What Must I do to be Saved?
Giant, Important Introductory Disclaimer: I suspect that the number of answers to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" is at least equal to (Number of Denominations) + (Number of Theologians) + (Number of Heresies) + (Number of Megachurches).
In this study, I do not intend to discuss doctrine or theology, or even orthodoxy or heresy; I only intend to discuss what the Bible says on this topic. I assure you that I'm already aware of the doctrinal positions on this topic of the Arminians, the Calvinists, the Roman Catholics, some of the Baptist denominations, and a few others. These are pretty much all different, so I'm not going to go there.
You know that I'm a Wesleyan Arminian United Methodist, and it's always possible that some Wesleyan doctrine or some of my personal theology will slip in by accident, but you are free – even encouraged – to ignore them. After all, I've told you repeatedly not to take my word for anything. You must read the scripture for yourself, however, and you are not free to ignore what the Bible says, even if it surprises you. You are not free to ignore it even if it seems to contradict your denominational doctrine or your personal or corporate theology. How you come to terms with any tensions is your business, except that I do not give you permission to ignore what the scripture says !
While we were studying Acts a couple years ago in Sunday School, the question came up numerous times in various forms, "What must I do to be saved?" (Exactly this question is asked in Acts 16:30). Am I saved if I'm baptized? And by the way, infant or believers baptism? If I speak in tongues? If I'm sprinkled or dipped? If I belong to a different denomination from yours? What does it even mean to be saved, when you get right down to it? It has taken me a couple of years to develop this study, and it will be a long one.
The jailor cries, what must I do to be saved? Click to enlarge. Wikimedia Commons.
Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 ; Micah 6:6-8, "Restore us, O God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!" "What shall I bring to the LORD when I come to worship him?"
Mark 10:17-31, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"
Luke 3:1-18, "What then must we do?"
Acts 2:14-41, "What shall we do?"
Acts 16:16-34, "What must I do to be saved?"
Point 1: God Wants to Save Everybody
Genesis 12:1-3, 18:11-18, 22:15-18; 26:1-5, God's plan for Abraham and Sarah was to bless the entire world.
Ezekiel 33:1-11, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD.
Ezekiel 18:21-32, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD."
Matthew 18:10-14, God doesn't want any of the little ones to perish.
Ezekiel 34:11-16; Luke 15:1-10, God seeks us.
Hosea 3:1-5, 11:1-9, "How can I give you up?"
Jeremiah 31:15-22, "Therefore my heart yearns for him, declares the LORD."
Isaiah 49:8-26, "Can a woman forget her nursing child? I will not forget you."
John 3:1-21, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son."
Romans 5:1-11, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
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Deuteronomy 10:12-13; Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19 ; Micah 6:6-8, "What shall I bring to the LORD when I come to worship him?" "Restore us, O God of hosts! Let your face shine, that we may be saved!" (03/11/19)
"What must I do to be saved?" is really a three-part question:
- What must I do?
- How am I saved ?
- What does "saved" mean?
These are very old questions, as we see in these readings from Deuteronomy, Psalms, and Micah. One thing I noticed while preparing this study is that what God wants us to do isn't a secret: love God, do justice, and love mercy (that is, kindness). That's hard, so we don't like that answer! We'd rather offer a thousand rams, or maybe just get God to shine on our undeserving selves without our doing anything. Note particularly that we often have the sequence backward, as in Psalms 80:18. We want God to save us, and then we will reward God by calling upon his name. No no no. First
call upon the name of the LORD, and then he will reward you
Mark 10:17-31, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" (03/12/19)
Pay special attention to Jesus' answer to the question "What must I do to inherit eternal life?" Does it say, "Believe in me"? No. Does it say, "Be baptized"? No. Does it even say, "Repent"? No. What Jesus says
here to keep the commandments! Only in response to the fellow's assertion that he has already kept the commandments does Jesus tell him that he personally needs to sell his goods, give everything to the poor, and go with Jesus. Apparently keeping the commandments by itself is a path to salvation (a rocky, difficult path, to be sure).
Leaving everything to follow Jesus is another path (vss. 29-31). Jesus makes it clear that as a rule of thumb, wealth is a hindrance (not a bar) to salvation, greatly surprising the disciples. He also tells them that this path of leaving everything to follow him is open to anyone.
