The Two Words of Salvation


The Two Words of Salvation

June 27th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 20:21

Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 20:21

6-27-82    10:50 a.m.



And welcome, the great multitudes of you who are sharing this hour on radio and on television.  This is the pastor of the First Baptist Church this Dallas.  And in the series on “The Great Doctrines of the Bible,” we are in the section on soteriology.  I have been with some infidels this past week, and the title of the sermon is The Two Great Words of Salvation.  And it is a presentation from the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts, and it is taken out of the unusually effective ministry and message of the apostle Paul in the ancient Greek city of Ephesus.

In the Book of Acts, chapter 19 [Acts 19] describes that marvelous, wonderful, God-blessed visitation from heaven under Paul’s hand in Ephesus.  And the twentieth chapter of the Book of Acts] [Acts 20] is a recounting on the part of Paul of those years of his work in that Greek city.  And in his address to the pastors of the church in Ephesus, he says in Acts 20:31, “Watch, and remember that by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one, night and day with tears.”  And then in verses 20 and 21 [Acts 20-21], “I have taught you publicly, and from house to house, Testifying both to the Jews, and also to the Greeks, repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21].

The wonder of that work of Paul in Ephesus is described in Acts 19:10: “So that all they which dwelt in the Roman province of Asia heard the word of the Lord Jesus, both Jews and Greeks.”  Then verse 20, in chapter 19: “So mightily grew the word of God and prevailed” [Acts 19:20].  It was during those days of Paul’s three years of revival, soulwinning in Ephesus, that the churches in Asia were established—Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamos, Thyatira, Sardis, Philadelphia, and Laodicea—the seven churches to whom John—the Lord, through John, addressed the Apocalypse [Revelation 2:1-3:22].  But there were many others beside, such as Hierapolis where Papias was pastor, and Colosse where Philemon lived.  The whole province heard the Word of God, and it prevailed mightily [Acts 19:20].  It was a marvelous ministry.

I would think as I read the Bible—you would think as you read these sacred words, that what we find on these pages are encouragements and models and exemplary persuasions for us to follow.  Three years this great apostle worked in Ephesus, and they were soul-winning years.  “Remember, that by the space of three years I ceased not, day and night, to warn every one with tears [Acts 20:31]; publicly, and from house to house, door-to-door, testifying, witnessing repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:20-21].

If I can take this as a model and example for us, then everything we do in the church ought to have as its main goal and ultimate end the winning of the lost, the saving of the lost.  If we have organizations in the church that don’t win people to Christ, I think, you think, any one would think, that the organizations are just for themselves.  They just minister to themselves.  Somebody started them and they feel obligated to keep going, but they have lost the great end and purpose for which they came into being; namely, to win souls to Jesus.  If there are activities in the church, the main purpose of which is not to win people to Christ, the activities ought to be some other place; not here.  The activities of the church ought to be trained on one great purpose; to win people to Jesus.

Next month there is coming to this church a young Doctor of Education by the name of Tom Melzoni.  If you read the front page of the Reminder this week, it presents him as our new Minister of Education and Church Program.  He is the grandson of an Italian immigrant who came to America and settled in the mining camps of eastern Kentucky.  He came with his wife and ten children; four boys and six girls.  One of those little boys went to a Vacation Bible School, and was gloriously saved.  And through that little boy, the other nine children were won to Christ.  And the father and mother were won to Christ through a Vacation Bible School.  Four of those boys are ministers of the gospel.  They are Baptist preachers, and the son of one of them is coming to be our minister of education, won to Christ through a Vacation Bible School.

Why have a Vacation Bible School, if the ultimate purpose of it is not to win boys and girls and families to Jesus?  Why have anything in the church?  Let it be in the club.   Let it be in the civic organization.  Let it be in these multitudinous social organizations if the purpose of it is not to win people to Christ.  “Remember, by the space of three years I ceased not to warn every one day and night with tears [Acts 20:31], publicly, and from house to house, Testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20: 20-21].  Can you imagine staff members that don’t win people to Jesus?  Can you imagine deacons that do not win people to Jesus?  Can you imagine church members that don’t win people to Jesus?  Is not that the reason God saved us, to save others?  Our great assignment: to bring the knowledge of the saving grace of Christ to the hearts of lost men and women [Matthew 28:19-20].

