Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-25-78 10:50 a.m.
The singing, the reading, the praying, and now the sermon brought by the pastor. It is entitled Saving Faith. “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30]. Opening the door into the kingdom of heaven.
In our preaching through the Book of Acts, we are in chapter 16. And this is another message from the remarkable circumstances that surrounded the conversion of this Philippian jailer. Having beaten Paul and Silas, thrust them in an inner dungeon, fastened their feet fast in the stocks [Acts 16:23-24]—at midnight, Paul and his companion, instead of griping and grumbling and finding fault—beat, lying in their own blood, prostrate on the floor because their feet were fast in the stocks, they prayed and sang praises unto God [Acts 16:25].
And the Lord Himself bowed down His ear to hear, and He seized that jail and shook it to its very foundations. The doors were opened; the stocks were unloosed; the manacles fell off. The keeper of the prison, responsible for the lives, for the safe keeping of those who were jailed, thinking they had escaped—doors opened, unmanacled, free—rather than face execution in ignominy and shame before a Roman tribunal, he drew out his short Roman sword to plunge it into his heart [Acts 16:26-27].
And when Paul saw what he was proposing to do, he cried saying: “Man, do thyself no harm: we are all here. There is not a one of us that has fled; not one of us has fled” [Acts 16:28]. So this jailer called for a torch and came and fell down before Paul and Silas in deepest contrition, and humility, and repentance; and cried saying, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:29-30]. And their famous and succinct reply:
Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shall be saved…
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, washed their stripes; was baptized, all of them immediately…
And the next day he brought them into his house, and set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all of his house.
[Acts 16: 31-34]
Isn’t that a wonderful story? And that’s the background of the message today, Saving Faith, what it is to be saved, to become a Christian. Sometimes you might ask a man, “Are you a Christian?” And he might reply, “Why, certainly. Do you think I’m an atheist? Or do you think I’m an infidel, or do you think I’m a Mohammedan, or do you think I’m a Hindu?”
But there is more to being a Christian than just to be identified with a national culture such as, all of the Thais are Christians—all of the Siamese, all of the citizens of Thailand are Buddhists. When you see a Thai you expect him to be a Buddhist. When you see a citizen of India, you take it for granted he’s a Hindu. The culture of India—the social fabric of India—is Hindu. Like Thailand would be Buddhist, so a man could say he’s a Christian. That is, he lives in America, which is nominally a Christian nation. Or the man might say, “Yes, I’m a Christian. I believe in Jesus.” And yet what he means by believing in Jesus is that he accepts Him as a great teacher, as a master leader, as an ethical pioneer, as a social reformer; but in no sense is he a Christian as the Bible would define it.
Well, what is a Christian as the Bible would define it? And how does one become a biblical Christian, a New Testament Christian?
“Sirs, what must I do to be saved that way?” [Acts 16:30].
“And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved that way” [Acts 16:31].
Now in our study this morning, we are going to answer that question, “What is saving faith? What is it to be a Christian? What is it to be a child of God?” We are going to answer in two ways. One: to be saved, saving faith is first an acceptance. First, it’s an acceptance of the witness of God to His Son, the Lord Jesus. It is an acceptance of the witness of the Holy Scriptures to the blessed Jesus. It is the witness of the Old Testament; and we believe it.
In the tenth chapter of the Book of Acts, verse 43, Simon Peter says, “To Him give all the prophets witness, that through His name whosoever believeth in Him shall receive remission of sins” [Acts 10:43]. So Simon Peter avows that all of the Old Testament witnesses to the blessed Lord Jesus. And I receive that witness when I read in the Old Testament about Jesus, “The Lord hath laid on Him the iniquity of us all” [Isaiah 53:6]. When I read in the Old Testament prophets about Jesus, I receive that witness.
The New Testament witnesses about Jesus; the last verse in the twentieth chapter of John, John 20:31, the apostle writes this, “But these things are written, that ye might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing ye might have life in His name.”
