Whoever printed the bumper sticker, "Read the Bible. Free gift inside," got it right. That "free gift" is something that no amount of money could buy--salvation through Christ (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 1:6). Many books seek to tell us how to be saved eternally; only one of them is written by the Savior Himself. He is the One who will be saying, "Enter," and "Depart" (Matthew 25:21, 41) on the world's last day. Since He will use the latter much more than the former (Matthew 7:13, 14), we need to find out how to get in the group with tickets to heaven.
We can ask no more important question than, "What must I do to be saved?" What does God's book say about salvation? It says that all mature people are sinners (Romans 3:23) and that all sinners are lost without Christ (Romans 6:23; Isaiah 59:1, 2). It says that each of us will one day stand before the judgment seat of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:10).
The Bible presents salvation as having two sides: God's part, and man's part. God, because of His great love for mankind, has done His part in sending Christ to die for the sins of men. The Bible says, "But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us" (Romans 5:8). God's part is called "grace:" "For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Ephesians 2:8). Paul explains that we cannot save ourselves, and that we must rely on God's grace. No person is ready to be judged on his own goodness or morality (cf. Isaiah 64:6). "Through faith" means that man must also do his part, because no one benefits from a gift until he receives it.
"Man's part" in salvation intially involves obedience to God's five simple requirements for salvation.
First, sinners must learn about Jesus Christ. The Savior said, "No one can come to Me unless the Father who sent Me draws him; and I will raise him up on the last day. "It is written in the prophets, 'And they shall all be taught of God.' Everyone who has heard and learned from the Father, comes to Me." (John 6:44, 45) One needs to know enough of the details of Jesus' life (birth, teachings, miracles, character, death, resurrection) to be fully convinced that He is God's Son. This faith is gained only by studying the Bible, especially Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. Paul said, "So faith comes from hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ." (Romans 10:17)
Second, sinners must believe in Jesus Christ as God's Son. The Savior, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life." (John 3:16) "Therefore I said to you that you will die in your sins; for unless you believe that I am He, you will die in your sins." (John 8:24) What must one believe about Jesus?
These last two are where many people part company with Christians. In the eighteenth century, the U.S. Congress issued a special edition of Thomas Jefferson's Bible. Jefferson had excised all references to the supernatural so that it simply contained Jesus' moral teachings. The closing words of Jesus' life in the Bible were, "There laid they Jesus and rolled a great stone at the mouth of the sepulchre and departed." We end up with a dead philosopher rather than a risen Lord when we limit the Scriptures to what is easy for us to believe. To doubt Jesus' miracles and resurrection is to deny God's power. If God was not strong enough to raise His own Son, what hope is there for an afterlife for the rest of us (cf. 1 Corinthians15)? A God that can make a universe, invent life, flood the earth, part a sea, and stop the sun can surely raise His beloved sinless Son from a grave.
In short, we must believe that Jesus of Nazareth is nothing less than the Son of God! The Jews at Pentecost, having heard the message, "...were pierced to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Brethren, what shall we do?'" (Acts 2:37). Their question, "What shall we do?" showed that they belived the message, but realized that they needed to do more than have simple belief to reach salvation. James wrote, "You see that a man is justified by works and not by faith alone." (James 2:24)
Third, a sinner must repent of sins. The Savior said, "I tell you no, but unless you repent, you will all likewise perish." (Luke 13:3). His ambassador added, "Repent, and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ, for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). "Repentance" means "a change of mind that produces a change in behavior" (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10). In simple terms, it means to give up on sinful living and to start living a life pleasing to Christ. It means to stop serving Satan and self and start serving God and others (cf. Philippians 2:1-8).
Fourth, a sinner must confess faith in Christ (Romans 10:9, 10). We must verbalize what we have come to believe in our hearts. We should make the same confession the Ethiopian treasurer made before he climbed down from his chariot to be baptized: "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God" (Acts 8:37). A confession of belief in Christ on earth will trigger a similar (think of it!) event in heaven--Jesus will confess us before His Father and the angels. The Savior said, "Therefore everyone who confesses Me before men, I will also confess him before My Father who is in heaven." (Matthew 10:32). Amazing! You and I may never know or be known by anyone famous on earth, but every angel in heaven will know our names. The president or our country will not know us, but the One who presides in heaven will.
Fifth, a sinner must be baptized in water for the forgiveness of sins. The Savior said, "He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned." (Mark 16:16). This is the final step in leaving the world (Satan's domain) and becoming a part of the church (Christ's kingdom) (Galatians 3:26-27). This is where God chose to remove our past sins (Acts 22:16; 1 Peter 3:21) and give us His Son's name to wear (cf. Acts 11:26).
Is it really necessary to be baptized in water in order to go to heaven? Some religious people scoff at the idea. Let's allow God's Word to answer this question. The book of Acts explains God's plan of salvation through several examples of conversion. It records nine specific accounts of conversion:
In each example, certain common actions, or steps of obedience, were taken by those becoming Christians. Each was taught about Jesus before conversion; each became a believer in Him, repentance was required; confession was made; each was baptized into Christ. Following conversion, each Christian was required to grow strong in Christ and remain faithful to Him (cf. Acts 8:22; Revelation 2:10).
Twenty-seven times in Acts--the book of conversions--one finds the words "baptized" and "baptism". Anytime someone asked what he needed to do in order to be saved, baptism was always a part of the answer. For example, on the first day of the church's existence (the Day of Pentecost), the people with tender consciences who heard Peter's preaching were told to "...repent and be baptized for the remission of sins..." (Acts 2:38). Note that baptism was for the "remission" of sins. To argue that baptism is unessential is to argue that having one's sins remitted (forgiven) is unessential.
Later in Acts, we find the word "must" connected with baptism on two occassions. On the road to Damascus, Saul was told to go into the city where it would be told him what he must do to please Jesus (Acts 9:6). In the city, he was told to arise and "wash away" his sins by being baptized (Acts 22:16, cf. 1 Corinthians 6:11). Later, the Philippian jailor asked what he must do to be saved (Acts 16:30). He was instructed to believe in Jesus to be saved (16:31). When Paul and Silas taught him God's will, he was baptized the same hour of the night (16:33). Note that he rejoiced after baptism, an indication of his joy of having sins forgiven (16:34).
It is interesting that baptism is the only step toward salvation explicitly mentioned in every conversion account (Acts 2:38; 8:12; 8:13; 9:18 [+22:16]; 10:48; 16:18; 16:34; 18:8; 19:6). Since God is no respecter of persons (Acts 10:34, 35; Romans 2:11), what He requires of one person to be saved, He requires of all. What He required then, He requires now.
We urge you to study carefully these Scriptures in your own Bible. See "whether these things are so" (Acts 17:11); be "fully persuaded in your own mind" (Romans 14:5); and "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). If we can be of assistance in helping you be saved, or if you have questions that you would like to study further, please contact us.
"Now why do you delay? Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name."--Acts 22:16
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*This article was authored by Allen Webster.