Essentials and Distinctives 3

Essentials and Distinctives

Tom Ascol

Part 3: Faith

So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31, NKJV).

When God gave the Promised Land to the Old Testament Israelites He instructed them to set up 6 Cities of Refuge where those who had accidentally killed someone could flee to escape the avenger. In these cities, the relatives of the dead man could not touch the one guilty of manslaughter. They were safe havens for those who were guilty of accidentally taking another’s life.

Rabbinic tradition indicates that at least once a year the legal authorities in the regions where these cities were found would go out and survey the roads leading into them. They would make sure that any large rocks which had fallen into the roads were removed so that there would be no stumbling blocks in the way of those who fled to the cities for refuge. The road was to be made clear.

The Old Testament City of Refuge was a picture, a metaphor, of the eternal safe haven which God has prepared for guilty sinners. That haven is called “salvation” in the Bible. And it is vitally important that the way to it is made clear. There is only one road that leads to God’s salvation, and that is the road of faith.

In this series of articles we are examining Christian essentials–those things which are of the essence of true Christianity; those things that, if they are missing, then real biblical Christianity does not exist. If you do not have all of the Christian essentials, then you are not a Christian.

Our question in this study of essentials, you may remember, is this: What is a Christian? Last time we saw how the Bible answers that question by teaching that a Christian is someone who has been regenerated, born of God’s Spirit. Another essential of being a Christian is trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation. This may seem self-evident to some of you because you have heard it all of your life; or you have had ample opportunity to hear this central message of the Bible taught and explained. If that is true for you then you will most likely read nothing new in this article because I have only one goal: I want to make as simple and clear as I possibly can what the Bible says about the way of salvation.

In Acts 16:16-34 we read this account:

Now it happened, as we went to prayer, that a certain slave girl possessed with a spirit of divination met us, who brought her masters much profit by fortune-telling. This girl followed Paul and us, and cried out, saying, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation.” And this she did for many days.

But Paul, greatly annoyed, turned and said to the spirit, “I command you in the name of Jesus Christ to come out of her.” And he came out that very hour. But when her masters saw that their hope of profit was gone, they seized Paul and Silas and dragged them into the marketplace to the authorities.

And they brought them to the magistrates, and said, “These men, being Jews, exceedingly trouble our city; and they teach customs which are not lawful for us, being Romans, to receive or observe.” Then the multitude rose up together against them; and the magistrates tore off their clothes and commanded them to be beaten with rods. And when they had laid many stripes on them, they threw them into prison, commanding the jailer to keep them securely. Having received such a charge, he put them into the inner prison and fastened their feet in the stocks.

But at midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them. 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 chains were loosed. And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.” Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

In this passage we will ask three questions:

  1. What is it to believe?
  2. What is it that we are to believe?
  3. What is the consequence of such belief?

1. What is it to believe? (The Nature of Saving Faith)

What does the Bible mean by faith? Faith is not an “obstinate optimism” where we try to keep a positive attitude and think the best about ourselves and the world around us in spite of the evil we see. It is not blind hope that all will turn out well in the end. Biblical faith is comprised of three elements:

1) Knowledge

Faith is, of course, more than knowledge, but it is never less. You cannot trust someone whom you do not know. As a loving parent, you would never consider asking someone off the street, whom you’ve never met, to baby-sit your infant. Only as you come to know a person would you be willing to trust her and entrust your child to her care.

There must be some knowledge of Christ before there can be faith in Christ. Granted, this knowledge in some cases may be very slim, but it must be present or there cannot be real faith. In Romans 10:17 Paul tells us: “So then faith [comes] by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”

2) Conviction

Faith begins with knowledge; but it does not end there. Saving faith also involves conviction. We must believe the truth as well as know it. A person may understand that the Bible teaches that Jesus Christ is the eternal Son of God, but not believe it personally; not accept it. Faith, real believing, is not just knowing the truth, but also accepting that truth and embracing it as your own.

