On Monday we examined Exodus 3-14 in order find out how the Bible portrays faith. We saw that, contrary to accusations of many critics, the Old Testament presents faith as active trust in God based on knowledge and evidence. Now we continue our study by turning to the book of Acts.
One of the central messages of the New Testament is “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and be saved”, which is to say that when one places their faith in Christ, His work on the cross brings salvation. Must such a step of faith be groundless and unreasonable? Acts 16, which details Paul and Silas’ imprisonment in Philippi and the subsequent conversion of their jailer, suggests not.
Let’s take a look at the context in which the events of Acts 16:25-34 occur. The apostle Paul and his colleague Silas have recently arrived in the Roman colony of Philippi, with the intent of preaching the gospel to the Macedonians. They do so, and are eventually jailed for casting a spirit from a fortune-telling slave girl who was a source of income to her owners. After being unjustly beaten and bloodied, the apostles are placed in prison with their feet fastened in stocks. Incredibly, rather than becoming distraught and downcast at their predicament, Paul and Silas joyfully pray and sings hymns of praise to God. During the night a severe earthquake shakes the foundations of the prison, and the doors swing open as the prisoners’ bonds come undone. Upon seeing the prison cells open, the jailer concludes that the prisoners have escaped, and prepares to take his own life. Fortuitously, Paul cries out “Don’t harm yourself, we’re still here!”, and the jailer rushes in and falls at the apostles’ knees, asking “What must I do to be saved?”. Paul responds “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and all your household” (v. 31). They then share the gospel with the jailer and those in his home, who place their faith in Jesus and accept salvation.
What does this passage tell us about the jailer’s faith, and by extension about faith in general? The immediate context and the jailer’s response to the events suggests that his belief wasn’t a blind leap, but was founded on knowledge. It’s crucial to keep in mind that Paul and Silas’ exhortation to believe in Christ and the jailer’s subsequent step of faith did not occur in a vacuum. The jailer had at least three reasons to believe the apostles’ testimony. Firstly, Paul and Silas were jailed for casting out a spirit of divination. This act fit within the framework of the gospel they preached, and demonstrated the power they held through Jesus. The entire city was in an uproar because of this, and it’s likely that the jailer would have been aware of it. Secondly, Paul and Silas’ behaviour was hardly standard prison conduct; their attitudes undoubtedly lent support to the truth of what they preached. It seems unlikely that they would sing praises in such a circumstance if their belief was insincere, so at the very least the jailer would have known that they genuinely believed the gospel. Thirdly, the earthquake and the freeing of the prisoners from their bonds further validated the fact that Paul and Silas were servants of God, and not just any god, but the risen Christ, who exists in space and time and who answers the prayers of His followers. These three reasons cumulatively laid the foundation for the jailer’s conversion. It’s also worth noting that Paul and Silas spent time speaking with the jailer and his household and explaining the gospel before they believed. According to Francis Schaeffer, this passage shows that “true Christian faith rests on content. It is not a vague thing which takes the place of real understanding”[i].
Once again, a model of faith involving evidence, knowledge, and trust is evident. The apostles’ conduct and the miraculous events at the prison served as evidence of the truth of their teaching. The jailer came to a knowledge of the truth through witnessing the events and through conversation with Paul and Silas, and consequently placed his trust in Jesus as his saviour. Evidence, knowledge, and active trust—the three hallmarks of biblical faith.
On Friday we’ll finish with a passage from Mark which further reinforces this conception of faith.
[i] Schaeffer, F. (1990). Trilogy, p. 146. Wheaton, Illinois: Crossway Books.