When someone gives you a gift, you possess it before you even unwrap it. The jailer’s belief was a reception of the gift of salvation that the Holy Spirit had already worked upon his heart by God’s grace, making him born again and able to even hear the message and believe. He and his household were enabled to believe in Jesus. They were saved.
It’s like what Jesus was saying in John 3:14:
14 And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15 that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Remember what Jesus was referring to? It’s in Numbers 12. God smote the rebellious Israelites by sending fiery serpents among them, killing many of them and leaving many others poisoned and dying. So, you have all these Israelites who were sick and dying, due to God’s judgment on them and their sin. The people then repented, and Moses prayed for them. God’s answer was to have Moses make a fiery serpent, which he made out of bronze, and set it upon a pole. Anyone bit by a snake only had to look at the serpent on the pole, and they were saved. All they had to do was look. That’s it. Moses lifted up the serpent; they looked, and through the look they were saved by God’s grace. This, of course, pointed to Jesus, as he told Nicodemus in John 3. He was lifted up on the cross. Whoever looks to him and believes is saved. Eternal life is theirs. The jailer looked upon Jesus, not knowing who he was, trusting in him anyway, and was saved. He just now needed the details for discipleship. It’s beautiful!
Which leads me to address a common, awkward, misunderstanding of the Christian faith, one even found in Christian circles (something I’m sure Paul steered the jailer and his people away from in his follow-up teaching). This error leads to the assumption, even unconsciously, that we must do salvific deeds of faith to be saved—like steps 1-3. Remember? This error (and in some cases, heresy), can come from a misreading of the Bible.
Sometimes, folks get certain adjectives confused, leading them to think that salvation is “by faith.” What does the Bible actually say? Turn over to Eph. 2:8-9.
8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
“For by grace you have been saved … through faith”—not saved “by faith,” but saved “through faith.” If Eph. 2:8 said “saved by faith,” then it would mean faith is the cause or basis of salvation. Faith would then be a salvific deed—a work, which would contradict the rest of v. 8 and v. 9. No. “Saved through faith” denotes that faith is the given means of receiving God’s gift of grace (grace in the form of salvation in Jesus Christ). Grace, salvation, and faith are all a gift. [In v.8b, the “this” is referring to the totality of salvation]. Thus, we are not saved “by faith.” We are saved by Jesus Christ. So, remember not to switch the two adjectives.
And, please don’t confuse what I’ve said with justification. While we are not saved by faith we are justified by faith—salvation and justification are not the same thing (Gal. 2:16; Rom 9:30). Justification is just one of the many facets of the diamond that is salvation.
It’s all so simple. Like Paul told the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Just don’t mistake belief (faith in Jesus; trust in Jesus) for a salvific work.
What a comforting reality—the simplicity of it. Whether in just regular life, or in situations where death is eminent—the gospel message is simple. In whatever situation (coffee with your neighbor, after a car-wreck holding a dying person on the side of the road, or on a battlefield), you can tell that person about Jesus. “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” By God’s grace, and the power of his Spirit, that is enough. For the one who dies immediately after, only God knows if they hear and believe. But, they may have! For the other, take a little more time and fill them in on the details, which will bolster their faith and help them along as disciples of Christ.
33 And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. 34 Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.
What an amazingly remarkable transformation. The jailer is like one in 2 Cor. 2:17:
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.”
That’s what we’ve got right here with the jailer, a new creation. He was moved by the Lord from the enemy’s camp (as a minion of the evil one), to the Lord’s camp (as a disciple of Christ). It was true belief, and he had the marks to show it.