And as Paul writes, he uses a word here in his appeal to those pastors, translated here “testifying” [Acts 20:21]: testifying—diamarturomai; the Greek word for “to witness.”  The Greek word for “testimony” is marturos.  We took it, because the witness so often laid down his life for Jesus; it cost him his life; we took it and just spelled it out martyr, a martyr.  The Greek word marturia is “witness.”  And the verbal form of it is marturomai.  But Paul intensifies it.  He puts a syllable in front of it, diamarturomai, which means zealously, earnestly witnessing and testifying repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21].

This is salvation, and it has two sides like a coin.  You could not have a coin without two sides.  Both sides are vital in our reconciliation to God; repentance and faith; repentance toward God, and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ [Acts 20:21].  The first great word of our salvation is repentance: repentance toward God [Acts 20:21]; a turning toward God.  I cannot be saved without it or apart from it.  It is necessary if I am saved.  Our Lord said in Luke 13:3, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”  Then, as though that were not enough, He repeated it in Luke 13:5, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.”  I am under a commandment from God to change, to turn, to repent [Acts 17:30].  The apostle Paul in addressing that astute and intellectual throng in Athens, in Acts 17:30: “God commandeth all men everywhere to repent.”  I am under obligation.  I am under commandment to repent, to turn toward God.  Nor can God deal with me, nor can I ever find reconciliation with God unless I turn; unless I repent; unless I change [Acts 17:30].

In the sitting room of a home was the father, the mother sewing, and a little boy.  And the mother said to the little boy, “Son, go upstairs and on the dresser bring me that spool of thread.”  And the little boy stood up and took the comic book he was reading and slammed it on the floor and said to his mother, “All you do is sit around here trying to think of things for me to do.”  And he stormed away.

And the father said to the boy, “Son, come back here.  Come back here.  Now son, you pick up that comic book, and you quietly lay it on the table, and then you go to your mother and apologize to her and ask her forgiveness.”

And the boy said, “I will not!”

And the father said, “Son, if you don’t, there are things that are going to happen to you that are bad, both below and up.  Now son, you pick up that comic book and lay it quietly on the table, and you go over there and apologize to your mother.”

And the boy began to weep and to cry and to lament.  And the father said, “Son, it won’t do any good to weep or to cry or to lament or to carry on.  You pick up that book and you lay it on the table quietly and beautifully, and walk over here to your mother and apologize.”  And until that boy does that, there is no rapport between him and his father.  And until that boy does that, there is no reconciliation in that house and in that home.

It is the same way with us and God.  Until I turn, until I ask God’s forgiveness, until I change, until I repent, there is no possibility of any intercourse between me and God.  I am under commandment to turn, to change [Acts 17:30]; nor is that remorse.  It is too bad, I think, that in the Bible there are two words, so different in Greek, both of which are translated, “repent”: metamelomai and metanoeō.  Metamelomai means “remorse, to be remorseful.”  For example, in Matthew 27:3 it says, “and Judas repented.”  That is metamelomai, filled with remorse, he committed suicide [Matthew 27:5].  The word metanoeō is the word “to turn, to change, to repent” [Acts 17:30].  And that is what I am commanded of God to do.  I am to change.  I am to turn in my life, in my mind, in my heart, in my volition, in my living, in my dreaming.  In every purpose that I propose in my life, I am to be God-ward and heavenward.  I am to repent toward God.  I am to change toward God [Acts 17:30].

You have a multitude of poignant examples of that in these Holy Scriptures.  The prodigal son, wasting his life in riotous living and in worldly compromise [Luke 15:13], came down to poverty and to want and to hunger.  And as he fed the hogs, he said, “There are servants in my father’s house that are better off than I” [Luke 15:14-17].  And as he looked down in the pigpen, he said, “I will arise and go back to my father at home” [Luke 15:18-19].  That is repentance!  It is a change in life: “I am going back home; I am going back to my father’s house.”  That is metanoeō.

As many of you know, I was pastor in Muskogee, Oklahoma, before coming to be undershepherd of this dear church.  Muskogee, in those Indian Territory days, was the capital of the Five Civilized Tribes.  Those Indian tribes that were uprooted out of eastern United States and resettled in Indian Territory, called Oklahoma; the Five Civilized Tribes; the Cherokees, the Chickasaws, the Choctaws, the Creeks, and the Seminoles.

While I was pastor there in Muskogee, I loved going to the library, and there reading through those records of those by-gone days and years of the Indian tribes in Indian Territory in Oklahoma.  And as I dug through those great, extensive records of those tribes, I came across this incident that happened in those long-ago days and is a part of the history of the Chickasaw nation. 

