born? I don’t understand. How, O Lord, can a man be born again?" [John 3:4]. And that was the question of this Philippian jailer. "Sirs, how is it that I can be saved? What must I do to be saved?" [Acts 16:30]. And in both instances, the answer is ever the same. It is God that saves us. It is something that God does for us. We do the letting, the trusting, the believing, the committing, the receiving, the avowing, the confessing, the believing, but it is God always who saves, always.
So it was when Jesus answered the learned Nicodemus. "Nicodemus," He said, "it is like Moses who raised the serpent in the wilderness, that whosoever believeth on Him should not perish, but have everlasting life" [John 3:14-15]. The men, the people who were dying looked, and they were saved, they were healed by God [Numbers 21:9]. It is God that saves us. And the avowal to that question: "What must I do to be saved?" and they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" [Acts 16:30-31].
It is an act of trust and commitment on our part, and it is something that God does for us in answer to that commitment, and there’s no other way. I cannot save. My mother and father who loved me could not save me. Both of them are dead now and someday I shall face death. How could my mother and father save me? They themselves have fallen into the grave. It is something God does for us. And no one, however much they love me, can save me. Nobody, no one, it is something God does. But it is something that God does in answer to my faith and the commitment of my life. God does it. How am I saved? God does it.
In the days of the Passover, "Sprinkle the blood," the Lord said, "on the lintels and doorposts, and when I see the blood I will pass over you" [Exodus 12:22-23]. And those who believed in the Lord sat in the house and waited, and the angel of death passed over. It was something God did, God did it. In the days of the biting of the serpents in the wilderness, they looked at the brazen serpent, and God healed in answer to that look of faith and expectancy [Numbers 21:8-9]; God did it. It is God that can save and He only.
Naaman, a leper; the prophet said, "Go down and dip yourself seven times." He went away in a rage. And his servant said, "My father, if God had told you do some great and mighty thing to be healed, would you not have done it? How much rather then when he said wash and be clean? [2 Kings 5:10-13]. And he drew up those great, fiery steeds returning back to Damascus, a leper, and went down to the Jordan River and dipped himself seven times. And when he came up the seventh time, his flesh came back like the flesh of a little child, and he was clean [2 Kings 5:14]. It was something God did; God cleansed him.
And a woman with an issue of blood said, "If I but to touch the hem of His garment, I will be healed, I will be whole." And she touched the hem of His garment, and she was healed [Matthew 9:21-22]. It was something God did [Matthew 9:21]. And the thief on the cross turned his head toward Jesus, and said, "Lord, remember me when Thou comest into Thy kingdom." And Jesus said, "Today shall thou be with Me in Paradise" [Luke 23:42-43]. It is something God does. God does it. God does it.
I cannot save myself; I am helpless before death. When the time comes for me to die, these who love me most will cry the most. They cannot help me. All they can do is to bury me out of their sight. We cannot help these who die; we just bury them out of our sights. Then what? That’s God. O Lord, O God, I cannot forgive my sins. I cannot wash the stain out of my soul. God must save me. God must wash me. God must forgive me. And in the hour of my death, I am not equal; I am unequal, but in the hour of my death, God must save me. The Lord must pick me up, must take me. God must keep and save.
And in the great judgment, we shall all stand someday at the judgment bar of Almighty God. And in the great day of judgment, who can plead for me? You? We’re all sinners [Romans 3:23]. You need someone to plead for you. We’re all alike before God, we are sinners, all of us! Who is our advocate, our attorney who shall plead our case at the judgment bar of Almighty God? I cannot for you. You cannot for me, for both of us are sinners.
But He who bare our sins in His own body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24], He is our mediator, and our advocate, and our pleader, and our attorney, and our Savior. He can see us through. It is something God does. And that’s why the answer of the apostles, "What must I do to be saved?" "Believe, believe, trust, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" [Acts 16:30-31]. God made it that way so all of us could respond, all of us could be saved.
What if God says, "Bring Me a million dollars and you can be saved"? Oh, think of the numbers of us that couldn’t be! What if God says, "Bring Me a hundred thousand dollars, and you can be saved"? Oh, think of the numbers of us who couldn’t! What if God said, "Bring Me a thousand dollars and you can be saved"? There are so many poor in this earth. Think of the people who couldn’t be. What if God said, "Bring to me a perfect life and you could be saved." Why, we all would be lost. Our lives are so filled with mistake and error and shortcoming. What God does say any of us could do – bitten and dying in the wilderness: look and live [Numbers 21:8-9]. Less could not have been asked; more by some who were dying could not have been offered. But in that look, there was faith, and expectancy, and hope. If I look, I’ll be healed.
Oh, I have a message from the Lord, Hallelujah.
It is only that you look and live.
Look and live, my brother, live.
Look to Jesus Christ and live,
Tis recorded in His Word. Hallelujah!
It is only that you look and live.
[from "Look and Live," William Ogden, 1887]
And the least among us can do that. And the wisest among us can do that. Humble ourselves as little children, and look in faith to Jesus. That’s how we’re saved.
Do it, husband. Do it, dear wife. Do it, my young teenage friend. Do it, my precious boy and girl. Do it, sweet dear family. Together in God’s goodness and grace, come, come, come. Our song is that invitation; come every soul, only trust Him. And while we sing the hymn, in the balcony round, you; there’s a stairway at the front and the back and on either side. There’s time and to spare, come down that stairway and stand by me, "Preacher I give you my hand, I give my heart to God and here I am." Do you have a family? Bring the whole family with you. "Pastor, this is my wife and these are our children, all of us are coming tonight, all of us." A couple you, maybe one of you belongs to one congregation and one another, put your home together in the Lord and in this dear church tonight, come.
As the Spirit of Jesus shall press the appeal to your heart, come. Answer with your life, make the decision now, do it now. And in a moment when we stand up to sing, stand up coming. Take your wife by the hand, "Dear, let’s go; this is God’s time for us. We shall make it now." God says now, the Holy Spirit says now, and my heart replies, "It shall be now, Lord," and come. Do it, do it. And when we stand up in a moment to sing, stand up coming, and God bless you and speed you in the way. Looking for you, God bless you as you come. Now may we stand and may we sing.