Nothing Can Separate the Gospel and Suicide
By: The John Ankerberg Show
September 21, 2014
Message, Tim LaFleur, Discipleship Pastor
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but delivered Him up for us all, how shall He not also with Him freely give us all things? Who will bring a charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? It is Christ that died and furthermore, who is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God who also makes intercession for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or peril or sword? As it is written, for your sake we are killed all the day long. We are accounted as sheep for slaughter. Yet in all these things, we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life nor angels nor principalities nor powers nor things present nor things to come nor height nor depth nor any other created thing shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Amen.
The title of the message this morning is “Nothing Can Separate the Gospel and Suicide. Now, my assignment today, I always get these easy assignments. Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect, enter in by the narrow gate. These are the kinds of assignments I get. My assignment today is “The Gospel and Suicide.”
And you know, as I began to pray about how to deal with this passage of Scripture, I realized that God had given me a tremendous gift and you are going to see it in a minute. People have debated for ages, theologians, pastors and people alike – could a person commit suicide and still go to haven?
Augustine, one of the early church fathers said, “Absolutely not.” St. Thomas Aquinas, one who has been called a saint, Thomas Aquinas, let me say it that way, who is a theologian surmised that because suicide is the sin of murder and one would not receive absolution or forgiveness of that sin, he would go out into a Christ less eternity.”
What do you think? Could it be possible that a believer in a moment of weakness because they had lost or seemed to have lost all hope, could take his or her life and still go to heaven?
Now, before I attempt to answer that question, — I will answer it, but before I attempt to answer it, I want to call your attention to the New Testament account of a man who contemplated taking his own life but chose not to in light of the gospel. And we are going to be looking at Acts Chapter 16. And the man I am talking about is the Philippian jailer. He contemplated taking his own life. In fact, he drew his sword, the Bible says, and he was going to kill himself. He was about to kill himself believing and supposing that all the prisoners had escaped. But he chose not to in light of the gospel.
Now my goal today is simply this, I want to show you, I want to help you understand that the gospel is God’s answer to life’s most overwhelming challenges so that you can believe God. You can trust God. You can trust His Word rather than the principles of the world or even your own feelings. And the question again, as we come to this point in the series, is who are we going to believe? Are we going to believe God or are we going to believe the world?
So if you have your copy of the Scripture, look if you would at Acts Chapter 16 and we are going to consider two verses and then we are going to walk through the rest of these verses as we unfold the message. Look at it in Verse 30. “And he brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.”
Lets go to God in prayer. Father, we ask that You give us grace as we share the truth of Your Word. God, I pray that You would open our hearts to receive the message. And God, I pray that if there is someone here who is hurting, who feels like they have no hope, either here in this audience or by the web or through the television. I pray, Father that You would give them the ultimate hope in the gospel. Lord, we ask it in the only name we know how, the strong and powerful name of Jesus, we pray. Amen.
Before we get into this message, I want you to consider the context of Acts 16. Acts 16 is an amazing passage of Scripture. It begins with probably the greatest mission team ever assembled.
This past week, I had the opportunity to be on a great mission team. Dr. Sherwood was our leader and we had a tremendous time, myself and another pastor, we saw people come to Christ. We saw people encouraged. We saw people as Dr. Allen and the people, the nurses that came with us, shared in medical missions. We saw people and we saw just an amazing sense of hope to the people as they were ministered to. And it was a great mission team.
But I tell what, it doesn’t compare with the mission team in this passage. Think about it. Paul, Silas, Luke, the physician, Luke and Timothy. The greatest mission team ever assembled. Paul is beginning his second missionary journey. He has already had conflict with Barnabas over John Mark. He decides to take Timothy with them. And as they are praying about what to do, the Spirit of God forbids them to go into Asia. Paul has this vision. We call it the Macedonian Call. The Apostle Paul has a vision of a man in Macedonia and he is saying, come and help us. And so, led by the Spirit of God, they move into Macedonia and they are led by the Spirit to go to the foremost region of Macedonia which is a city by the name of Philippi. I have seen Philippi. I have seen myself where the gospel was first preached down by the river and Lydia came to faith in Christ. I have seen that with my own eyes. And it was a holy moment for me because this is the gospel coming to the west and it is an amazing thing.
