What Must I Do To Be Saved?

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

February 21st, 1993 @ 10:50 AM

Acts 16:30-31

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.
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Dr. W. A. Criswell

Acts 16:30-31

02-21-93 10:50 a.m.



In Dallas, this is the Senior Pastor bringing the message entitled What Must I Do to be Saved?  Our Scripture reading is a famous one in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, beginning at [25]:

At midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God: and the prisoners heard them. 

And then suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all of the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. 

And the keeper of the prison awaking from sleep, seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.

Then Paul called with a loud voice saying, Do yourself no harm, we are all here. 

Then he called for a light, ran in and fell down, trembling 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?"

So they said, Believe, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, you and your house.

And then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and all who were in his house. 

And he took them the same hour of the night, washed their stripes and immediately he and all his family were baptized.

Now, when he had brought them into his own home, he set food before them and rejoiced, having believed in God with all of his house.

 [Acts 16:25-34]


The dramatic portrayal of what happened that night could never, ever be forgotten.  Like some of you, I have been there.  They point out the actual jailhouse in which this dramatic providence took place, mostly torn down.  And as you stand there and look, the drama of this providence passes before your eyes with great meaning and significance.

The message of hope and salvation that Paul and Silas were preaching was offensive to the idolatrous Roman military.  So they were arrested, beaten, placed in the prison, and their feet fast in the stocks.  No wonder the prisoners heard them.  Who could but listen when one had been beaten and chained and in stocks and praises God and sings to the glory of the Lord?  And at midnight, in that place, and glory, God came down, shook that prison and the doors were flung wide open.

Well, the jailer, by Roman law was responsible for his inmates.  And if they escaped, he faced a disgraceful execution.  So rather than face the shame of being put to death for the escape, the loss of the prisoners, he drew out his sword, a short, Roman sword to plunge it into his heart and take his life by suicide.

And when Paul saw him, he said, "Do yourself no harm.  Put up your sword.  We are all here, all of us, prisoners and all.  We are all here."  And the jailer came and fell down, trembling before Paul and Silas and asked that question, "What must I do to be saved?"  Facing execution in shame and disgrace, "What must I do, what can I do to be delivered, to be saved?"  And then the direct answer, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved."

My predecessor, Dr. George W. Truett, preaching in this pulpit forty-seven years, I one time heard him say when I was a boy: "Oh, preacher, make it plain.  Make it plain how a man can be saved."  And I’m going to try to do that with the spirit of the Lord and with God’s help this hour.  How can a man be saved?  First, why must one be saved?  The answer is in your life, in our lives, it is universal because of the sentence of death.  "It is appointed unto men once to die," the Bible says, "and after that, the judgment."

God welded those two together, "The soul that sins shall die."  [Ezekiel 18:4]  The Bible begins that way.  "In the day that thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die."  [Genesis 2:17]  And in the middle of the Bible, in Ezekiel, "The soul that sins shall die."  And at the end of the Bible: "The wages of sin is death."  [Romans 6:23]  We all face that judgment of Almighty God.  The inevitable hour of death: spiritual death, physical death, emotional death, eternal death, the second death.  We all face that inevitable and inexorable judgment of death.  I have a big funeral tomorrow at eleven o’clock in this place; burying one of the famous young men of the world.  No providence of life can deliver us from that inevitable judgment – Death!

I read in the days of Queen Victoria an innocent man was sentenced to a life imprisonment for a crime he didn’t commit.  On the outside, a friend worked year after year after year for his pardon, and eventually succeeded.  In his hand was a pardon, signed by the queen herself.  In ecstasy and inevitable gladness, he made his way to the penitentiary and presented to his friend in the penitentiary, in the cell, the pardon.

"You’re free!  Your liberty – here’s the pardon, signed by the queen herself."  His friend made no response; none at all.

And the friend, amazed, "You don’t understand.  You’re free!  You’re free!  The door is opened.  Walk out in liberty.  I have a pardon here signed by the queen.  You’re free!"  He undid his garments and there at his breast and exhibited to his friend a great, deep-eating cancer.  We all face that inevitable judgment – sin and death.  That is why we must be saved.

Again, when must one be saved?  The answer from God is an emphatic, "Now!"  Second Corinthians 6:2: "Behold, now is the accepted time.  Behold now is the day of salvation."  God, in His Holy Spirit, has never pleaded "tomorrow, some other day, some other hour, some other time."  Always pleading of the Holy Spirit is, "Now!  Now is the time to be saved."  The providences of life plead, "Now!"

Poignantly do I remember pleading with a young man in a village where I pastored.  And he was kind.  He was gracious.  He said, "Young preacher, I’ll accept the Lord as my Savior and I will be down that aisle at the church but not now, some other day, some other time.  Not now!"  He came down the aisle at the church.  He was in a casket!  He had been tragically and suddenly killed in an automobile accident.  We have no mortgage and no lease on any tomorrow.  Any providence, any day could overwhelm us and overtake us.  God says the time to be saved is now.

