Series: Great Doctrines

These 8:30 o’clock morning services in their preaching message is dedicated to the great doctrines of our faith, and the doctrine of this morning is the most cardinal of all.  It is The Doctrine of Salvation.  If there’s any one doctrine that I think our people are sure of, are taught in, it is this one of how to be saved.It is in no sense of our lack of knowledge that the message is brought.  It is just that we might reaffirm and re-avow our persuasion of and our belief in the all adequacy of the glorious atonement of Christ by whom we are saved and through whom, someday, we hope, we know, we shall see the face of God.

Now, the basis of the message this morning will be the most familiar story in the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts; and if you want to turn to it and follow it as I read it and preach from it, it will also bless your heart.

In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, the story of Paul in the jail at Philippi:  “And the jailer, having laid upon them many stripes, cast them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks.  And at midnight Paul and Silas prayed, and sang praises unto God” [from Acts 16:23-25].  And no wonder the prisoners heard them: men who could sing and pray having been beat, in an inner dungeon with their feet fast in the stocks – no wonder the prisoner heard them[Acts 16:25].

And there was a great earthquake, and the foundations of the prison were shaken:  and the doors were opened, and everyone’s bands were loosed –

and the men were free –

And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the doors open, thinking the prisoners had fled and he was responsible for their safe keeping, he drew out his sword preparing to commit suicide.

And Paul cried with a loud voice, seeing what he was about to do, and saying, Do thyself no harm: we’re all here. –

No one has fled away.  No one has escaped –

Then the jailer called for a light, and he sprang in, and he came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas,

And when he brought them out, he said, What must I do to be saved?

He’d been hearing Paul preach in those weeks in Philippi.  And they said:

Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.

And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house.

And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and in the water that was stained by the blood of the apostles, he himself was baptized, he and all his, straightway.

And when he had brought them into his house, he set meat before them, and rejoiced, believing in God with all his house. [Acts 16:26-34]

There are three plain, simple things that are always present when God saves a soul.  These three things are the three cardinal parts of the doctrine of salvation.  The first one is represented and described in this Philippian jailer who was about to take his life:  “And hearing the voice of Paul, trembling came and fell down before him,” and asked that great question, “What is it I must do to be saved?” [Acts 16:29-30]

The first thing is a need.  If we don’t need God, if we don’t need to be saved, if we are sufficient in ourselves, then there’s no need to speak of a Savior or of a doctrine of salvation.  “I don’t need God.  I’m sufficient in myself.  I don’t need a Savior. I’m all adequate in myself.  For this world and the world to come, for life and sin and death, I have the strength to meet these vast exigencies in my own self – that I don’t need it and to speak of it is a waste of time.  It is peripheral and extraneous.”

But if I need God, if I am a lost sinner, if I am condemned to death, and if I face an eternity for which I am not sufficient, then in that need is the first open door to the light of the salvation of Christ.

A little child came down the front of the church with the Sunday school teacher, and the child was moved.  And the pastor sat down by the side of the child and the teacher on the other side; and the pastor said to the little fellow, he said, “Sonny boy, do you realize you are a lost sinner and need God?”

And the teacher broke in and said, “Pastor, you do not realize, this is the best little boy I have in my Sunday school class.”

The pastor repeated the question to the lad.  “Son,” said the pastor, “Do you realize that you are a lost sinner?”

And the teacher interposed again and said, “But you do not understand, pastor.  I said this is the best little boy that I have in my Sunday school class.”

And the pastor said to the little fellow, “Son, would you mind moving on this side of me?”  So the little boy got up and sat on the other side of the pastor, and the pastor sat between the boy and his Sunday school teacher.  Then the pastor repeated his question, “Son, do you realize you are a lost sinner and you need the Savior?”  And the little boy said, “Yes.”In no time, the pastor led the boy to Jesus.