Well, Paul and Silas begin to pray and they were in Philippi and they were wondering what they would do. You see, it was important for them to share the message of the gospel, but it was very important and don’t miss this, for them to do it God’s way and in God’s timing. And so what the Spirit of God does is, I guess He puts it on the heart of Paul to go down by the riverside, supposing there would be a place of prayer there.
Now, evidently there weren’t enough Jewish men to have a synagogue in this city. They required at least ten Jewish men. Evidently there weren’t that many and when they go down by the river, they are right, they do find a place of prayer and they see people who were worshipers of God. Some of your translations say, who were God-fearers. These were people who were not Jews but they worshiped the One true God. Lydia was among that number.
And look at Verse 14 if you would in Acts Chapter 16. Notice the phrase toward the end of Verse 16, “The Lord opened her heart to receive the message.” The Lord opened her heart to pay attention to what was spoken by Paul. Do you see that? As Paul began to share the gospel. That word “share” or speaking here is not the word for proclamation or preaching. It is the idea that he reasoned with these people about the gospel, about the death and burial and resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And the Lord began to work in her life and opened her heart to the truth of the gospel. She was gloriously saved.
Before it was over, Paul preached to her entire household and many came to know Christ. And the church was birthed in Europe. She compels Paul and Silas to stay with her for a season. They do that. And then as they are going to a place of prayer, there is young slave girl, the Bible says, that followed them around. She was possessed by a spirit of divination, the Bible says. And in Verse 17, you see what she was saying, the demon within her was speaking, “These men are servants of the Most High God and proclaim to you the way of salvation.” And everywhere they went, she was following them around. These men are servants of the Most High God and proclaim to you the way of salvation. Evidently Paul got aggravated. So what he did was, he cast the demons out. And that is where he began to have a problem.
You see, the people who owned this slave girl, because she had a spirit of divination, she was a fortune teller, made a lot of money through this girl. And you know, the money would be gone now because the spirit was not indwelling this young slave girl. Rather than rejoicing that someone had been set free by the power of the gospel, they were angry. They became very angry. Why? Because they would lose their money.
So what they did, they delivered Paul land Silas to the magistrates. The magistrates believed what they said. They told them that, hey, listen, this guy doesn’t follow the customs of Rome. They are preaching something, they are teaching something that is contrary to what we believe to the Emperor worship. They are preaching something that is contrary to our way of life. And so what they do is they had them beaten with rods, stripped and thrown into the inner prison and shackled. Notice what it says in Verse 25 and 26.
“About midnight, the Scripture says, Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God. And the prisoners were listening to them. And suddenly, there was a great earthquake so that the foundations of the prison were shaken.” Look at what the Scripture says. “And immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s bonds were unfastened.”
So what happens is, they take Paul and Silas, they beat them with rods, they strip them, they put them into the inner prison. They shackle them. And rather than having a pity party, here is what they do, they pray and sing praise to God. And God moved, and somebody called it the “Jailhouse Rock,” Amen? That jailhouse rocked by the power of God. And immediately, the Scripture says, all the doors were opened and their bonds were unfastened.
Now there are a couple of powerful principles at work here. I don’t want you to miss them. This is by way of context. The first principle is this: When you and I experienced adversity, we need to do what Paul and Silas did, we need to pray and sing praise to God. Amen? These are powerful tools in the hands of a believer. When you experience adversity, when you come to the place where you are suffering or you are in persecution, rather than having a pity party, get your eyes off the situation and get your eyes on the Lord. Why? Because He is the only one who can do anything about it, Amen?
