What Must I Do To Be Saved?

The question, “What must I do to be saved?” though short and simple, is far more profound than many realize. We cannot even be absolutely certain the jailor who asked it even understood the implications of his inquiry. It is possible he had heard the Psalms Paul and Silas had been singing and been deeply convicted of his lost and desperate condition before God. Perhaps he had had some prior instruction about the character of God and the awful plight of sinners in a state of alienation from him. The reality is, we simply do not know the background of his question.

What we do know is that this question elicited a profound statement of gospel truth. Paul’s answer was “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved. . . .” (Acts 16:31). Since Luke tells us in the very next verse “they spoke the Word to him and to all who were in his house” it is likely he did not immediately understand the implications of this short answer.

I want to explore with you some of the issues I believe this answer raises and discuss the Bible’s responses to those issues. The following are some of those issues:

1. What does the Bible mean when I talks about being “saved?” From what do we need to be saved?
2. What does it mean to believe?
3. What must a person believe if he/she is to be saved?

Let’s consider these questions one by one.

1. There are several places in both the Old and New Testaments where the term “saved” occurs. Additionally, the Scriptures refer both to God, the Father, and Jesus, the Son, as “Savior.” Here are a few examples. In Isaiah 45:21-22 we read “. . .And there is no other god besides me, a righteous God and a Savior: there is none besides me. Turn to me and be saved, all the ends of the earth! For I am God and there is no other.” The apostle Paul states in Ephesians 2:8-9, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” He also wrote in Titus 3:5 “he [God, our Savior] saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and the renewal of the Holy Spirit.”

We could translate the word “saved” by the word “delivered.” It is used a person being delivered from his blindness (Luke 18:42), of sailors being delivered from drowning in stormy seas (Acts 27:31), of God delivering Noah and his family from the flood (1 Peter 3:20), Israelites being delivered from slavery in Egypt (Jude 5), etc.
In terms of spiritual deliverance, there are at least three senses in which the biblical writers speak of being “saved” from sin. Believers are:

Saved from God’s wrath. We are saved from sin’s penalty. [I have read some strange statements from self-proclaimed “Evangelicals” and “Biblicists” of late regarding Jesus’ death in relation to the wrath of God. It seems they are rejecting the idea that Jesus’ death has delivered us from God’s wrath. This is a blatant denial of the biblical doctrine of propitiation not to mention a whole host of biblical texts that speak of the wrath of God and the believer’s deliverance from it, e.g., John 3:36; Romans 1:18; 2:8; 5:9; Ephesians 5:6; 1 Thessalonians 1:10; 5:9].

Saved from the bondage of sin.
We are saved from our willful, autonomous, rebellion against God. We are saved from sin’s power.

Saved from all the ill effects of sin in the future. We will be saved from sin’s presence.

Notice, none of these issues has anything to do with delivering us from our poor self-image, a feeling of loneliness, financial instability, a bad marriage, a negative attitude about life, etc. Some of these benefits may result as God brings us into conformity with his revealed will, but none of them is promised in the gospel.

The Bible tells us Jesus came to save sinners from our sins (See Matt. 1:21). A person who does not want to be saved from his sins does not want to be saved at all. The issue the gospel is intended to deal with goes beyond having our sins forgiven so that we may go to heaven when we die. In fact, there is not a single verse in the Bible that mentions believing the gospel so that we can go to heaven when we die. God’s work of delivering his people from their sins is more about living than it is about dying. Consider just a couple of verses from the New Testament Scriptures that concern the purpose of God in saving sinners:

He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned [since the verb translated “returned” is in the passive voice, it would be better to translate it accordingly, i.e., “were returned” instead of “have returned.” The sheep are not the actors; they are acted on] to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls (1 Peter 2:24-25).

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works (Titus 2:11-14).

Note the stated purpose for which Jesus bore the sins of his sheep on the tree—IN ORDER THAT we might die to sin and live unto righteousness. The sheep are not forgiven and left to wander in their sins.

