by Don Blackwell
"What must I do to be saved?" It's the most important of all questions. It's a question that has implications both here and now, and on into eternity. A million years after you die, the answer to this question will still matter.
But you know, as important as this question is, wrong answers are given to it on a daily basis. You could ask five different people this question and you might get five different answers. Now, if we were talking about a less important subject that would be alright.
If I were to ask, "Which football team is the greatest football team ever," and I received five different answers, well, that would be okay.
Or, if I asked, "What is the best fast food restaurant," and I received five different answers, that would be acceptable, and maybe even expected.
But dear friend, there is no room for error on the question of our present discussion. Because the difference between a wrong answer and a right answer is the difference between heaven and hell. And so, what I want to do is to go to the Bible for the answer. That's what we have to do. It's the only source where I can find the right answer to this question.
I might pick up the telephone and call a local denomination and ask their preacher, "What must I do to be saved?"
And the answer he may give me is, "Say the 'sinner's prayer'."
Friend, would you be surprised to learn that this "sinner's prayer" is not found anywhere in the pages of the Bible? And, would you be further surprised if I told you that of all of the conversion accounts in the Bible, not one person was ever saved by prayer. There is no record of a prayer like that in the Bible. And, if I'm going to be safe today, it is going to have to be the same way that they were in the Bible. Because you see, God's plan that saves people has not changed.
And so, the question is, "What did God require people to do in New Testament times in order to be saved from their sins?"
Friends, when we read the New Testament, and particularly the Book of Acts which is the book of conversions, we see absolute consistency. From Acts, chapter 2, which is the day the church began, and going forward, all people were saved the same way. They all went through the same steps.
Now, sometimes we summarize those steps this way. We say that a person must:
4. Confess; and,
5. Be Baptized.
And every person who was saved, went through those five steps. But you know, if we were to simply leave it at that, just stating the five steps, we would be doing you a great disservice. Because obviously, more explanation is needed.
And so, what we want to do for the next several minutes is to see what a person really needs to do to become a Christian, and to be saved from his sins, and to explain these from the Bible.
Now, the first thing, as we stated a moment ago, the first thing a person must do to have his sins forgiven and to become a Christian, is to hear the Gospel. No man can be saved if he doesn't hear the Gospel.
In the Bible, in Romans, chapter 10 and verse 13, the text says:
...'whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.' How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard...?"
Now, that's very important. The text says it is necessary to "call" in order to be "saved." It is necessary to "believe" in order to "call," and it is necessary to "hear" in order to "believe."
And so, the conclusion is that, "If a man never 'hears' the Gospel, he cannot be 'saved' eternally." And that's why the verse goes on to say:
"...And how shall they hear without a preacher?"
In other words, those of us who are already Christians had better get the word to them, or else they will be lost.
Well, what about people who've never heard the Gospel. Will they still be condemned even though they're ignorant of the truth? Listen to what the Bible says in Acts, chapter seventeen and verse 30. The text says:
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent, because He has appointed a day on which He will judge the world..." Now, what's the point?
Friends, the point is: "Ignorance is not an excuse."
Now, if somebody says, "Are you telling me, then, that people are going to be lost because of ignorance?"
No, I'm not telling you that. I'm telling you that people are going to be lost because of sin. And ignorance cannot wash away my sins. You see, only the blood of Christ can do that. And so, I have to hear about how this works. I have to hear about what to do to have my sins washed away. Because you see, if a man doesn't hear the Gospel, he may go through his whole life never knowing that he has sins that are going to cause him to be lost.
Romans, chapter 6, in verse 23 says:
For the wages of sin is death (that's eternal death), but the gift of God is eternal life in Jesus Christ our Lord."
A man may never know that he is destined for eternity in hell. And not knowing, he's certainly not going to do anything about it. And so, he has to hear about the problem. But then, once he's heard about the problem, he must certainly hear about the remedy. It's not going to do me any good to know that I'm lost in sin unless I know what to do about it. And so, I have to hear about the remedy.
You know, when God created man in the Garden of Eden, man was sinless and in perfect fellowship with God. But, as time passed, man sinned. And this caused a very serious problem. Because, inherent in the nature of God, is justice. Psalm 89 and verse 14 says:
"Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne..."
You know, perhaps one of the greatest misunderstandings that people have of God, is that God can simply choose to overlook sin if He so desires.
In fact, sometimes I hear people say, "Well, you know, a lost person in the jungles of South America who has never heard the Gospel, surely, God will not let that person be lost. Surely, God will save that person anyway."
Friends, God cannot simply choose to overlook sin. The fact is that if God were to ignore even one single sin, He would, at that point, cease to be a just God. He would no longer be a God of righteousness and perfection.