So they prayed and they sang praise to God. Is that what you do? Is that what you do when you experience adversity, when there is trouble and trial and heartache in your life? Do you go to God? Does it force you to go to Him in prayer and praise, knowing that your God is big enough to handle whatever problems you have? That is what they did. And we need to see that as a principle and a powerful tool and weapon in our hands that when adversity comes, we turn to God.
The second principle is this: When the church becomes persecuted, the church becomes pure. And it grows. We are going to move into a time in the book of Acts where the church is not just added to, the church multiplies. The message of the gospel is getting out to everybody everywhere. Satan thinks he has got it down, but he doesn’t. If he can’t get you from within, the slave girl, he will get you from without, persecution. But every time the church is persecuted, the church becomes pure. And every time the church is patronized, the church becomes impure.
And so the more they persecuted these believers, the more the gospel spread. You can see it throughout the book of Acts, from Jerusalem to here in Philippi. When they are persecuted, they go out and speak the gospel, even more fervently. Why do you think that is? They are forced to depend upon God. They are forced to spend time in prayer.
Just a couple of weeks ago, our pastor was attacked because of what he preached from behind this pulpit. I saw something happen that was, you know, I thought, whatever you think about that, I saw something as a by-product of that that was very beautiful. It served as a catalyst to get God’s people to pray. Amen? And we are praying for our pastor. We were coming together in one accord believing God that He was going to silence those who were against Him. And we stood with our pastor because he preached the truth, Amen?
And so every time the enemy wants to destroy the church from without through persecution, God’s people become more pure and they are driven to prayer.
Now it is in this context that we get to Verse 27. And I want you to see in Verse 27 that the jailer contemplates suicide. I told you God gave me a gift. You know, in the Old Testament there are seven accounts of men committing suicide and none of them are pretty. And in the New Testament there is one account of someone who commits suicide and that is Judas. But here is a situation where a jailer contemplates suicide. Look at it in Verse 27.
“And when the jailer woke, he drew his sword…” first of all it says when the jailer woke, he noticed that the doors were open. So he drew his sword, the Bible says, and he was going to kill himself. He thought about killing himself, supposing that all the prisoners had escaped.
Who is this jailer? We don’t know much about the jailer. We do know some things from history. This jailer probably received a commission from Rome. He was retired. Maybe he had been a faithful Roman soldier, and as a perk or as a reward, he received this commission from Rome to keep this jail. Perhaps this jailer had put all his eggs in one basket. Perhaps this jailer had reduced his life to one thing, his commission, his status, his job. Sound familiar? There are many people who do that today. They find their significance in one thing. That ought to remind us that you and I need to put our eggs in the basket of eternal things, not temporal things. You and I need to find our significance in what God is doing in our lives and who were are in our identity in Christ. Are you putting your significance in temporal things or are you putting your significance in eternal things?
This man’s life had been reduced to one thing, his commission, his job, his status, his pension. And now that his life, his world was literally falling apart, his only option, he thought, was to take his life. Now he knew that the Roman government would punish him if any of the prisoners escaped by giving him the same sentence that the prisoners had. And so the prisoner was sentenced to time in jail, he would have time in jail. If they were sentenced to death, he would have to die.
This man’s life had been reduced to one thing and when that one thing was gone, he seemed to have no hope and no reason for living. Perhaps that is a picture of what people may feel when they consider suicide. There is this sense of hopelessness. There is this sense of helplessness.
According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in 2011, the last year we had complete figures, 40,000 people in the United States died by committing suicide. Nine out of ten of those people, they say, suffered from depression or bipolar disorder. One every 13.3 minutes in our nation during that year died of suicide. Untreated depression which was the number one cause for suicide, can be triggered by several things. Terminal illness and chronic pain, the loss of a loved one, the death of a spouse, child or family member, being victimized or sexually abused can trigger these things. And the jailer seemed to have lost all hope because his life had been reduced to one thing and that one thing was passing away.
Now that reminds us, we need to invest, not in the temporal, power and position and prestige. We need to invest in the eternal, our relationship with God, of His Word and the souls of men.