You see, I have been that way.  I was a little boy like that, and I felt like that.  And when the psychologist says, “Don’t teach your children about sin and they’ll never be sinners,” that is about the sheerest inanity and the most impossible folly that I have ever read from learned, and trained, and educated men.

We will all know what it is to fall short of the glory of God [Romans 3:23].  We all will know what it is to sin.  All of us will find ourselves inadequate and unable for the issues that face us in life and in death [John 15:516:33Hebrews 9:22].  How infinitely better is it to teach our children of the awful responsibility we have under God: a need, a need.  We need to be saved.

And in that, we come to our second great part of the doctrine of salvation.  We point toward a Savior.  Like the reading in the third chapter of the Gospel of John this morning: “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness . . .” [John 3:14-15].  The people were dying and they cried to Moses, saying, “How shall we live?  These little fiery, tenuous bits of death on every side – how shall we live?”  And God said to Moses, “Raise up that brazen serpent, that image of what kills and destroys, and the one that looks shall live” [from Numbers 21:4-9].

In that felt need, we are lost.  As a people, we are lost.  As children we are lost reaching the age of accountability.  As a nation, we are lost outside of God.  Realizing we are lost: bowing down, trembling, crying, “What must I do to be saved?” [Acts 16:30]

Then the second great principle in the doctrine:  pointing toward the Son of God, pointing toward the serpent on the cross, pointing toward Jesus Christ.  They said, “Believe, trust, in the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved” [Acts 16:31].

In the last several ordinations that we have had, they have asked the young men to be ordained that question, and not any of these young men reply simply.  They reply educationally.  They reply philosophically.  They reply learnedly.

Now, I know why they reply that way.  That’s the way I used to reply.  After you have been to school, and you’ve been taught, and you have listened to those theological professors, when you’re asked, “How is it that you’re saved?” you will reply in that language.

I sometimes say, “Young man, you go to school, and you learn everything they have to say at school.  Then, after you’ve learned it, then after you’ve studied it, then go outside and forget it.  And when you stand up to preach, don’t know anything but Jesus Christ and Him crucified; and as plainly, and simply, and humbly, and prayerfully as you know how, say those things in simple and plain words in the power of the Holy Spirit.”

“How am I to be saved?  How?”  This is it in one simple little sentence:  trust in the Lord – look to Him, look to Him, look to Him.

In my reading, I came across an author who saidthe man who had the best idea of any man in this world of how God saves a man was Barabbas.  He was condemned to die as a malefactor [Mark 15:7].  He was condemned to die as a murderer, as a seditionist, as a traitor, as an insurrectionist.  Barabbas was condemned to die.  And when Pilate brought forth Barabbas and Jesus and said, “Which one shall you choose?”  They cried, “Barabbas, Barabbas, and away with Jesus!  Crucify Him” [from Mark 15:6-15].  And this man said when Barabbas stood there and looked at the figure on that center cross, he had the best idea of any man who’s ever lived how God saves men.

God saves men by substitution [Romans 5:8].  It is a substitutionary atonement[2 Corinthians 5:21].  He died for me.  “Unto Him who loved us, and gave Himself for us” [from Titus 2:14].  It is we who ought to die [Romans 6:23].  It is we who ought to be nailed to that center cross.  It is we who have incurred the wrath of God [Romans 1:183:23].  But He took in His own body the penalty of death meant for us [1 Peter 2:24].  And the shaft toward our hearts was received into His own flesh; and His blood was poured out.  We are saved through the substitutionary atonement of Christ [Colossians 2:14].

And that leads to that third and all important part.  There is a need.  We are lost.  We are lost.  We’re not able.  We’re not adequate.  We face death and the judgment of God; and we are pointed as our way of salvation to the cross of Christ, the Savior who died in our stead for us. “God commendeth His love toward sinners, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died in our stead for us” [Romans 5:8].