2. What does it mean to believe?

To believe means more than merely to know the facts of the gospel and give mental assent to those facts. Of course, assent to certain gospel propositions is necessary, but faith involves more. James tells us that even the demons are orthodox in their assent to certain biblical propositions and even tremble because of what they know to be true. True and saving faith must go beyond the faith of demons.

Biblical faith or belief is crediting God with faithfulness and placing our confidence in him. It is believing against all odds that God can and will do all he has promised.

In John 3:36, faith is set over against disobedience. “The one who is believing in the Son has everlasting life, but the one who disobeys the Son shall not see life. . . .” For this reason, we believe true faith must involve a submission to Christ’s authority.

The nature of faith is such that it always looks away from itself. They true believer has no confidence in faith itself, since he knows that faith is not the Savior. Instead, faith, having considered the hopelessness of the sinner’s plight in sin and the impossibility of self-redemption, looks away from self to the Savior. Faith does not dwell on how bad I am but instead fixes its gaze on how good Christ is.

3. What must a person believe if he/she is to be saved?

The New Testament definition of the gospel is that Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures, and that he was seen by witnesses to his resurrection (See 1 Corinthians 15:1-8). It is important for us to remember that these words were written to those who had professed faith in Christ and not to a group of unconverted people. As a result, this definition of the gospel message is somewhat different from the apostolic pattern we observe in the New Testament Scriptures. I believe it is important to examine the pattern of apostolic proclamation as we seek to answer questions about proper methods and message of evangelism. For example, do we have any example in the New Testament literature of a gospel preacher telling a group of unconverted people “Christ died for our sins?” or “Jesus died for you?” Did they ever tell sinners they needed to repeat a prayer or walk an aisle or open their hearts to Jesus? For that matter, was any sinner ever invited to come to the foot of the cross to receive Jesus?

In proclaiming the gospel, based on the apostolic pattern, must we tell sinners indiscriminately that Jesus died for them? Must a person understand and believe that Jesus died for him in particular before he can have confidence that Jesus will save him? Is it not sufficient to trust his promise to save sinners who believe and repent? I have paraphrased an excellent comment Robert Haldane wrote in his Commentary on Romans as follows,

Many seem to believe if they are going to proclaim the gospel they must tell every sinner Christ died for him. Additionally, they believe that if Jesus did not die to take away the sins of every individual, they cannot preach the gospel. This is very erroneous. The gospel declared that Christ died for the guilty and that the most guilty who believe shall be saved.. ‘It is a faithful saying and worthy of all acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,’ even the chief of sinners. The gospel does not tell every individual to whom we address it that Christ died for him. Instead, it simply tells him that if he believes, he will be saved. On this basis, we can proclaim the gospel to every sinner. It is only after a person has believed the gospel that he can know Christ died for him individually. Since the Bible reveals that whoever believes shall be saved, it is quite consistent to proclaim the gospel to all sinners and declare that they will be saved if they believe. If the most guilt person in the human race should believe, it is an absolute certainty that he would be saved. If anyone feels he cannot proclaim the gospel freely and has difficulty calling everyone to faith unless he can say, ‘Jesus died for every member of the human race,’ he does not clearly understand what the gospel is. It is the good news that Christ died for the most guilty who believe, not that he died for every individual whether he should believe or not. To the truth that every person who believes shall be saved there is no exception. The only sins that will not find God’s forgiveness are those that belong to sinners who refuse to believe the gospel; if they believe, they will be saved. . . . (Haldane, Romans, p. 203).

