What Must I Do To Be Saved?
June 13th, 1982 @ 10:50 AM
WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
6-13-82 10:50 a.m.
God bless all of you who are praying for this hour and sharing it on radio, on television, and in this great sanctuary. In our series on the "Great Doctrines of the Bible," we are in this section called soteriology, the doctrine of salvation; and the message today, What Must I Do To Be Saved? And we are going to read, and you can follow it in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at verse 22 and reading through verse 34; Acts chapter 16, beginning at verse 22. This is the story of the beginning of the gospel in Europe and in the Western world, brought to a little city called Philippi by the preachers, Paul and Silas – verse 22:
And the multitude rose up against them: . . . and the magistrates commanded to beat them.
And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailer to keep them safely:
Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.
And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them.
Wouldn’t you? Beat, bloody, thrust into an inner dungeon, and their feet fastened in stocks; wouldn’t the ordinary response have been, "How cruel God is"? Instead they prayed and sang praises to God. And I repeat, no wonder the prisoners heard them; anybody would. You could not hide a soul lifted up like that. Now following,
And suddenly there was a great earthquake –
God heard it also –
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 jailer 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 fled.
But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: 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? –
the only place in the Bible where that question is directly asked –
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 own house, he set food before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house.
No more familiar story is found in the Holy Scriptures than this one I have just read. Nor is there a providence that is more pertinent and significant for us and for all humanity than this message the Holy Spirit brings to us in writing that story.
To begin with, it is remarkable how different an interpretation of the same providence. To Paul and Silas, it was an answer from heaven; it was an answer by fire: as they prayed and sang praises to God, the Lord took the whole earth and shook it. And He took those prison doors and unhinged them. And He took those manacles and those stocks, and they fell off hands and feet. And He liberated those preachers, Paul and Silas. It was an intervention from heaven; it was an answer from God by fire. But how different the interpretation of the same providence on the part of the jailer: to him it was the end of the way. And thinking the prisoners had fled when he saw those doors opened and those shackles and manacles and stocks fallen on the floor, rather than face shame and disgrace before a Roman tribunal and the inevitable execution that would follow, he drew out his own sword and planned to take his own life rather than face such ignominious disgrace [Acts 16:25-27]. Isn’t that strange, the interpretation of the same providence? But all of life is like that: it depends upon your relationship to God how you interpret what happens.
I think of the coming of our Lord and Savior into the world. The angels sang and rejoiced; all heaven was bright with the gladness of God. Those who looked for the consolation of Israel no less lifted up hearts in praise for the gift of the wonderful Son from glory. Immanuel, God is with us [Matthew 1:23]; and they blessed the name of the Lord. It was the first Christmas [Luke 2:1-20]. It was the gladdest time. Yet that same providence when it was announced to the vile and evil king, Herod the Great, he was troubled, and all Jerusalem with him [Matthew 2:1-3]. No wonder the city was troubled: slaughter after slaughter had characterized his cruel reign. And when he heard the announcement that the Christ Child, the Messiah of God, was born in Bethlehem, he slew all of the babes two years old and younger. Then was brought to pass the prophecy of Jeremiah, "A voice is heard in Ramah, weeping and lamentation; Rachel crying for her children, and would not be comforted, because they are not" [Matthew 2:16-18]. Isn’t that amazing, the reaction to the same providence?
Or take just once again the return of our Lord to the earth. The text of the Revelation, of the Apocalypse, the unveiling of Christ, the text is Revelation 1:7, "Behold, He cometh with clouds; and every eye shall see Him, and they also who pierced Him: and the kindreds and families and tribes of the earth will wail because of Him." Those two responses: to the children of God, to us, the return of our Lord is the victory of God over sin and Satan and death, every wrong will be made right, and Jesus will be King forever. To the child of God, the second coming of Christ is the great consummation and denouement of the age! [Hebrews 9:28]. But to those who are left behind when God’s people are raptured to meet their Lord when He comes, and they look upon Him, they shall wail because of Him [Revelation 1:7]. How we look upon the providences of God is determined by our relationship with the Lord, and it is so here: to Paul and Silas, an intervention from heaven; to this jailer, a sentence of death [Acts 16:25-27].
