Conversion 6

Conversion 6


The Philippian Jailer


This is the sixth article in a series of lessons on New Testament examples of conversion. In Acts 16 we have two conversions: Lydia (which we covered last week) and the Philippian jailer. We meet the jailer rather incidentally in Acts 16:23 after Paul and Silas exorcise an evil spirit from a slave girl who was pestering them with the truth (16-18). (Sometimes even the truth becomes a liability when it comes from the wrong source.) In any event, the masters of the slave girl, who were using her evil spirit for gain, were extremely upset at their economic loss, and they made a false complaint that had nothing to do with the exorcism. An ugly mob scene followed in which Paul and Silas were beaten and then thrown into prison. Our subject, the jailer, followed the orders of the magistrates and "threw them into the inner prison, and fastened their feet in the stocks." This was not a very pleasant thing to do to Paul and Silas even if he was following orders.

Each example illustrates some new aspect of the propagation of the gospel. It was preached first in Jerusalem (Acts 2); but after severe persecution arose, it quickly spread throughout Samaria (Acts 8:4). The next step in taking the gospel to "all nations" was the conversion of the Ethiopian in Acts 8. The conversion of Saul of Tarsus (Acts 9) was unique in that he was a specially-chosen vessel to take his place with the Apostles. The first Gentiles were converted with Cornelius and his household (Acts 10 and 11). Lydia was an independent woman and the head of a household. And now, the jailer illustrates that even the most rugged (albeit suicidal) of Roman soldiers can be touched by the simplicity and purity of the gospel of Christ. We hope you will enjoy the study of this fascinating case of conversion. 

Sirs, what must I do to be saved?

Paul and Silas realized that they were in a real jam. They were in a strange place and it seemed the whole city had gathered in a mob against them. While being extremely uncomfortable in the inner prison with their feet in stocks, at least they were spared from the mob. In their distress they turned to the Lord, "praying and singing hymns of praise to God, and the prisoners were listening to them" (Acts 16:25).

God is not oblivious to our suffering, and He was not to theirs. He intervened with an earthquake that miraculously opened the doors of the prison and released the prisoners chains (26). The Roman penalty to a jailer who lost his prisoners was death. The Romans had high respect for those who took their destiny into their own hands. Paul saved him from suicide by assuring him that none had escaped (28).

Some unrecorded interchange between the three men followed, and the trembling jailer fell down before Paul and Silas. It was after he brought them out of their cell that he asked the question: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" The simple answer is quite profound: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved ..." To someone barely exposed to the gospel of Christ (he might have heard them praying and singing), this statement certainly needed elaboration. After all, who was Jesus? and what did "believing on him" entail? The very next verse (32) states: "And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house." This is totally consistent with all of the other examples that we have seen so far: it was necessary for the word of the Lord to be heard in order for faith to be generated (Rom. 10:17). 

The next verse states (33): "And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." The washing of their injuries shows remorse on his part for any pain that he might have caused: repentance a change of heart. Finally, baptism is that act which places the new convert into Christ (Rom. 6:3). We see the same pattern in all conversions. The convert heard the truth, believed it, repented of sins, was willing to confess faith in Christ, and was baptized for the remission of sins. 

Ye often hear it said ...

"We are saved by faith only."

but in James 2:24, James stated:

"Ye see then how that by works a man is justified,

and not by faith only." (KJV)

The next time you hear the story of the Philippian jailer read, see if the reader stops at verse 31. (Why stop there?) that faith is essential to salvation.  It is clearly taught both here and in John 3:16. However, neither of these verses teach faith only. The words faith and only come together just once in the Bible in James 2:24, quoted above.

So how do we harmonize James 2:24 with Jn. 3:16 and Acts 16:42? James gives us the key (2:26): "For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also." Like love, faith is invisible within itself. Both are motivators. Faith will cause the one who possesses it to act. If not, it is dead and cannot save. If you believe the promises of God, you will have a strong desire to do His will. This motivation will result in the type of behavior that He wants in your life. Placing the word only after the word faith changes its entire meaning. It produces an oxymoron, a contradiction in terms. Faith that is alive cannot be faith only. Faith cannot exist separate and apart from the actions that it motivates.