By Frank Jamerson
The answer you get to the above question depends on who you ask! The Universalist will tell you: “Everyone is going to be saved, because God is too good to let anyone be lost.” The Calvinist will say: “If you are predestinated to be saved, you will be, so just wait for the direct operation of the Holy Spirit.” The “faith only” advocate says: “Pray the sinner’s prayer and accept Christ into your heart as personal Savior.” In this article we will not review these incorrect answers, but the truth that will be presented will show that they are wrong.
First, let us notice that the question itself implies that there are two parties involved in salvation. The first half, “what must I do?”, shows that there is something the individual must do. The second half, “to be saved,” shows God’s part. It is not “what must I do to save myself?” but “to be saved. ” We are saved by God’s grace. “For the grace of God had appeared, bringing salvation to all men” (Tit. 2:11) God is not “slack concerning his promise, as some count slackness; but is longsuffering to you-ward, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9). He has revealed the gospel which is “the power of God unto salvation” (Rom. 1: 16). We know that God has done His part. This article is to discuss what “I” must do to receive the pardon provided by God, through Christ.
Second, we must point out that the answer to the question is not found in one verse. As with all subjects, we must take everything the Bible says on the subject in order to have the truth. Those who take one verse (such as John 3:16) and conclude that nothing else is necessary, are taking a partial view of the subject and are in error. The person who believes the Bible must accept every verse, not just the ones he prefers!
Three Changes Are Necessary
The Bible reveals that there are three changes that must take place in being saved. The first change is in the heart – from unbelief to faith. Jesus said: “Except ye believe that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (Jn. 8:24). W.E. Vine defines “faith” as “a firm persuasion, a conviction based upon hearing.” Paul said, “So belief cometh of hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Rom. 10: 17). Though faith is necessary, and one cannot be saved without it, a person may believe and not be saved. When Jesus was on earth, “of the rulers many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess it, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: for they loved the glory that is of men more than the glory that is of God” (Jn. 12:42,43). One who believes, but will not confess Christ, cannot be saved. The apostle Paul said that Agrippa “believed,” but he was not a Christian (Acts 26:27,28).
The second change involved in conversion is the will. The sinner must repent, turn from sin and to God, in order to be saved. “The times of ignorance therefore God overlooked; but now he commandeth men that they should all everywhere repent. . .” (Acts 17:30). Jesus said, “Excep ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Lk. 13:3). One who believes in Christ, but will not repent of his sins cannot be saved. The believing Jews on Pentecost (those who had been “pricked in their hearts,” Acts 2:37) were told to “repent and be baptized . . . for the remission of your sins. . .” (Act 2:38).
The third change is in relationship – from outside to inside Christ. The New Testament clearly says we are “baptized into Christ.” Before baptism, one is outside of Christ, but after he has believed in Christ, repented of his sins and been baptized for the remission of sins, he is “in Christ,” or saved. “Or are ye ignorant that all we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death?” (Rom, 6:3). “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ did put on Christ” (Gal. 3:27). One is not baptized “because he is in Christ,” but “into Christ.”
The Great Commission
The three changes can be seen in the synoptic account of the “great commission.” Matthew recorded: “Go Ye therefore, and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them into the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit” (Matt. 28:19). Mark stated: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to the whole creation. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that disbelieveth shall be condemned” (Mk 16:15,16). The parallel account in Luke says: “And th repentance and remission of sins should be preached in name unto all nations, beginning from Jerusalem” (Lk. 24:47). The sum of the three accounts is that the gospel w to be preached “to every creature,” and that they were to believe, repent and be baptized. This was to begin in Jerusalem, which was fulfilled in Acts two.
Acts Shows How To Be Saved
There are three times in the book of Acts where the question “What must I do?” is asked and answered. We will notice each of them and why the answer was given in each instance.
In Acts 16, the Philippian jailor, who was an unbeliever, cried out: “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (v. 30). He was told to “believe on the Lord Jesus and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house” (v. 31). The next verse states that they “spake the word unto him, with all that were in his house.” He had to hear before he could believe (Rom. 10: 17). He then washed the stripes of Paul and Silas, indicating repentance, and “was baptized, he and all his immediately” (v. 33). He made all three changes involved in conversion.
The second example that we notice is found in Acts 2. The Jews on Pentecost had heard the preaching of the apostles concerning the crucified and risen Lord, and being “pricked in their hearts” asked, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (v.37). Peter’s reply was: “Repent ye, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (v. 38). They were not told to “believe on the Lord,” because they already did! They were not told that they were already saved, because they were not! As believers, they needed to repent and be baptized “unto the remission of their sins.
The third example is Saul of Tarsus. Saul was persecuting the church and was on the way to Damascus to arrest brethren in that city. As he journeyed, a great light from heaven shined on him, and the Lord spoke to him. Saul said “What shall I do, Lord?” (Acts 22:10). Three days later: the Lord sent Ananias to tell him what to do. Ananias told him: “And now, why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his name” (v. 16). Saul was not told to believe on the Lord, for he already did! He was not told to repent, for he already had! He was not told that he was already saved, because he was not! He was told to “arise and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on his, name.” This changed his relationship, from outside to inside of Christ. Paul later wrote: “All we who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death” (Rom. 6:3).
But, someone says, “What about the thief on the cross?” No doubt, more people have been misled by the thief than by any other argument. The thief on the cross is not the answer to the question “What must I do?” for two reasons.
First, the testament of Christ went into effect after His death (Heb. 9:16,17). Jesus was not dead when He was talking to the thief. The teaching of Romans 6:1-5 did not apply to the thief; it does apply to us. Paul included himself among those who had been “buried with him through baptism into death” and “raised in the likeness of his resurrection.” Paul said that the “walking in newness of life” followed being buried in baptism. This did not apply to the thief, for Christ had neither died nor been raised when He was talking with the thief!
Second, the thief did not believe in the resurrected Lord. Paul said, “Because if thou shalt confess with thy mouth Jesus as Lord, and shalt believe in thy heart that God raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9). The thief on the cross did not believe that God had raised Jesus from the dead, for He had not! If you can be saved like the thief, you can be saved without believing in the resurrection of Jesus.
There is something I must do in order to be saved! I must believe in Jesus Christ. That involves accepting His every claim, for they were proven by His resurrection from the dead. I must repent of my sins, because the Bible says so! I must be baptized into Christ to “wash away” my sins, because the Bible says so!
God wants you to be saved. He sent his Son to die for you and gave the Bible to reveal the conditions you must meet in order to obtain salvation. The way is plain. “Now, why tarriest thou?”
Guardian of Truth XXVIII: 20, pp. 614, 629
October 18, 1984