Could one question be given three differing answers and all answers be correct? Seems unlikely doesn’t it? Yet this is the case in the New Testament book of Acts when the question, “What must I do?” (to be saved) is asked.
The Three Answers
(1) The expressed answer given to the Philippian jailer was “Believe!” (See Acts 16:25-34 for the full account.) Some insist that this expressed reply is complete, and hence salvation is by faith alone. However, a consideration of the expressed replies given this question on other occasions will show the fallacy of such reasoning.
(2) When some of the Pentecost multitude asked, “What shall we do?” they were told, “Repent, and be baptized.” (See Acts 2:6-38 for details.)
(3) And when Saul asked, “What shall I do?” he was directed to Ananias, who told him to “Arise and be baptized.” (See Acts 9:1-18; 22:6-16 for the record.)
The Answers, in and of Themselves, Are Incomplete
If only the expressed reply is to be considered, we would have to conclude that the jailer was saved by faith alone, and that those on Pentecost were saved by repentance and baptism (i.e., without any faith), and that Saul was saved by baptism alone, without either faith or repentance. Of course none of these conclusions is valid.
A fair study of the context shows that the same elements, and all three of these elements, were present in each of the cases examined. One must have faith in Christ to be saved, but faith that is not strong enough to cause one to obey the Lord’s commands is a “dead” faith (James 2:24-26).
Why Did The Answers Differ?
Because the questions were asked by people in different circumstances. A man in Burnet, Texas may ask, “How far is it to San Antonio?” and be told, “100 miles.” In Marble Falls, this question would get a different answer (“86 miles”). And in Blanco, the same question would get a third, and different answer (“50 miles”). Yet all would be part of one great truth.
There is no indication that the Philippian jailer had either knowledge or faith in the Christian system; so he was told to “believe” (Acts 16:31), and then “they spoke the word of the Lord to him” (Acts 16:32). He repented, as indicated by washing their stripes, and he was baptized, as stated in Acts 16:33. Thus he truly “believed” (Acts 16:34).
But those on Pentecost heard the preaching of Christ before they asked their question. They were “cut to the heart” by the preaching (Acts 2:37); i.e., they believed. Then they were told “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38).
And Saul (later called Paul) had already believed, and had spent three days penitently praying (Acts 9:9,11), when he was told, “Rise and be baptized and wash away your sins” (Acts 22:16).
Where Are You?
Your status or condition before God must be considered in answering your question, “What must I do?” The Lord will save “all who obey” (Hebrews 5:9) and has given one gospel to all (Galatians 1:8; Romans 2:11). Have you proven your faith by full and complete obedience to His will?
–Robert F. Turner