What must I really do to be saved?

How we answer this question has life or death implications.

How we answer this question has life or death implications.

Sometimes, as Christians, I wonder how we would answer this question if posed: “What must I do to be saved” (Acts 16:30)?

What sufficed for the apostle Paul and his travel companion, Silas, was to respond to the inquiring Philippian jailer, saying, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (v. 31). I am convinced that an overwhelming majority of those who claim Christianity would agree with this prognosis. It is the obvious testimony of Scripture, with the New Testament going out of its way to point toward a resurrected Savior, that in Christ alone is found salvation (Act 4:12).

My concern, though, is a tendency that we seem to have that is paralleled in Scripture. Much like some of the early Jewish Christians, we believe in the power of the gospel to save…but with a catch.

In Acts 15, an issue arises in the church at Antioch regarding the requirements for salvation. The account is as follows:

Certain people came down from Judea to Antioch and were teaching the believers: “Unless you are circumcised, according to the custom taught by Moses, you cannot be saved.” This brought Paul and Barnabas into sharp dispute and debate with them. So Paul and Barnabas were appointed, along with some other believers, to go up to Jerusalem to see the apostles and elders about this question. (Acts 15:1-2)

Though the Gentiles had begun to receive the word of God, evidenced in some cases by a powerful outpouring of the Holy Spirit (Acts 10:44-48), there were some who thought it necessary for them to undergo circumcision (essentially becoming Jewish proselytes) before receiving forgiveness of sins. Upon convening in Jerusalem, the consensus was that circumcision was not necessary for Gentile believers, largely because of the testimony of the apostle Peter:

After much discussion, Peter got up and addressed them: “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that he accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as he did to us. He did not discriminate between us and them, for he purified their hearts by faith. Now then, why do you try to test God by putting on the necks of Gentiles a yoke that neither we nor our ancestors have been able to bear? No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are.”

In writing to the Galatian churches, Paul again confronts this issue, serving as the theological framework of the entire epistle. He posits, “We who are Jews by birth and not sinful Gentiles know that a person is not justified by the works of the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no one will be justified” (Galatians 2:15-16).

It seems pretty clear, right?

Faith alone in Christ alone is sufficient for salvation. But what do we (subtly) tack on to the requirement list?

In our current context, there is an ongoing war between the American Church and the increasingly progressive culture at large, with the government also playing a central role. Issues of morality are atop the agenda and sexuality in particular. The conflict regarding homosexual marriages has reached a historic peak, with the Church being very vocal in expressing its dissenting opinion and critiquing the nation’s moral decline.

At times, though, it seems as if the Church has a goal to “Christianize” secular America. While it is the Church’s mandate to stand against the patterns of the world, it is to do so by standing on the conviction of the gospel, not legislating morality.

This tactic almost implies that if homosexual unions were not a reality, people waited until marriage to have sex, and abortion did not cross the minds of teenage girls that did, the Church would be satisfied with the condition of our country. In essence, the gospel is not enough to break through the darkness of our society with its piercing light, but people must first become more moral.

If there was ever an instance in Scripture that disproves this notion, it is found in Luke 7. While Jesus is being hosted by Simon the Pharisee, an unexpected guest bursts onto the scene. A woman who had lived a sinful life (creating quite the reputation) pours her heart, soul and expensive perfume at the Master’s feet.

Discerning the inner criticism of his host, Jesus commends the woman to Simon and simultaneously issues a reproach against him for his lack of hospitality. Jesus, then, says something that leaves his hearers bewildered:

Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.” Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.” The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?” Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” (Luke 7:47-50)

A woman who was known for her moral failures comes to the Jesus who is more than willing to save. He does not make her go and clean up her moral filth on her own, but offers himself to cleanse her from her sins. Christians, along with Simon the Pharisee, stand guilty of casting judgment on sinners—though Scripture clearly testifies that this judgment is reserved for God (1 Corinthians 5:12-13)—with the verdict being that they should somehow submit to God’s law while being incapable of doing so (Romans 8:5-8).