Not only the providences of life plead, "Now," but the usefulness and the blessedness of life pleads, "Now!"  As you know, for ten years I was a country preacher out there.  And in the county seat town, where I was preaching out in the country, there was a young husband, had two darling little girls.  And he left them – went off with another woman.  And the mother of those two darling little girls moved to the edge of the county seat town.  And there in a little shack, in a little cottage, in a hut, she took in washing and for the years and the years, reared those two darling little girls.

As the passing of the years went by, suddenly, there was a heavy knock at her door, there on the edge of that town.  And when she opened the door, there stood her husband diseased, disheveled, ragged.  And he asked if he could come in.  She opened the door.  She took him in.  And to the amazement of the whole county, she took care of him until she died.

May I ask you a simple question?  Do you think he did the right thing by that dear wife and the mother of those two little girls – to give his life outside and away and bring a carcass and lay it at her feet?  You do that!  You do that when you give your life to the world and to the things of self and forgetfulness.  And come at the end of the way and cast a carcass at the feet of God.  And ask God to take you in and to save you.

I say the blessedness of life denies such a repudiation of the grace and love and mercy of our Lord.  Now is the time to be saved.  The blessedness of life itself pleads for that, "Now!"

In childhood, to be taught and to love the Lord – In youth, to give the strength of your growing life and days to the blessed Jesus – In manhood and womanhood, to love and serve the Lord – And in old age, just to think of those good things God hath prepared for those who love Him; there is no life in this earth comparable to the sweet and precious life of following and loving the Lord Jesus.  All plead that now is the time to be saved.

Then that ultimate and climatic question, "How can I be saved?  What must I do to be saved?"  You must realize – as I answer that question – you must realize that I am a Biblical literalist.  I do not believe in spiritualizing the plain substantive Word of God.  I believe it syllable-by-syllable, sentence-by-sentence, revelation-by-revelation.  "What must I do to be saved?  Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."  It is one thing not two, one thing not two.  "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."  Not believe, and we add this and we add this and it is further along in this, and it is added to in this.  It is one thing, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."

So one day – oh, how vividly do I remember – one day I knelt down with that Book open in my hand.  I knelt down before God and I said, "Lord, show me what it is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."  Over there in the Bible in James chapter 2 it says, "The devils believe and tremble."  They know all of the facts of our Lord from the beginning of creation.  The devils believe and tremble.  Lord, what is it?

"Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved."  And as clearly as you are listening to me now, the Lord spoke in my heart and said, "You turn to 2 Timothy, chapter 1 verse [12]."  And I turned.  "I know whom I have believed.  I am not ashamed, I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep that which I have, paratheken, committed" – deposited, placed in His hands – "against that great, final judgment day".

And I had my answer from God.  What is it to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ?  It is a paratheken.  It is a commitment; a deposit of my soul and my life in Him, paratheken.  You can translate it "a trust."  You can translate it "a deposit."  Here translated "a commitment."  Like a commitment to a bank, I believe in the bank.  I deposit my money in the bank.  Like the postal system, I believe in the postal system.  I will deposit my letter in the post office.

Like paying an insurance policy; even after I’m dead, I believe that insurance company will be true to the trust and carry through the words of the policy.  I paid that insurance policy.  I drive over a bridge.  I never got out and looked at one in my life.  I believe in those men who built that structure.  It is a commitment.  It is a deposit.  It is a trust.  I commit my life to the Lord Jesus.  And oh, how beautifully do I find that illustrated in the infallible Word of God.

God said to those in Egypt, "My death angel passes over this night.  And all who do not have the sign of the cross, the blood on the lintel and on the doorpost and on either side, death will come into that home."  And those who believed placed that blood of the Passover in the sign of a cross on the lintel, on the doorpost, on either side.  And under the blood sat there, waiting, trusting, just committing themselves to the Word and promise of God.  And the Bible says when the death angel passed over, if He saw the blood, death did not enter that home.  It is a commitment.  It is a trust.

Take again, there was a plague in the camp.  And Moses was instructed to lift up a serpent in the midst of the wilderness.  And if one who was smitten, who was dying, would look, he would live.


There is life for a look

At the crucified One.

There is life at this

Moment for thee.

Then look, my brother,

Look unto Him

And be saved,

Unto Him who was nailed to the tree.

[A.M. Hull, "There Is Life For A Look At The Crucified One"]


It is a commitment.  It is a trust.   Again, here is a man who is nailed to a cross.  What can he do in the commitment to the Lord Jesus?  The only thing that was possible, he could turn his head.  He could turn his head.  That is all he could do.  But in the commitment of his heart and life in trust to the Lord Jesus, he turned his head and said, "Lord, when You come into Your kingdom, remember me.  Call my name, remember me."

And the Lord replied, "Semeron, this day, today, thou shalt be with Me in paradise."  [Luke 23:43]

You didn’t know I was going to speak of this, Fred, but thank you for singing the song.


Turn your eyes upon Jesus.

Look full in His wonderful face.

And the things of the earth

Will grow strangely dim

In the light of His glory and grace.