The reality is, the pattern of apostolic preaching indicates it is to the throne we must send sinners, not to the cross. I am not at all suggesting there would be any gospel apart from the crucifixion, but we do not preach a Savior on a cross. We, following the example of the apostle Paul preach “Christ crucified,” i.e., Christ who has been crucified with the results of that crucifixion continuing into the present (This understanding is based Paul’s use of the perfect passive participle of the verb in 1 Cor.1:23. “It refers primarily to the exalted Lord who, in his exaltation remains the crucified One” (E.E. Ellis, “Christ Crucified,” Reconciliation and Hope, 70). The apostolic message was about the resurrected and exalted Jesus who was dead but is alive forevermore, and who has the keys of death and hades. Consider Paul’s teaching in Romans 10.

But the righteousness based on faith says, “Do not say in your heart, ‘Who will ascend into heaven?'”(that is, to bring Christ down) “or ‘Who will descend into the abyss?'”(that is, to bring Christ up from the dead). But what does it say? “The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart” (that is, the word of faith that we proclaim); because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved (Romans 10:6-9).

There were two cardinal truths Paul’s Jewish audience regularly rejected. One was the incarnation of the Messiah, the other was his resurrection. Paul’s point in these verses was that there is no need to ascend into heaven to bring the Christ down since he had already been incarnated in the person of Jesus, thus “Jesus is Lord.” There is no need to descend into the abyss to bring Christ up from the dead since “God has raised him from the dead.” God has accomplished all that is necessary for the salvation of bankrupt and helpless sinners. All sinners must do is look and live. The promise of the gospel is “whosoever shall call on the Lord’s name will be saved.”


10 Responses to “What Must I Do To Be Saved?”

  1. July 18, 2013 at 2:28 am

    That quote from Haldane is golden! The personal Savior that many people imagine, is reflected in the common place use of John 3:16 and the rampant misunderstanding of that verse. The wide and unrestricted call for men to believe and repent simply shows we do not know who the elect of God are – He does. So we preach wide and God saves unto the narrow gate. Praise the name of the Lord!

  2. July 18, 2013 at 10:43 am

    So if we believe in particular redemption, that knowledge needs to ‘educate’ our presentation of the message of the gospel. We can surely state, like the angel who spoke to Joseph, that Jesus died for the sins of His people.

    • July 18, 2013 at 12:54 pm

      Paul’s Passing Thoughts
      JC Ryle Verses John Calvin on the Separation of Justification and Sanctification

      Posted in Uncategorized by paulspassingthoughts on April 20, 2012
      “Christ cannot be torn into parts, so these two which we perceive in him together and conjointly are inseparable—namely, righteousness and sanctification. Whomever, therefore, God receives into grace, on them he at the same time bestows the spirit of adoption [Romans 8:15], by whose power he remakes them to his own image. . . Yet Scripture, even though it joins them, still lists them separately in order that God’s manifold grace may better appear to us.” — John Calvin, Institutes of the Christian Religion (Philadelphia: The Westminster Press, 1960), Bk. 3, chap. 11, sec. 6).

      “But the plain truth is, that men will persist in confounding two things that differ–that is, justification and sanctification. In justification the word to address to man is believe–only believe; in sanctification the word must be ‘watch, pray, and fight.’ What God has divided let us not mingle and confuse” (JC Ryle, Holiness: Introduction).

      Share this:
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      EmailFor, in the whole of this discussion, the noun righteousness and the verb to justify, are extended by Osiander to two parts; to be justified being not only to be reconciled to God by a free pardon, but also to be made just; and righteousness being not a free imputation, but the holiness and integrity which the divine essence dwelling in us inspires. And he vehemently asserts (see sec. 8) that Christ is himself our righteousness, not in so far as he, by expiating sins, appeased the Father, but because he is the eternal God and life. To prove the first point—viz. that God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating, he asks, whether he leaves those whom he justifies as they were by nature, making no change upon their vices? The answer is very easy: as Christ cannot be divided into parts, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable. Whomsoever, therefore, God receives into his favor, he presents with the Spirit of adoption, whose agency forms them anew into his image.

      Context–A Case Study

      There is probably no factor more important for understanding than context. Taken out of context, a situation or a statement can be made to mean anything a person wishes it to mean.