And I receive the witness of the New Testament to the Lord Jesus; that we are all sinners [Romans 3:23], we are dying and facing an inevitable judgment; that God sent His Son into the world to die for our sins according to the Scriptures [John 3:16-17; 1 Corinthians 15:3]. And to us, who will receive that atoning grace [Ephesians 1:7], God forgives us, writes our names in the Book of Life and receives us into glory [Revelation 20:12, 15, 21:27]—a part of the family of God. I believe that! I receive that! That’s what saving faith is. I receive the witness of God to Jesus Christ [John 20:31].
The Father said, “This is My Son, in whom I am well pleased; hear ye Him!” [Matthew 17:5].
The Lord Jesus says, “Whosoever believeth in Me shall never perish: and I will raise Him up at the last day,” John 6:40.
And the Holy Spirit, said in Romans 1:4, marked out this Jesus, “Declared the Son of God… by the Spirit of holiness, by the Holy Spirit, in the resurrection from the dead.” I receive the testimony and the witness of the Scriptures—of God the Father, of God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit to the person and the atoning work of Jesus Christ.
Second: I not only receive the witness of God to the Lord Jesus, but I receive the pardon for my sins from His nail-pierced hands [Colossians 1:14]. I take it as a gift in His love and grace [John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9].
Some years ago, there was a man who was sentenced to die in the electric chair. The governor pardoned him, but the man refused the pardon, saying, “I want to die in the electric chair.” It created a great confrontation, and frustration, and confusion in the courts. It was finally taken to the Supreme Court itself. And the Supreme Court handed down the verdict saying, “No pardon is a pardon until it is received by the one who is pardoned. If it is rejected, it is no pardon.” And the Supreme Court decreed that the man should die in the electric chair, according to his own choice.
That’s what Jesus has done for us. He has pardoned us in His blood; forgiven us in His suffering; paid the penalty for our sins in His death [1 Peter 2:24]. And He offers me pardon [Ephesians 1:7]; and if I take it, and receive it, I am pardoned; I am forgiven all of my sins. If I reject it, I die in my own confusion, and shame, and iniquity.
What it is to be saved? Saving faith is a receiving the witness of God to His Son and the pardon He graciously offers me [Acts 16:31].
Third: it is a receiving the gift of eternal life. “By grace are ye saved through faith”; the channel of faith, “that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: not of works”—lest any man should say, “I did it!”—“lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2: 8-9]. It is a gift of God. You don’t work for a gift. If you do, it is not a gift; it is a debt somebody pays for what you did. A gift is something for which you do not work. And in this instance, grace: it is unmerited favor and love of the Lord. I receive from God’s hands the gift of eternal life. I don’t buy it, I don’t work for it, I’m certainly not worthy of it, but it is a gift from God’s hands. He gives me eternal life now, in this world [John 3:16].
“But to as many as received Him, to them gave He the right”—the privilege, the prerogative, the power—”to become the children of God, even to them that trust, that believe on His name” [John 1:12]. I receive eternal life now, I am born again now, I am a child of God now, I’m a fellow pilgrim now, I’ve been forgiven now, I’ve been washed now, I’m cleansed now, I’m regenerated now. I’m a Christian now! I belong to the family of God now, He gives me eternal life now [John 10:28], and He receives me to Himself in glory, in the world that is to come.
“I prepare a place for you,” He said, “and if I do, I will come and receive you unto Myself…” [John 14:2-3] that we may be with Him, and one another, world without end, forever and ever. That is what it is to be a Christian: first, to receive from God’s hands the witness of the Scriptures of the triune God to the person of Jesus our Lord; to receive from His hands the forgiveness of our sins [Ephesians 1:7], and to receive as a gift eternal life, now and in the world that is to come [Romans 6:23]. That’s first.
Second: what is saving faith? What is it to be a Christian? It is second, a committal. One time I bowed my head in the presence of the Lord, and I prayed, saying, “Lord, show me what saving faith is. What is it to believe unto eternal life?”
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16: 31].
“The devils believe, and tremble” [James 2:19]. They know more about Jesus than we do. Satan was with Him before the foundations of the world. There’s not anything about the Lord Jesus, concerning Him as such, that the devils don’t know all about. They also believe and tremble [James 2:19]. But they are not saved.
