Sun, 12 January 2020
Sermon Series: Solas
Istrouma Baptist Church – Jeff Ginn, Lead Pastor
AM Sermon January 12, 2020
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them (Acts 16:25)
Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:30-31).
And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God (Acts 16:33-34).
What would you say is life’s most important question?
Someone might say that life’s most important question is, “Does God exist?” That’s certainly important.
Another might suggest, “How did the world come into being?”
Still another might get a tad more personal and ask, “How did mankind come to be?”
One immediately pressing question is, “Will LSU defeat Clemson on Monday night for the national championship?” O.k., so maybe that one doesn’t make the cut.
The interesting thing is that the Bible (and the Bible alone—sola scriptura) answers all of these questions.
Does God exist? Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God.” Yes, he exists.
How did the world come into being? Genesis 1:1, “In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth.”
How did mankind—you and I—come to be? Genesis 1:27, “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.”
From the Bible, we get the answer to all of life’s most important questions.
But I want to make the case this morning that there is another question that is, arguably, life’s most important question. It is this: “What must I do to be saved?” It is imminently personal, and the stakes could not be higher. If there is a God (and we believe that there is), and, if there is an eternity awaiting all of us (and we believe that there is), how can I gain that eternal life?
Jesus taught that this is a supremely important issue. He said, “For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul?” In other words, if you could gain the whole world—all its riches and all its pleasures, yet you lost your own soul, what have you gained? Nothing. All the world pales in comparison to your soul. Therefore, you and I must know the answer to this question: “What must I do to be saved?”
Here’s the good news: God’s word gives us the answer to that question as well. Our aim this Sunday is to answer that question for everyone so that we can have both eternal life and abundant life.
Turn in your Bibles to Acts 16:25-34 to discover this. Would you stand in honor of God’s word as it is read:
25 About midnight Paul and Silas [Now, I would interject, if you don’t know those names, Paul and Silas were early church leaders, and more particularly, they were missionaries taking the gospel where it had never been known. So, Paul and Silas] were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them [Again, I’ll interject, yes, they were in jail, and I'll tell you how they ended up there in just a moment, but Paul and Silas are in jail. They’re singing praises to God; the prisoners are listening to them. Now, verse 26], 26 and 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 bonds were unfastened. 27 When the jailer woke and saw that the prison doors were open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself, supposing that the prisoners had escaped. 28 But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” 29 And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. 30 Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” [Now, again, I am suggesting, that that is life's most important question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Now here comes the answer, verse 31] 31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. 33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
Please be seated.
As a church, we are celebrating 100 years of shared life. As an element of that celebration, we're revisiting some of the bedrock principles upon which this church is founded, and it's in a sermon series called “Solas.” Now that is a Latin word. Really, it's an anglicized version of it, and the word sola means “only.” There are some solas in the life of the Christian church that stand preeminently. We looked last week at the first of them, sola scriptura. Today, we're going to learn about sola fide. Sola scriptura, only scripture, is our guide to faith and practice. And now today, sola fide, only faith, brings salvation; faith in Christ. Sola scriptura teaches that sola fide is the only way to be saved. These two principles, Sola scriptura and sola fide, are intimately related to one another, and I want to demonstrate this by reminding you of the text we looked at last week, 2 Timothy 3:16 and 17. You'll remember this:
All Scripture is breathed out by God [inspired by God] and [is] profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God [the people of God, if I could extend it in that way, that all of us] may be complete, equipped for every good work.”
This was our passage last week, and it establishes the principle of sola scriptura. Now, I want you to see the verse that immediately precedes these two. Look at verse 15. Notice that it teaches that sola scriptura leads to sola fide. It says, verse 15, Paul speaking to Timothy, his young protégé, he says:
[Timothy], from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings [sola scriptura, the sacred writings, and notice what they have done. He says, so, the sacred writings] are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.
Do you follow that? There it is in verse 15, sola scriptura; sola fide. You have known the sacred writings; that is, God's word, and they have led you to have faith, sola fide, in Jesus for salvation. So, there are the two principles related closely to one another. Salvation comes to us through faith in Christ Jesus. That's the answer to life's most important question. No passage makes this any clearer than Acts chapter 16 where we find ourselves this morning.
