What Must I Do To Be Saved?
February 5th, 1978 @ 7:30 PM
WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
2-5-78 7:30 p.m.
This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas delivering the sermon entitled What Must I Do to be Saved? There are sixteen sermons that the Broadman Press, of our Southern Baptist Convention, has asked me to select out of the fifty years that I have been a preacher; and delivering them here in a series in the church they are to be published in a book that will come out this fall entitled With a Bible in My Hand. Each night the service is sponsored by some division and area in our dear church, and the service tonight is sponsored by our Silent Friends, our deaf people, who, with their pastor, who is signing the sermon to them, stands by my side tonight.
We’re going to turn in God’s Word to the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts. And all of us shall read out loud the passage together: Acts chapter 16, verses 25 through 34. Acts 16:25-34. And you will see the text in [verses] 30 and 31. Now let us all read it out loud together, the sixteenth chapter of Acts, beginning at verse 25, concluding at verse 34. Now 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 is the only place in the Bible where the question is directly asked, “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30], and directly answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31]. We haven’t time to present the background of that question, just this: the jailer was responsible with his own life for the prisoners, and when he thought that they had escaped, rather than face disgrace and execution in a Roman trial, he drew out his sword to plunge it through his own heart [Acts 16:27]. When Paul saw that he was about to take his life, he cried, saying, “No! No! Not one of us has escaped. We are all here, all of us” [Acts 16:28]. And upon that the jailer, having heard the message of Paul as he preached before in the city of Philippi, came before him, and in repentance and contrition fell down before God’s apostle, and asked that crying question, “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30].
First: why must a man be saved? The answer of the Philippian jailer was because of the imminent peril of death. And that is our reply also: it is because of the imminency of death in every life that we need to be saved. The second chapter of the Book of Genesis, “In the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die” [Genesis 2:17]. God has welded together in an unbroken chain, sin and death. In the eighteenth chapter of the prophecy of Ezekiel, “The soul that sins shall die” [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. And in the sixth chapter of the Book of Romans, that last verse, “For the wages of sin is death” [Romans 6:23]. Sin and judgment, sin and death always go together. Physical death, moral death, spiritual death, the second death, eternal death: to sin is to die [Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23]. And there is no escape. All of us face that inevitable penalty, like this jailer. The tragedy of all life and living is this; that somewhere, sometime, we all shall face inexorable and inevitable death.
I one time heard of a man who was condemned for a crime he had not committed. It was in the days of Queen Victoria. And the man was sentenced for life in the penitentiary. On the outside of the penitentiary he had a friend, who, knowing that the man had been condemned unjustly, worked through the years and the years for his freedom and pardon; and finally, before Queen Victoria herself, he made appeal. He won his case, and Queen Victoria signed the pardon for the man. So with gladness and joy he went to the prison, was taken to the cell where this man had been incarcerated most of his life, and with the pardon was allowed into the prison and into the cell, and before his friend, and said, “Look! I have your pardon. You are a free man. You can walk out. Liberty! Freedom! You’ve been pardoned. I have it here, signed by the queen herself.” And the man gave no response, no recognition, no appreciation whatsoever. And his friend said, “It must have been you’re here so long that you don’t realize, but I have your pardon. You’re a free man. You can walk out of this penitentiary in freedom. You’ve been pardoned. Look! It is signed by the queen herself.” And in a piteous, tragic way, the prisoner pulled apart the garments that clothed his breast, and there exhibited to his dear friend, who had worked for his freedom, there exhibited a great, ugly, eating cancer; and in sadness, looked into the face of his friend, and said, “Go ask the queen if she can heal this.”
We’re all that way. We have liberty; that is, we have liberty to die. We have length of days; that is, we have length of days to die. We grow old; that is, we grow old to die. We have life; that is, we have life to die. “It is appointed unto men once to die” [Hebrews 9:27]. And we shall inevitably face, somewhere, sometime, that inexorable hour. Why does a man need to be saved? Because of the judgment of death upon his sin [Ezekiel 18:4, 20; Romans 6:23].
Second: when is it that a man ought to be saved? The Word of God always pleads and answers with one word: just as Paul would have said to that tragic and condemned jailer, “It is now.” God’s Word never says “tomorrow”; and no apostle ever preached “some more convenient time, or some other day.” The answer from God to that question of when a man ought to be saved is always “now.” Such as 2 Corinthians 6:2: “Behold, now is the day of salvation; behold, now is the accepted time.” When should a man be saved? It is now.