“Lord,” I prayed, “what is that saving faith? What is it to believe and be saved?” What is that? And as clearly as God could speak, He answered that prayer in 2 Timothy 1:12, “I know whom I have believed…” And that’s the word I was praying about. “I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day.” And that was the answer: saving faith is a committal.
Then preparing this message, I looked carefully at this verse. Pisteuō, an imperative, pisteuō, “believe.” Epi, “upon,” translated “on” here in the King James Version, pisteuō, “Believe upon, upon the Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 16:31]: epi, “upon.” There is a Greek word epidermis, epidermis. The Greek word for “skin” is derma. Dermis—epidermis is what’s on top of the skin. So epidermis is the outer layer of my skin—epidermis—upon. And then, as I looked at that carefully, “upon,” “Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 16:31]. The Greeks used that word epi in so many combinations:
- Epibainō, “to go upon,” say a ship;
- epiballō, “to cast upon”;
- epiblēma, our English comes from that; epiblepō, “to look upon”;
- epioptuō, “to look upon”;
- episkeptŏmai, “to look upon”;
- epigraphō, “to write upon,” “epigraph,” “epigram” comes from that;
- epikathizō, “to sit upon”;
- epikaleō, “to call upon”;
- epikeimai, “to lie upon”;
- epilambanŏ, “to take hold upon.”
- Our word “epilepsy” comes from that—a seizure, a taking hold.
- epŏikŏdŏmeō, “to build upon”;
- The Lord said, “Upon this rock…”—and the choir sang that just now—“upon this rock, upon this rock I will build My church” [Matthew 16:18];
- epŏikŏdŏmeō, “to build upon.”
- epipiptō, “to fall upon”;
- epirapotō, “to sow upon”;
- ĕpistrĕphō, “to turn upon”;
- epistrophe, is to turn, in your poetry.
- epitithēmi, “to lay upon, to place upon”; epithet comes from that.
- epiphainō, “to shine upon”; epiphany comes from that.
- epiphĕrō, “to bring upon”;
- ĕpichĕō, “to pour upon”;
- epichriō, “to spread upon, to anoint”;
- epistellō, “to send upon”; Our word “epistle,” epi stellō, comes from that.
So it is written here: “Pisteuō epi. Pisteuō, believe, epi, upon the Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 16:31]. A committal of believing, a casting, a depending upon the Lord Jesus Christ: that is, I’m not saved by depending upon, leaning upon, casting myself upon, say, the church. I’m not saved by the church; I’m not saved by depending upon, casting myself upon, the ordinances. I’m not saved by depending upon, casting myself upon, say, the church members, or the preacher, or myself and my good works.
Rather, I am saved by depending upon, casting myself upon, believing upon, committing myself upon the Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 16:31; 2 Timothy 1:12]. Now He is all right. There are many things that are wrong with the church because we’re still down here—a human institution. And we walk on the ground in the dirt. There are many things that can be said wrong about the pastor, the preacher; many things wrong about the church members; but there’s not anything wrong with Him. And our salvation lies in our depending, our casting ourselves upon Him; pisteuō epi, “believing upon Him” [Acts 16:31].
Now times may change, and circumstances may change, and feelings may change, but He doesn’t change. He is the same yesterday, and today, and forever [Hebrews 13:8]. And I am saved by casting myself upon Him. That is, our salvation is always objective, it is outside of ourselves. It is not found in ourselves, it is outside of ourselves! If you want to be discouraged, just look on the inside of yourself. And you’ll find all kinds of reasons to be full of fear and trepidation, even about your salvation. “Did I repent right? Did I trust right? Did I believe right? Did I have the right experience? Did I do it right? Am I right?”
Ah, you look on the inside of yourself, and you will just be filled with all kinds of dismay, and discouragement, and distress. You will be distraught, and distraught. Look on the inside of yourself and finally, as a spiritual pilgrim, you will just be cast down and fall by the way. Don’t look on the inside of yourself for your salvation. Don’t! It isn’t there! You’re not saved there; you’re saved outside of yourself. You’re saved objectively. There is Somebody out there who saves you. You don’t do it. It is Someone beyond you, over and beside, outside. Your salvation is centered outside of yourself: it is not something in you. It is something outside of you. It is something beyond you. It is something you can never achieve for yourself and it doesn’t depend upon you. It depends upon Him.
