For many Christians this question, what must I do to be saved, is something that can easily be answered. It may even be something seated in your subconscious so deeply that your response doesn’t even require active thought. Yet for others, both in the Biblical record and the historical sense, it’s been a question of much debate, even bloodshed. Certainly division for some and a point of unity for others.
Why does this seemingly easy question that should have an equally easy answer seem so challenging? Why does man endlessly struggle with this topic, even today, in the 21st century. We have endless technology at our disposal like Bible software, study guides, commentaries, lexicons, seminaries, and even a blog! (Or thousands of blogs…) Yet it seems for our ability to ever be learning, some of us struggle to ever come to the simple knowledge of truth.
What Must I Do To Be Saved?
Interestingly, this question is only directly asked a few times in Scripture and two that first come to my mind mind are in the New Testament. The first is the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10:25-37 and this passage seems to begin with the key to answering why this isn’t such a simple question to answer.
In this passage a lawyer stood up to test Jesus with this very question. Being a Jew, and a lawyer, he most certainly would have asked this question rhetorically, already sure of his own answer.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?”The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 10:25). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
There is a whole lesson in this passage about justification and salvation, but I want to focus in on two key points. When Jesus replied, he asked the lawyer, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” This question seems to be a direct reference to interpretation. How are you interpreting the Law of God?
Biblical Interpretation and what we call hermeneutics is a big point around this topic and passage. Jesus, knowing the tricks of the Pharisees would have been keenly aware of what was happening. The lawyer replied with the well known Biblical command in verse 27, saying “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.“
To which ultimately, Jesus told the lawyer, “You go, and do likewise.” That was Christ’ response to the lawyer asking how one may gain eternal life. In essence, rather than leaning on man-made traditions as the Pharisees did, it was a total belief in and active following of the example of Christ, there we find our justification.
Salvation is not an experience of human effort, it is a promise fulfilled.Ralph Brickley
The Jerusalem Council on Salvation
The second and explicit time the question ‘what must I do to be saved‘ is asked in the New Testament is in Acts 16 where a revolving theme of the Gospel erupts in the answer of the Apostle Paul, which I’ll get to shortly. I find this occurrence incredibly timely as it follows the Jerusalem Council of Acts 15 wherein Paul battled with Pharisees, and legalists, who were telling Gentile believers in Christ that they must follow the ‘law’ of Moses in order to be saved.
And lest there be any attempt to say this was just concerning circumcision, not the entire law, or extra-biblical standards defined as ‘the traditions of our elders’, Acts 15:5 shows that there arose Pharisees in this council declaring it necessary to keep the entire Law of Moses to be saved.
“Unless you are circumcised according to the custom of Moses, you cannot be saved.” (Acts 15:1)
“It is necessary to circumcise them and order them to keep the law of Moses.” (Acts 15:5)
Peter, the preacher of Pentecost stood in defense of Paul in this debate, against the legalists and declared in Acts 15:10, “Now therefore why are you putting God to the test by placing a yoke on the neck of the disciples (gentiles) that neither our fathers nor we have been able to bear? But we believe that we will be saved through the grace of the Lord Jesus just as they will.“
The topic of Gentile salvation was the entire concern of this chapter and indeed for the missionary work of Paul. Paul recounts this debate in Galatians 1, which by verse 6 Paul emphatically declares; “I am astonished that you are so quickly deserting him who called you in the grace of Christ and are turning to a different Gospel.” Paul here is connecting a ‘different Gospel’ with one that includes a reversion to anything other than Grace being the source of salvation.
At the end of Peter’s discourse James, the brother of Jesus stood and declared that the councils judgment was to issue a letter to the churches. This letter was written them saying;
For it has seemed good to the Holy Spirit and to us to lay on you no greater burden than these requirements: 29 that you abstain from what has been sacrificed to idols, and from blood, and from what has been strangled, and from sexual immorality. If you keep yourselves from these, you will do well. Farewell.”The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 15:28–29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Philippian Jailer
Just on the heals of this heated debate, the Apostle Paul takes Timothy on as his protégé. By Acts 16:4-5 Scripture declares that they (Paul and Silas) are going city to city announcing the decision of the Jerusalem council. They pass through Macedonia to a small roman colony named Philippi.
It is here that we read about the conversion of Lydia, who, after having been baptized in the faith, convinced Paul and Silas to stay at her home. It isn’t clear how long they stayed, if they stated at all for the next verse sets the stage for their arrest. After casting the demon out of the slave girl the city mobbed Paul and Silas, taking them before the magistrate and having them imprisoned.
It is here that we see the most explicit question of all. The Philippian jailer, fearing for his life after the miraculous events that freed the prisoners asked Paul and Silas, what he had to do to be saved! And just like the events in Acts 15 and the Jerusalem Council these are perfect and beautiful opportunities to answer the question, what must I do to be saved?
“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.” And they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their wounds; and he was baptized at once, he and all his family. Then he brought them up into his house and set food before them. And he rejoiced along with his entire household that he had believed in God.The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Ac 16:30–34). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
The Human Element
The real reason this simple question, what must I do to be saved is so hard to answer is because of the insertion of the human will. I’m not speaking of things such as predestination, free-will versus Sovereign will. However, this article started with the example of the lawyer in Luke 10 for a reason.