In the book of Leviticus 24, verses 17 through 20, the Bible lays down the "Principle of Justice." It is "an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a breach for a breach, and a life for a life." And so, justice requires a life for a life.
Friends, the very nature of God demands this. This is not an optional matter. Justice had to be served. The penalty for sin had to be paid.
Now, God could have allowed man to pay the penalty himself, and to die and be lost eternally. But you see, God's love for us longed for another way. But you see, there was only one other way. And that was for God, Himself, to pay the penalty.
And so, God arranged a plan to pay it for you and for me. He sent Christ, a member of the God Head Himself, to become a human being, to be born of a virgin, to live a perfect life, and to die in my place.
Isaiah, chapter 53 in verse 5, says:
"But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; The chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed."
Friends, man must hear about this. They have to hear about this. Every person who became a Christian in the Bible, first heard the Gospel. That's the first step, you must hear the Gospel.
But, the second step is: "Believing the Gospel." Upon hearing it, a man must believe it as well.
Now, somebody says, "Well, what do you mean? What is it that I must believe?"
This relates back to step number one and that is hearing it. A man must believe that which he has heard. In Mark 16:15 16, the Bible says:
"And He said to them (that is Jesus said to them), 'Go into all the world and preach the gospel (the good news) to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.'"
Now, what does that entail? What is it that a man must believe?
Now first, a man must believe, he must understand, that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God. John 8:24, Jesus said:
"...if you do not believe that I am He, you will die in your sins."
That is, a man must understand that Jesus Christ is deity, a member of the God Head. John, chapter 1, verse 14:
"And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we beheld His glory, the glory as of the only begotten of the Father, full of grace and truth."
And so, a man must believe in the deity of Christ. He must also believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. "...and that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us," Romans 5:8. Then he arose, defeating death, 1 Corinthians 15:54 and 55. And Romans 10 and verse 9:
"...If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved."
And so, a man must believe in the deity of Christ. He must believe in the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ.
And friends, it is also crucial that a man believe in, and understand, the body of Christ. The Bible teaches that salvation is found only in the body of Christ. 2 Timothy 2:10 says that:
"Salvation is 'in Christ.'"
1 John 5:11:
"...God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son."
Sometimes, I've met people that have been baptized into Christ, but they seem to still have the idea that one church is just as good as another. That one body is just as good as another. And sometimes, people will come out of the watery grave of baptism and they will be offended at the idea that denominationalism is sinful.
Denominationalism is the idea that there are many different churches and each is pleasing to God. They have the idea that many churches exist and that that's fine.
The Bible teaches that salvation is found only in the one body of Christ, Ephesians 4:4. And it's crucial that every person understand this in order to be saved. How can a man be saved in the one body of Christ if he's never been taught about that one body?
In Acts, chapter 8, Philip went down into the city of Samaria and he taught the people there the Gospel. And verse 12 says:
"But when they believed (now what did they believe?) but when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized."
Now, I want to emphasize the fact that Philip taught them about the kingdom of God.
You see, the kingdom is the one church of the Bible. Philip taught them about that. And when they believed it, they were baptized.
Now, as a side note, the text says:
"...Men and women were baptized."
Never do you read about little children being baptized in the Bible. Indeed, they don't need to be. Only those who are accountable in the eyes of God, who have reached a certain level of mental development, need to be baptized. And these are folks who are old enough to believe.
Okay, back to the point. There's one church. There's one body. And a person needs to understand and believe that. Listen to this, 1 Corinthians, chapter 12 and verse 12:
"...For as the body is one and has many members, and all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ. For by one Spirit are we all baptized into one body..."
Friends, this passage teaches that there is one body.
Ephesians 1:22 and 23 says that the body is the church. And so, there's one body which is the one church. We are therefore baptized into the one body of Christ, the one church of Christ. How could you teach a person the Gospel without teaching this truth?
Okay, that's the second step in the plan of salvation. A man must first hear the Gospel. And then he must believe it, he believes in the deity of Christ: the death, burial, and resurrection of Christ; and the one body wherein is salvation.
And so, a man must hear. He must believe.
Thirdly, he much repent of his sins. A man must repent. In Acts, chapter 2, the people who were present on the day of Pentecost, wanted to know the answer to the very question that we're discussing today. That is: "What must I do to be saved?"
In Acts 2 and verse 37, they cried out: "...Men and brethren, what shall we do?"
Verse 38, Peter answered:
"...Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."
And so, a man must repent.
Now, we need to understand what repentance is. Repentance includes three things.
First, repentance is a change of mind. It's a change of thinking. In Matthew, chapter 21 and verse 28, Jesus illustrated this in this way. He said:
"But what do you think? A man had two sons, and he came to the first and said, 'Son, go, work today in my vineyard.' He answered and said, 'I will not,' but afterward he repented... (now some versions say he regretted) but afterward he repented and he went."