Now when I read the Bible, I see that all through the Word of God—in the days of the Flood—the antediluvians—God’s judgment fell upon the world [Genesis 6:5-7]. And it rained, lightning flashed, the thunder roared, and the whole earth was destroyed [Genesis 7:17-24]. But Noah found grace, unmerited favor, love, in the sight of God [Genesis 6:8]. And God said to Noah to build an ark [Genesis 6:14]. “And take your wife and Shem, Ham, and Japheth, and their wives, and anybody else that will go with you” [Genesis 6:18]—only the animals would go—“and you get inside that ark and you will be safe” [Genesis 7:1-9].
And when the rains fell, and the floods rose, and the wind beat, and the storm raged, Noah and his family were saved, objectively, outside of themselves! The ark preserved them and kept them in the storm. And all they had to do to be saved was to get in that ark, walk through that door [Genesis 6:16-17, 7:1-7], and the ark saved them, an objective salvation outside of themselves [Hebrews 11:7].
Let’s take again the dark terror of the judgment of death upon Egypt. The firstborn in every family was to die. If you had one son, that son would die. If you had one daughter, that daughter would die. If you had two children, the eldest would die. The eldest of beasts and of human beings, all of them were to die in the judgment of God that awful night [Exodus 11:5].
And the Lord said, “You take the blood of a lamb and sprinkle it in the form of a cross on the lintel at the top, and on either said of the door posts, in the form of a cross, and it shall be, when the death angel passes over, there will be life and not death in that house under the blood” [Exodus 12:22-23]. And all anyone had to do—an Egyptian or an Israelite, either one—all they had to do to be saved that night was to be under the blood—quietly, restfully, trustingly, gratefully, preciously, prayerfully, just be under the blood; that’s all [Exodus 12:7, 13]. It is a salvation outside of ourselves. It is an objective salvation. It is something God does.
Let’s take again the story of the judgment of God upon the children of Israel in the wilderness. And the serpents were everywhere; those little fiery, tenuous, venomous reptiles were everywhere. When a man went to bed, there they were. When he ate breakfast, there they were. When he walked out of the door, there they were. When he walked inside, there they were. When he went to work, they were everywhere. And the people were dying by the thousands [Numbers 21:5-6]. And in their crying and in their necessity [Numbers 21:7] God said to Moses, “Raise a brazen serpent in the midst of the camp . . . and it shall be if a man is dying, if he will look, he will live” [Numbers 21:8].
Just look! Just look! Just look! And the man who is in convulsions, and who is swollen, and inside of him there is venom and death, outside of him there’s life for a look. Just look and you will live! [Numbers 21:9]. Inside, the judgment of God; outside, life and help—outside of us, looking—looking to Jesus and as long as we look to Him, we’re all right [John 3:14-15].
Like Peter walking on the water, as long as he looked at Jesus, he walked on the water. Then, when he took his eyes off the Lord and began to look at the winds and the waves, he began to sink [Matthew 14:28-31]. You take your eyes off the Lord and begin to look at the church, and you begin to look at the preacher, and you begin to look at the members, and you begin to look at all of these other things; and it just fills you with consternation. Look to Jesus! There’s nothing wrong with Him! And there is salvation in His gracious hands [John 14:6; Acts 4:12].
Just look to Jesus; just look and rest in the Lord [Isaiah 45:22]—storms, troubles, trials, tribulations, tears, heartache, sickness, age, death—looking to Jesus; quiet in the Lord. Like old Daniel in the lions’ den, just quietly, with his head raised, his face uplifted, looking to Jesus [Daniel 6:21-23]. Oh, what a balm; what a strength; what a help; what a quietness; what a marvelous presence—just looking to Jesus [Hebrews 2:12]. He will see us through. He will take care of us. His strong arm is our stay and our refuge.