Then the last, the third, is this.  It’s a response.  Now we call it faith.  We call it trust.  We call it “believing in or on,” but it takes it.  It takes it.  For one to be saved, there must be a response – a need, and Christ, and something in our hearts that responds.  “And they said, ‘Believe, believe, and thou shalt be saved’” [Acts 16:31].  And he believed in God with all his house” [Acts 16:34]: a response, faith, trust, acceptance.  There has to be something in us to receive: the opening of the heart, the believing, the accepting, the trusting [John 3:16Ephesians 2:8-9].

Count Zinzendorf [Nikolaus Ludwig von Zinzendorf, 1700-1760] – oh, so fine a young man, but so worldly a young man – in the Düsseldorf Gallery in Germany, passing by, saw an incomparable Ecce Homo: a picture of Jesus presented with the crown of thorns, and the purple robe, and the reed for a scepter in His hands, and all of the jeering and laughter of the Roman soldiers round Him.  Passing by, he was transfixed by that glorious, glorious picture.  And underneath, the artist had written in the Latin: hoc thesi protequid fecistiprome.  “This have I done for thee.  What hast thou done for Me?”

That was the beginning of the first great missionary movement, the Moravians.  It began in his life – Count Zinzendorf’s life – as he looked on that picture and answered in his heart that question.

Was it for crimes that I have done,

He groaned upon the tree?

Amazing pity!  Grace unknown!

And love beyond degree!

But drops of grief can ne’er repay

the debt of love I owe

Here, Lord, I give myself away;

’tis all that I can do

[“Alas! And Did My Savior Bleed?” by Isaac Watts, 1707]

And you’re saved.  And you’re saved.  And you’re saved.  That’s it.  That’s the start and the finish of it.  That’s the alpha and the omega of it.  That’s the whole middle and the parts of it.  That’s it.

So it is not a matter of works.  I don’t win it by righteousness.  I don’t gain it by ceremonies or rituals.  I’m not saved by baptisms or church memberships.  I am not saved by being good.  I’m not saved by any righteousnesses that I might be able to achieve or to attain [Isaiah 64:6].  It’s not by works [Titus 3:5].  It’s by grace.  It’s by the love of God.

Ephesians 2:8-9 are great verses in the Bible:  “For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves.  For by grace are you saved . . .and that not of yourselves” [Ephesians 2:8].  It’s of God and not of us.  We could never buy it or attain it.  “For by grace are you saved through faith; that not of yourselves . . . not of works, lest any man should boast” [Ephesians 2:8-9] saying, “See what I did?  I did it!  I bought it.  I wrought it.  I won it.  This is mine.  It’s a prize I gained, I won.”  No.  It is something God did for us.  Our song shall always be: “All glory to Him who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto Him that liveth, forever and ever” [from Revelation 1:5]. It is of grace and not of works.  It’s a gift of God, not something I win or buy.  I never could.

Another thing: it is not a matter of worth.  It’s not a matter of sanctification.  It’s not a matter that the best of us are saved and the worst of us are destroyed.  In the providence of God, it is lost sinners that are saved.  “I came not to call righteous, but sinners to repentance” [Mark 2:17].  “They that are whole need not a physician, but they that are sick” [Matthew 9:12].  “This is My blood, shed for the remission of sins” [Matthew 26:28].

The gospel of salvation has to do with lost men.  It has to do with sinners.  It has to do with you, and it has to do with me.  It’s not out here – all of those things that enter into holiness and goodness or the fruits of the tree.  They’re not the root or the tree itself.  It’s not a matter of our worth.  It’s a matter of His worth:  not of my righteousness, His righteousness; not of my goodness, His goodness.

Then, it is not a matter of temporality.  It is not a matter of time.  It is not a matter of transition.  My salvation is not a matter of “This day I have it, but tomorrow I have lost it.  I see it, then I don’t see it.”

Did you ever sing that crazy song, “I went to the animal fair, and the birds and the beasts were there”?  You ever sing that song?  Well do you remember this stanza in it?