3) Confidence

Along with knowledge and conviction must come confidence. True faith never stops short of commitment and trust. Picture a little boy trapped in a house that is on fire. He goes to an upstairs window and clings to the window sill. A fireman below stands under him and yells, “Drop into my arms and I will catch you.” Now, the boy hears the fireman’s call. He believes that he can catch him. But until he lets go of the window sill and falls into the man’s arms, he cannot be saved. The same thing is true of believing in Christ. He stands ready, willing and able to save you if you will drop into His arms. But it is not enough to believe that He can save you or even that He will save you. You must let go of everything else and fall into His arms. You must trust Him.

This is what Paul meant when he told the Philippian jailer to “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.” What he was calling on the jailer to do was commit himself to Christ. This is what it means to believe.

2. What is it that we are to believe? (The Object of Saving Faith)

The kind of faith that makes a person a Christian must be directed at the right object. You must have knowledge of, conviction about and commitment to the right thing. What did Paul tell the jailer to believe in? He did not tell him to trust in a creed. Nor did he direct him to a church or a preacher. He pointed Him to CHRIST ALONE.

This was the ministry of Paul and Silas. They had been singing about Christ, even in jail. They had previously preached Christ throughout the city, declaring who He is and what He as done. This is the one place that Paul directed the jailer to look. Jesus is the only Savior of sinners. He is the One we must know. He is the One we must trust. He is the One to whom we must submit as our Lord. He is the only One who can reconcile us and make us right with God.

3. What is the consequence of such belief? (The Result of Saving Faith)

There is simplicity and authority in Paul’s words to the Philippian jailer: “You shall be saved.” True faith in Jesus always results in genuine salvation. Salvation is our great need. We are in danger and need to be rescued. Sin blinds us, ensnares us and condemns us. We need to be rescued from our sin, from the wrath of God upon our sin and from everlasting punishment for sin in hell.

God has provided that way of escape in Christ.

For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:6-8).

He has reached down to deliever us from the mire and slavery of sin. In Christ we exchange a life of bondage in sin and darkness for a life of joy and forgiveness. Though we were once at enmity against God, we now enjoy peace and reconciliation. Though once condemned to wrath and hell, now we await the hope of heaven and an eternity of joy and fullness and satisfaction knowing and glorifying God.

This is what we were made for! It is what every person deep down longs for. And it is that which only God can give, and on the simplest of terms.


“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” The Philippian jailer believed and was saved. His whole life was changed forever. The previous sunset left him an unconverted, unrighteous man. But before it dawned again, his life was transformed. So was his family’s because when they heard the good news of Jesus, they also believed and were also saved. Simply by believing. And if you will believe on the Lord Jesus Christ today, you also will be saved.

You might say: “But that sounds too easy!” Charles Spurgeon once said its easiness makes it hard. Do you remember the account of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Syria, in 2 Kings 5? He was afflicted with leprosy and desired to be healed. Yet when God’s prophet Elisha told him simply to go and wash in the Jordan 7 times, he was furious and went away in a rage. A simple act of obedience became a stumbling block for Naaman and he was rebuked:

And his servants came near and spoke to him, and said: “My father, if the prophet had told you to do something great, would you not have done it? How much more then, when he says to you, ‘Wash and be clean’?” (2 Kings 5:13).

God tells us simply: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.” “But that’s too free,” you might say. “If you preach this then you will encourage people to trust in Christ and go on living however they want to.” No, for true belief involves trust and commitment. It is like a man with a deadly disease going to a physician seeking a cure. The doctor says: “I can cure you if you will trust me; if you will put your confidence in me and leave yourself in my hands.” “Oh, I trust you,” the man replies, “please heal me!” The doctor then gives him some medicine to take daily and tells him to give up eating red meat. Three weeks later the patient returns for a check up, but is not better. The doctor asks: “What have you done? Have you followed my prescription?” “No,” the man replies, “I really like my steaks and hamburgers and the medicine you gave me tastes terrible!” Doctor: “Then you do not trust me; you have no confidence in me.” Patient: “Oh yes, I do trust you a great deal, I just do not want to do what you say.”