Now, you see the point? He changed his mind. He said, "I'm not going to go," but then he changed his mind. That's the first thing involved in repentance. It is a change of thinking.
Sometimes I hear people define repentance as "to stop sinning." That's not really a good definition. Because, you see, a man could stop sinning without really repenting.
Now, that brings us to the second part of repentance.
First, repentance is a change of mind.
Secondly, repentance involves godly sorrow.
2 Corinthians 7:10, says:
"For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death."
Alright, thirdly. Repentance involves a change of life.
Now, sometimes this is called "fruit of repentance." In other words, if I have repented up here, then you should see it out here. If I've repented in my mind, you should see it in my life. For example, if godly sorrow has caused me to repent of stealing, then I'm not going to be stealing anymore. If I've changed my mind about that, I'm not going to practice it. I have had a change of life.
Now, repentance then is:
A change of mind, produced by godly sorrow, resulting in a change of life.
Acts, chapter 17 and verse 30, says:
"Truly, these times of ignorance God overlooked, but now commands all men everywhere to repent."
Okay, step number four:
A man must hear the Gospel, believe it, repent of his sins, and then he must confess.
Romans, chapter 10 and verse 10, clearly tells us:
"For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation."
In Acts, chapter 8, as Philip was teaching the Gospel to the Ethiopian eunuch, the eunuch said: "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"
And Philip responded: "...'If you believe with all of your heart, you may.'
And he answered and said, 'I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.'" Acts, chapter 8 and verse 37.
And so, with his mouth, he made that good confession.
And that's the confession that we're talking about. It is a confession of what you believe. It's a confession of what you've heard.
You know, sometimes, people think that they have to make a confession of their sins when they become a Christian. I want you to imagine if a man is forty years old when he first becomes a Christian. That's a lot of sin. That's a lot of confession. It's impossible, no one could do that.
But you know, that's not what's expected. In fact, if you think about this, these steps are a very natural progression.
You have to hear.
And then, you have to believe what you've heard which causes you to change your mind or to repent.
And then, you confess that you believe what you've heard.
You know, sometimes when talking about confession, people go to Matthew, chapter 10, verses 32 and 33, were Jesus said:
"Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven."
And then they'll say, "See, this verse teaches that we have to make that confession."
Well, I suppose the principle is there; but, I don't think this verse is really talking about this "good confession." This was said to the apostles on what we call the "limited commission" and was said to encourage them. And I suppose could be applied, maybe, in a broader sense; but it's not really the point.
"What must I do to be saved?"
Hear. Believe. Repent. Confess.
And finally, a man needs to be baptized. In order to have my sins washed away, I need to be baptized.
Ananias said to Saul, in Acts, chapter 22 and verse 16:
"And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
I can't be saved until my sins have been washed away. And this verse teaches that my sins are washed away in baptism.
Now, friends, that means that I can't be saved first and baptize later as is commonly taught by many. In Acts, chapter 2 and verse 38, Peter said:
"...Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."
I can't have my sins remitted before I'm baptized. Therefore, I can't be saved until I'm baptized.
A man can't be saved until he has applied to himself the cleansing blood of Jesus.
And so, the question is: "What is it that washes away my sins?"
And the answer is: "The blood of Jesus."
We sing a song, sometimes, "What can wash away my sins?" And the answer is: "Nothing but the blood of Jesus."
In Matthew 26 and verse 28, Jesus said:
"For this is My blood of the new covenant, which is shed for many for the remission of sins."
Jesus' blood was shed for the remission of sins.
Revelation 1 and verse 5, says that:
"...Jesus Christ... loved us and washed us from our sins with his own blood..."
And so, we are washed by the blood of Jesus.
Someone says then, "Where does baptism come into play?"
You see, baptism is where I contact the blood of Jesus. Jesus shed his blood in his death, and it is in death that I contact that blood. Listen to this. Romans, chapter 6, verses 3 and 4:
"Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with Him through baptism into death..."
Now, Jesus shed His blood in His death, I am buried into His death:
"...through baptism into His 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."
And so, I'm buried in the watery grave of baptism into death. I contact the blood of Christ and I'm raised to walk in newness of life.
Why? Why do I have newness of life when I come out of the waters of baptism? Because in baptism, I contacted the blood of Christ. In baptism I was washed, and I was cleansed, and now I'm a new creature. You see, in baptism I contact the cleansing blood of the Savior.
As a matter of fact, when someone suggests that a person can be saved without baptism, in reality he's suggesting that a man can be saved without the blood of Christ; because, baptism is where I contact the blood of Jesus. And friend, every person that I read about being saved in the Bible and becoming a Christian, was baptized in order to do so. And, in many passages, it is specifically stated.