All right, so let's go back to the first of these points, the first step. I want you to see the context in which this question was first posed. Here in Acts 16, Paul and a group of his coworkers are on a missionary journey. Things are going well. People are saving saved. They’re following the Lord in believer's baptism. A church is being planted there in Europe for the very first time. Paul and his team are experiencing the joy of seeing God at work. There's one particular life to which I want to allude that plays into our passage this morning. It's the story of a little girl. I call her little; she was probably a teenager. This girl had an unusual power. This girl could tell foretell the future, and the Bible explains how it is that she could foretell the future. She was actually possessed by a demon, and by virtue of this supernatural power, she could foretell the future.
Paul and his partners met up with this young girl. I won't tell the whole of the story, but I'll just say this. By the power of the gospel, this young girl was set free. I mean that in two senses. First of all, she was a slave to masters who were using her for their own profit. You see, people would pay to have their fortune told, and the slave masters had this girl in captivity, and were using her for their own profit. Again, I say that. This leads me to say a couple of things by way of lagniappe. First of all, fortune-telling is not just a thing of the ancient past. I could wish that it were so, but there still are fortune tellers in our day. I think most of these are just flat-out charlatans. They're just putting on a charade, a show. Perhaps some are demon-possessed, and they may have some capacity given them by spiritual forces.
I actually went on the web out of curiosity, and typed into a Google search engine “Fortune tellers, Baton Rouge.” I was curious to know, are there fortune tellers in our city today? What do you think the answer to that is? One of the responses was, “The 30 best fortune tellers in Baton Rouge.” I clicked on it. There was a list of fortune tellers in our fair town. It included people who did things like fortune-telling, tarot card reading. There were mediums, self-identified. Some could cast spells including love spells, etc. No, this is not just something that's from ancient history. Even in our own day, there are people who dabble into these things. So it gives me a good opportunity to let you know what God thinks of these things. I want to read from the Bible, Deuteronomy 18 beginning in verse 10:
There shall not be found among you anyone who burns his son or his daughter as an offering, anyone who practices divination or tells fortunes or interprets omens, or a sorcerer 11 or a charmer or a medium or a necromancer [that is, one who calls up the dead to speak with them] or one who inquires of the dead, 12 for whoever does these things is an abomination to the Lord. . . .
This is from the Bible. Folks, we ought to have nothing to do with these works of darkness. Even something as what seems to be innocuous as horoscopes. I think it's terrible that papers will often include horoscopes. Worse yet, they put them next to the comics in the newspaper. It doesn't belong there, and I would encourage you not to read that. Astrology; anything of the sort, God says that is all an abomination. The work of the gospel is to set people free from these things. God doesn't want us to consult with the dead or with spiritists or with mediums. No, He has given us his word, sola scriptura. He has given us his indwelling Holy Spirit to illumine our minds to understand the things that are in the word of God. I don't need a fortune teller. I don't need a necromancer. I have all that I need, sola scriptura, to be a guide by the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit who illumines these truths to our lives. Now, I told you, that's just lagniappe. I just gave you that for extra.
I'm also reminded to say this: This poor young girl was a slave to her masters. It's very evident to me they didn't care one whit about that little girl. They only used her for their own purposes. You know, you hear a lot today about sex trafficking, pornography. Could I just remind us all, those who peddle that, who push that, they care nothing for the boys and girls whose lives they wreck. They domineer them and they own them, and anyone who participates in these things supports it. God sees it equally as an abomination. We as God's people ought have nothing to do with it. Instead of abusing people, we ought to love them and want them to be free. It's exactly what the Apostle Paul and his team were doing. They were setting people free by the good news of Jesus, and this little girl among them.
