Monday, May 7, 2012

What Must I Do to Be Saved?

And when they had laid many stripes upon them, they cast them into prison, charging the jailor to keep them safely:
Who, having received such a charge, thrust 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: and the prisoners heard them.
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?

Acts 16:23-30

This is the text under discussion years ago in the Oak Street Bible Shop by Gary, Sue, Joy and Glen. They had been talking about how complicated some people make God’s offer to rescue people from the penalty of sin. Each of the four had stories from their experiences, which they wanted to share.

Gary, standing behind the counter, had just read the above text.

“I can tell you it took me years to find out just how simple it is to accept God’s offer of salvation.”

“Years?” said Joy. “What are you, about twenty-four?”

“Listen,” he said, "I grew up in a system that told us your salvation was never sure, no matter what you did. At any time you could commit a mortal sin and, if you died out of a state of grace, that’s it, brother, you were out of luck--on your way to hell! And, yes, I was in it for years.”

“Okay, I’ve got ya,” said Joy from her position on the tall stool where she liked to preside. “Remember, I was in the same system, and even longer than you.”

Glen, in the back room, was staring down at his coffee cup as if it had some answer in it that he needed to learn. He was listening, but said nothing.

Sue, by the front window, had just placed the last of a box of new books on the shelves. She bent to pick up the empty box and then stood up to speak.

“In my church, it wasn’t quite so grim. Most of us felt we were good enough to make it. We were such goody-goodies we weren’t worried. It was awful! We were little Pharisees and didn’t even know it!

"And, of course, we looked down on all those we thought weren’t as good as we were. If someone had dared to ask us if we were saved, we would have said ‘Saved from what?’”

They had each given a short description of their early religious beliefs. All except Glen, who silently stared at his cup.

There was silence for a moment, then Joy leaned around the door frame to look at Glen. She would argue with him and complain about his comments, but deep inside she loved Glen. His silence concerned her.

“You okay, Glen? We thought you would join in and share your experiences with religion.”

“I don’t like religion,” he said. “Never did. I’m a Bible teacher, not a religionist.”

These were harsh words coming from Glen. He usually found something good to say about different Christian churches.

Joy was very concerned about her old friend. This was as low as she had ever seen him. She tried to get him to say something. He usually warmed up when he was discussing things with them.

“Sure you don’t want to talk about it?” she asked.

“Oh, I was a Methodist all my early years. I remember dry sermons about how to be better and help the church grow--things like that. I finally quit going. Then years later I joined a Presbyterian church because they said we would be studying the Bible.

"Now that appealed to me!” he said with emphasis. “I was an outsider in those days--a lobo wolf, you could say. I wanted truth, but couldn’t get along with the people who said they had it.”

Joy smiled as she asked, “Kind of like you are today, right?”

Glen smiled back at her. “Guess you know me pretty well, don’t you?”

Sue walked back to the coffee urn table. “That stuff looks yucky,” she said. “How about I make you a cup of your Constant Comment tea? I’m going to throw this old coffee out.” She liked to wait on Glen--fuss over him.

“That would be great. I’d appreciate it, Sue.”

He turned to face the others. “I try to be critical of myself as I get older,” he said rather heavily. “I don’t like what I see.”

Before anyone could comment, he continued. “You know that passage from Acts that Gary just read? To me, that is the heart of the gospel--what the jailer asked. ‘What must I do to be saved?’ You can’t get any more basic than that.”

Joy had a puzzled expression. “I don’t see the connection between you looking at yourself and the basic gospel.”said Joy. “What is it you don’t like when you look at yourself?”

Glen straighten up in his chair. “Because I don’t give the basics is why! I think sometimes I get too complicated and that’s what I’ve always hated about religion. They complicate the gospel instead of giving us the simple truth. And it is simple!”

“Amen to that!" said Gary.

“But you’re a technician,” objected Joy. “That’s what you’re so good at. Salvation is simple, but prophecy is not so simple. And that’s your area. When things get complicated call for Glen!”

Glen was touched by this support. Before he could express his appreciation, Sue added hers.

“You even make complicated prophecy simple, Glen. Remember when you told me about the church age and how to look it up in Acts chapter fifteen? I did, and now nobody can mess up my mind about it.”

Glen pretended to fiddle with his teacup, too moved to speak.

Gary spoke up. “I think there are two things here. Prophecy can be complicated, and we need mechanics like you, Glen, to figure it out.”

“And to show us how to figure it out, too,” added Sue.

Gary continued. "I remember how you put me onto Things to Come, by Dwight Pentecost. Greatest single volume on prophecy that I’ve ever seen.”

Glen nodded in agreement.

Joy spoke with anger. “It’s when they make salvation complicated that I get mad. Because salvation--being born again--is not complicated. A child can understand it.”

“Lots of children do,” added Sue.

Gary’s eyes brightened as he recalled one of his favorite films.

“Do you remember ‘Day at the Races?’” he asked. Groucho wants to place a bet on a horse. Chico stops him. Tells him he has to buy three books on how to place a bet before he puts his money down.

"Finally after a long discussion he buys the books. As he is rushing off, Chico calls him back. He tells Groucho he has to buy another book.

"Groucho asks ‘What for?’

"‘So you can understand those books,’ says Chico.

"By then the race is over and Groucho’s horse has won, but he didn’t have time to place his bet.”

Glen sipped his tea and looked at Gary. “Maybe you should finish that wonderful quote?” he asked.

Gary looked down at his Bible and read, "And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. Acts 16:31."

“That is how simple it is,” said Gary. And they all agreed.

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