"What must I do to be saved?"
It's life's most important question, and the answers people give to it vary significantly. (Just google it; you'll see.)
Rarely are the most popular belief and the truth the same. And such is the case when it comes to the question of salvation.
Since there are varying answers as to what one must do to be saved, how can we know what the truth is?
The only way is to measure what is said by the Bible.
This is the gospel—the good news—of the Bible:
The nature of GOD
There is a GOD (Gen. 1:1; Psalm 14:1).
There is one and only one God (Isa. 44:8; 45:6).
GOD is the Creator (Gen. 1:1; Heb. 11:3), Sustainer (Acts 17:24-28) and Judge (Gen. 18:25; Psalm 7:11; 10:13; Eze. 18) of all things.
He created supernatural beings, like angels, and He created man and woman in His image (Gen. 1; Eph. 3:9; Col. 1:16).
In the beginning, creation was perfect.
Furthermore, GOD is entirely holy (a word that means, "set apart" or "sacred;" see Lev. 11:44-45).
GOD is completely righteous in character and in every action (Ezra 9:15; Job 37:23; Psalm 9:8; 33:4-5).
GOD designed all of His creation to operate a certain way. He designed man and woman to imitate His character. Thus, GOD wants us to be holy like He is (Lev. 20:25; 1 Pet. 1:16).
The problem of sin
At some point after creation, one of GOD's powerful supernatural creatures, an angel known as Satan (Job 1:6; 2 Cor. 11:14), became filled with pride and rebelled against GOD, along with a significant number of angels (Matt. 25:41).
In his pride, Satan invented sin (John 8:44), a word that means "wrongdoing" (1 John 5:17) or, literally, "to miss the mark."
In time, Satan tempted Eve, the first woman, to disobey GOD's one rule in the Garden of Eden—not to eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil (Gen. 3).
Being deceived, Eve ate, and she gave to her husband Adam and he also ate. Sin entered GOD's perfect earthly creation.
From this point forward, humanity has known both good and evil (Gen. 3:22), and one after another, we've failed to do the good and given in to the temptation to do evil (Rom. 3:23).
Sin has innumerable consequences, and death is chief among them (Gen. 2:17). Sin is the reason why people die physically.
Even worse, sin makes the sinner unholy—the opposite of GOD (Isa. 53:6).
Sin causes spiritual death (Rom. 6:23). Because sin is directly opposed to His nature, GOD's character cannot allow Him to have a direct relationship with an unholy sinner (Hab. 1:13). Sin severs our relationship with GOD (Psalm 5:4; Isa. 59:2) and, because GOD is life and the Life-giver, we die.
GOD's righteousness and justice demands that every sin be punished (Eze. 18:4, 20). The payment for sin is the lifeblood of the sinner (Lev. 17:11), which, of course results in death (Rom. 6:23). This is called "the law of sin and death:" The one who sins dies (Rom. 6-8).
The solution to sin
Thankfully, GOD is also love (1 John 4:8).
He loved His creation so much that He was willing to make the ultimate sacrifice in order to provide a bridge across the chasm of separation between Himself and humanity that is sin.
GOD became one of us; He became a Man (John 3:16).
This Man's name is Jesus. Jesus is fully GOD (John 10:30) and fully human (Phil. 2:5-8).
Despite being tempted in every way just like you and me, Jesus never sinned (Heb. 4:15). He was perfect.
Out of envy, the leaders of the Jews delivered Jesus up to be crucified (Matt. 27:18).
This was all part of GOD's plan, however (Rev. 13:8; Matt. 16:21; 17:12).
On the cross, GOD poured out His wrath on Jesus (Isa. 53:4-6; Matt. 26:36-46).
Jesus offered His innocent blood as a substitute payment in place of the blood of the guilty sinner (Heb. 7:27; 9:24-28). GOD says this one sacrifice was sufficient to cover the sins of the entire world (1 John 2:2).
