What Does It Mean: Believe on the Lord?
Sunday, 14 December 2008 06:00 Jonathan L. Perz
The book of Acts, which is a record of the beginnings of the church, accounts the conversion of several of the early Christians. In one such account, Luke records for us the conversion of the Philippian jailor (Acts 16:25-34). A study of this account reveals to us what it means to believeon the Lord Jesus.
In today’s religious world, many teach that belief is merely “accepting Jesus into your heart,” “saying a sinner’s prayer,” or “mentally acknowledging Jesus as your Lord and Savior.” While these teachings may appear sound, they miss the Bible mark of belief by utilizing a watered-down concept of belief!
Truly, belief is more than simply acknowledging the Lord as existing (cf. James 2:19 — where the demons believed). It goes even further than saying Jesus is your Lord and Savior (cf. Luke 6:46 — which many say). The truth is that Bible belief constitutes trusting and obeying the Lord. The wise man wrote, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct your paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6). This defines Bible belief. It constitutes not only trusting in and acknowledging Him, but letting His ways become your ways. This is how God directs our paths. Let’s illustrate this further with the example of the Philippian jailor.
After experiencing just a taste of the wondrous works of God, the jailer asks the timeless and pointed question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). There is no mistaking the crux of his inquiry. He is asking the most important question any man can ask in his life—he wants to know how to go to heaven. This is exactly what we seek today!
Now, notice the answer Paul and Silas give him. They say, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). If one stops reading here, the doctrine that says we are saved by “faith alone,” meaning beliefalone, seems true. All we would have to do is believe on the Lord Jesus and we would be saved. However, the account does not stop here. Thus, we cannot stop reading here, or we will find ourselves guilty of taking this crucial passage out of its context and fail to discover how one believes on the Lord.
Luke goes on to record how Paul and Silas “spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house” (Acts 16:32). What were the Philippian jailor and his household to believe, unless of course, Paul and Silas preached the gospel to them (cf. Romans 10:14-17)? If not, they could not believe, because they would not have known what to believe! So, there is more than simply believing involved in salvation—the jailor and his household heardthe word.
We then learn that after this was done, the Philippian jailor “took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes…and immediately he and all his family were baptized” (Acts 16:33). Here, the jailor did exactly what Peter commanded of those first Christians on the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:36 ff). The jailor repented of his sins and was baptized (Acts 2:38)! Yet, this brings forth some interesting questions for us to consider.
Where did the jailor and his household hear about baptism? They must have heard it from the word of the Lord Paul and Silas spoke to them. We see a similar account earlier in this chapter. Luke tells us Lydia was also baptized after her heart was opened to heed the things spoken by Paul (Acts 16:14-15). Evidently, the saving message of the gospel includes instruction regarding baptism (cf. Acts 8:36-38 – the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch).
The Lord, after giving the great commission, says, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe, will be condemned” (Mark 16:15-16). While some of those who teach belief only have denied this verse by emphasizing the second half of it, we cannot ignore the whole of Jesus’ teaching. He said to“believe and be baptized.” Indeed, there is more to salvation than belief only.
Consider Matthew’s account of the great commission. “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always even to the end of the age” (Matthew 28:19-20). How is it that one is made a disciple—by belief only? No! When they are baptized? Yes! Are not Paul and Silas simply fulfilling the great commission in the case of the Philippian jailor?
However, if more proof is needed, further proof can be provided from this very same context. Luke continues this account saying, “Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and rejoiced, having believed in God with all of his household” (Acts 16:34). The same Greek word for belief prescribed in verse 31, prior to the jailor’s salvation, has now been fulfilled in verse 34. The jailor could rejoice in his salvation and in the fellowship he now shares with Christ, having believed (cf. Romans 6:3-8). Likewise, we see the same type of thing in the account of Lydia earlier in the chapter. She heeds the things spoken by Paul, which included baptism. She then gives Paul and company a crucial imperative, “If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay” (Acts 16:15). We know Paul and company stayed, as Luke records, “So, she persuaded us.” Indeed, Paul and company, by staying in her home, showed that they found her faithful to the Lord. This is further testimony that baptism, which we know to be for the remission of sins (Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16), is an inseparable part of God’s eternal plan of salvation (cf. 1 Peter 3:21; Galatians 3:26-27).
Clearly, based on the account of the Philippian jailor in its entirety, we can be certain that Bible belief constitutes more than belief only, as some teach. The jailor heard the word of God, repented of his sins, and was baptized for the remission of his sins. Only after these things were fulfilled, does God’s inspired word record him as having believed. Indeed, let God’s word be true and all who teach otherwise be found liars.