And I want to ask you today, are you investing in temporal things or are you investing in eternal things?
This jailer felt like he had lost everything and so there was no significance in his life. He felt unnecessary, there was no reason for living. So he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. But look what happened in Verse 30. The Apostle Paul cried out, “He cried with a loud voice,” the Bible says, “don’t harm yourself for we are all here. The jailer called for the lights and rushed in and trembling with fear, fell down before Paul and Silas,” it says. And then in Verse 30, when the jailer had come to the end of himself, he brought them out and he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Do you see it? He asks life’s most important question.
But listen, he had to come to the end of himself. Have you asked life’s most important question? It is the most important question, in fact, it is the ultimate question. Have you asked the ultimate question, what must I do to be saved? Listen, you will not ask that question until you come to the end of yourself. But if you have ever come to the end of yourself and if you have ever realized that you can’t make heaven and you can’t find significance in this life, in and my your own merits, you will ask that question, what must I do to be saved? Who will deliver me, the jailer is saying. Who will deliver me from this meaningless existence?
God’s answer is found in Verse 31. Look at it. There is not only the jailer considering suicide, there is not only life’s most important question, but look at it…God’s answer to life’s most important question. Look at it in Verse 31. “And they said, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household.’”
Let me deal with that last part of the verse, you and your household. I think in other translations, it says both you and your house. Understand that that doesn’t mean that just because you believe and come to faith in Christ that your household will believe. This so-called household salvation doesn’t stand water when you match it against the New Testament. All of us have to come to Christ personally and individually. There is not a mass coming to Christ. Just because you get saved, that doesn’t necessarily mean that your whole family will be saved. I pray that they would be and I think it is appropriate that you pray that they would be. And you claim that as you show and share the love of Christ with everybody everywhere, specifically in your home, that they would see that the gospel is real and it is worth giving their life to.
But understand that this man finds hope in the gospel and rather than killing himself, he chooses to believe. In fact, Paul and Silas share the gospel with this man and his whole household and many come to faith in Christ. They are baptized and they are added to the church.
But what does it mean to believe in the Lord Jesus? The question is asked straight up, what must I do to be saved? And maybe you are wondering today, what must I do to be saved? And the answer is very easy if you can discern it…believe on the Lord Jesus. Believe in Jesus. You want to be saved? Believe in Jesus. As the choir sang about come by the way of the cross, believe in Jesus. Believe in who He was. He was the virgin-born Son of God who died, was buried and who rose again, bless God, the third day! The Bible says, because if you believe with your mouth, believe in your heart the Lord Jesus and confess with your mouth, you will be saved. If you confess with your mouth, believe in your heart, you will be saved because believing in one’s heart brings justification and confession is made to salvation. Have you believed? Have you believed in Jesus? Have you believed in the One who became flesh and dwelt among us, the One who offers eternal life, the One who paid your sin debt on the cross? When Jesus died, He died to pay the penalty for our sin. And you can be forgiven today if you will come in faith, in repentance and faith, repenting from whatever it is you are trusting in and putting your faith and your hope in the Lord Jesus. You can be saved. Have you done that?
You want significance in life, come to Christ. You want a reason for living, come to Christ. You want hope and a future, come to Christ. Do you want purpose and meaning, come to Jesus Christ, believe in Jesus.
If you are here today and you have never been saved, I want to encourage you to repent and believe. Come to faith in Christ. This man came to faith in Christ and he found the ultimate hope.
Now, how about that question, could a believer in a moment of weakness take his or her own life and still go to heaven? Could a believer, because there is a sense of no hope, take their own lives and still go to heaven? Well, the short answer would be yes. But let me explain why.
Number one. There are times when even believers feel helpless and hopeless and they want to die. Maybe you have been there. Maybe you have had a tough time in your life and you just, in a fleeting moment said, I wish I could die right now. And if someone focuses on that, who knows what the enemy might tell them. And in a moment of weakness, they could make a wrong choice and take their lives.