So I say rather than face the shame and disgrace before a Roman tribunal, he drew out his sword to take his own life. It was then that Paul cried out with a loud voice, "Do thyself no harm: we are all here, all of us, every prisoner incarcerated. We are all here" [Acts 16:28]. And that jailer, in amazement and astonishment, fell down before Paul and Silas on his knees, on his face, and asked how he might be saved [Acts 16:29-30]. That man down on his face and on his knees is a vivid and poignant portrayal of all mankind. It may not be today, maybe not tomorrow, but someday, sometime, somewhere every one of us will be forced to his knees, and crying piteously for a way out. That is as inexorable and as inevitable as your breathing and your living. That man forced to his face and to his knees is a picture of us all. And that man facing the judgment of death is a picture of us all, sinners condemned to die.
The tremendous verse in the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, "It is appointed unto men once to die" – and that includes us – "and after that the judgment," and that includes us [Hebrews 9:27]. The twentieth chapter of the Revelation describing the great white throne judgment [Revelation 20:11-14], ends with this verse, in Revelation 20:15, "And whosoever name was not found written in the Book of Life was cast into the lake of fire," shut out forever from God. By nature we are lost sinners; we are born that way. David wrote in Psalm 51:5, "In sin did my mother conceive me; and I was shapen in iniquity." I don’t have to be taught to be a sinner; I am a sinner. My life runs to wrong and transgression. I am born a sinner. It’s like a cub – a little lion’s cub, or a little tiger’s cub, or a little bear’s cub – the little thing is so playful and cuddly and furry, cute; but on the inside of it, give it time and its inward nature is violent and fierce. We’re that way: we are born in transgression, and our lives run to iniquity, all of us.
Not only are we born sinners, but by choice and by volition, we are sinners. Education and environment and culture do not change us. A poor sinner is a rich sinner, if he becomes affluent. An unlearned sinner is an educated sinner, if he’s sent to school. A rude, crude, uncultured sinner is a refined sinner, if he is taught the amenities of life. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if education or culture or a change of environment could rid the world of its judgment of sin and death? All we’d need to do would be to educate the man, and he’d be righteous; change the environment, and he’d be holy. I think one of the most unusual cartoons I ever looked at in my life was this: the artist had drawn a judge behind a bench, and there before him stood two teenagers, and just beyond the policeman who had arrested them and brought them before the judge in the court. And the judge is looking down into the faces of those two teenagers. And then the caption below, he’s quoted as saying, "You were born in the best and richest of families, and you live in the biggest and finest of houses, and you attend the most luxurious of social convocations, and you are graduates of the finest private schools, you drive the biggest cars, and your vacations are to the ends of the earth; no wonder you are delinquents!" It doesn’t change us, the circumstances of life, or the environment of life, or the educations of life, or the cultures of life. All humanity is like that poor, lost jailer down on his face and down on his knees: facing the judgment of death and of the everlasting sentence of Almighty God [Acts 16:29].
Now, how is a man to be delivered? How are we to be saved? If we face the inevitable consequence of sin, of death and the judgment, how can we be delivered? There are but two ways, just two. There are only two alternatives, just two; and they are clear and distinct. How can a man be saved? How can our souls be delivered? There are only two ways, two choices: one is man’s way, our way; and the other is God’s way, just those two. First, man’s way: man’s way is by suicide and by death. This poor, lost jailer drew out his sword to kill himself. That is man’s way [Acts 16:27].