There are things in our lives that argue for that decision and that commitment. One is the uncertainty of life. I have no mortgage on any tomorrow. I may be in God’s presence before the sun rises in the morning. Some tragic accident may take my life away any moment, any time. Or I may be felled with a tragic seizure or heart attack. There is no one of us that knows what any tomorrow may bring. The uncertainties of life plead, “Now!” Nor is that just the men and women of age; young people also face that inexorable judgment and death. I can well remember a young fellow fifteen years of age, pleading with him to accept Christ. He’s young, he has time, and he said to me, “Soon I will do it but not now.” He went out from me. The next time I saw him, not long after, I stood in a hospital room over his unconscious body and saw the doctor turn his face to me and say, “The boy is gone.” Died without God, and without Christ, and without hope. The uncertainties of life plead that now is the time to give your heart to Jesus.
The usefulness of life pleads with a man to be saved now. What we offer to God, not a husk, not a shell, not a remnant, not a piece, not the end of a wretched life, but the whole life, the whole soul and heart and being given to God now; the blessedness and the usefulness of life, all that life means, to dedicate it to God in its fullness.
Look, when I was a youth, pastoring a country church, in the county seat town here in Texas there was a precious and beautiful girl married to a husband, and into that home came two darling little girls, two precious babies were born.In a providence cruel and dark—but I do not remember why—he left, and went out into the world. And he left that little mother and those two little girls. What she did was, she went to the edge of the town, rented the cheapest home that she could rent, took in washing, and for the years of her life she poured herself into the caring for of those two little girls and rearing them up in the love of Jesus. And she taught them, she had them take piano lessons, and all the other things by which she did her utmost in the toil of her hands to rear those two little girls. And upon a day, when the girls were grown, there came a man to that cottage, and knocked at the door. When she opened the door, she looked at him: he had aged, and his years of sin had made deep, indelible marks in his face. It was her husband. And as he stood there at the door, diseased and wretched, he asked if he could come in and she would take him back. And to the amazement of the people of the county and of the town, she opened wide her door and her arms, and took him back, and cared for him till he died. A beautiful and commendable and precious thing on the part of the wife. But there’s not a man of judgment and of fairness in the world but would say what the father of those children did and what the husband of that wife did was a heinous and a sorrowful and a tragic thing. That’s what a man does when he gives his life to the world: the strength of his days and of his manhood he gives to sin and to the world; and then comes to God before he dies, and offers to the Lord a husk, a remnant, a piece. It isn’t right. The usefulness of life pleads with the man to give himself to God now, that he be saved now.
No less the fullness and the blessedness of life: it is great to be a Christian boy or a Christian girl. It is no less marvelous to be a Christian man or a Christian woman. It is no less precious to have a Christian home and a Christian family as it is wonderful beyond words to describe it to die in a Christian faith and in a Christian commitment.
When should a man be saved? Now [2 Corinthians 6:2].
How can a man be saved? “What must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:30-31]. First, that’s one thing, and not two. “What must I do to be saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” It is one thing, and not two. It is not, “Believe and be baptized, and thou shalt be saved.” It is not, “Believe and take the Lord’s Supper, and thou shalt be saved.” It is not, “Believe and join the church, and thou shalt be saved.”It is not even, “Believe and do good works, and thou shalt be saved.” It is one thing and that alone: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31]. And that is the eternal plan of salvation through the unending ages: it is always one thing and one alone. As John 3:14 avows, when our Lord said, “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up: That whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life” [John 3:14-15]. When a man was stricken and bitten and faced death by the bite of those sinister, sinuous serpents, dying, all he had to do to be saved was to look and live [Numbers 21:8-9]. One thing: look and live. Less could not have been asked, and more by some could not have been offered.
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 “I’ve a Message from the Lord,” William A. Ogden]
Believe and be saved [Acts 16:31]; always it is one thing and not two.
Second, it is a gift of God and not a prize we win. It is a gift of God; it is not something we earn. It is a gift of God; it is not a reward of our works. It is a gratuitous, gracious gift of God. I don’t buy it with money; it’s not for sale. I don’t be good enough to deserve it. How could I ever be worth the atoning death of the Son of God? Nor am I to be astute enough to frame it and to achieve it. It is a gift of God. It is something God does for me [Ephesians 2:8-9].