Now, you would think, would you not, that everyone is going to be ecstatic that this little girl has been set free. Oh, that it were so. It wasn't so. Her masters see that their means of ill gain is gone, and so they haul up Paul and Silas on false charges. Two things result, and I want to mention them to you. One, undeserved prison time. Undeserved prison. Paul and Silas, if you can imagine this, were cast into prison. It's worth noting, friend, that if we stand for the Lord, we're going to face opposition in this world. Not everyone is going to pat you on the back. Now you may get a fair amount of that; certainly here at church, I trust that you’re encouraged as you follow Christ. We want to do that. But it won't be so with everyone. There will be those who will oppose. I, myself, have faced occasions of great opposition. The Bible says; this is 2 Timothy 3:12, “all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.” Jesus was crucified. John was beheaded. Luther, of whom I spoke last week, was excommunicated. Jan Hus, the great Czech reformer, was burned at the stake. William Tyndale, who for the first time translated God's word into English so that all English speakers could hear the word of God in their heart language, he was burned as a heretic. Later he was exhumed and his ashes were sprinkled on the Thames River.
You come forward into our own day, I think about those believers in Libya not so long ago that were beheaded by ISIS because they believed in Christ. There will be opposition; there always has been, there always will be. Now it may not be as serious as these cases that I've named. Perhaps not even as serious as Paul and Silas, beaten now and imprisoned in stocks. But perhaps you'll be passed over for a promotion, or perhaps others will belittle you for your faith or some stance that you take on a moral issue, but I want to encourage us all as Paul and Silas did to remain faithful to the Lord despite the opposition that arises.
So, prison is really not a surprise. But do you know what is a surprise? It's that, though they are imprisoned, undeservedly so, there arises their undeterred praise to the Lord. How do they answer the stripes that were put upon their back and their stocks in which they were bound and the prison in which they were jailed? They answered their prison with praise. You know, it's one thing to praise the Lord when the prison doors swing open and the shackles fall from our wrists. But I want you to take note, Paul and Silas were not praising the Lord after they'd been liberated, after their shackles had fallen from them. No, they are praising the Lord in the midst of their suffering, unjust though it was. No wonder, then, the Bible says that the prisoners heard them. Don't you know the prisoners heard them? Don't you know the jailer himself heard them? They were listening to them. Of course they were, because there is power in our praise, particularly when it’s in the face of hardship and difficulty. I know I'm preaching to many of you who, even today, sang songs of praise to the Lord in the midst of your trial. I want to say God is honored by that. Your witness is never more powerful than when you gladly praise Him in the midst of your trial, and Paul and Silas did. So, that is the context in which life’s most important question arose.
Now, secondly, I want to take you to the actual conversation in which life's most important question is both asked and answered. First, let's look at the asking of this question. The jailer discovers that Paul and Silas have been set free. They are singing, and someone said that as they sang, God took such pleasure in their song that God was tapping his foot along with the beat of their song, and it caused the earthquake. That's a little bit fanciful, but I like it, still. God sent an earthquake to that jail. The jailhouse rocked, for all of you 1950s folks. As the jailhouse rocked, the prison doors swung open. The shackles fell from their hands and their feet, if, in fact, they were shackled at both of those extremities. The shackles fell, and the jailer, realizing that the prison doors have swung open and that the prisoners have been set free, presumes that they've all escaped. You have to know that in that day, if you were the jailer, and your prisoners escaped, you would be executed for having failed at your duty. He sees this, is terrorized by it, and he draws his sword and intends to kill himself.
Here's another point where I want to interject a thought. It's never right to take your own life; it's never right to take your own life. He's going to commit suicide. I may be speaking to someone this morning who is contemplating ending your own life. Maybe you're in a valley, a deep, deep valley, and it seems there's no escape from it. Could I just encourage you that suicide is never the answer? Paul and Silas, to their credit, step in and they tell the man, “Don't harm yourself. We’re all here.” Now, let's be frank. Here's the jailer who has put them into the deepest part of the prison. Perhaps he's even taken some joy in shackling them and in seeing their wounds from the beating that they took. You couldn't blame Paul and Silas if they just stood aside as the jailer killed himself, but motivated by Christ's love, they intervene and they say, “Don't harm yourself.” I'm reminded to challenge all of us, if you know of someone who is wrestling with deep depression, intervene. Speak to them. We have a counseling ministry here at Istrouma, and we can get help. There is help, and there is hope in Christ. Paul and Silas say, “Do yourself no harm.”