There were ninety criminals that had been arrested and rounded up by United States federal Marshals; Indians, Mexicans, whites, blacks, robbers, highwaymen, outlaws.  And in the night—this night with a storm outside, a parson is preaching to them.  What happened that night has been written in a poem called “The Criminal Convert” by Clarence B. Douglas.  He was editor of the Muskogee Daily Phoenix in those long-ago days in Indian Territory.  And as he writes the poem, this editor begins with the preaching of the parson: 

“I’m going to preach

And I’ll try to teach 

The ninety men in here.

Of the words of love

From the throne above,”

And his tone was loud and clear.


“I preach to you

Of a Savior true,

In a happy home on high

Where the angels dwell

All saved from hell

And the righteous never die.”


And he prayed a prayer

In the prison there

As the ninety bowed their heads

The bold Choctaw

And the Chickasaw

The whites, the blacks, and the reds.


He prayed for the chief,

With his unbelief,

For the black highwayman bold,

For the robber, too,

And his bandit crew—

For the criminals, young and old.


Then he sang a hymn

In the prison grim.

He sang, “Turn, sinner turn.

It’s not too late

To reach God’s gate

While the lamp holds out to burn.”


Then from his bed

Between the black and the red,

Up rose an outlaw bold.

With trembling step

To the parson crept,

All shivering as with cold.


And a vicious flash

Of the lightning crash

Showed his features

Pale and stern,

As he bowed his head

And slowly said,

“I am resolved to turn.”


And it seemed to me

No one shall see

A scene so weird, so grand,

As the white and the red,

On their blanket bed,

Round the Christian one did stand


While the night came down

Like a silvery crown

And a promise gave to all.

For the ninety men

In the marshal’s den

Heard only the Savior’s call.

[from “The Criminal Convert,” Clarence B. Douglas, 1919]


That is repentance.  “I have resolved to turn.  I have been going this way; I am turning, going that way.  I have been away from God; I am turning to God”—repentance toward God.

I do not know whether she is present in this congregation this morning or not.  There was a woman here in our city of Dallas, married to a worldly man who drank heavily.  And in order to be with him, she drank also.  When he went to the bars, she was with him.  When he went out in the world, she was with him.  One evening in the home, as he filled up his glass with liquor, drinking; she filled up her glass and raised it to her lips.  And when she did so, their little boy ran to her and said, “Oh, mother, don’t do that, it will make you crazy like my father.”

She lowered the glass; set it down, and that night turned.  “I’ll not drink any more.  I’ll not go to those bars any more.  I’ll not accompany my husband any more.  I am going to turn.”  And the next morning she called a devout Christian woman in this church, and said, “I have changed in my heart.  I have changed in my mind.  I have changed in my life.  But I don’t know what to do, and I don’t know where to go.”  And that godly woman in this church said, “In the morning, Sunday morning, meet me at nine-thirty o’clock on the steps of the First Baptist Church in Dallas.”  She came to Sunday school, she came to church; she came down this aisle; she came to Christ; she came to the kingdom of God.  That is repentance.  “I have resolved to turn.  I am going a different direction.  My face, and my heart, and my life are turned God-ward and heavenward”; “repentance toward God” [Acts 20:21].

The second tremendous word of salvation; “faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21]; faith is always a volitional word.  It is a dynamic word.  It is never passive or lethargic.  It moves.  It marches.  It is a commitment.  The apostle Paul writes in 2 Timothy 1:12: “For I know whom I have believed, and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him,” deposited with Him, “against that day.”  Faith is a commitment.  It is a deposit.  “I trust my soul to Jesus.  I commit my life to Him.”  That is faith.

Faith is never intellectual assent or historical acknowledgment.  I suppose, I am sure, Caesar lived, Alexander lived, George Washington lived—intellectual assent, historical knowledge.  “The devils,” the apostle James says in his letter, “the devils believe, and tremble” [James 2:19].  Faith, saving faith moves.  It is a commitment. It is a consecration.  It’s a dynamic word.  I do not know any better way to present it than to let God do it for us.  I do not know of a greater chapter in the Bible than the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews [Hebrews 11].  It defines faith.  That is the first sentence; “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” [Hebrews 11:1].  And then the rest of that long chapter is an illustration of what the dynamic faith does in one’s life [Hebrews 11:2-40].

