WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

THE BOOK OF ACTS: PART THIRTY-0NE

                                        SERMON DELIVERED ON 05-04-19      

       Last week we left off in Acts 16 where Paul and Silas were jailed in Philippi after Paul cast out a spirit of divination from a girl who was being used as a slave by her owners to do fortune-telling.  The owners of the slave girl were very upset when they realized the source of their income was no more and they were able to turn the residents of the city against Paul and Silas resulting in their being beaten and jailed. 

       However, during the night an earthquake took place resulting in the prisoners, including Paul and Silas, being loosed from their chains. Nobody escaped and the jailer ended up asking what he must do to be saved. The answer given by Paul and Silas was that famous passage which has been quoted millions of times.

       "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."

       As I pointed out, the phrase "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” has over the centuries become a virtual mantra for the church. You will see this phrase posted on billboards, church building marquees, in church bulletins and countless pieces of Christian literature called tracts. This phrase has been repeated millions of times in millions of sermons throughout the centuries and millions of more times by people simply reciting to others what is believed to be the formula for salvation.

       I also pointed out that for some; belief in Jesus is narrowly defined as simply acknowledging He is the Son of God who died for our sins and nothing much more.  However, it is clear from Scripture that belief in Jesus involves changed behavior. Belief in Jesus is defined by more than belief in His death and resurrection to deliver us from the consequences of sin.  It is also defined as a commitment to doing what He taught.  During His ministry Jesus made a very telling statement.

       Luke 6:46: "Why do you call me, `Lord, Lord,' and do not do what I say?

       To call Jesus Lord is to acknowledge His authority over one’s life and to recognize his teaching is to be applied and utilized in one’s behavior. Anything less than that is to make a virtual mockery of what it means to believe in Christ.

      In the parallel account of Luke 6:46 found in Matthew 7 we see Jesus saying that not everyone who says to him Lord, Lord, will enter the kingdom of heaven  Only those who do the will of the Father will enter the kingdom. We know the will of the Father is for us to live a righteous life.  Jesus was teaching the will of the Father in instructing how it is The Father wants us to live.

       In Matthew 25 is the very instructive parable about the sheep and the goats. The sheep are accepted into the kingdom because they demonstrated faith in what Christ taught by meeting the needs of their fellow man. The goats are denied the kingdom because they did not serve their fellow man which is to say they did not really believe in Christ. 

       Apostle James makes it very clear that faith is defined by deeds and without deeds there is no faith.    

       James 2:14-23: What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds? Can such faith save him?  Suppose a brother or sister is without clothes and daily food. If one of you says to him, "Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs, what good is it? In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

       James is saying that to express faith that the person in need will be OK while doing nothing to make such person is OK is useless.  James sees this as a useless expression of faith.  In reality it isn’t faith at all because James sees faith as producing something and not just being a nice thought.  He goes on to show that demons believe God exists but won’t submit to Him.  So their belief is useless. James concludes his discussion of this matter by writing the following:

       James 2:21-24: Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did. And the scripture was fulfilled that says, "Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness," and he was called God's friend. You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.

       Now Martin Luther called the epistle of James an epistle of straw.  Luther concluded that James’ teaching was contrary to what he believed Paul taught as to how salvation is obtained.  Luther was a great proponent of salvation by grace and grace alone.  This was largely a strong reaction to Catholic doctrine that he believed was teaching salvation by works.  Luther hung his hat on Ephesians 2:8-9.

       Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God-- not by works, so that no one can boast.    

       Let’s unpack what Paul said.  Paul said it is by grace you have been saved. Grace is sometimes defined as unmerited pardon.  That’s not exactly true.  Grace simply means favor.  To express grace toward someone is to favor that someone.  It may result in unmerited pardon but it’s not itself such pardon.  The pardon is the result of grace. 

       When a person is convicted of murder in a state that has the death penalty for such a crime, the only way such person can avoid the death penalty is to receive a pardon from the governor. Such pardon is the result of grace extended to the murderer. The pardon saves the murderer from the death penalty.

       And so it is with us and sin.  Sin calls for the eternal death penalty.  God extends grace to us and in so doing grants up a pardon.  Paul could easily have said “by grace you are pardoned.”

       However, there is a major difference between the governor of a state pardoning someone and thus saving them from the death penalty and God saving us from the eternal death penalty.  When a governor pardons someone, the penalty is done away without anyone paying it.  The governor doesn’t die in place of the murderer dying. Someone else doesn’t die in place of the murderer. The penalty is simply dismissed.

       This is not true with the penalty for sin.  God requires that the penalty for sin be paid.  All humans have incurred the eternal death penalty because all humans have sinned.  However, rather than have us humans pay this penalty, God has bestowed favor upon us and facilitated our pardon through His sinless Son Jesus who paid the penalty for our sin.     