I went to the animal fair, and all the fates were there

The shell game man had a wonderful plan,

He skinned me, but I don’t care.

I tried with a right good will to find that –

And they use the word “little pill” –

I know what I crashed when I tried to cash

My phony ten dollar bill.

Now do you remember that?  Remember that?  Well, what is the shell game?  The shell game is, he’s got about oh, maybe, ten little half walnut shells, and he’s got a little pea.  And you watch him; and then if you can tell him where that pea is, why he’ll give you a prize.  But no matter what little old shell you pick up – – now I never did do this.  Remember, I’m just telling you what the shell game is.  I’ve never played it.  I just had it described to me, you know.  But no matter which one of those little shells you pick up, you never find that pea.  You see it, and you don’t see it.

Now that’s the way some are about their salvation.  I got it then I haven’t got it.  I see it then I don’t see it.  I have it then I’ve lost it.

There’s not anything like that in the Book – never, never.  In this Word, in this Word: “I give unto them eternal life, and they shall never perish, never.  I give unto them eternal life” [from John 10:28].

And in these future Lord’s Days, there’ll be several Sundays when we’ll be preaching about the eternal security of the saints – those who place their trust in Jesus.  And there are two little things about that.  It’s not today and lost tomorrow, but it’s for an eternity, ’cause, you see, it’s a new birth and you can’t unborn your children.  You may murder them.  You may disown them and you may disinherit them, but they’re always yours – always.  “This is my blood and my bone and my life.  This is my child.”  And we’re not otherwise than born into the Kingdom of God [John 3:3-8].

When Zion travails, children – sons and daughters – are born into the kingdom.  We are born into the Kingdom of God.  We don’t get there by holding up our hands.  We don’t get there by being baptized.  We don’t get there by joining a church.  We don’t get there by any of these means whereby we become members of organizations.  We are born into the Kingdom of God just like you are born into your home and into your family.  They come that way through love and tears and prayer and travail.  And we are born into the Kingdom of God.

We are the spiritual children of the Father [1 John 3:1-2].  We are born, and you can’t unborn your children.  He’s still my son.  She’s still my daughter no matter what, no matter when, no matter why, and no matter where.  We are born into the Kingdom.

And the other is Second Corinthians 5:17: “For if any man be in Christ, he is a new creation: old things are passed away; all things are become new.”  God has done something in my soul and in my heart, and it never dies.  It never dies.  “Old things are passed away; all things are become new” [2 Corinthians 5:17].

We’re going to sing that song, “Only Trust Him.”  That’s true to the Book, and it’s true to the Scriptures.  Only trust Him.  And while we sing that song, I would suppose everybody here has given his heart to Jesus, everyone here has been saved.  Everyone here knows what it is to open his heart to the love and grace of the Son of God.  Just maybe there might be somebodyyou.  If you this morning have felt the tug at your heart, the pull, if you have felt your need of God and that He calls, would you come and give me your hand?  “Pastor, I have felt that tug of God in my soul, and I take Him today.  I will.”  Or somebody you, put your life in the church.  In this moment while we sing that stanza, would you come while we stand and while we sing?

For more sermons by W.A Criswell, please visit www.wacriswell.com

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About The Author

W. A. Criswell was born December 19, 1909 in Eldorado, Oklahoma. He received his B.A. from Baylor University, and his Th.M. and Ph.D. degrees from Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He served for fifty years as senior pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, for many years the largest church in the Southern Baptist Convention. As founder and chancellor of the Criswell College, Dr. Criswell gave his later years to preparing young preachers to preach the Word of God. Dr. Criswell went to be with the Lord January 10, 2002. His ministry continues through the messages he preached and the lives he touched during his seventy-five years of pastoral service. Over 4000 of these messages with notes, outlines, audio and video are available through the Criswell Sermon Library at www.wacriswell.com. The Sermon Library is a ministry of the W.A. Criswell Foundation, Inc. to assist pastors and lay people in sermon preparation.

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