For example, that is where I found out and got and started preaching just now, that faith is a commitment.  And he uses the illustration of Noah in verse 7: “By faith Noah, being warned of God of things not seen as yet, moved with fear” [Hebrews 11:7]; and by the way, I don’t think that is a bad motive for a man coming to Christ.  “I am afraid of the judgment of God.  I am afraid of the fires of hell.  I am afraid of the damnation awaiting those who turn aside from His grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5].”

“Moved with fear, he built an ark to the saving of his house” [Hebrews 11:7], to the saving of his family.  He got in the ark.  He committed himself to that boat that he had built [Genesis 6:14, 22, 7:1, 7].  In the twenty-eighth verse of this same eleventh chapter it speaks of the Passover; getting under the blood; committing myself to the grace and mercy of God [Hebrews 11:28].  “When the death angel passes over, My promise: when he sees the blood, the death angel will pass over” [Exodus 12:13, 22-23].  Faith is a commitment.  It gets in the ark.  It gets under the blood.  It is dynamic.

Will you notice again, faith moves.  In this eighth verse of this eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews: “By faith Abraham” [Hebrews 11:8].  God told him to get up and out from his country and from his people [Genesis 12:1], and he moved [Genesis 12:4; Hebrews 11:8-9].  Faith moves.  It goes down that stairwell.  It is coming down this aisle.  It takes the pastor by the hand.  It stands before men and angels.  “As God is my witness, I open my heart Christ-ward and heavenward”; faith toward the Lord Jesus Christ [Galatians 2:16].  Faith is a living consecration.  In this same eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, “By faith Moses”; by faith Moses . . . choosing to suffer affliction with the people of God . . . esteeming the reproach of Christ greater riches than all of the treasures of Egypt: for he had recompense unto the reward . . . He endured, as seeing Him who is invisible” [Hebrews 11:24-27].

What a wonderful message that could be, loving the unseen Christ.  Faith is a consecrated commitment, a life of devotion to our Lord.  Sometimes you will hear the phrase, “Give your heart to Jesus; give your heart to Christ.”  What do you mean by that?  Give your heart to Jesus?  Last night in this very place where I stand, there was a beautiful church wedding.  One of the girls in our orchestra married one of the men in our choir.  There were many of us here, and as you witness the vow that young fellow gives his heart to that girl, and that girl gives her heart to that boy.  What you mean by that is “I bestow upon her the love of my soul and the affection of my life.  I will strive to please her and make her happy.  I will be good to her and love her.  I will take care of her in every way that I can.  She will be my other self, to love and adore, and to cherish as long as God gives me breath.”  That is what you mean when you say, “I give my heart to Christ.”  I will remember Him.  I will esteem Him.  I will love Him.  I will serve Him.  He will be first in my affections and in my love.  “Faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ” [Acts 20:21]—it is a volitional, dynamic word of choice and consecration.

But you say, “Pastor, before I would respond to an invitation like that, I must first make myself worthy.  I must make myself better.”  Dear friend, if all we need to do is to make ourselves better, then the death of Christ was extraneous; a shameful waste of God’s love and grace.  All we need to do is just make ourselves better.  But if I seek to make myself better, I will never, ever come, never; for I am never good enough to enter into the presence of the great holiness of the Lord God of heaven.  Our great hymns that we sing speak to that:

Come, ye sinners, poor and needy . . .


. . . . lost and ruined by the fall;

If you tarry until you’re better,

You will never come at all.


I am resolved to go to Jesus;

He will embrace me in His arms.

In the arms of my dear Savior,

O there are ten thousand charms.

[“Come, Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy,” Joseph Hart]


That is the address of the hymn we so often sing:


Just as I am, without one plea,

But that Thy blood was shed for me

And if Thou bidd’st me come to Thee,

O Lamb of God, I come! I come!

[“Just As I Am,” Charlotte Elliott]


Just as I am; if you wait until you are better, you will never, ever come.  “Just as I am, O God, I come.”  Salvation is a gift to be received and that’s all.  I don’t work for it.  I don’t buy it.  I’m never worthy of it.  It is the love [John 3:16] and mercy [Titus 3:5] and grace of God [Ephesians 2:8] that reaches down, and picks me up, draws me to Himself [John 12:32]; washes my sins away [Revelation 1:5]; writes my name in the Book of Life [Luke 10:20; Revelation 20:12,15; 21:27]] and saves me forever [John 10:27-30].  Like that prayer you heard the boy pray a moment ago: “Lord, not justice, but mercy [Titus 3:5] and grace” [Ephesians 2:8]. a gift from God’s nail-pierced hands.

