23 October, 2016

Acts 16:30-31—“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house”

And suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken: and immediately all the doors were opened, and every one's bands were loosed. And the keeper of the prison awaking out of his sleep, and seeing the prison doors open, he drew out his sword, and would have killed himself, supposing that the prisoners had been fled. But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do thyself no harm: for we are all here. Then he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? 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 (Acts 16:30-31 KJV).

This passage is sometimes interpreted by advocates of the “general well-meant offer” to mean that not only the call to repent is universal (Note: something which is, nonetheless, true), but that also the gospel promise is universal/conditional and not particular/unconditionalGod sincerely promises salvation in Jesus Christ to absolutely all (bar none) who hear the outward call, upon the condition of repentance and faith.

On the other end of the spectrum, hyper-Calvinists see this entire passage, including the command to repent, as being addressed only to the regenerate [i.e. sensible sinners].


Rev. Martyn McGeown

Acts 16 records one of the most dramatic conversions in the New Testament, the conversion of the Philippian jailor. Awoken from his sleep by a miraculous earthquake, and knowing that Paul and Silas were men of God, the terrified jailor cries out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). Again, I ask the question of my hyper-Calvinist reader, “What would you say to a person who asked you that question?” What ought a preacher today respond to a person who asks such a question? Will we respond, “Do not be foolish! There is nothing you can do. You must stand still and see the salvation of God”? That is not what Paul and Silas responded. “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house” (v. 31).

Grammatically, again, the verb “believe” is in the imperative—it is a command. The words “thou shalt be saved” constitute a promise. That presents a problem to my hyper-Calvinist reader. Is Paul declaring to the jailor, whose eternal destiny (elect or reprobate) and whose spiritual state (regenerate or unregenerate) are unknown to the apostle that, if he believes, he shall be saved, that is, is Paul preaching a conditional promise to the jailor? Then may the preacher today declare to any unbeliever, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and, if you believe, God promises you salvation”? We answer in the negative. Paul commands the jailor, and we command everyone to believe. The promise (“and thou shalt be saved”) pertains only to believers. The jailor can only become partaker of the promised salvation through faith. However, salvation does not depend on the jailor, for Scripture everywhere proclaims that repentance, faith and salvation are gifts of God (Eph. 2:8-9; Phil. 1:29).

Therefore, in answer to my hyper-Calvinist reader, I can and will preach to any person, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your house.” I can and must do that without any embarrassment or hesitation. I can and must urge upon the audience to which I speak (whether to an audience of thousands or to an audience of one) the command to believe, and I can and must proclaim to that same audience that God graciously promises salvation to believers and to them only.



British Reformed Journal

[Source: Issue 9 (Jan – Mar 1995), p. 27]

In logic, a conditional proposition is an “if … then …” statement. Take, for example, the sentence, “If you cut yourself, then you will bleed,” which says that the second part of the sentence (the bleeding) will come about if the first part of the sentence has been fulfilled (the cutting). This seems all very well, but the problem comes when the conditional proposition is applied to theological issues, primarily because of the element of causation between the first part of the sentence (called the antecedent) and the second part (called the consequent). To apply this theologically, let us consider Acts 16:31, which basically says, “If you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, then you will be saved and your house.” This is a conditional proposition, and it is in this simple sense that the Westminster divines meant it to be taken, for example, in the 32nd Question of the Larger Catechism. Now the problem arises when we seek consistently to apply this causal explanation to the verse, and come to the erroneous conclusion that we are saved because we have believed, rather than the Calvinistic conclusion that we believe because we have been saved, as the Catechism itself goes on to show (all Calvinists agree that Acts 16:31 does not mean, “If you believe, then this act will cause you to be saved,” but rather, “If you exercise the gift of faith, then you have the promise that God has saved you”). It is because of this confusion that conditions in salvation have been validly denied by some theologians who are zealous to maintain the status of faith as an effect of salvation rather than cause.



Prof. Ronald Cammenga and Rev. Ronald Hanko

The command to believe does not imply that all men who hear that command have the ability to obey or that their believing depends upon their choosing whether or not they will do it. Ephesians 2:8-10 emphatically says that faith is a gift of God, not man’s own work.



More to come! (DV)

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