If it were a matter of money, to buy our salvation, some of us might be too poor to buy it. If it were a matter of virtue and worth, some of us might be too steeped in sin ever to achieve it. And if it were a matter of education, some of us might be too unlearned ever to know it. It is in God’s goodness and grace and pity and mercy that He wrote on the sacred page, “By grace”—unmerited favor—“by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should say, I did it; lest he boast [Ephesians 2:8-9], I was worthy, and achieve it.” It is a gracious gift of God. God does it. Just as when I die and I’m buried in the heart of the earth, it must be God’s goodness and God’s grace who speaks me to life [1 Thessalonians 4:14-17]; just as it must be God’s grace that stands by my side when I appear before the judgment bar of the great Judge of all the earth [Acts 17:31; 2 Timothy 4:1]. It is a gift of God; it is not something that I earn.
Last: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31], it is an act of commitment and not a human speculation. It is an act of trust; it is not words of an argument. It is a commitment to Jesus my Lord. It is a hope. It is a faith. It is a trust. You say, “But how unusual.” No, no, that’s the reason God did it that way: that’s the way we live, and all life is lived by faith, all of it. When I go to the bank and make a deposit in the bank, I thereby trust in the bank and commit what I might have to their safekeeping. When I write a letter and I mail it, I am there trusting the post office to take care of it and to deliver it. When I get in an airplane—and I think of this every time—when I get in an airplane and there are ten thousand gadgets up there in the nose of that plane, and the pilot and the copilot, the engineer, are there, and the others, and I sit down in that plane, it is by trust and by faith that I ride in that plane, trusting that pilot. I am absolutely helpless; I know nothing about it. I just sit there, trusting him.
When I make a payment on an insurance policy, I am trusting that company, when I die that they will be faithful to that contract and that commitment. I trust them for it. When I drive down the highway, every bridge I drive over, I don’t get out and look at those understudies. I examine the bridge before I drive over it. Man it may be over a canyon a thousand feet high, why, I just drive over it. I’m trusting the highway department that they did good. When I eat a meal, it could be poisonous. I trust those who have prepared it.
You don’t live a life of trust? Brother, that’s all life is. Life is a life of faith; and you’d die without it. Trusting.
What I give to others, can I not give to Christ? If I could trust a pilot, or a post office, or an insurance company, or a bank, or a bridge, or these who can all of these foods, and a thousand others, if I trust them, do I stagger before trusting Jesus my Lord? Cannot I trust Him to keep His Word, to keep His promise, to save my soul [John 12:26], to stand by me in life, to be by me in death, and to be my Intercessor and Mediator and Pleader [1 Timothy 2:5], and Savior [John 6:37], in the world that is to come? It is an act of faith [Acts 16:31]. It is an act of committal [Psalm 37:4-6]. But I must make that act, and I must make that committal, or I can’t be saved [Romans 10:8-13].
In the days of the Passover, anyone who was under the blood, he was saved; but he had to be under the blood [Exodus 12:7, 13, 23]. That woman who was so tragically afflicted with an issue of blood, “If I but touch the hem of His garment,” she said, “I will be saved” [Matthew 9:20-21]. But she must touch the hem of His garment [Matthew 9:22; Luke 8:43-44]. The thief repentant on the cross, if he just turns his head and says, “Lord, remember me” [Luke 23:42]; but he must turn his head, and he must say, “Lord, remember me” [Luke 23:42-43]. And this Philippian jailer, “Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved” but he must call [Acts 16:30-31; Romans 10:13]. The appeal ensues in an act of faith. And the Lord defined it for us like this: “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus is Lord, and believe in thine heart that He lives, that God raised Him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart one believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” [Romans 10:9-10]. And the Lord said it like this, in Matthew 10:32-33, “Whosoever shall confess Me before men, him will I confess before My Father which is in heaven.” And that act of faith is the open, public, unashamed commitment of my life to Jesus: “I take Him as my Savior. So help me God, here I stand” [Romans 10:9-10]. That is the open door into the kingdom.
And that’s why we make appeal at the end of the service, according to the Word of God: to give us opportunity, publicly, openly, unashamedly to make that commitment that leads to the grace of God in our salvation [Ephesians 2:8]. And that is our appeal to your heart now. This night, now, this moment, now, this place, here, this service, in this song, “I shall openly and publicly commit my life to Jesus. I take Him as my Savior in my heart, and I confess Him openly with my mouth [Romans 10:8-13]. Before angels and before men, here I stand, and here I come.”
In a moment we sing our hymn of appeal, and while we sing it, a couple, a family, or one somebody you, “Pastor, I have decided, and here I am.” I’ll be standing there by the side of that communion table. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, come, make it now. “I’m on the way, preacher, here I am.” God bless you, and the fullness of the Spirit make you glad as you come, while we stand and as we sing.