      This morning, Paul Dohse reposted a post from last year about the difference between John Calvin and J.C. Ryle’s views of justification and sanctification. By this post he demonstrated that if he can do nothing else well, he is a master of deceit. To his credit, he did cite the source of his quotations, but I suspect he thought no one would check out the original source. His contention is that Calvin conflated justification and sanctification so that he believed in “progressive justification.” In case you are unfamiliar with that term, it refers to the Roman Catholic doctrine that God infuses grace to the faithful enabling them to obey more and more so that they are progressively more righteous which righteousness forms the ground of their justification. Of course, he was also trying to show that J.C. Ryle disagreed with Calvin because he stated that we should not “mingle or confuse” justification and sanctification.

      In reality, both Calvin’s and Ryle’s statements are taken out of context and forced to mean something completely different from what they truly believed. The following is a copy of Paul’s repost:

      I would like you to consider with me Calvin’s statement in context. Here is a fuller statement from Calvin’s Institutes concerning the matter he was discussing. I would urge you to read the entire chapter in C.I. so that you can get the full context. As we consider the fuller quote I have cited here, there are three aspects of it I would like you to consider. First, please consider what Osiander was arguing. Secondly, consider Calvin’s answer to Osiander, and thirdly, consider Calvin’s answer to a supposed objection.

      1. Osiander was arguing that the ground of justification before God is not only the righteousness of Christ freely imputed to us but by grace imparted to or infused to us.

      “For, in the whole of this discussion, the noun righteousness and the verb to justify, are extended by Osiander to two parts; to be justified being not only to be reconciled to God by a free pardon, but also to be made just; and righteousness being not a free imputation, but the holiness and integrity which the divine essence dwelling in us inspires. And he vehemently asserts (see sec. 8) that Christ is himself our righteousness, not in so far as he, by expiating sins, appeased the Father, but because he is the eternal God and life.”

      2. Calvin’s answer to him is that the ground of justification is the imputation of righteousness alone.

      Thus it is said, in Paul’s discourse in the Acts, “Through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things from which ye could not be justified by the law of Moses,” (Acts 13:38, 39). You see that after remission of sins justification is set down by way of explanation; you see plainly that it is used for acquittal; you see how it cannot be obtained by the works of the law; you see that it is entirely through the interposition of Christ; you see that it is obtained by faith; you see, in fine, that satisfaction intervenes, since it is said that we are justified from our sins by Christ. Thus when the publican is said to have gone down to his house “justified,” (Luke 18:14), it cannot be held that he obtained this justification by any merit of works. All that is said is, that after obtaining the pardon of sins he was regarded in the sight of God as righteous. He was justified, therefore, not by any approval of works, but by gratuitous acquittal on the part of God. Hence Ambrose elegantly terms confession of sins “legal justification,” (Ambrose on Psalm 118 Serm. 10). (Book 3. Chapter 11, #3).

      Calvin clearly taught that the ground of justification is an alien righteousness that God imputes to the sinner’s account, and that once justified, his standing before God is perfectly righteous.

      3. Calvin states Osiander’s objection as follows: To prove the first point—viz. that God justifies not only by pardoning but by regenerating, he asks, whether he leaves those whom he justifies as they were by nature, making no change upon their vices?

      It was in answer to this objection that Calvin wrote the words Paul cited out of context in an effort to show that Calvin conflated justification and sanctification. “The answer is very easy: as Christ cannot be divided into parts, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable. Whomsoever, therefore, God receives into his favor, he presents with the Spirit of adoption, whose agency forms them anew into his image.” In other words, of course God does not leave those whom he justifies as they were by nature, making no change upon their vices. The reason for this is that both these works of God result from the believer’s union with Christ and, to quote Calvin, “as Christ cannot be divided into parts, so the two things, justification and sanctification, which we perceive to be united together in him, are inseparable.” If God declares a person righteous in justification, he will not stop until he has conformed that person to his image in Christ.