       2 Corinthians 5:21: God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

       Romans 5:8: But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

       Because Jesus never personally sinned, death could not hold Him and God resurrected Jesus to eternal life.  Jesus paid the penalty for our sin and was resurrected to eternal life and thus facilitated our reconciliation with the Father and the granting of eternal life.  This is the gospel in a nutshell.  The gospel in a nutshell is that we can be saved from eternal death engendered by our sin by placing faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus and what He accomplished in paying the penalty for our sin. 

       But again, what does it mean to place faith in the death and resurrection of Jesus?  Does it simply mean believing Jesus died and was resurrected so we can escape eternal death or is there more packed into Paul’s statement to the jailer? "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved."

       Paul says our salvation, which is to say our being pardoned of the death penalty, is granted as a gift of God and not by works so that no one can boast.  This takes us back to our example of a governor pardoning a murderer. Usually a murderer sits on what is described as “death row” for a time before the execution takes place.  Such person may be a model prisoner while awaiting his execution.  However, his good behavior is not what gets him pardoned.  It is the grace of the governor.  The murderer can’t good behave his way to a pardon. 

       Well, we can’t good behave ourselves into a pardon from God either.  We receive a pardon only through the grace of God who has facilitated such pardon through Jesus. Just as a prisoner on death row can’t facilitate his own pardon from the governor by being a model prisoner while on death row, neither can we facilitate a pardon from God by good behavior while on eternal death row.

       Paul is essentially saying we can’t atone for sin we have committed by being good subsequent to our committing sin.  Sin results in the penalty of eternal death and good behavior can’t pay that penalty.  Paul clearly shows salvation is by the grace of God.  The Scriptures clearly teach that we are justified before God not on the basis of what we do but on the basis of what Christ did.  The righteousness of Christ saves us and not any righteousness we may attain to. It is purely by the grace of God we are justified which is to say we are saved from the consequences of sin.  Luther was certainly right in standing firm on that issue.  Was he also right in suggesting James was teaching something different than Paul as to how salvation is achieved?

       Paul said we are saved by grace through faith.  James said faith is dead unless it is activated by good works. James is defining faith as an active, recognizable experience. 

       James 2:18-20: But someone will say, "You have faith; I have deeds."   Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that--and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless?

       James appears to be defining faith as two sides of the same coin. Faith and deeds compliment and parallel each other.  He is saying that without deeds there is no evidence of faith. He appears to be saying that faith must be accompanied by works to have legitimacy.  The writer to the Hebrews also deals with the faith issue. 

       Hebrews 11:1-3: Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. This is what the ancients were commended for. By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God's command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible

       Here faith appears to be defined simply as having a total conviction that what we envision is going to happen will happen.  But notice how this faith is further identified and described.

      Hebrews 11:4: By faith Abel offered God a better sacrifice than Cain did.

       Hebrews 11:7: By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family.

       Hebrews 11:6: By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.

       Hebrews 11:11: By faith Abraham, even though he was past age--and Sarah herself was barren--was enabled to become a father because he considered him faithful who had made the promise.

       Hebrews 11:17-18: By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had received the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, "It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned."

       In each one of these examples, faith is effectuated and validated by deeds.  Deeds are seen as demonstrating the efficacy of faith.  Able had faith that God’s instruction to offer an animal sacrifice was what he needed to do and not do what his brother Cain did in offering a sacrifice of produce.  God told Noah to build an ark because a flood was coming and Noah said “I believe you Lord” and on that faith in what God said he built an ark.

       Abraham was told to leave his home town and move to a land he knew nothing about.  He believed God would do right by him and so he did as God instructed. His faith in God doing right by him was demonstrated by his traveling to the land of Canaan.   Abraham was told he and Sarah would have a child in their old age.  What did Abraham do?  Did he simply think that God would somehow produce a child?

       Did he, like the example James gives, say the equivalent of “"Go, I wish you well; keep warm and well fed," but does nothing about his physical needs.”  It should be obvious Abraham did something in response to God telling him he and Sarah were going to have a child.  He went to having sex with Sarah and she became pregnant. He believed God when told they would have a child and acted on that belief to produce the child Isaac.

       God had told Abraham that through Isaac that his offspring would be reckoned.  Now God tells him to sacrifice Isaac.  Abraham had faith that God would work it out and went ahead and would have sacrificed Isaac if it were not for God’s intervention. His faith in God was again activated by deeds.  

       The writer to the Hebrews began by saying faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see. He then gives examples of what it means to be sure of things hoped for but not yet seen.  It means acting on what God instructs and requires even though we don’t yet see the reality of what God promised. Here in Hebrews, faith is clearly tied to deeds as it is with James and Paul as well. 

       When James writes that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone, he is not teaching that our works justify us. He is saying that we are justified before God by believing that the sacrifice of Jesus has paid our penalty of eternal death and we are now committed to doing good deeds as required by God.

       When a governor pardons a murderer sitting on death row which means he is released from having to pay the death penalty, such prisoner is expected to never murder again or commit any other crime that would land him back in prison.   The prisoner is expected to be grateful for being pardoned and do his best not to again break the law. 

