The question that makes up our title was one asked by a jailor in the city of Philippi (Acts 16:30). This man knew nothing about Christ and the salvation in Christ that Paul had been preaching in Philippi which resulted in being lock in a prison under the oversight of this jailor. But, he did recognize that whatever Paul had been teaching must have been the truth, for no man could enjoy such a miraculous release other than one doing God’s work. Thus, he asked the question that we wish to examine. We are going to consider the question in reverse order. In other words, we will begin at the end and work our way to the beginning.
The last three words form a prepositional phrase denoting direction or in this case the goal one desires to reach. Were the question simply, “what must I do”, one would be left wondering what it is that the questioner’s goal was. It has jokingly been said that there are only two things that a person has to do, pay taxes and die. The fact is, not everyone pays taxes. There are two things one must do, die and stand before the judgment seat of God (Heb. 9:27). But our jailor qualified his question with the words, “to be saved”. This was his objective, salvation. It should be the objective of every one of us, for every accountable person is in need of salvation. God’s word teaches that sin separates one from God (Isa. 59:1-2) and will result in eternal death (Gen. 2:17; Rom. 6:23). It also teaches us that every one of us are guilty of sin (Rom. 3:23; I John 1:7-10). This being the case, we are all in need of salvation from our sins. It is important that we realize this, for one shall never do as the Philippian jailor and seek the way to salvation unless they believe they are in need of salvation. Jesus said, “seek, and ye shall find” (Matt. 7:7). We too should ask, “what must I do to be saved?”.
The word preceding that three word phrase is a verb. It is the little word “do”. The jailor wanted to know what he needed to DO in order to be saved. Apparently this word is so small that far too many can’t even see it. Many go around saying that there is nothing that we can or must do in order to have salvation, but that Jesus has already done it all for us. However, they usually then go on to say that all we have to DO is believe in Jesus Christ, which just proved the error of their previous statement. Jesus once 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). God has from the garden of Eden required obedience of His children, if they are to be pleasing in His sight and receive the promised blessings. The first sin was simply the first disobedience on the part of man (Gen. 3:6). There is something that we must do. We must be obedient to the gospel of Jesus Christ (Heb. 5:8-9; Heb. 1:1-2; Rom. 1:16).
We will try not to dwell long on our next word, the personal pronoun, “I”. This word makes the question personal. In our text it was the jailor that asked the question and the “I” pointed to him. The only point we wish to make here is that each and every individual person is going to be responsible for himself/herself on the day of judgment. “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad” (II Cor. 5:10). There will be no need to stand there and try to blame your parents, your friends, your preacher or anyone else. You, will be responsible for your own deeds (Ezek. 18:20).
Next, it is what “must” be done. This word shows us that some things are of an absolute necessity if we are to be saved. In actuality, every command of God carries a “must” with it, for God has not issued any optional commands. These two words stand in opposition to one another. Whatever God has commanded to be done, must be done in order to be saved, for disobedience to God’s commands is sin (I John 3:4). As noted above, we all sin and therefore we all not only need salvation, but must seek in the way that God has prescribed. “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death” (Proverbs 14:12).
We conclude with the word, “what”. The apostle Paul stated, “For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ: for it is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth; to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For therein is the righteousness of God revealed from faith to faith: as it is written, The just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:16-17). The gospel of Christ is the word of God that must be heard and obeyed in order to be saved. Peter stated that one’s soul is purified in obeying the truth (I Pet. 1:22). He then points to that word as the seed by which one is born again (I Pet. 1:23). And then he writes, “But the word of the Lord endureth for ever. And this is the word which by the gospel is preached unto you” (I Pet. 1:25). We each need to ask the question that the jailor asked and then “search the scriptures” (John 5:39), “study to show thyself approved” (II Tim. 2:15) and examine ourselves (II Cor. 13:5). (Send any questions or comments to: [email protected])
Robert Oliver is a long time columnist for The Sampson Independent.