      Justification and sanctification must be distinguished from one another, but they can never be separated. They must be distinguished for several reasons: 1. They have different concerns. Justification concerns the believer’s forensic or judicial standing before God–Its concern is a righteousness that is objective, i.e., totally outside the believer. Sanctification has nothing to do with a believer’s judicial standing before God. It can neither affect nor effect his justification. It concerns his personal, internal holiness and results from the internal work of God’s Spirit. 2. The result from different aspects of Jesus’ redemptive work. Justification results from Jesus’ death for the believer. Sanctification results from the believer’s death with Christ 3. Justification is instantaneous and complete the first moment a person believes. Progressive sanctification is gradual and never complete until the believer is glorified. 4. Justification has nothing to do with a believer’s works of obedience. Sanctification enlists the believer’s cooperation in obedience to the imperatives demanded by the objective accomplishments of Jesus’ redeeming work. These and other distinctions must always be maintained.

      That said, we must never think justification and sanctification can be separated. That is to say a person cannot exist for whom Christ died who did not also die with him to the dominion of sin. This is the meaning of Calvin’s words, “Christ cannot be torn into parts. . . .” The point of union between justification and sanctification is not direct so that they can in any way be confused or conflated. The point of connection is the believer’s union with Christ. Jesus accomplished both the believer’s justification and his sanctification, so that unless Jesus can be torn into parts, justification and sanctification cannot be separated.

      And, he secured the eternal redemption of his people. If we say, like the “non-Calvinists” (for some reason these people don’t want to be called Arminians) to a group of unconverted people “Jesus died for you,” unless all of those people are saved for eternity, Jesus’ death was ineffectual at least for some of them. There is no need to believe in “hypothetical universalism” in order to preach the gospel freely to all sinners indiscriminately, since the gospel message need not inform any sinner in particular, “Christ died for you.” Such statements in the New Testament Scriptures are only made to believers.

  3. July 18, 2013 at 4:29 pm

    Not sure. I don’t tell non-believers “Christ died for YOUR sins’, but I do tell them that because Christ paid the penalty for sin on our behalf, our sins can be forgiven. By the time I get that far, it’s because the one to whom I am witnessing has realized his/her sin problem. Repent and believe is the ‘call’. Believe what? I have a sin problem and Christ paid the penalty for my sin.

    • July 18, 2013 at 4:44 pm

      I have no problem with what you are saying. My point is that the biblical evangelists did not invite people to dead Savior but to one who, as evidence of his having finished the work of redemption, is now enthroned in the heavens. Sinners must call on the risen Lord, who by his sacrifice has accomplished the eternal redemption of all who call on him. His resurrection and enthronement are the evidence that he has the power to do something about my sin problem. “He is exalted to give repentance and forgiveness of sin.”

      • July 18, 2013 at 5:03 pm

        That’s how I see it and the core of 1 Cor 15 – the resurrection. I’m not sure you can make the assertion that Paul said the words “Christ died for our sins” only to believers. He says in that he was reminding of what he had previously preached to them and they had received. Were they already believers when he preached it to them previously, or was it because he preached it to them while they were sinners and the Corinthian church was born? I’m confident that it was the same gospel at any rate, and included the death, buriel and resurrection. I think we are on the same sheet of music.

      • July 18, 2013 at 6:56 pm

        The reason I contend that Paul said “Christ died for our sins” only to believers is that these words were written only to believers. The Epistles were not written to unbelievers. In my view, he is writing about what they have now confessed to be true of them by identifying themselves as sinners who are in need of a Savior. In witnessing to unbelievers, I believe it is better to simply say that Jesus died for the worst sinners who will believe. The point I was making is that the warrant of faith is not that Jesus died for me; it is that God has promised to save any sinner who will claim his promise and call on him. If he trusts the promise of God, he can then say with confidence, “Jesus died for me.”

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