WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
In today's world of thousands of religions claiming to be Christian, there is perhaps no more controversial question than "What must I do to be saved?" A good many agree on the major points, but there have been many denominations formed precisely because of differences of opinion on this question. You probably have an answer in your head already as to what you believe is necessary for salvation. Let's forget a little while about what we have read or been taught in church. Let's examine what the Bible says about salvation and then we can see if our current beliefs agree with the Bible.
Christ and Salvation
You can't read the New Testament without coming to the conclusion that Jesus Christ is the "author of eternal salvation" (Hebrews 5:9). He is the central theme of the New Testament and was prophesied by the Old Testament to bring salvation. The term Christian implies that our religion is focused on Jesus Christ. The story that Jesus was an innocent man who took our sins upon himself and thereby permitted us to receive salvation is not denied by any who make a claim to salvation. The work of God and the Holy Spirit is vital to understanding the obedience and sacrifice of Jesus as well. "For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life" (John 3:16).
The wisdom, compassion, love, and mercy shown through the actions of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not at issue in this article. Indeed, there are few arguments about these things. What divides the religious world are the conditions of salvation. Everyone can be saved but not everyone will be saved: "But the cowardly, unbelieving, abominable, murderers, fornicators, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burns with fire and brimstone, which is the second death" (Revelation 21:8). How then can I be assured that I am one of those who will enter into the kingdom of heaven? I must follow the conditions set by God! This article is concerned with "what must I do to be saved." We will omit discussion about God and His part in order to concentrate on the more controversial topic of man's part.
You may object to this sentiment by stating that the gift of salvation is freely offered to all with no strings attached. The idea of "conditions" may be repulsive to you. True, everyone has access to salvation, but not everyone is willing to take advantage of the free gift. God will save no one against his will. The audience of the apostle Peter on the day of Pentecost realized that they had to do something on their part even though God had provided a way: "Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37). They wanted to know the conditions. Peter did not respond by saying "relax, no conditions, just enjoy salvation." Rather he responded by urging them to "repent and be baptized" in order to "be saved from this perverse generation." (Acts 2:38, 40).
In the New Testament, it's quite common to read about something being "the way of salvation," "the power of God to salvation," or related to salvation in some way. There are probably a couple of dozen items linked to salvation: love (John 3:16), mercy (Titus 3:5), the gospel (Romans 1:16), hope (Romans 8:24), etc. Some of these are entirely up to God and depend on the blood previously shed by Christ. Some, however, are dependent on a person's actions and state of mind. Let's start with an easy one. (Editor's note: In reference to the many things involved in man's salvation see God's Chain of Salvation).
Belief in Jesus Christ as the Son of God
Jesus Himself stated that I cannot be saved without believing in Him: "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24). The Jews wanted to do something to please God, so they asked this new teacher Jesus: "What shall we do, that we may work the works of God?" To illustrate that this is an action performed on the part of a candidate for salvation, Jesus replied that "This is the work of God, that you believe in Him whom He sent." (John 6:28-29).
"But wait," you say, "am I earning my salvation if I do this work of God?" No. You can never earn or merit the grace of God or the gift of Jesus' blood. It has already been given. Nothing that any of your ancestors did nor that you can do today had any influence on God's decision to send his son. By believing in Jesus as God's son you are meeting one of the conditions of salvation. Before Jesus ascended back into heaven, he reiterated the necessity of belief: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16).
"Whew! I'm glad that's over," you say. "All finished. Believe and be saved, right? I prayed the sinner's prayer and told God that I believed in Jesus Christ as his son, so I'm saved now." Is this all that the Bible teaches one must do to receive salvation?
Believing in Jesus Christ is the first step in salvation, but believing by itself cannot save a person. James stated that even demons believe in God and that Jesus Christ is His son: "You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe; and tremble!" (James 2:19). Demons won't be saved and even some people who believe won't be saved. Remember Jesus' words: "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21).
"But won't I be earning salvation if I do anything besides believe?" No. We've already seen that Jesus called belief a work. Many radio stations run contests on the air. If you win the prize, you are required to go to the station and pick it up. You've already won the prize, are you earning it by getting in your car, driving to the station, and showing the proper identification? It's silly to think that you have earned the prize by simply going to get it. The prize was bought by the radio station, given freely. But you had to meet the conditions to receive it.
Ephesians 2:8-9 states: "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast." Salvation is the gift, but we have to claim that gift. The gift was purchased with the blood of Christ and is given freely. I do not work to earn the gift of salvation, it's already been given! You have been told that the only condition for receiving the prize is belief. This is a false teaching. Jesus Himself set other conditions on salvation.
