The same title as above has been used before in these articles, but the presentation of commands of God will be a bit different in this article. The exact words of our title are taken from a verse recording the conversion of the Philippian Jailor. After discovering that his prisoners had not run away following an earthquake that released them, he asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Many lessons, both erroneous as well as scriptural have been taught using this passage of scripture, but we wish to dissect this question and note a few lessons we can learn concerning our salvation.
The first point we would note is the goal that the Philippian jailor states he desires. That goal was “to be saved”. Without spending much time or space on this, we note this because that is what we wish to learn about as well. The fact is, that should be the goal of each and every person. Any sane person who believes in God, heaven and hell would naturally have this same goal. We might quickly add, each and every accountable human being has need of salvation. Paul pointed out that all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and that the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23), thus all have need to be saved.
Let us next consider the verb used by the jailor. He asked what he must “do”. Now, there are many that would answer that question with the assurance that one does not have to do anything, that God and Christ has done it all for us. There is no doubt whatsoever that one cannot be saved by anything he or she does without the sacrifice of Christ on the cross for the forgiveness of sins. Paul first answered his question with the words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (Acts 16:31). But, notice that is not the end of the account. They then taught him and all that were in his house the word of the Lord, and then he was baptized (Acts 16:32-33). This pretty much makes sense because as Paul pointed out to the Romans, one cannot believe what one has not heard and cannot call upon whom they have not believed in (Rom. 10:13-14). As to whether one has to actually do anything in order to be saved, Jesus said, “Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven” (Matt. 7:21). Either one must do the will of the Father in order to be saved, or Jesus lied about that.
The next point we wish to give consideration to is the personal pronoun, “I”. Though we are to be concerned with the salvation of others, our own salvation needs to come first. It is a personal thing anyway. I can’t be saved for someone else and someone else can’t be saved for me. As the prophet Ezekiel stated, “The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him” (Ezek. 18:20). Another important aspect of the use of the personal pronoun “I” is that it points to a specific time and situation. Though God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34), not all people have lived under the same law. When the rich young ruler came to Jesus seeking to know what to do, he was directed to the old law of Moses (Matt. 19:16-19) under which they were living at the time. This jailor was living after the death of Christ on the cross and was therefore in need of obeying the commands of the gospel of Christ, for that is it by which we will be judged in the last day (John 12:48; Rom. 2:16). The gospel of Christ reveals to us all the righteousness of God, by which we are to live (Rom. 1:17). Now we are back to what the jailor was told he had to do. After being taught the word of God, he was baptized. This is because the gospel of Christ teaches that one must hear the gospel (Rom. 10:17), believe the gospel (Mark 16:16), repent of our sins (Acts 3:19), confess Christ as the Son of God (Matt. 10:32-33; Rom. 10:10) and be baptized into Christ (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; Rom. 6:3; Gal. 3:27).
The last point we will be able to cover is that the jailor questioned, not what he ought to do, or what he should do, but what he “must” do. The fact is, there are no optional commands of God. We have not the freedom to pick and choose what commands we will obey, for we “must” obey the gospel of Christ. When the Lord returns with His mighty angels and in flaming fire, He will take vengeance on them that “know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ” (II Thess. 1:7-9). From Adam and Eve in the garden of Eden to the end of the Bible, one does not find where God has allowed man to just “do it his way”. God has always required obedience to His word.
The Philippian jailor asked the most important question that one can possibly ask. He asked what to do to be saved. He then did the most important thing one can possibly do, he obeyed the word of the Lord.
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