[Helen H. Lemmel, "Turn Your Eyes Upon Jesus"]


It is a commitment.  It is a paratheken.  What it is to believe in the Lord?  It is to commit your soul and your life to the blessed Jesus. 

You know, I look back, I was seventeen years old when I began pastoring, preaching.  I look back over some of the things that I did and I am astonished at them.  Here’s one.  In this village where I was the undershepherd, there was one general store.  And the man who owned and ran that store was the number one citizen in that part of the earth.  Naturally, one store, and he owned it and ran it.  He was not a Christian.  I talked to him so fervently and earnestly.  And did you know in one of the morning services in the little church where I pastored, down the aisle he came.  Down the aisle he came and took me by the hand.  And he said, "Today, I accept Jesus as my Savior."

Oh, I was so wonderfully glad.  Then he added, "But I’m going back to my seat for I have said all of my life I will never stand down there at the front and confess my faith in the Lord Jesus.  I’m going back to my seat."

I don’t know what I’d say to him now.  But this is what I said to him then, being a youngster in my teens.  I said to him, "Sir, you go back to your seat and you’ll go back a lost man.  You will face the judgment of God in the eternal damnation of hell and separation if you go back to your seat.  You have to stand here at the front and publicly, openly, and unashamedly confess your faith in the Lord Jesus.  And if you don’t, you’re going to be lost.  Now, I said, Let’s pray."

And I took his hand again and prayed that God would give him that openness, that unashamedness to publicly confess His name, and commit his life to the Lord Jesus, and said amen.  And praise God, I don’t know what I would have done if he refused.  And praise God, he squeezed my hand and said, "Young fellow, I’ll do it."  And there in the front of the church, he gave his life and committed his life to the Lord Jesus and was the leading member of that church for the years remaining in his days.  That is what it is to believe.  It is to commit your life to the Lord Jesus.

If you don’t mind, may I take a leaf out of history?  I am going to speak of the execution of Archbishop Thomas Cranmer in 1556 as it is told by John Fox in his Book of Martyrs.  And I am illustrating what it is to believe in the Lord Jesus.  It is openly and publicly and unashamedly to commit your life to the Lord, no matter the cost or the consequence.  All right, here’s the page.  He speaks, "Forasmuch."  And by the way, if you have ever been to Oxford, when you drive into the university, when you drive into the city, the main boulevard, there is one of the most impressive monuments you will ever see in the world.  The monument is raised to Latimer and Ridley and Cranmer who were burned at the cross, burned at the stake in that way, in that exact place.  Well, anyway he is speaking; Thomas Cranmer.  He had signed a recantation in order to save his life and then renounced his recantation and is being burned at the stake.  So he says, "Forasmuch as my hand hath offended riding contrary to my heart, therefore my hand shall first be punished.  For when I come to the fire, it shall be first burned."

Then Cranmer being pulled down from the stage was led to the fire.  When he came to the place where the holy bishops and martyrs of God, Latimer and Ridley were burnt before him for the confession of the truth, kneeling down he prayed to God.  And not long tarrying in his prayers putting off his garment to his waist, he prepared himself for death.  When the wood was kindled and the fire began to burn, he stretched forth his right hand, which had signed the recantation.  He stretched forth his hand into the flames.  And there held it so steadfast, that all of the people might see it burn to a coal before his body was touched.

He was so patient and constant in the midst of those extreme tortures that he seemed to move no more than the stake to which he was bound.   With his eyes lifted up to heaven he repeated, "This unworthy right hand," so long as his voice would suffer him, he said those words.  And as often as he used the words, he said the words of the blessed martyr Stephen, "Lord Jesus, receive my spirit," till the fury of the flames putting him to silence, he gave up his life just illustrating what it is to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.  It is a commitment of your life to Jesus; openly, unashamedly, even unto death. 

And that commitment God honors.  Our salvation is a gift from His gracious hands.  He offers it to me in faith and trust and I receive it as a gift.  Money can’t buy it.  If God sold His salvation for money, there are too many poor who couldn’t by it.  It is not bestowed upon us because we are worthy.  There are too many of us who sin and are separated from God because of our sin.  It is not achieved by brilliance or education.  There are too many who are unlettered and unlearned.  It is a gift of God.  God bestows it to those who open their hearts and hands to receive it.

There’s no more precious promise in the Bible than Ephesians 2:[8-9], "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works, lest any man should boast."  Lest any man should say: "I did it!  I did it!"

When I get to heaven, I’m not going to stand before that great heavenly throng of saints and angels and beat on my breast and say: "Look what I did.  I made it.  I did it!"  You know what I am going to do?  As the Book says, "When I stand with the angels and the saints in heaven, I’m going to sing the song unto Him who loved me and who gave Himself for me and to Him be praise and glory forever and forever, amen."  He did it.  He did it.  God did it.  Jesus did it.  And I receive my salvation and my home in heaven as a gift from His precious and nail-pierced hands.  To Him be the glory forever and ever.  That’s how I am saved; a commitment of my life to the blessed, precious Lord Jesus.

Now, Fred, I want us to sing …