Is that faith? NO. Real faith involves commitment. If the dying man truly trusted his doctor, he would do what the doctor said. True faith in Jesus Christ is trusting your life to Him. When such faith is exercised, it results in a life of obedience to Christ.

Aren’t you glad that the jailer asked this question and that the Apostle Paul answered it so simply? “What must I do to be saved?” He did not answer with a lecture in theology, no outline of 15 steps, no instructions to wait until he felt really miserable, not a word about the sacraments or the church. He simply said: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

Christian brother and sister, do you see how simple it is to direct someone to the way of salvation? Does this frighten you? Does it make you nervous? We give up none of our convictions about the sovereignty of God in salvation by saying to anyone anywhere: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

We are all, everyone of us, without excuse:

“Oh, but I am not old enough.” Are you old enough to sin? Are you old enough to need mercy and forgiveness?
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
“I don’t know enough.” Do you know that you are a sinner? Do you know that Jesus Christ came to save sinners just like you?
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
“I don’t feel like I can be saved.” Its not up to your feelings. You must have faith and trust in the promises of Christ in the gospel.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
“I am too bad. My sins are too great.” Salvation doesn’t come by your goodness! Salvation comes only by the Person and work of Christ alone.
“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”
“I don’t see any evidence that God is working in my life.” Paul did not say, “Look for evidence,” but “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved.”

A few years ago Hollywood sought to retell the story of the Titanic in a movie. They went to great lengths to recreate a precise replica of the ship and the events surrounding its sinking. But in their account, they also completely misrepresented and even neglected the stories of some of the real heroes who were on board. The movie makes a hero out of Jack, the lead character who is an adulterer and blasphemer. Such is the way of Hollywood.

But one of the real heroes of the Titanic was a Scottish minister by the name of John Harper. Though not originally intending to be on that voyage, he was traveling to preach in Chicago’s Moody Memorial Church. As the ship was sinking, his voice could be heard urging his fellow passengers to trust Christ.

Two hours and forty minutes after the Titanic struck the iceberg, she sank beneath the icy waters. Hundreds huddled in life boats and rafts, and others clutched pieces of wood hoping to survive until help came. For fifty terrifying minutes the cries for help filled the night. Eva Hart said, “The sound of people drowning is something I cannot describe to you. And neither can anyone else. It is the most dreadful sound. And there is a dreadful silence that follows it.” Survivor Colonel Archibald Gracie called this, “The most pathetic and horrible scene of all. The piteous cries of those around us still ring in my ears, and I will remember them to my dying day.”

During those 50 minutes a man clinging to a board drifted near John Harper. Harper, who was struggling in the water, cried, “Are you saved?” The answer returned, “No.” Harper shouted words from the Bible: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” Before responding, the man drifted into the darkness.

Later, the current brought them back in sight of each other. Once more the dying Harper shouted the question, “Are you saved?” Once again he received the answer, “No.” Harper repeated the words of Acts 16:31, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” The drowning Harper released his hold in the icy waters, and slipped into his watery grave. The man he sought to win put his faith in Jesus Christ. Later he was rescued by the S. S. Carpathia’s lifeboats. In Hamilton, Ontario, this survivor testified that he was John Harper’s “last convert.” Harper’s last convert was won by Harper’s last words, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.” [1]

If a Roman jailer at midnight can be saved by believing in Christ–
If a drowning man helped only by a drowning preacher can be saved in a dark ocean–
Then surely you can be saved this very moment, this very day.
How? By believing on the Lord Jesus Christ!

[1] Moody Adams, Titanic’s Last Hero (Columbia, SC: The Olive Press, 1997), 24-25.