About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them, 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. 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. But Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do not harm yourself, for we are all here.” And the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” And 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 wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 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 16:25-34).
Recently, Cynthia Nixon, the actress most notable for her role in Sex and the City as well as a progressive activist, wrote an op-ed in the Washington Post regarding how one politician of her preferred party took umbrage with how he described someone of the other party as a “decent man.” Why did she take issue with this description? Because of his views on marriage–specifically that they hold to what Scripture says regarding marriage being exclusively between a man and a woman. This is a politician who took a hit because his wife taught at a Christian school that held these views from the Bible.
That wasn’t the only thing. Our nation is divided greatly between those who believe abortion is up until birth and those who believe it should be up until heartbeat. In our state, we have the most aggressive abortion laws around. Plus, the Colorado legislation imposes progressive types of sex education in our schools that far outpace what Scripture says and with which most homes are uncomfortable. Many politicians now believe they know better than many homes as to how our children should be taught.
Our country is moving more and more toward the belief of what Rome held, and that those who preach the Scriptures should be silenced–or worse. We are hearing more rumblings from Hollywood and Washington and in our legislatures that those who hold to certain beliefs from Scripture should not have a say in the marketplace of ideas.
So when we come to a passage of Scripture like Acts 16:25-34, we see that the apostle Paul found himself preaching a message that the authorities did not like. Yet, after a series of providential and supernatural events, Paul found an open door not just to the jail but to the heart of the Philippian jailer.
Paul and Silas are in prison. When Paul exorcised a demon out of a slave girl–a slave girl who “brought her owners much gain by fortune-telling” –the owners saw their means of gain leave, they trumped up charges about how they were Jews bringing “customs that are not lawful for us as Romans to accept or practice” (v. 21). The crowds and magistrates went after them and threw them in jail.
The apostle Paul urged the fearful Philippian jailer, after inquiring as to what they might to “to be saved,” to, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31). What does it mean to ‘believe’?
Up here we have three chairs which represent the three stages of belief.
Notitia. Notitia refers to the content of faith, or those things that we believe. We place our faith in something, or more appropriately, someone. In order to believe, we must know something about that someone, who is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Assensus. Assensus is our conviction that the content of our faith is true. You can know about the Christian faith and yet believe that it is not true. Genuine faith says that the content — the notitia taught by Holy Scripture — is true.
Fiducia. Fiducia refers to personal trust and reliance. Knowing and believing the content of the Christian faith is not enough, for even demons can do that (James 2:19). Faith is only effectual if, knowing about and assenting to the claims of Jesus, one personally trusts in Him alone for salvation.
In which chair are you sitting? The only true faith is the faith represented in this third chair. This is how you can tell what true faith is.
True faith is a praying and singing faith
Rather than groaning due to the pain and suffering (16:22-23), rather than complaining about being in “the inner prison and fastened feet in stocks” (v. 24), they were “praying and singing hymns to God” (v. 24a).
John Stott notes the reaction from Paul and Silas:
“Not groans but songs came from their mouths. Instead of cursing men, they blessed God. No wonder the other prisoners were listening to them.”
John R.W. Stott, Acts, 267.
Now, many of you know hymns from when you were a child. We know that, even among those with Alzheimer’s and dementia, the music embedded in the minds and hearts John Polhill is right:
“In Acts, Christians are always full of hope. Peter slept peacefully the night before his trial (12:6); Paul and Silas sang. Their praise and good cheer was in itself a witness to God, and the other prisoners listened intently.”John Polhill, Acts
The praying and singing faith is that which sits in the third chair, the fiducia chair. These are prayers and songs of hope and joy. Dennis Johnson notes,
“When adversity dampens our mood, we need to sink the roots of our joy more deeply into the Lord himself, rather than relying on surface circumstances.”Dennis E. Johnson, Let’s Study Acts, 207.
So remember that Chair 1 is the content of the faith. Again, you can know the content of the faith without believing the truth of that content. Chair 2 is about believing the truth of that content. But are you relying on the person and work of Christ? Are have you surrendered to Christ Himself rather than His deliverance from circumstances. Tertullian said many centuries ago, “The legs feel nothing in the stocks when the heart is in heaven.”
True faith is a shaking faith
In the OT, whenever God appeared to His people, the place would shake (Exodus 19:18). (Isaiah 6; Mount Sinai shook) Even in the darkness of prison, unjustly there, shackled—God was there. While Christ was dying on the cross, we read in Matthew 27:51-53:
51 And behold, the curtain of the temple was torn in two, from top to bottom. And the earth shook, and the rocks were split. 52 The tombs also were opened. And many bodies of the saints who had fallen asleep were raised, 53 and coming out of the tombs after his resurrection they went into the holy city and appeared to many (Matthew 27:51-53).
When this type of shaking takes place, this is God showing up in the most dire, the most seemingly hopeless circumstances. And when God moves in us, we may find ourselves shaken as well.
Jim Eliot, whose missionary team was killed by the Auca Indians of South American in 1956, noted:
“It makes me boil when I think of the power we profess and the utter impotency of our action. Believers who know one-tenth as much as we do are doing one-hundred times more for God, with His blessing and our criticism. Oh if I could write it, preach it, say it, paint it, anything at all, if only God’s power would become known among us.”From his journal
When you trust in Christ, your world will shake—whether it’s a slight rumble, or cataclysmic. Our entire core, our entire will is now shaken and rebuilt for His glory.
True faith shackle-dropping faith
God not only shows up, but God sets us free in Christ. As those shackles kept Paul and Silas imprisoned, so too the law could shackle. Our ability to obey the law in our own strength to rescue us from our brokenness will not work. In order for Paul and Silas to be freed from prison, they needed to get away from the shackles and have the doors unlocked. In order for any of us to be freed from the prison of our sin, Christ has to rescue us. Derek Thomas tells us,
“Paul was not shackled by these considerations in such a way that he was unable to answer the question positively in terms suggesting that the jailer did indeed have something to do. If the jailer was to know the privileged of salvation, he must exercise faith. He must believe. He must place his entire trust in the Lord Jesus Christ.”Derek Thomas, Acts: Reformed Expository Commentary, 469-70.
And here we see Thomas telling us about Chair 3. It’s not about knowing the content of Christianity, nor is simply believing it true. Jesus said in John 8:31, “If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:31-32). “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” Later he says, “If the Son sets you free, you are free indeed.” Know? Like the content of it all? The truth of it all? No, it’s surrender, a placing of trust in its entirety in the Lord Jesus Christ.
True faith is a saving faith.
- If someone were to ask you, “What must I do to be saved?” what would you say? We would say that you must sit in the third chair of surrender and complete reliance on the person and work of Christ.
- They heard their prayers. They listened to their singing because of that reliance–circumstances did not define their faith, Christ did.
- They saw their gracious lives. They could have escaped, but they chose to stay behind. They possess the love of Christ and want others to know this as well.
- Saving faith is belief plus action. We’re not hooked on a feeling, our lives are changed.
- Repent and believe: Turn from sin and brokenness, and turn to Christ and His purpose. Being a disciple is running hard after Christ and running hard away from sin and self.