When the apostle Paul was being transported, under guard, to the city of Rome, he found himself in a nasty, storm-tossed sea. In fact, the ship itself was put at risk. They might sink.
When the ship neared land, the sailors thought to escape the doomed vessel by taking the ship’s boat. But, Paul, who had been given confidence of what was to come by a message from God, spoke up. If the sailors left the ship, for whatever reason, many would drown.
Acts 27:30-32 – 30 And as the sailors were seeking to escape from the ship, and had lowered the ship’s boat into the sea under pretense of laying out anchors from the bow, 31 Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 Then the soldiers cut away the ropes of the ship’s boat and let it go.
When Paul spoke to the Roman soldiers who guarded him, he was quite clear. If they did not stop the sailors from escaping, none of the soldiers would survive. And the soldiers believed Paul. They took action. And, eventually, all on the ship were able to get to land safely.
What fascinates me with this passage is the parallel to salvation. No, I do not assume that this is the intent behind this passage, but simply that it provides a nice, illustrative parallel. Paul says that they cannot be “saved” if they let the sailors escape. Of course, he is there talking of physical salvation. At the same time, we can see some very real truths in parallel with spiritual salvation.
Like the people in the ship, we are all in a doomed situation. We are destined to sink. We have no hope of survival on our own. This is because of our personal sin against a holy God, and not because of a stormy sea.
Like the sailors, many of us believe that we can come up with a way out of our predicament. We think that we can either do enough good works to earn God’s favor, be better than others around us, or take part in enough religious rituals to be OK with God. Others decide that they simply refuse to believe in God and his commands, and they convince themselves that this will allow them to not have to face the Lord.
Paul said to the soldiers, “Unless these men stay in the ship, you cannot be saved.” There was a very clear and simple condition placed on the salvation of the soldiers. We are not given the reason why. But, there was exclusively one way for the Roman soldiers to survive the shipwreck. They had to keep the sailors on board.
This parallels the exclusive call of God on the lives of all people. Jesus told us that, unless we come to the Father through him, we will not come to the Father at all (John 14:6)Jesus told a crowd in Luke 13 that, unless they repent, they will all perish (Luke 13:3, 5). Jesus told a prominent Jewish scholar that, unless he is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God (John 3:3); and then the Savior made it known that those who believe him are the ones who have eternal life (John 3:16).
Notice what did not happen when Paul talked to the Centurion. The Roman guard did not say, “Hey, how dare you try to say that our plan for survival is not good enough!” He did not complain about the exclusivity of Paul’s command. He did not try to argue that all survival plans ultimately lead to the beach. He did not try to point out that, in his mind, Paul’s plan did not make logical sense. No, the centurion simply gave the order, the soldiers cut the ropes, and the lives of all were saved.
This is perhaps the best part of the parallel. At the end of the day, all who want to be spiritually saved, forgiven by God and granted eternal life, must place their entire trust for their entire souls in Jesus. They must both believe in the Savior and yield mastery of their lives to him—repentance. There is no other way to go to heaven. There is no other way to be forgiven. God saves those who come to Christ in faith and repentance. To be saved requires a genuine belief that will naturally lead to an action—the soldiers believed and then cut the ropes; Christians believe and repent of sin, yielding to Christ. This does not have to make sense to us. We are not required to be more open-minded or to prove God’s point. Our job is to, like Paul, tell the truth. The right response of the one who wants salvation is to , like the soldiers, hear the command and obey it.