Upon their kindness, this jailer runs in before Paul and Silas and the Bible says that he falls down at their feet. You see, he's been impacted by what he's observed. He has seen Paul and Silas singing praises to God. He's heard that song. He's personally experienced their mercy when they defend him who once oppressed them. Paul and Silas could easily have escaped, but they haven't. They’re remaining there. So, impacted by what he has heard and seen, he asks life's most important question. It’s in verse 30:
Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
Now, some might suggest that this question is related to the temporal crisis. He knows that the prisoners might escape, that the wrath of Rome is going to fall upon him; he's going to be executed, so he's asking, “Sirs, how can I escape my impending doom?” But I don't believe that's the real heart of his question, because the prisoners have not escaped. They’ve remained. His life has been spared. There is hope temporally. No, I believe he is asking an eternal question, “What must I do to be saved from my sins? What must I do to inherit eternal life?” I believe that's the heart of his question. And I love this question. I see in it his humility. He doesn't think he has all the answers, and I tell you, that's a healthy thing. Maybe you've come in today quite confident in yourself, presuming that you have all of the answers both to life and eternity. But have you ever come in humility to ask this simple question, “What must I do to be forgiven; what must I do to be saved? I want to be instructed. I want to be taught. I want God's answer to life's most important question.” I see his humility. I see his hunger. He rushes in. He falls at their feet. He is desperate. I don't know that anyone comes to salvation apart from desperation, hunger, and humility. This man has all of those traits, and for that reason, he asks life's most important question, “What must I do to be saved?”
Not only is the question asked, the question is answered. For all time, we know the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Point-blank question; point-blank answer. What must I do to be saved? What must you do to be saved? What must all humans do if they are to be saved? The apostle’s answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.”
I want us to think about that answer just for a moment. I want us to think of what the answer was not. What must I do to be saved? Notice that he did not say, “Join the church and you will be saved.” There are a lot of people that think that. They think, “Well if I'm going to go to heaven, I've got to be a member of some church or some faith. If I have my name on a church roll somewhere, then I'm good.” No. Joining a church of any stripe does not save you. It's not the answer to the question. He did not say, “Get baptized and you will be saved.” There's nothing wrong with getting baptized. In fact, he's about to get baptized. There's nothing wrong with joining a church. He's going to become a part, I believe, of the Philippian church that started with Lydia, was joined by the slave girl who was now set free. He's going to be, I'll just say, the third member of the church at Philippi. Nothing wrong with these good deeds, but it's not by good deeds that you are saved. Good deeds are the fruit of salvation in you, not the root of it, not the source of it. How do you get saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.
This answer is in harmony with the rest of the Bible. Listen to John 1:12:
But to all who did receive him [that is, speaking of the incarnate Christ], who believed [there it is, who believed] in his name [What is it to receive Christ? It’s to believe in him...to all who did receive him, who believed in his name], he gave the right to become [the] children of God.
How do you become a child of God? How do you get saved? How do you have your sins washed away? How do you go to heaven? You believe in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ. You trust in him. You receive him.
John 3:16, the most famous verse in all of the Bible:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life.
How do you get everlasting life? How do you get saved? Believe on the Lord Jesus.
For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God [unto] salvation to everyone who believes...
For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.
The way to be saved is to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. There are basically two systems that are put forward as answers to this question. One is faith alone, sola fide, our theme for today. The other is that you’re saved by faith and works. They often will cite, those who hold the latter position, they’ll cite James 2:24. There the Bible says:
...a person is justified by works and not by faith alone.
So now, we’re in a quandary. Are we saved by faith alone apart from works, or are we saved by faith and works? That's a pivotal question, and we must know the answer to it. I believe that the Bible is clear that salvation comes by faith alone. How then is it that James can say that you’re saved not by faith alone but also by the works that you do? How can we reconcile these two passages of scripture?