Jesus told the Jews that they had to repent or they would perish in Luke 13:3. After Peter preached to the Gentiles for the first time, the Jews concluded that "Then God has also granted to the Gentiles repentance to life." (Acts 11:18). Jesus stated that his mission on earth was to call "sinners to repentance" (Luke 5:32). The first gospel sermon included the command to repent: Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, "Men and brethren, what shall we do?" Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." (Acts 2:37-38).
What is repentance? It is not being sorry. Criminals who get caught are sorry because they didn't get away with the crime. You can be sorry and not repent. The original word means to change your mind. Paul explained the process to the Ephesian Christians: "And you He made alive, who were dead in trespasses and sins, in which you once walked according to the course of this world, according to the prince of the power of the air, the spirit who now works in the sons of disobedience," (Ephesians 2:1-2). Repentance occurs when you change your mind about your past life and decide to quit sinning. The Ephesians were dead in sin, but when they repented, they quit doing those things. The apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians condemning them for their sins. They repented. He described their actions in 2 Corinthians 7:9-10 "Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death."
This is probably the most natural result of belief in Christ. You are convinced in your heart that He is the Son of God and that He died for your sins. What is more natural than to state out loud to a friend or relative that you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God? Confession is the verbal affirmation of your belief. Jesus asked that we make that confession to others: "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32). Confession is another condition of salvation. "For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation." (Romans 10:10).
What should I confess? What do you believe? Peter told Jesus that "...we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the living God." (John 6:69). Confessing that Jesus is the Christ shows that you believe that He is the fulfillment of Old Testament prophecy. He is the Anointed, the Messiah, predicted to come into the world, suffer, and save God's people from sin. Confessing that Jesus is the Son of God shows that you believe that Jesus was no ordinary mortal. He wasn't just a good man or one of a long line of prophets. He was divine. "Behold, the virgin shall be with child, and bear a Son, and they shall call His name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." (Matthew 1:23).
John told us why he wrote his gospel: "but these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name." (John 20:31). John wanted us to believe these two facts and this is our confession.
If the Son of God whispered in your ear, "Do this and be saved," would you do it? If yes is your answer, then read Mark 16:16: "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." Jesus just told you to believe and be baptized and you will be saved. Simple? If you were able to talk to the apostle Peter and ask him what to do to be saved, what would he answer? Then Peter said to them, "Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38).
The apostle Paul was a vicious man before he became a Christian. He killed Christians, compelled them to curse Jesus, and attempted to destroy the church. He admitted "that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief" (1 Timothy 1:15). If he can get his sins washed away, I'm sure that mine can be washed away too. How did the apostle Paul get rid of his sins? He heard the preaching of Ananias, he believed in Jesus Christ, and that did the trick, right? Not according to Acts 22:16: "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." Ananias told a believing Paul that to get rid of his sins he must be baptized.
But what about all those verses that talk about belief and don't mention baptism? Acts 2:38, Acts 11:18, and Romans 8:24 (to name just a few) discuss salvation but don't mention belief. Does that mean that belief is unimportant? I Peter 3:21, Acts 8:12, and Acts 10:48 (to name just a few) don't mention repentance. Are they to be left out? One verse may emphasize baptism or confession and not belief; another verse may stress belief in Christ while omitting baptism or repentance. Putting them all together, however, allows us to understand God's scheme of redemption. The Bible promises that those who believe in Jesus and obey his conditions will be saved: "Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead." (James 2:17).
The subject of salvation is discussed all over the New Testament. To form a scripturally correct doctrine of salvation, we must include everything the Bible does. The Bible plan for our salvation includes belief and baptism. "Baptism, which corresponds to this, now saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but as an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ," (I Peter 3:21 - ESV).
How should I be baptized? Some would sprinkle water on you; others bury you completely under water. The word baptize literally means to dip, immerse, or submerge. It indicates a complete immersion in water. The apostle Paul compared baptism to a burial in water. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life" (Romans 6:3-4). Biblical baptism should therefore be a complete burial in water for the remission of sins.
I Can't Accept This
You may have read this article patiently while thinking the whole time that it is nuts. Since you were a child you may have heard that belief in Christ was all that was necessary for salvation. You may accept confession because many teach that it is part of a sinner's prayer. But repentance and baptism? Is it really necessary to obey these teachings? Well, if you don't repent, you'll perish, Jesus said (Luke 13:3). You make the call. If you aren't baptized, you are not saved (Mark 16:16) and you've still got sin in your life (Acts 22:16). Do you still have sins in your life? Are you saved? What must you do to be saved? The Bible teaches belief, repentance, confession, and baptism.
If we can assist you in your obedience to Jesus Christ, please contact us at the email address on the main page. If you live far away from us, we may be able to put you in contact with someone near you who will be willing to study the Bible with you and assist you in your obedience.