Number two, there are some believers, I think, that even though they have shown evidence of salvation, toward the end of their lives because this depression was triggered by some of these facts we talked about, the loss of a loved one or chronic pain or perhaps they have been victimized or abused, have made a wrong choice and decided to commit suicide. Now let me be clear, suicide is the sin of murder. It is a grievous sin. It does not please God nor does it glorify God. But there are some believers who have taken their own lives.
Point number three. The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin. And if a person is in Christ, nothing can condemn him and nothing can separate him from the love of God which is in Christ. And so the question becomes, was that person in Christ? Was that person a believer? You see, you can get to the end of your life and not end well, but you may have lived an entire life well. Do you see it? You may have made a wrong choice toward the end of your life, and listen, we don’t have a question about other sins, but this sin, because it is so final and there is no second chance at this point, has caused us to wonder, would the grace of God even extend to save one who takes their own life?
Listen, I want to tell you something, life is very precious to God. We preach about the sanctity of life, we preach about how important life is. Why? Because we have been created in the image of God. And listen, I am not saying or wanting to promote suicide in any way, but the question that is posed is this, would God’s grace even extend, would it reach that far, and I believe it would.
Let me give you three walking points and I am done. The first walking point is this: if you suffer from depression, you have got to get some help. If you suffer from depression, you have got to get some help. Nine out of ten people in 2011 who committed suicide suffered from depression triggered by some of these things. If you are going through these overwhelming challenges in your life, get some help. Talk to somebody. If you are suffering from clinical depression, you really need to get some help. But if you are feeling depressed or unnecessary or insignificant, however you call it, if you have got issues with anxiety and you just can’t seem to sleep because things are really bothering you, get some help. My heart goes out to you. God loves you. And when you bring Him into the situation, things can become clearer.
The second walking point is this: if you have a thought or you are having thoughts that you ought to commit suicide, understand that those thoughts don’t come from God. They come from the enemy. You know, the Bible says that he comes to steal and kill and destroy, but Jesus said, I have come that you might have life and have it abundantly to the full. The enemy would like nothing more than to destroy your life. And so when he whispers a thought like that in your mind, you dismiss it. You check it at the door of your mind and you say, listen, this doesn’t line up with the Word of God. I dismiss it. This doesn’t come from You, God, it comes from the enemy.
The last thing is that our only hope is the gospel. Do you know that? Where would you be without Christ? Where would you without your salvation? Where would you be without your identity in Him? I find my identity, I find my purpose, I find my significance in my relationship with Jesus Christ. And the gospel is what helps us to overcome the overwhelming challenges of life. It is the gospel. It is Christ. And so, if you are struggling, get some help. If you are hearing these thoughts, dismiss them because they don’t come from God. And if you haven’t trusted Christ, come to Christ. He loves you. He cares for you. He is going to take these situations and He is going to turn them around for good. God makes all things work together for the good to those who love Him, who are the called according to His purpose. Even though we don’t realize that now, it is amazing what God can do in time as we depend upon Him and trust in Him and put our faith in the person of Christ rather than in our circumstance and situation. Come to Christ. If you will confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.
In Verse 13 of Chapter 10 of Romans says, “Whoever believes in Him will not be put to shame. Whosoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved.” If you are not saved, I want to encourage you, come to Christ.
The jailer thought all hope was gone and he found his hopes and he found much joy through a relationship with Christ. You come to Jesus. Lets pray.
Father, we love You. We thank You, God for the salvation You give us through Christ. We pray, Father, that for those who are here, for those who are hurting, God, wrap Your arms of love around them and love them in a way that only You can. Meet their need. Lord, I pray for those who have never been saved. I pray that today might be the day of salvation. I pray that You would open their hearts to receive the message that has been proclaimed and preached. I pray that they would see that the only way is the way of the cross and that the gospel is the thing that gives us identity and significance and meaning in life. You created us to have fellowship with You. You created us to glorify You. I pray, God, that we would see people come to faith even today and we pray it in Jesus’ name. Amen.