What is true today has always been true for humanity. It seems baked in to our nature to want to add things. To want to work things out on our own. We simply cannot fathom the reality that it is All In Him and is not of our own doing. In fact, even in Scripture we have the dire warning in Revelation 22:19 not to add to or take away from the revelation of Scripture.
Consider this single line in the story of the Good Samaritan regarding the Lawyer who sought to challenge Jesus:
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?”The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. (2016). (Lk 10:29). Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles.
You simply cannot justify yourself! You cannot atone for your sins. You are unable to impute righteousness to yourself. You cannot introduce yourself to the Father, but He must call you. Everything required for your salvation is completely In Him and all the requirements of the law were nailed to the Cross as the body of Jesus Christ. (Col 2:14)
I’m going to conclude this article with three very well known and highly in-tune versus regarding the topic of our salvation and a fourth less known but equally valuable. The entire answer to this article and to the question, what must I do to be saved is found herein.
“Now after that John was put in prison, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.” – Mark 1:14-15
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” – John 3:16
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast.” – Ephesians 2:8-9
“…Peter stood up and said to them, you know that in the early days God made a choice among you, that by my mouth the Gentiles should hear the word of the Gospel and believe. And God, who knows the heart, bore witness to them, by giving them the Holy Spirit just as he did to us, and made no distinction between us and then, having cleansed their hearts by faith.“ – Acts 15:6-9
The Gospel is so simple yet people have trouble wrapping their heads around it. Is it because most Christian denominations pile on rules and regulations as a way of controlling people? Or do we feel so unworthy that we feel we must earn it? Finally learning the true Gospel was the most freeing experience I ever had.
Thank you for this article. I think you mentioned very nicely how we, as humans, are compelled to provide or work toward our own salvation; I think it speaks to our element of control. This might explain why there are so many denominations under the Christian faith…each with their own formula. From my experience, it is a very difficult undertaking to overcome false gospel teachings with the simplicity of the true Gospel. In my opinion, the church system does much in the way of destroying the faith of them that would believe.
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Thank you for this message it has greatly helped me. I save this one and read it over again to help confirm what I believe. I came out of UPC five years ago and have struggled with the basics. I’m learning to embrace grace and let go of all legalism. Now I see baptism as what you do because you believe not what you do to be saved. God Bless Christina
On Sun, Oct 17, 2021 at 3:22 PM DivideTheWord.blog wrote:
> dividinghisword posted: ” For many Christians this question, what must I > do to be saved, is something that can easily be answered. It may even be > something seated in your subconscious so deeply that your response doesn’t > even require active thought. Yet for others, both in the B” >
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May you be blessed Christina,
There seems no mention of Acts 2:38 when they asked what must we do….. Peter said to repent, be baptized in Jesus name and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. Are you suggesting that is not necessary?
Acts 2:38 – was the response given by Peter to those of the circumcision (Acts 2:5 – devout Jewish Men gathered in Jerusalem).
Acts 2 – the entire chapter was to the House of Israel – read it.
Acts 2:21 – laid out how to be saved.
The Devout Jewish Men had to repent of what they did. What did they do? Crucified Jesus – (23 Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain: 36 Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly, that God hath made the same Jesus, whom ye have crucified, both Lord and Christ.)
This last – is what pricked their hearts. Knowing these law-keeping Jews had crucified their Jewish Messiah (Greek: Christ).
Of this they had to repent (turn away): that Jesus was a heretic false teacher, and realize he was the very Lord and Christ God had made him out to be.
So, who was the recipient of the Acts 2:38 command? Gentiles? No. Sinners (technically no). Devout Jewish Men? YES! Nation of Israel? YES!
Read Galatians 2, Acts 0, Acts 11, Acts 15. There was a Gospel to the circumcision, and a Gospel to the uncircumcised. All Gospel means is “Good news”. In this case, of Salvation.
Perfectly said Mike. The book of Acts is a transitionary book, and highlights the turning of the Gospel from Jew first, then to Gentile. One other illustration of this beautiful transition is the book of Malachi.
Chapter 1, verse one says, “To the Nation of Israel…”
Chapter 2, verse on says, “This commandment is to you Priests…”
Chapter three goes on to describe a monologue between God and the restored Jewish priesthood, which, as Chapter 4 clarifies, as does the end of Chapter 3, that this was written to the Jews, the sons of Jacob, and to the Priests, for after the taking away of the Gentile Bride and the restoration of the Jewish commitment to God in the end days, or the Millennial Reign as some call it.
The book of Malachi does not impact the Gentile Bride and yet, like Acts, many Bible readers fail to see the transition.
@Lin Yes, the Acts 2:38 narrative is not “The’ narrative to the Gospel or Salvation message as some have made it out to be. First and foremost, the question, “What must I do to be saved?” Is not what is asked in Acts 2:37. It is however, specifically asked in Acts 16:30 and Paul’s answer was NOT what Peter preached in Acts 2, and Paul never one time reiterates a supposed Three-Step plan of Salvation.
I am not suggesting that the Acts 2:38 narrative is not necessary, I’m saying to declare it The Way to be saved is incompatible with Scripture. We are saved by Grace, through Faith, not of ourselves. Salvation is the Gift of God, not of Works, lets any should boast.