What must I do to be saved? It's a basic question with a very basic answer:
Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved! (Acts 16:30-31).
It doesn't get much easier than that. But what is happening behind the scenes? What does it mean to be saved? What does it mean to believe? Why do we need to be saved? From what? How does it work? Lots of questions can be asked, and with some serious study, we can gain a deeper understanding of the marvelous grace of God as well as a significant assurance of our own position in Christ. Ready to work at it? Here we go then.
It starts with SIN. As we have already learned, the proper study of sin is a whole other area of study called "Hamartiology." But the summary of it might be sufficient.
Romans 3:23 tells us that Everyone has sinned. It's not bad enough that we've all done something wrong, but we actually have sin when we're born; that is called "original sin". So sin is what we do or don't do, it's what we think or don't think, and it's what we actually are "“ the image of God is broken in us. We can't get away from sin or it's death sentence on our own. That is where salvation comes in.
God is perfectly holy, and his Holiness cannot stand sinfulness. But he loves us and wants us who are made in his image to experience and share in his glory; that can only happen as we turn away from sin and embrace his Son. When we do that we enter into salvation.
I confess to you today that I am a sinner. I have broken your laws and I am sorry. I believe now that Jesus Christ is your Son; that he was crucified to pay the price for my sin; that he was buried and that he came back to life on the third day. Please forgive my sin and give to me the righteousness of Jesus. Save me and make me your child. I surrender to you now and offer my life and my body to live in obedience to you. Fill me with your Spirit and save me in the name of Jesus.
How we do that is characterized everywhere as "by faith". But what does belief or faith in Jesus mean? It means more than just knowing something is true. Even Satan believes in Jesus. The book of James provides a bit of a clue when it says "Faith without works is dead." He certainly doesn't mean we have to work our way into heaven "“ but he does illustrate that a real faith will cause real change. Real change is what is implied in the word "Repent". Repent means to change. It means more than being sorry you sinned, it means stopping your sin. And repentance is key to salvation.
Believing in Jesus then means acknowledging your sin, turning away from it and embracing the Lordship of Jesus. It means accepting the sacrifice of Jesus as if it were your own death and it means trusting God to forgive you when you ask. Each one of those words, "Believe", "accepting" and "Trust" all imply the one word "Faith". Often times we resort to a "Sinners Prayer" to help someone express the different concepts of repentance from sin; believing that Jesus was crucified then buried then raised back to life; accepting the sacrifice of Jesus on our behalf; and expressing trust in God as we ask him for the salvation he offers.
The prayer itself is never recorded in scripture, and the one offered here is only a suggestion "“ but the concepts behind it are woven throughout the bible (See Psalm 51 and Romans 10:9-13).
When you are "saved" from anything you are being rescued. When your physics teacher is getting ready to explain some new theory and the bell rings you've been "saved by the bell" from another hard to understand and perhaps tediously boring lecture. In short you've been rescued from good physics gone bad! But when Christians talk about being "saved" what are we saved from?
More than likely you're first response is "hell" but being rescued from hell is just one part of salvation. In the Bible we are saved from "sin" (Matthew 1:21); God's wrath at sinfulness (Romans 5:9); saved from being lost (Luke 19:10); Death (Luke 9:24). Hell is the final place of judgment and the manifestation of God's wrath against sin so ultimately yes, we are saved from hell. But that doesn't mean that we have to wait till we die to benefit from salvation.
For a believer, salvation is something that has happened in the past (Eph 2:8), continues in the present (1 Corinthians 1:18), and will ultimately happen in the future (Heb 1:14). This is known as the "already but not yet" of salvation. We are already saved if we have accepted the sacrifice of Jesus but we have not yet acquired the full benefit of that salvation until we stand in heaven with God. It's a little like somebody giving you a winning lottery ticket but you don't hold the check just yet.
Just like the lottery money would not be of our own making neither is salvation. Nothing we do can earn it or keep it. It's a gift. When Jesus died on the cross he became our substitute by paying the death penalty and absorbing all of the Father's wrath and judgment for our sinfulness and sin; we then gained his righteousness and perfection. Since we were so completely sinful a complete exchange had to be made. The results of that exchange impact not only our future (saved from hell) but also our present because we have been purchased by God and we now belong to Him (Revelation 5:9). We are God' property; which is why Paul often referred to himself as a "bond slave" (Rom. 1:1; Gal. 1:10; Tit. 1:1).
Salvation is more than not going to hell when you die. While lots of (so called) Christians treat Jesus like some kind of "fire insurance" the salvation that Jesus offers is more than that. For the man on his deathbed "“ and for the child kneeling by his bed to pray "“ Jesus offers a whole new life.
Redemption: We have been purchased by God and are now his servants by living in obedience to Him we find true freedom.
Propitiation: Before we were saved God's wrath at sin required our destruction; but Christ is our propitiation in that he absorbed that wrath of the Father for us "“ bringing us peace with our judge.
Reconciliation: Our relationship to God is changed from one of open warfare to one of peace (Romans 5:1,10).
Regeneration: You are a new creature in Christ.
Adoption: God adopts you as his child, and you become an heir to the kingdom.
Justification: You are declared by God to be righteous.
Sanctification: In Christ we gain the ability to not sin (Romans 6:6).
Titus 3:5-7 He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by His grace we would be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.
Questions For Personal Study
- What changes by being purchased by God?
- Is salvation "different" for a dying cancer patient than for a child with 80 years yet to live? Explain.
- What effect should salvation have on your life?