For, was not our Lord unjustly accused, unjustly beaten and tortured, unjustly mocked, unjustly convicted, unjustly condemned by the crowds and the rulers of the land? He was stripped down and crucified on a wooden cross, made a curse before all. Yet, what did he say? “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” Jesus was the ultimate example of self-giving love, loving his enemies (which includes you and I by the way). Jesus forgave his enemies despite their having shown nothing but hatred for him. The centurion at the cross saw it, saying, “Surely, this was the Son of God,” having witnessed the way he died.
Here we see a jailer seeing that same love in the missionaries, and he saw the Son of God in them. The Spirit of God opened his eyes to this reality, and it overwhelmed him. It was something he had never seen before in all his years. Whatever it was these holy men, these sages who prayed and sang joyous songs to their God in the midst of their misery … Whatever it was they were proclaiming—that salvation the oracle had said they were proclaiming as servants of the Most-High God (and, notice how Paul and Silas turned the enemy’s scheme with the oracle on its head)… Whatever and whoever it was Paul and Silas were proclaiming, based on their actions and the Spirit of God working in him, the jailer knew it was real, and he desperately needed it. The Spirit had already done a work on his heart, as seen by his actions and his question. He already believed. Now, he now needed the Truth—the object of his belief. “What must I do to be saved?”
31 And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 32 And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.
Here we see another move in that cosmic chess game with evil. Paul’s move in the battle was, in self-giving love towards his former enemy, to answer him with the gospel message of Jesus, and demonstrably forgive him in what followed. Paul and Silas forgave him, and the jailer knew it by what they did.
Consider the jailer’s question. Was it the right question? “What must I do …?” No. Not really, but it was in the right direction. Rather than try to correct him and elaborate or whatever. Paul used a different tact. What Paul did here, was to answer the right question.
What Paul actually answered was, perhaps, the question, “How can I be saved?” Which, if you think about it, is the right question on multiple levels. How can I, a horrible sinner, be saved? I don’t deserve it. I’ve shown myself your enemy and an enemy of your God. How can I actually be saved, in what way? How can I be saved, is it even possible? The jailer’s actual question could have led to an answer of, “You become a Christian only after you have taken the following steps: … Step 1” … and so forth.” Yet, that is always the wrong answer. Paul, however, knew the right question, which the jailer was ill-equipped to formulate, having no background whatsoever in Christian doctrine, or even Jewish doctrine, for that matter. So, Paul wisely did not bother correcting the question. He simply answered the right question (a good technique to put in your rucksack, by the way). “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This was counter to what the jailer was expecting. The pagan religions he would have known would have given him a litany of hoops to jump through. But no. Paul told him, “Believe in the Lord Jesus.”
It’s such a simple answer, packed with meaning, but Paul and Silas didn’t leave him hanging. They took the time to explain to the jailer and his household what it meant, afterwards. I doubt they got too deep in theology, but they unpacked it for them, answering questions, filling in their lack of knowledge. They explained repentance and forgiveness, Christ’s work on the cross, teaching them what it means to follow Jesus. Remember, these folks had no knowledge whatsoever of the Bible or the faith. It seems unlikely they had any idea of who Jesus is; nor what it means to believe in Jesus; nor what salvation actually means in the Christian sense. Yet, that’s the beauty of Paul’s initial answer. You don’t have to understand all that in order to believe and be saved. This is because faith is not a work.