Okay, so I’ve got good news and I’ve got bad news.
The good news is that God loves us deeply, passionately, immensely. The bad news is that there is no way to get to God. There’s this big gulf between us and God called sin. As human beings, we find ourselves in a struggle where we know God is good, we know the only safe place is with Him, but we don’t know how to get there.
We try to get there by being a good person, doing good works, going to church, etc. These are some things that we probably see people doing to try to get to God in our culture but throughout history, people have done all kinds of crazy things to connect with God. Most people believe there is a God. It’s so illogical to think that we were created without a creator. If you just take one piece of the human body, like the eye, and study it for years, you would be amazed how complex it is. So to think that the human eye and every other part of our bodies, and then all the other creatures and this planet, to think that it all just happened by accident, that’s so ridiculous that most people accept that somebody made us. Here are some of these ways that people have tried to connect with God historically:
- Sacrificing animals – this was an Old Testament Jewish practice. Can you imagine if, when you came to worship God with your family, you had to bring a bird of a lamb or even a cow to sacrifice? But that’s what they had to do because until Jesus came, that was the only way for people to get rid of their sins.
- Child Sacrifice – there have been civilizations throughout history that thought if they gave what was most precious to them to god (or gods, most believed in more than one god), that they would have more favor from the gods.
- Women covering up their whole bodies so all you can see are their eyes, and sometimes they even have to look through a mesh
- Piercing bodies all over, big holes in their ears and tongues
- Filing down teeth – some people think this purifies them
- Cutting themselves, even cutting off their own fingers
These are just a few examples of how people will go to such extremes to try to connect with God.
Well, what does the Bible say?
In Acts 16, we have the story of a man who came to Paul and Silas and asked them, “What must I do to be saved?” That’s a huge question! That’s the biggest and most important questions humans have ever asked and will ever ask.
Now, just to give a little background to this story … Jesus had already died and then He rose from the dead, He walked around for 40 days and then He went back to heaven. Paul used to be called Saul and he didn’t believe that Jesus was the Savior, in fact, he went around killing Christians because he thought it was wrong for them to follow Jesus instead of just the Jewish religion. But then Saul had a vision on the road to Damascus and Jesus appeared to him and he went blind for a while and he realized that what he was doing was wrong and that he should be following Jesus too. His name was changed to Paul and he spent the rest of his life going all over the place preaching about Jesus and it’s a good thing because he wrote 2/3 of the New Testament. But not everybody wanted to hear what he had to say and he ended up in prison a bunch of times.
Just to give you an idea: 2 Corinthians 11:24-27, Paul says: “From the Jews five times I received forty stripes minus one. Three times I was beaten with rods; once I was stoned; three times I was shipwrecked; a night and a day I have been in the deep; in journeys often, in perils of waters … (dictionary.com says perils means exposure to injury, loss or destruction; grave risk; jeopardy; danger). So Paul says he was “in perils of waters, in perils of robbers, in perils of my own countrymen, in perils of the Gentiles, in perils in the city, in perils in the wilderness, in perils in the sea, in perils among false brethren; in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fastings often, in cold and nakedness—”
Fun times, right? So if you ever hear anyone say that following Jesus means all your problems go away, you can tell them about Paul’s life. Because sometimes following Jesus means life will get tougher. The Bible calls it “dying to self.” That means your “self” doesn’t get his or her way all the time. You might not get all the things you want in this life, but I promise you, when you stand before Jesus, none of that will matter. For the rest of eternity, you will know that in giving up your life, you gained everything.
So back to the story of the guy with the million-dollar question …
What must I do to be saved?
In Acts 16:24, we see that all the prisoners had their feet in stocks, which means they were probably lying on the floor and their feet were put in these blocks of wood that were very secure. We’re not sure exactly what that looked like, it could have been two big pieces of wood with just enough room from their ankles, or they could have been tied with a cord to a block of wood. The verses tell us there were chains, so somehow the chains were part of this set-up too. But in any case, it was an extra way to make sure they didn’t escape. So even though they were in a locked cell, they were bound inside the cell just to make sure.