May I close, and illustrate that in a leaf out of my own life? Twenty-eight years ago, twenty-eight years ago, the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention asked me to share in a mission trip around the world. I was gone four months, through South America, then through Africa; through Europe, through the Middle East, through India, Indonesia, the Philippines; a long preaching crusade in Japan, and finally home.
When the mission was completed, Dr. McCall and I, who were sharing it, turned our faces homeward. And crossing the Pacific, twenty-eight years ago, in a DC-4—a great, big, awkward, four-motored propeller-driven plane—it took us three days to cross the Pacific coming home. In two weeks, I’m going the other way. We’ll fly non-stop from America to Manila in the Philippines. But twenty-eight years ago, flying from Tokyo, it took us three days. One day to fly from Tokyo to Wake Island; one day to fly from Wake Island to Honolulu; and the third day to fly from Honolulu to Los Angeles.
On the first leg of that journey, flying from Tokyo to Wake Island, out of Tokyo, about say four hours or so, we became embroiled and caught up in a terrible hurricane; over that vast Pacific, that violent storm. It was as black as midnight. When you looked outside, it was dark as pitch—black, black, black—in the middle of the day, midnight black. And the force of those winds over a hundred and some-odd miles an hour, and we were right in the middle of it.
That great big heavy plane was tossed around just like a leaf; exactly like a leaf, so fierce was that awful storm. And over the P.A. system came the voice of a pilot, and he said, “Don’t be afraid. Don’t be afraid. This plane is strong and made for just such an exigency,” he said. “It is made for the storm. And don’t you be afraid; we’ll get out of it after a while, and we’ll be all right. Don’t be afraid.”
And I sat there in that plane in the blackness of the night; that storm, a fury, and that plane caught up in it like a leaf. I don’t know anything about flying an airplane. Over that vast Pacific and caught up in the storm, there wasn’t anything I could do except listen to the voice of that strong pilot, “Don’t be afraid. We’re all right. And we’ll be through this in a while.”
And then suddenly, just like that, we burst out of that storm cloud into the sunlight over that vast Pacific. I looked and there was that wall, towering clear up as high as I could see down to the ocean. It was like a wall, that storm. And out of it we came into the blue of God’s sky above, and the ocean below. Safe! “Don’t be afraid!”
Our salvation, outside of ourselves, in His omnipotent hands—it doesn’t depend on me. It is on Him!
When the storms of life are raging,
Stand by me.
Remember me. Be good to me. Deliver me.
When the hosts of hell assail
And my strength begins to fail,
Thou who never lost a battle,
Stand by me.
Remember me. Be good to me. Deliver me. Save me.
When the world is tossing me
Like a ship upon the sea,
O Thou who rulest wind and water,
Stand by me.
[“Stand By Me,” Charles Albert Tinley]
Remember me. Be good to me. Deliver me. Save Thou me.
That’s what it is to believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ; casting our lives upon Him, our souls upon Him, our destiny upon Him, our future in His hands. Not myself, but looking to Him [Hebrews 12:2]. Isn’t that a marvelous thing? That’s just like glory. Lord, if it depended upon my strength, what shall I do? The providences that can overwhelm us; and the things against which our souls are matched; and we, so weak, and becoming weaker, and finally dying—but He is the One who saves us. He is the One who keeps us. He is the One who delivers us [John 10:28].
Our salvation is outside of ourselves. It is in His Almighty hands. And that’s what that means there, “pisteuō epi, believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 16:31]. Commit your life to Him [2 Timothy 1:12]. Trust Him for it. “And thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31].
And that’s our invitation to your soul this day: a family you, a couple you, or just a one somebody you, in the balcony round, you; on this lower floor, you; down one of these stairways, you; down one of these aisles, you, “Pastor, I made the decision, I am looking to Jesus to see me through, and I’m coming” [Romans 10:8-13]. To put your life with us in the church; to open your heart to the good things in the kingdom of God; to be numbered with us in this pilgrimage, come, and welcome! May angels attend you as you answer with your life, while we stand and while we sing.