Therefore, instead of giving us what we deserve (that which we have earned as a result of our sinful choices), which is eternal spiritual death, GOD extends mercy to us (Rom. 11:32), offering to withhold this fate.
In its place, GOD offers us grace—the opportunity to accept the free gift of eternal life (John 1:16-17; Rom. 3:24; 5:17).
As always, GOD gives us the freedom to choose (John 3:36; Heb. 5:9). But Jesus is the only way (John 14:6). He is the only answer to the problem of sin (Acts 4:12).
Accepting the gift
This is the point where many people get off track with Scripture.
While GOD absolutely desires the salvation of every person (2 Pet. 3:9), what He wants—what it seems He has always wanted—is a family of individuals who want Him (John 4:23; 14:2).
He wants people who choose to love Him, to give themselves fully to Him, and to surrender their wills to His (Matt. 22:37-38; Mark 8:34-37).
GOD wants this because it is what is best for us (Deut. 6:24; 1 John 5:3). As much as we may insist otherwise, humans do not know how to guide their own steps. GOD simply didn't give us that ability (Jer. 10:23).
Make no mistake, GOD's gift of salvation is free (Rom. 4:4-5; 5:15-17; 6:23; Eph. 2:8). There is nothing any person can ever do to earn it.
At the same time, we must recognize that accepting GOD's gift comes at a cost (Luke 14:25-35). There are terms for accepting GOD's gift. Jesus repeatedly told His listeners that in order to be His disciple, one must take up their cross (an instrument of death) and follow Him.
The hard truth is that, if you want to save your soul and inherit eternal life, you must fully commit to Jesus. You must give yourself to Him. You must obey Him (Matt. 28:18-20; Heb. 5:9). You must die with Him (2 Tim. 2:11).
The apostle Paul explains the concept of dying with Jesus perfectly in his letter to the Romans.
- Before we come to Jesus in faith, we are still spiritually dead in our sins (Rom. 3:23). Our body is ruled by sin (Rom. 6:6).
- In order to die to our sins, we must be united with Jesus in a death like His (Rom. 6:5). This death occurs when the believer is baptized (immersed) in water (Rom. 6:3-4).
- The spiritually dead body of sin is lowered into the water where the believer meets the cleansing blood of Jesus, by faith (John 3:5; Heb. 10:22; Titus 3:5; Rom. 3:28; 1 Pet. 3:18-22).
- As the person is lifted out of the water, they arise having new life (Rom. 6:4, 11). This is what it means to be "born again" (John 3:3-8; 1 Pet. 1:23).
And that's the only method GOD has prescribed for obtaining redemption.
The believer who has been baptized for the purpose of receiving the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 2:38) has the promise of being resurrected like Jesus and has been set free from the chains of sin (Rom. 6:5-12).
As a result of this great gift of grace and transformation, the redeemed must no longer let sin reign over them, for they have died to sin (Rom. 6:11-18).
Here's how this process looks, graphically.
There is only one gospel
From as far back as the middle of the first century, individuals have been perverting the one true gospel (Gal. 1:6).
Instead of obeying and teaching the truth, they follow in Satan's footsteps, twisting and changing the message, often just slightly.
The same thing continues today.
- "Pray the Sinner's Prayer."
- "Accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior."
- "Invite Jesus into your heart."
- "Sprinkling is the same thing as baptism."
These are all partial gospels or "slight" deviations from Scripture. And they are equally as dangerous, for they fail to properly obey the Lord Jesus and thus put souls at risk.
I have given you Scripture that plainly states each point I have made.
I beg you to research this and study for yourself.
Don't ask your parents or your pastor. You personally sit down with the Bible and pray for GOD to show you the truth. Ask yourself, "If I were on a desert island with just my Bible and knew nothing about GOD, what would I conclude?"
If I can help you further, please let me know.
For more information, see:
- What the Early Christians Believed About Salvation
- Salvation Takes More Than Belief
- Biblical baptism series
- Biblical Belief
- Saving Faith
- GOD's Grace: The World's Greatest Story