The jailor had very little knowledge of the Christian message. But he knew enough that he needed to be saved. Where he had received this information from is not the crucial question. It seems as if the earthquake and the non-escape of the prisoners had convinced him that the Christian message was true.
We are not to be surprised at the methods God uses to convince a person of the truth of the gospel. Sometimes it can be rational arguments as Paul used when he debated with the philosophers in Athens; sometimes it can be a miraculous preservation in providence in which God answered a prayer of desperation, say, by a person drowning at sea; sometimes it can be the quiet, ongoing witness of a converted wife to her unconverted husband as he observes her Christlike character. Whatever the method, they are brought to ask this most profound question, ‘What must I do to be saved?’
The answer given to the jailor is a surprising one, is it not? The jailor had wanted to do something, and he was told that the work had been already done by Jesus Christ. Of course, we are not to quibble over the errors in the man’s question. Yet this surprising aspect reminds us of an important problem that recurs again and again in people seeking salvation. In a variety of ways, they don’t focus on what Jesus has done on the cross. They imagine that they have to prepare themselves by making themselves better by reforming their lives. But salvation is based on what Jesus Christ has done.
The answer is also a simple one. The apostles told the jailor that all he had to do was to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. He did not have to move his body an inch in order to be converted. What he needed to do was believe in Jesus.
In exercising faith, we have to believe about Jesus as well as believing in Jesus. We have to recognise who he is, that he died on the cross as the Saviour and that he has risen from the dead and been given the place of Lord. We depend upon him and devote ourselves to him. Our trust in him is marked by gratitude and reliance. For his sake we receive the forgiveness of our sins and have peace with God.
At the same time, we confess that he is Lord; the jailor did this by showing acts of kindness to those he had previously beaten. He received the blessing of pardon for himself, and he was followed by his family, and they became members of the church in Philippi.
Think of some potential changes in his life. Right away, there was the beginning of a prison ministry in Philippi because the church would have access to evangelise the prisoners. His old friends, probably soldiers who had fought with him in military campaigns, would see a remarkable change in his life and would enquire about it. Perhaps some of them became members of the congregation.