The Conversion Of The Jailer

By Donnie V. Rader

After the conversion of Lydia, as Paul and his travel companions went to prayer, a slave girl who had a evil spirit followed them crying out, “These men are the servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to us the way of salvation” (Acts 16:17). Paul, being annoyed, cast the demon out. The masters of the girl were disturbed because they had lost a means of income. They seized Paul and Silas and brought them before the magistrates charging that they “exceedingly trouble our city” (v. 20). Paul and Silas were beaten with rods, given many stripes and cast into prison (vv. 22-24).

While those who cast them into prison may think they have defeated these men of God, it simply provides them with another opportunity to preach the gospel. This time it is the Philippian jailer who hears and obeys the gospel.

The Most Important Question

At midnight as Paul and Silas were singing and praying to God, a great earthquake shook the prison. The doors were opened and chains were loosed. The jailer took his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought all the prisoners had fled. Paul, seeing what he was about to do, said loudly, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here” (v. 28). The jailer then got a light and ran into the cell with Paul and Silas and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

1. What prompted the question? First, the jailer had noted the faith of Paul and Silas as they sang and prayed to God. He knew they were men of God. Else, why would he ask them about salvation? Second, the great earthquake caused him to tremble and seek help from these men in his search for salvation.

2. It was a sincere question, The jailer did not ask this question to trap and ensnare these preachers as the Pharisees often tried with our Lord. This question was asked out of fear. He really wanted to know what he must do to be saved.

3. He recognized the need for salvation. Until one sees a need for salvation from sin, there will be no interest in doing what he must do. That may be why some who need to obey have not done so yet. They may not be convicted of the sin in their life that creates a need for salvation. The jailer realized that he was lost, an alien, without God and without hope (Eph. 2:12).

4. He recognized that there was something he must do. He apparently knew enough to understand that some obedience was necessary. His question itself implies that there are conditions to receiving salvation. He wanted to know what the conditions were.

5. His search for salvation was more important than anything else. His fear, his question and the urgency with which he responded demonstrates that being saved was the most important thing at the time. Whenever a sinner recognizes his real condition, nothing else will matter until he becomes a child of God.

The Answer

When the jailer asked what he must do to be saved, what answer was given?

1. He was told to believe. Paul and Silas answered, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, and your household” (v. 31). This does not mean that he could be saved by faith alone. James tells us that man is not justified by faith alone (Jas. 2:24),If this passage were saying that faith is all that is essential to receive salvation, that would mean that repentance is not essential (cf. Acts 2:38: 17:30-31).

There are time when the words “believe” or “faith” are used to encompass other acts of obedience. Notice the contrast in “believe” and “disobedience” (1 Pet. 2:6-8). Thus, “believe” simply stands for obedience. The same point is seen in Romans 10:16. In order to prove his point that “they have not all obeyed,” Paul quotes an Old Testament reference that said they did not “believe.”

2. He repented of his sin. His repentance is indicated in the fact that he washed the stripes of Paul and Silas (v. 33). He must have been told that repentance was necessary for others were told to repent (Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30-31). Otherwise, God would be a respecter of persons (cf. Acts 10:34).

3. He was baptized (v. 33). He and his family were baptized in the same hour of the night. In answering his question, Paul and Silas must have told him of the necessity of baptism. Else, why would he be baptized immediately? If they didn’t tell him he must be baptized, their preaching would not harmonize with the Lord (Mark 16:16) or their own teaching at other times (Gal. 3:26-27).

The Urgency

There was a sense of urgency on the part of the jailer in obeying the gospel message. He immediately (in fact, in the same hour) was baptized. There was no waiting or delay. He did not put it off and wait for a convenient time.

Others who obeyed the gospel did so quickly. Those on Pentecost obeyed the same day (Acts 2:41). The Samaritans and the Eunuch obeyed when they heard the gospel (Acts 8).

Why the urgency? (1) Life is so uncertain. We don’t know for certain that we will live another day or hour. Life is like a shadow (Psa. 144:4) or vapor (Jas. 4:14) that is present one moment and then is quickly gone. (2) The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night  suddenly and unexpectedly (2 Pet. 3:10). (3) The longer we wait the chances are greater that our hearts could become hardened in sin (Heb. 3:7).

You can be saved just like the jailer if you obey like he did.

Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 18, p. 13
September 16, 1993