Do you remember the story of Job? Those messengers that came to him one after another and said, "You have lost everything that you have; burned up by fire, the wind has blown it away. Even your children are all killed and slain" [Job 1:13-19]. Then not only did he lose everything that he had, but he was afflicted, personally, his physical frame; from the top of his head to the sole of his foot, he was afflicted with running, corrupting sores [Acts 2:7]. And he sat in an ash heap [Acts 2:8]. And his wife came and said to him, "Curse God, and commit suicide!" [Job 2:9]. That is man’s way.
Take again, I could not help but notice Ralph Hartman’s prayer, praying for the families and nations of the world who face infinite hurt and harm and despair because of bloodshed, war. That’s man’s way. Do you remember the cry of Jeremiah in the fourth chapter of his prophecy? "O my soul, O my soul, the blowing of the trumpet, and the alarm of war" [Jeremiah 4:19]. That’s man’s way: blood, murder, war. It’s the historical, universal reaction of mankind. Human sacrifice has been universal. Micah cried, saying, "Shall I give my firstborn for my transgression, the fruit of my body for the sin of my soul?" [Micah 6:7]; man’s way, human sacrifice.
Has any one of you climbed to the top of those pyramids in, say, old Mexico, or Central America, or in South America, built by the Aztecs or by the Incas? Up and up and up and up those great pyramids rise; and when you stand on top of them, tremendous monuments to the religious zealousness of those Aztecs Indians: why were they built? They were built for human sacrifice! On the top of the pyramid the priest raised his knife to take human life. That’s the answer of man: blood, sacrifice.
Have you ever stood by the Ganges River? There the Hindu, throwing the baby into the river for the crocodile or the biggest turtles I’ve ever seen in the world to devour; that’s human answer. Or take the stories in the Bible. God condemned Ahaz the king of Judah [2 chronicles 28:19], and God refused to forgive the sin of Manasseh, the king of Judah [2 Kings 21:11], because they burned their own children in the fire! In the valley of Hinnom, which was cursed, great image of Molech, and the roaring fire they heated below the image, and in his arms outstretched they placed their children [Leviticus 18:32; 2 Kings 16:3, 21:6]. That’s human answer. Or the endless stories of self-immolation. I just had a little argument in myself whether I ought to name some of the great names in history and even in the church who were guilty of self-immolation or flagellation, beat themselves or torture themselves; that’s human response.
Or let’s take again the world in which we live, so highly cultured and educated. The learned professor in the university chair, he is, he is an intellectual humanist, he is a materialist, he is a practical or an announced atheist. And if you listen to what he says, the only despairing hope he has is death. Listen to him. The death of the sun, the sun dies, the death of the planet earth, the earth dies, the death of the whole solar system, the solar system dies, the death of the whole universe, the universe dies; there’s no purpose, there’s no hope, there’s nothing but darkness and the grave. That is the human answer; just like this man: in his despair, took out his sword to take his own life [Acts 16:27]. The answer of man is suicide and death, as dark as the grave and as hopeless as death.
When I look at these things in human life and when I read them in human history, my own heart cries, saying, "Isn’t there some other way? Isn’t there some other word? Isn’t there some voice somewhere with hope, and light, and promise, and salvation? Isn’t there?" That was the voice of the apostle Paul, crying, and saying, "Do thyself no harm [Acts 16:28]. I have a word of hope, and deliverance, and salvation." And that poor, benighted, lost man facing death cried, saying, "What is it? How can a man be saved? [Acts 16:30]. A man who faces death, a man who is a confessed and known sinner, how can I be delivered?"
Now, the answer of the apostle is astonishing, if you’ll look at it. Deliverance, salvation, is found outside of ourselves, not in ourselves. Not by something I can do or we can do, it is something only God can do. I cannot be delivered, I cannot be saved by merit, or by worth, or by works, or by ceremony, or by ritual, or by anything else that I can do. My salvation lies outside of me: it is objective, it is not subjective, it is not in me; it is in God, it’s outside of me. It lies in the grace and the mercy and the forgiveness of the Lord God. He has to do it; I cannot. As Paul wrote in Ephesians 2:8-9, "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is a gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast, saying, I did it." Or as Paul wrote in Titus 3:5-7, "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His great mercy does He save us, by the washing of regeneration, and by the renewing of the Holy Spirit…justified by faith, we are made heirs of eternal life." It is objective; it is outside of ourselves.