In Acts, chapter 2 and verse 38, Peter preached:
"Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..."
"Then those who gladly received his word were baptized..."
Acts, chapter 8, in the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch. In Acts 8:36, the eunuch said:
"See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?"
"And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him."
Also in Acts, chapter 8, the people of Samaria. Verse 5 says:
"Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria and preach Christ unto them."
"But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized."
Acts, chapter 10, in the conversion of Cornelius. Acts 10:47, Peter asked:
"Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized..."
Acts 16, the conversion of Lydia. Verse 15:
"And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying..."
Also, Acts 16, the Philippian jailer. Acts 16:33:
"And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all of his family were baptized."
Acts 22, the conversion of Saul. In verse 16, Ananias said to him:
"And now why are you waiting? Arise in be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord."
Now, I know that there are people in the world who say that baptism is not necessary. That a man is saved prior to baptism. That baptism has nothing to do with salvation.
But friends, the Bible still says:
"There is also an antitype which now saves usB baptism (not the removal of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God)..." 1 Peter, chapter 3 and verse 21.
You know, it is interesting when discussing the plan of salvation with people, because many people will admit to the necessity of hearing the Gospel. Most people will acknowledge that a man must believe the Gospel. Many will accept repentance... I suppose most will accept repentance. And, you'll get very few arguments over the need for confession. But, when it comes to baptism, many people will deny that it's necessary.
I want you to notice this chart with me. It's a conversion chart. It has a number of conversions from the Book of Acts. As a matter fact, we have listed 9 different accounts of people who obeyed the Gospel, who became Christians. I want you to notice that each of the steps of the plan of salvation is not specifically mentioned every time. I want you to notice that even though confession is commanded by God in order to be saved, more often than not, it's not specifically mentioned in every passage.
And we could say the same thing about repentance. Few people would question the necessity of repentance and certainly the Bible commands it. But, it's not always specifically referenced in each and every conversion account.
But I want you to notice baptism. In each of these 9 accounts, baptism is specifically mentioned.
Now, to help us appreciate the necessity and the importance of baptism, I want you to envision in your mind a circle. I want you to picture a circle.
And I want you to label over the circle "Body of Christ." Do you see it? A circle and then it says "Body of Christ."
Now, next to the circle I want you to envision a stick man. And so, you have a circle that says "Body of Christ" and you have a stick man.
Now, I want you to think about this. 2 Timothy, chapter 2 and verse 10, says that:
"Salvation is in Christ."
And so, this circle represents the body of Christ.
Salvation is in Christ; and so, inside the circle I want you to write "salvation."
Now, 1 John 5, and verse 11, says that "eternal life is in Christ." So, write the words inside the circle "eternal life."
Now, here comes the question, the question of the utmost importance: "If salvation is inside that circle, and eternal life is inside that circle, how do I get inside that circle? How do I get into the circle?"
And friends, the answer is found in Galatians, chapter 3, in verse 27. The Bible says:
"For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ."
You see, baptism is the doorway. It is what moves the man from outside of the circle to inside of the circle. It takes the man on the outside and puts him into the body wherein is salvation.
Now, I want to make one more very important point.
Whenever I study the Gospel with someone, something that I always like to cover is the cost of becoming a Christian. What is involved in being a Christian?
Now, why do I say this? Why do I ask this?
Because many times over the years, I have seen a person who was baptized into Christ on Sunday morning, and then he doesn't come back for worship services on Sunday night. And then, he's not back on Wednesday night or whatever other time the church assembles.
You see, at the point of baptism, a person is washed from his sins and he is saved. Acts 2:47 says that God adds him to the church. But what about after that?
Friends, the Bible teaches that a person must hear, believe, repent, confess, be baptized.
But then, he must "live faithfully."
And that's what we're talking about.
When a person becomes a Christian, he is just beginning the journey. He is giving his life, he is giving his all to the Lord. Listen to the words of Jesus. Luke chapter 14, beginning in verse 27:
"And whoever does not bear his cross..." (That is, died to self. When a man would take up his cross, he was going to die.) "...And whoever does not bear his cross and come after Me cannot be My disciple. For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish itB lest, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, 'This man began to build and was not able to finish?' So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple."
Friends, becoming a Christian is an absolute commitment. It is a commitment:
To attend faithfully;
To give as you've prospered;
To worship God;
To give your all.
And until a person is ready to give it all, he's not ready to become a Christian.
"What must I do to be saved?"
It's the most important of all questions.
The answer is:
At that point, the Bible says, you will be added to the Lord's church.
But then, you must live faithfully for the rest of your life, and you'll find a home eternally, in heaven.