Today’s post is by Brandon Smith. Brandon has been a pastor for many years and is currently a church planting resident at CityView Church in Fort Worth, Texas. He holds a B.A. in Bible from Dallas Baptist University and is a Systematic Theology student at Criswell College. Brandon edits Project TGM, a new blog bringing perspective to theology, gospel, and mission and their impact on culture. Connect with him on Twitter at @BrandonSmith85.
Growing up in a non-Christian home, I didn’t know what conversion to Christianity looked like. As far as I was concerned, my friends were Christians because their parents were, and their parents were Christians because of their parents. I mean, who would decide on their own to refrain from watching certain movies or go gather with a bunch of people on Sunday morning and listen to someone preach at them for an hour?
Christianity sounded like a lame hobby and was definitely not something that interested me.
The hobby God
I live and work in the Dallas-Fort worth area, and here in the Bible Belt, Christianity is often assumed. We often assume that people are going to understand and accept our Christian standards. I’m guilty of this. There are times that I’m actually surprised to meet a non-Christian, even though I grew up in a non-Christian home.
What I’ve come to realize and have to remind myself constantly is that salvation is not an inherited hobby, but a supernatural transformation.
No one wakes up godly. No one is born a Christian. Jesus says in John 3 that a person must be born again to be saved. Sin is not a weak enemy, it’s a supernatural force that must be dealt with by an omnipotent, all-powerful God. Paul says in 1 Corinthians 12 that no one can say that Jesus is Lord without the Holy Spirit. Belief in Christ takes an absolute act of God.
The miracle of salvation
For some reason, God chooses to use us in His grand plan for redeeming the world. Acts 16:25-34 paints a great picture of God’s sovereignty and our involvement in bringing redemption to the lost. We are going to see two followers of Christ used by God to bring about incredible change in a lost man and his family.
Let’s take notice of the events of this story:
I. Paul and Silas praise God despite their situation (v.25)
In the passages right before this, Paul and Silas had just driven an evil spirit out of a slave girl. This was a great thing for the girl, but a major inconvenience for her owners. This demon gave this girl the power to be a fortune-teller, and this was profitable for them. Without the demon, she was useless. So, they report Paul and Silas to the civil authorities for practicing a Jewish religion that wasn’t Roman.
Fast forward to their imprisonment, Paul and Silas – still bloody from the beating – are praying and singing hymns to God.
It is important to remember that God is still God, regardless of your situation. Suffering well is one of the most beautiful testimonies.
Paul and Silas did not let their imprisonment rob them of worship. Their situation was secondary compared to their relationships with God. Just like the apostles in Acts 5, Paul and Silas rejoiced in their suffering. They could’ve sat in their cell and complained or insulted the Roman jailer at the gate, but instead they gave glory to God.
II. God made sure to get the lost man’s attention (v.26)
What better way to get someone’s attention than to drop an earthquake on them in the middle of the night? One second the Roman jailer is sleeping while these crazy prisoners are singing; the next second he wakes up to an earthquake shaking the very ground that he is sitting on.
God does many things to get our attention – everything from a subtle hint while you’re listening to a song to a catastrophic event like the death of a loved one. One thing we can be sure of: when God wants something to happen, it’s unmistakable.
When God shows up, people take notice.
It was no accident that those men were in that jail cell, and it was no accident that an earthquake flung the prison doors open.
III. Paul and Silas show compassion (vv.27-28)
In what seemed like a perfect opportunity for escape, Paul and Silas stayed in their cell. They knew that this was a divine appointment, and seized the opportunity to show the love of Christ to the Roman jailer.
When you understand that God is in control, you see every second of your life as an opportunity to live for Him.
This jailer is about to kill himself because he knows the ramifications of allowing prisoners to escape. Paul and Silas could’ve said, “Forget this guy! When he kills himself, we can get out here!” Instead of using someone else’s misfortune to make their life better, they put aside their own interests for God’s purposes.
IV. God orchestrated several events to save the man (vv.29-30)
So, we see Paul and Silas do two crucial things for this jailer so far:
- They showed that God is bigger than anything.
- They showed that love is bigger than personal comfort.
The witness of Paul and Silas, along with the unexplainable earthquake, gave the jailer a picture of the gospel. As I said before, I had always believed that Christianity was simply a choice people randomly made. But what we see here, and throughout Scripture, is that God steps into time and brings about real miracles in people’s lives.
Remember, Paul and Silas should be commended for their faithfulness, but their faithfulness and the jailer’s sudden desire for salvation were both impossible without God’s supernatural work in their hearts.
The person who brings the gospel and the person who receives the gospel both have one foundational thing in common: they both need God to do a miracle in their lives.
When dealing with lost people, salvation should humble us, not cause pride.
V. Salvation didn’t stop at the jailer (vv.31-34)
These men gave a simple command: “Believe in Christ and you will be saved.”
Evangelism has become almost a curse word to some Christians. Many people see evangelism as a chore that involves learning a speech and being rejected. God can and will overcome your shortcomings to change people’s hearts.
* Evangelism is as simple as what Paul and Silas have done: Praise God in all circumstances, show the love of Christ to people, and tell them the truth about Christ. No speeches, no programs… just love people and tell them what you know.
God is not surprised by any of this! What seemed like a random set of occurrences – Paul and Silas exorcize a demon, are imprisoned, an earthquake hits, and a man is saved – was actually a series of God-made events to bring salvation to the lost.
God wasn’t done yet. Not only did God save the jailer, but He revealed Himself to his entire household.
The salvation of this man brought Christ to the rest of his household. There is a powerful chain reaction of God saving Paul and Silas, using them to save the jailer, and using the jailer to save more people. You can be sure, the gospel-planting in the rest of his household led to more people knowing Christ.
The gospel advances as God uses Christ’s disciples to take the gospel to others. Matthew 28 commands that disciples are to make more disciples. Romans 10 says that people cannot know a gospel that they haven’t heard.
Imagine if the disciples walked away after Christ’s ascension, or after He returned and Pentecost, and didn’t want to share the gospel with anyone. We’d all be in trouble.
The great church father Augustine said, “I never have any difficulty believing in miracles, since I experienced the miracle of a change in my own heart.”
The fact that anyone is saved is an absolute miracle. If you don’t understand that, I don’t know that you understand your sin or understand God’s power. When we understand ourselves, we understand the condition of the lost around us. We empathize with them. This should propel us into the world, loving people and watching God work. We do the ministry, God does the miracles.