The whole Bible is that. All of the types present that. When our first parents were driven out of the garden of Eden, there was placed at the eastern gate cherubim, with a flaming, flashing sword to point to and to keep the tree of life [Genesis 3:22-24]: there an objective salvation, those cherubim anywhere they appear in the Bible are always emblems of grace, of the mercy of God; and they point the way for the man to be saved, outside of himself, always objective. The story of the ark in the days of Noah: for a hundred twenty years [Genesis 6:3; 2 Peter 2:5], Noah stood there preaching the gospel of hope and salvation and pointing to the ark, "There it is; an objective salvation, something outside of us. Get in the ark, and you will be saved [Genesis 7]. The ark, the ark"; always objective, outside of ourselves. Or the story of the deliverance on the Passover night when God said, "My angel of death shall pass over the land of Egypt. But it shall be if one will place blood on the front of his house in the form of a cross, on the lintel and on the doorposts on either side, when the angel sees the blood, he will pass over that house; and there will be life instead of death" [Exodus 12:7, 13, 22-23]; an objective salvation. All a family had to do was to be under the blood, and wait upon the mercy and deliverance of God. There it is, the blood; an objective salvation, outside of us.
Or again, the type that Jesus used in the third chapter of the Gospel of John, "As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness," these poor dying Israelites bitten by snakes on every side, if one was bitten and dying, all he had to do was to look and live; an objective salvation [Numbers 21:6-9; John 3:14-15]. My brother, look, look, a salvation outside of us; not our worth, or merit, or goodness, or works, but God! Look, my brother, look and live! That’s the gospel; it never varies. Or the sacrificial system in the tabernacle, in the temple: the sinner took his hands and placed them on the head of the sacrificial victim, and confessed his sins; and there on the altar – look at it, an objective salvation, outside of the man – there on the altar the sacrificial animal was slain, offered unto God; leaning upon the mercies of the Lord [Leviticus 4:26-30]. And that’s what Paul says here.
"What must I do to be saved?" [Acts 16:30]. I must work. No. I must do good. No. I must observe these rituals and ceremonies. No. Then what must I do? I must look to Jesus. I must depend upon Him. I must lean on His kind arm. I must trust in His goodness and grace. I must commit my life to Him. That’s what he said: "Believe, trust in the Lord Jesus Christ" [Acts 16:31], an objective salvation outside of us, not depending upon me, but depending upon Him.
John 1:11 says, "He came unto His own, and His own received Him not." But the next verse, "But as many as received Him, to them gave He the right, the privilege, the prerogative, to become the children of God, even to them that trust in His name" [John 1:13]; an objective salvation outside of us. Or 2 Timothy 1:12, "I know whom I have believed, I am persuaded He is able to keep that which I have committed unto Him against that day"; an objective salvation, a commitment to Somebody.
Like in the hour of death, "Lord, Lord, how helpless, and I can’t save myself. I commit my soul to Thee. Lord, if I am saved, You must save me." That’s God’s way.