On the contrary, however, there were those of strong moral standing who were still in need of the grace of God. Luke, the writer of Acts, introduces us to one such man, saying, “At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly” (Acts 10:1-2).

Despite his glowing reputation, it was God who still felt it necessary to divinely orchestrate the preaching of the gospel to Cornelius and those gathered in his home through the mouth of the apostle Peter (Act 10:30-48).

Apart from Christ, whether one is morally reputable or of disrepute is of no consequence. Scripture is quick to point out that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). The same-gender couple that ties the knot and the heterosexual couple that waited until marriage are both under the same judgment.

A quick note on sexuality: the consistent testimony of God’s word is that homosexual practice is considered sinful (Leviticus 18:22, Romans 1:26-27, 1 Corinthians 6:9-10). God, though, does not require that you change your sexual preference before coming to him. Instead, he commands turning from a life of sin toward the true life that comes from pursuit of God through righteousness and holiness.

As much of a surprise as this may be, there are Christ-loving people who have same-sex attractions. (Go figure!) You could also say the same for those who profess Christ and indulge in pornography, fornication, drunkenness, envy and the like. The Jesus that delivers from sin and death, however, is able and willing to break the bondages of sin that entangle us through the power of his Spirit (Romans 8:13, Galatians 5:16).

The sins of our former lives do not define us, but only “Christ, who is our life” (Colossians 3:4). To this effect, Paul pens rather strong words to the Corinthians:

Do you not know that wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

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~ by christianballenger on June 28, 2013.

2 Responses to “What must I really do to be saved?”

  1. How about what Jesus said you must do to be saved?

    He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.
    (Mark 16:16 NKJV)

    Baptism in the Holy Spirit is the other requirement for salvation. Belief is also required both before this experience and after it. If you like, belief is part of how to get saved and is also how you stay saved. But without the baptism of the Spirit Jesus says you are not saved.

    Have you received the Holy Spirit since you believed? How do you know?

    And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.
    (Acts 19:1-6 KJV)

    • Hi Miles,

      Thank you for taking the time to read this post, it truly is a blessing to receive feedback of any sort. I would have to say, though, that we have a difference of opinion on the requirements of salvation.

      While I am not all too sure about your interpretation of Mark 16:16 – the necessity of baptism for salvation and also that Jesus is making reference to Spirit baptism and not water baptism – it is interesting to note that the word “believe” is the only constant in both clauses.

      Belief is correlated with being both “saved” and “condemned,” while baptism is only mentioned once; that is to say that belief is the means of salvation while baptism (I believe water is being referenced here) is the evidence of it. An example of this would be the Pentecost believers in Acts 2:41: “So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.”

      Those in Samaria responded in a similar manner as described in Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.” Their belief and baptism (in water) is to be distinguished from the experience known as the “baptism in the Holy Spirit,” which these believers received subsequently upon a visit from apostles Peter and John.

      The incident in Acts 19 also distinguishes belief [“when they heard this” (Romans 10:17)], baptism and the descending Holy Spirit . Also of note is the fact that Acts 19 starts with the phrase “while Apollos was at Corinth.”

      From the latter portion of Acts 18, we know that Apollos had a teaching ministry in Ephesus and is described as one who “spoke and taught accurately the things concerning Jesus, though he knew only the baptism of John” (v. 25). The next verse goes on to say that “when Priscilla and Aquila heard him, they took him and explained to him the way of God more accurately.”

      The disciples Paul baptized in Acts 19 were most certainly disciples of Apollos, and had not received the full revelation of Jesus Christ and the subsequent graces of the Holy Spirit. Paul, then, compensates for the deficiency in Apollos’ teaching by “explaining the way of God more accurately” and praying that they might receive the Holy Spirit in power.

      In closing, I do not see where Mark 16:16, Acts 19:1-6 or any other passage would teach the necessity of the baptism of the Holy Spirit for salvation. [As an addendum, all believers are indwelt by the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:9) and have been baptized by the Spirit into the body of Christ (1 Corinthians 12:13); the “baptism of the Holy Spirit” is to be understood as a subsequent experience post salvation.]

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