But you say, “Pastor, I am waiting for a great feeling, and I don’t feel.”  I guarantee you this.  Before God in heaven and before this throng of witnesses, if you give your heart to Christ [Romans 10:8-13] and you come down that aisle and acknowledge Him before heaven and before men, and if you follow our Lord in obedience through the waters of the Jordan in baptism [Matthew 3:13-17], and you number yourself with the family of God and walk in and out before His people, I guarantee you, you will have feelings so deep sometimes you will bow your head and cry; weep for the depth of the feeling in your soul.  It will never fail.  It will never fail.  Feelings follow after those tremendous volitional commitments to God.  They follow after. 

“But pastor, it seems to me God is far away.  He doesn’t speak to me.”  Contrariwise, God is nearer than your hands and your breath.  And He speaks every moment of your life.  God is everywhere and He speaks invitation and encouragement; love and grace.  God speaks.  God speaks in the sunrise giving us another day.  God speaks in the sunset giving us rest for the night.  God speaks in our daily living, the breath, the heartbeat, that’s God.  God speaks in death; O Lord, stand by us in that hour of ultimate need.  God speaks to us in the voices of little children.  God speaks to us in the godly consecrated lives of the saints that we see all around us.  God speaks to us in the services of the church; in the hymns and in the prayers.  God speaks to us from the pages of His holy and immutable Word.  God speaks to us in the appeal of the pastor and in the invitation.  God speaks to us in the Holy Spirit who woos us and invites us in our hearts [John 6:44].

The apostle Paul wrote it like this in the tenth chapter of Romans, verse 8 [Romans 10:8]: “For the word is nigh thee, even in thy heart and in thy mouth; namely the word of faith and salvation which we preach; 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” [Romans 10:8-9].  For with the heart one believeth unto a God kind of righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto a Christ kind of salvation” [Romans 10:10].

He is here. God speaks.  He speaks to you.  And if you will open your heart heavenward and God-ward and Christ-ward, you will find the dream of your life, the hope of your soul, a Friend in this earthly pilgrimage, an answer to every trial and problem, and comfort and joy.

Finally, I talked to a man last night, an older man, and he said, “Pastor, I am looking forward to heaven.”  I understand.  When the life is lived and our work is done, I am looking forward to heaven.  That’s God in our hearts; not the grave, not death, not the darkness of despair and midnight but the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ [2 Corinthians 4:6] and city foursquare [Revelation 21:16] with its gates of pearl and its streets of gold [Revelation 21:21] and its fellowship with God’s redeemed family [Hebrews 12:22-23].  O Lord, why would a man turn away from God and from Christ and be lost when to be saved and to be glad in Him is so nearby?  Come, come, come.  May we stand?

Our Lord, preaching this sermon, I relive once again the day that I came down that aisle and gave the pastor my hand; couldn’t even see him for the tears, “Today, I accept Jesus as my Savior.”  O Lord, what a day, what a decision, what a turning.  And that same Holy Spirit of God that spoke to me as a lad speaks to every heart, every life, “Come, come” [Revelation 22:17].  This is the purpose for which God made you, to love God, to trust in His Son, to receive as a gift free His grace [Ephesians 2:8] and mercy [Titus 3:5] and love and promise of heaven [John 3:16].

In this moment that we sing our invitation appeal, publicly before men and angels to stand, “I am accepting Christ as my Savior [Romans 10:8-13], and here I stand.  I have given my life in a new meaning to Him, and I avow it openly and statedly.”  There are some of you here today that would not want to join our church.  You don’t have to join the church.  You don’t have to be a member of this church.  If God has spoken to you and you have made a commitment to Christ, seal it with that public avowal.  On the first note of the first stanza, come.  God does something to the soul that publicly avows it.  He says so in His Word, “If thou shalt confess Me before men, I will confess you before My Father which is in heaven” [Matthew 10:32].  Come.  Angels will attend you in your way if you will come.  “This day I commit my life to Christ, and here I stand.”  Families of you, “We have decided for God, and we are coming.”  A couple you, some of you for whom we have prayed, “This is God’s day for me and for us.  The two of us are coming.”  One somebody you, “The Lord has spoken to my heart and I am on the way.”  Make that decision now in your heart, and in a moment when we sing this hymn of appeal, down that stairway, down this aisle, “Pastor, I am on the way.”  It will be the greatest decision you will ever make. You will never regret it.  Angels will rejoice in it [Luke 15:10], and we are glad too.

And our Lord, bless them as they come, in Thy precious and saving and keeping name, amen.  While we sing, welcome.