May I close with just a little explanation to something that all of us know but sometimes don’t realize? This is not something peculiar, or foreign, or unique, or different from your daily life – this is just something that God teaches us every day we live: to commit, to trust. The plowman sows seed in the soil, commits seed to the soil, just trusting, believing, hoping God will give him a harvest. Isn’t that right? A mariner commits his ship to the sea, following compass and charts; and in that vast illimitable expanse of the ocean, just trusts the way. Isn’t that right? You sit down on a plane, and if that front door is open, there are a thousand little gadgets and levers up there in those panels; just sit there, trusting your life to that pilot, hoping he’ll bring you in safely. A poor widow takes everything she has and places it in the bank, trusting the bank. Or as some of us have in these recent days, look up into the face of a surgeon – and I’m asleep, I’ve been put to sleep by an anesthesiologist – just trusting my whole life into his hands, in his hands – the physician, the surgeon. My brother, all life is like that. And if I can trust the physician and the surgeon, and if I can trust the pilot, and the mariner, don’t I have cause to trust the Son of God? He who flung these worlds into space [Genesis 1:14-16; Hebrews 11:3], He who created the whole universe [John 1:1-3; Colossians 1:16], He who governs all destiny, who has the issues and fate and the denouement of history in His hands [Matthew 28:18], He who could raise the dead [John 11:43-44], ruled over wind and wave [Luke 8:22-25], He who ascended into heaven and who is coming again, cannot I trust Him? That is the gospel. My brother, there is life, and light, and salvation, and deliverance, and resurrection, and heaven, looking unto Jesus [Hebrews 12:2].
May we stand together?
Our wonderful living Lord, how good, how infinitely precious have You been to us. Just to look, less could not be required, more by some could not be offered. Looking to Jesus, not to ourselves [Titus 3:5], we can’t save ourselves; not to the church, the church can’t save us; not to rituals and ceremonies, a thousand rivers of oil and a million sacrifices beside couldn’t save us. Looking to Thee: Lord Jesus, if I am saved You must do it [Isaiah 45:22; John 14:6; Acts 4:12]. If I am forgiven, You must forgive me. If I am raised from that grave, You must speak life to this dead frame [1 Thessalonians 4:16-17]. If I enter heaven, Lord, You must open the door [John 14:1-3]. If I have strength for the pilgrimage, You must give it to me. O Jesus, we cast ourselves at Thy dear feet. Raise us up; speak to us, Lord, words of hope and life and salvation [John 6:68].
While our people pray and we wait before God, a family you, "Pastor, today we’re coming into the fellowship of this wonderful church, we’re on the way." A couple you, you and your wife, you and your friend, you and the child, "God has spoken to us today, and we’re answering with our lives." Or just one somebody you, down this stairway if you’re in the balcony; down this aisle on this lower floor, "Here we stand, pastor, God be with us." And may angels attend you as you come.
And thank You, Lord, for the sweet harvest bestowed by the Holy Spirit to Thy great Savior of the souls of men and to us; in Jesus’ name, amen. While we sing our song, welcome, come, come, come, and welcome.
WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED
Dr. W. A. Criswell
providences of God so differently interpreted
A. To Paul and Silas, an answer by fire, intervention from heaven
B. To the jailer, the end of the way
C. The difference depends upon our relationship to God
1. The coming of our Lord into the world(Luke 2, Matthew 2:3, 16-18)
2. The return of our Lord to earth(Revelation
call of Paul to the lost jailer(Acts
A. The jailer falling to his knees, asking how to be saved
B. That man facing judgment of death is a picture of us all
1. Our condition before God(Hebrews 9:27, Revelation 20:15, Psalm 51:5)
2. Not only born sinners, but we are sinners by
choice and volition
III. How are
we to be delivered?
A. Man’s way
1. Suicide and death (Acts
16:27, Job 1:13-19, 2:9)
2. Blood, murder and war(Jeremiah
3. Human sacrifice (Micah
B. God’s way(Acts 16:28)
1. Salvation is outside of ourselves(Ephesians 2:8-9, Titus 3:5, 7)
a. Types of the Bible present that
ii. The ark(Genesis
iii. The blood at Passover (Exodus 12:23)
iv. The brazen serpent (Numbers 21:9, John 3:14)
v. Sacrificial system of the temple
2. Looking to Jesus(Acts 16:31,
John 1:11-12, 2 Timothy 1:12)
3. He teaches us to trust every day we live