       To have faith in Christ is to not only acknowledge his sacrifice for sin but to acknowledge that having sin forgiven involves a commitment to changed behavior. Behavior that once led to the need for the sacrifice of Christ must be replaced with behavior that no longer produces that need. This is what James is saying and Paul said the same thing.  Paul follows his statements about salvation being attained by grace through faith and not through works by saying the following:

       Ephesians 2:10. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

       Paul makes it clear that good works must follow acceptance of God’s grace and the pardon that comes with that grace. Paul makes this very clear in what he wrote to the Roman church.

       Romans 6:1-4: What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?  Or don't you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.  

       James is not in conflict with Paul as Luther suggested.  Both Paul and James clearly understood and taught that we can’t facilitate our own salvation through works of righteousness.  But they also clearly taught that to have faith in God who through Jesus facilitated our salvation is to experience a change in behavior that reflects the righteousness that the death of Jesus bestows upon us. As I previously said, anything less then this makes a mockery out of the death and resurrection of Jesus. 

       So when Paul tells the Philippian jailer to "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” there is a lot more packed into the word “believe” than is often realized.  Paul is saying a lot more to the jailer than just believe that Jesus facilitated your salvation through His death and resurrection. You will notice Paul said "Believe in the Lord Jesus.”  To believe in somebody is to believe what that person stands for.  When someone says they believe in so and so who is running for a political office, they are generally saying they believe in what that person stands for and is promising to do if elected.

       What Jesus stood for was a firm belief in the one true God, a firm belief in behaving morally, a firm belief in loving your neighbor as yourself, a firm belief in doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.  To say we have faith in Christ and not strive to do these things is a virtual oxymoron, a contradiction.

       Acts 16:32-34: Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. At that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his family were baptized. The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had come to believe in God--he and his whole family.

       We must remember where Paul and Silas were.  They were in the Roman city of Philippi, in a Roman jail run by a Gentile Roman jailer. This jailer and his family very likely worshiped pagan gods as did most of the Roman world. They now had come to accept the Gospel message.  All this took place while it apparently was still night. It is evident Paul and Silas spent some time educating them as to the teachings of Jesus and what it meant to worship the one true God.  Paul and Silas are seen as speaking the word of the Lord to the jailer and his household.

       What was it that they spoke?  We see the jailer and his family immediately being baptized.  So obviously baptism was one of the things they discussed. They probably also discussed repentance and receiving the Holy Spirit.

       When Peter gave his Pentecost sermon and was asked by those present what it is they needed to do, Peter tells them to repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins and they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.  So while it is recorded that the jailer was told to believe in the Lord Jesus, and he would be saved, he was very likely told to repent and be baptized.  Repentance involves changed behavior.  It involves turning from disobeying the behavioral standards established by God to obeying those standards.  Baptism is a ritual that gives confirmation to one’s willingness to change. 

       It is interesting that the jailer and his family were immediately baptized.  This takes place at night.  Baptism is seen in the NT as immersion in water. We can only assume there was a nearby body of water or the jailer may have quickly filled a tub with water to facilitate these baptisms.

       We see the jailer filled with joy because he and his family had come to believe in the one true God as opposed to the multiple gods they had probably believed in as was common in the Greek and Roman world at that time.

       Acts 16:35-26: When it was daylight, the magistrates sent their officers to the jailer with the order: "Release those men." The jailer told Paul, "The magistrates have ordered that you and Silas be released. Now you can leave. Go in peace."

       You have to wonder what prompted the government officials to release Paul and Silas.  Nothing is recorded as to why it was decided to release them. Maybe by now word had reached the magistrates as to what had happened at the jail during the night and it was decided Paul and Silas were honorable men after all seeing they did not escape from the jail when they had the opportunity to do so.

At any rate, Paul decided to give the magistrates a bit of a hard time.

       Acts 16:37-39: But Paul said to the officers: "They beat us publicly without a trial, even though we are Roman citizens, and threw us into prison. And now do they want to get rid of us quietly? No! Let them come themselves and escort us out." The officers reported this to the magistrates, and when they heard that Paul and Silas were Roman citizens, they were alarmed. They came to appease them and escorted them from the prison, requesting them to leave the city.

       Being a Roman citizen was special.  There were three ways you could become a Roman citizen. You could actually purchase Roman citizenship, gain it through military service or be born in a Roman province.  Paul was born in the Roman city of Tarsus which was in the Roman province of Cilicia. That is probably why he was a Roman citizen.  We are not told how Silas received Roman citizenship.

       Roman citizens could not be tortured or scourged nor could they receive the death penalty unless they were guilty of treason. As we move on in this series we will see that Paul used his Roman citizenship to his advantage on several occasions to protect himself.

Communion:

       We have seen in today’s sermon how salvation is truly a gift of God but also comes with the expectation of our responding to this gift of salvation with behavioral changes that reflect being a new creation in Christ

       2 Corinthians 5:14-15: For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died.  And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again.

       Not living for ourselves but living for Christ is the expected response to His paying the penalty for our sin. As Paul wrote

       Ephesians 2:10. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

HOME