James, if you read the broader text there, is talking about the faith that saves. He says, “Show me your faith without works, and I'll show you my faith by my works.” James knew well that faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone. I'll say it again. Faith alone saves, but faith that saves is never alone, and that our works show the reality of our faith. If you have no works to demonstrate your faith, then what kind of faith do you have? James says that you have a dead faith, and he asks, “Can that faith save?” I'll answer the question, No, that faith can't save. Someone can say, “Oh, I believe in Jesus,” but they never go to church, they never follow the Lord in believer’s baptism, they have no heart for generosity, they curse, they swear, they sleep around, they rebel and break God's law. There's no fruit. There's no demonstration of a real faith. Can that type of faith, just verbal in nature, save? No it cannot. It has to be a genuine and real faith that is demonstrated in the life that ensues.
That brings me, then, to the last point, and that is the change that comes to the life that answers rightly life’s most important question, when the person knows the answer, and I'll put a capital “A” on it, the Answer to life's most important question. The Answer to life's most important question is a person, the Lord Jesus, and when you put your faith and trust in him and his atoning death on the cross, you are saved.
Now listen, it brings change. Would you look in your Bible again, now, to verse 33?
And he [that is, the jailer] took them [Paul and Silas] the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God
What a tremendous paragraph that is! You see, the change in his life was produced by faith. He embraced the gospel proclaimed to him, and the change was produced by that faith. Now, that faith is proven by the fruit of good deeds. You see his baptism. Listen; if you’ve given your life to Christ, and you've come to saving faith, you ought to follow the Lord in believer's baptism. I'm probably talking to some folks in here that have not yet let your faith be made known through baptism subsequent to your salvation. I just want to challenge you to take that step of faith and demonstrate by it that you’ve put your trust in Christ. I may be speaking to some who’ve not yet committed to fellowship in a local church. We want to challenge you to not only believe but belong. Commit yourself to membership and service in a local church. I note this man's generosity. He set food before them. I note his joy; he is rejoicing now. He went from desperation and suicidal thoughts to great joy, and what made the difference? It was Christ in him that made the difference.
Have you been changed? Is your life radically different because Christ indwells you? If not, this very morning I'm going to challenge you to give your life to Christ.
I'm going to tell you one last story. I’m going to put on the screen a picture of a fellow whose name is John Harper. Some of you may know his name. John Harper was born into a Christian family May 29, 1872 in Scotland. He became a Christian 13 years later and had already started preaching by age 17. He received training at the Baptist Pioneer Mission in London, and in 1896 he founded a church, now known as Harper Memorial Church in Glasgow, which began with 25 worshipers but had grown to 500 members by the time he left 13 years later.
In 1912 Harper, the newly-called pastor of Moody Church in Chicago, was traveling on the Titanic with his 6-year-old daughter. After the ship struck an iceberg and began to sink, he got Nana into a lifeboat but apparently made no effort to follow her. Instead, he ran through the ship yelling, "Women, children, and unsaved into the lifeboats!" Survivors report that he then began witnessing to anyone who would listen. He continued preaching even after he had jumped into the water and was clinging to a piece of wreckage (he'd already given his lifejacket to another man).
Harper's final moments were recounted four years later at a meeting in Hamilton, Ontario, by a man who said “I am a survivor of the Titanic. When I was drifting alone on a spar that awful night, the tide brought Mr. Harper of Glasgow, also on a piece of wreck, near me. ‘Man,’ he said, ‘Are you saved?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I am not.’ He replied, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.’
“The waves bore him away, but, strange to say, brought him back a little later, and he said, ‘Are you saved now?’ ‘No,’ I said, ‘I cannot honestly say that I am.’ He said again, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved,’ [quoting the very verse I preached to you today]. Shortly after, he went down; and there, alone in the night, and with two miles of water under me, I believed. I am John Harper's last convert.”
He was also one of only six people picked out the water by the lifeboats; the other 1,522, including Harper, were left to die.
You know, it's interesting. There were only two kinds of people after the Titanic sank – those who were saved, and those who were lost. There were no other kind of passengers aboard the Titanic; those who were saved, and those who were lost. Could I just say on the ship of earth on which we sail, there are only two kinds of people – those who are saved, and those who are lost. That's why I say life's most important question is this: “What must I do to be saved?” Friend, the gospel message is this, believe on the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
You say, “Man, is that all?” Yes, that’s all. That is all, because once you believe, it transforms life. I want to challenge you this morning to believe on the Lord Jesus.