“But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, ‘Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.’ Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?’” (Acts 16:25-29, New King James Version)
So here we have this jailer who realizes God has performed a miracle and he’s so scared he’s willing to kill himself but then he realizes that even though these guys could have escaped, they didn’t. Paul said, “We are all here.” Because it wasn’t just Paul and Silas who were free to leave, it was all the prisoners. And this is a side note, but when God works freedom in our lives, it spills over to all those around us. The Bible doesn’t tell us why they didn’t run away but I think it was because God wanted them to minister to this jailer and his family.
Maybe God spoke to them directly and they knew they weren’t supposed to leave. That’s one way that God speaks to people, where you hear a voice with your ears. More often, you have a clear thought in your mind that sounds like it’s probably from God. I think the most common way that we know God wants us to do something, though, is when we just have a feeling that we’re supposed to do something or not supposed to do something else. Walking with Jesus is a life-long process and if you continue running after Jesus and loving God with all your heart, His voice will just become more and more clear to you. But don’t be surprised if you have trouble hearing the voice of God right because we all do sometimes. You might think God is speaking to you and then you realize that was just your own desires. Then next time, you’ve learned to ask, ‘Wait, could this just be me again?’ So hearing God’s voice is trial-and-error.
We don’t know why Paul and Silas didn’t escape and I’m just guessing, based on what happens next and we’ll find out about that in a minute.
But this guy asked the question that all of humanity has been asking, “What must I do to be saved?” In other words, “What do I need to get to get across this big gulf between me and God?”
Here’s the answer Paul gave:
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes [that means the jailer washed their sores from when they got beaten] And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” (NKJV)
This is a really neat picture of how we believers work together. Here’s this guy who got saved like five minutes ago and he’s washing down the wounds where these guys were whipped. We don’t know, but he could have been the one whipping them. So he washes them down and then right away, Paul and Silas turn around and baptize the jailer and his family. They had to forgive this guy and let him care for them even though he was their enemy right before that.
So we see that Paul and Silas answered the question that all of humanity has been asking since the beginning of time … “What must I do to be saved?” And the answer was very simple, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” because He is the only way to God! And the amazing thing is, God Himself bridged that gap. We don’t have to “do” anything other than except what He did for us by turning away from our sins and choosing to walk with Jesus.
What does believing mean?
Believing on the Lord is not the same as believing that He exists. Most people believe there is a creator God but that doesn’t mean they’re saved. Even people who don’t believe in God, the vast majority of them believe that Jesus was a real man because we have historical records. But that doesn’t mean they’re saved. Satan himself knows God is real. Satan believes, in fact, he knows, Jesus was a real man who walked this earth. Satan believes that Jesus died and rose again. Satan believes that Jesus died to take away the sins of the world. But we know from Revelation 20:10 that Satan will be cast into a lake of fire to be tormented forever; believing doesn’t save the devil. James 2:29 says “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!”
So just believing that God exists or believing that Jesus walked the earth or even believing that Jesus died and rose again, those aren’t enough to save us. Believing in Jesus means putting our faith in Him to save us. You might believe that eating food will save you from dying of starvation but unless you actually eat, you won’t survive.
That is a picture of a person’s relationship with Jesus Christ. John 6:35 says, “And Jesus said to them, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.”
So to sum it all up, the good news is Christ died for us and bridged the gulf between us and God. If we put our trust in Him to save us and surrender our lives to Him, we will live with Him forever.
This Bible study post was adapted from a message written for Chadron Community Church’s King’s Kids program, January 2019 (Chadron, Nebraska). Freely you have received; Freely give … All Bible studies are reproducible without charge and no credit needs to be given to Ananda Peters. If there are in-text references, please cite the original author in your work.