Luke 3:1-18, "What then must we do?" (03/13/19)
I suppose you could argue that John the Baptist is not preaching about salvation, but only saying that he is preparing the way for salvation (vss. 4-6). If he is talking about salvation, then he’s saying that repentance and ethical behavior is critical to salvation, just as we saw in Deuteronomy and Micah on Monday. If he's just preparing the way, which I suspect is the majority opinion, then eventual "baptism with the Holy Spirit and fire" is necessary or at least one of the options. I hope the fire is optional, because that has never happened to me.
Acts 2:14-41, "What shall we do?" (03/14/19)
On the day of Pentecost, one of the first things Peter says when he preaches to the crowd is that he’s talking about salvation (see vs. 21). When the people in the crowd ask, "Brothers, what shall we do?" they aren’t asking about their jobs or their errands, they’re asking how to be saved. Peter tells them, "Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit." Probably many of you think that that is the correct answer, because it is certainly the standard answer in most denominations in modern times. But in the past two days and tomorrow we are seeing other biblical answers.
Now, some of you will certainly be surprised to learn that not all Christian doctrines accept that repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ, even followed by a holy life, will ensure salvation. I warned you about this in the Giant, Important Introductory Disclaimer.
Acts 16:16-34, "What must I do to be saved?" (03/15/19)
We need to have a little Greek lesson here, because modern English and biblical Greek have some important differences. One of them is that the "you" in English can be either singular or plural, that is it can mean, "you personally by yourself," or it can mean "you personally plus the rest of the people I happen to be talking to right now." The verbs that go with the two different "yous" are the same: you are, you are; you believe, you believe, etc. In Greek, those are different.
The reason I'm telling you this is that I want you to look carefully at vs. 31: "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." That "believe" is singular.
Paul and Silas tell the jailer, "You personally all by yourself believe, and you personally will be saved, and so will all your household." The King James Version makes this clear: "thou shalt be saved, and thy house." Verse 34 is along the same lines.
Now, you might say this is an artifact of their culture – whatever the head of the household says goes for everybody in the house – and that it no longer applies today. And you could be right. But what the scripture says
here is that if you personally all by yourself believe, your household will also be saved.
This week has been a prologue to the main study. I hope that you've made two mental notes for yourself: (a) we aren't the first generation of God's people to ask the question, "What must I do to be saved?" and (b) it appears that we don't always get the same answer.
Genesis 12:1-3, 18:11-18, 22:15-18; 26:1-5, God's plan for Abraham and Sarah was to bless the entire world. (03/18/19)
We've had our confusing prologue, so let's get down to business. The first point I want to make in our study of what we must do to be saved is this:
God's desire is to save everybody .
A lot of people – both unbelievers and believers – seem to have the idea that God sits around in Heaven thinking up new ways to make sure some of us don't make it there. Nothing could be further from the truth, because if God has an obsession, it is salvation. I don't know about you, but I never
get tired of reading that God loves me and wants to save me, so we're going to spend a couple of months on this point. As we will see, the clear message of the scriptures is that God wants to save individuals, families, tribes, peoples, and nations: everybody. He's been working on this for thousands of years; our earliest record is found in his covenant with Abraham and Sarah that their offspring would become a mighty nation with the purpose of blessing the entire world.
Ezekiel 33:1-11, "I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," declares the Lord GOD. (03/19/19)
God, far from hoping to condemn the wicked, is pleading with the wicked to repent and live! Think about it: God doesn't even want to condemn the wicked. How much more does he want to save the ones who muddle along doing the best they can, even if it's not very good? God wants to save everybody. (Spoiler Alert: As we'll see in a later part of this study
, sometimes you don't get what you want, even if you're God.)
I'm also interested in vs. 9, which reminds me a lot of James 5:20. I seem to be in the minority in thinking James 5:20 is ambiguous about whether the one who brings back a sinner is covering up the sinner's sins or his own sins. Ezekiel 33:9 is clear that it is yourself you'll be saving, although here it's unclear whether you are saving yourself in general, or just from the guilt of not warning a particular sinner. Either way, it's something we should be trying to do.
However, there's a really scary part of this passage. Are you a sentinel? Am I? That job is so important that a sentinel who is drunk or asleep on duty during wartime can to this day be sentenced to punishment up to and including death. It's interesting to me that God (vss. 6, 8) and the U.S. Uniform Cole of Military Justice
have the same regulation about sentinels.
Ezekiel 18:21-32, "I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Lord GOD." (03/20/19)
I once had a lovely aquarium with several kinds of tropical fish. There was everything a little fish could want – gravel to nose around in; a big, beautiful ribbon agate to admire; plants to swim through; a filter; a heater; a full-time attendant (me); and above all a cover
. Most of the little fish swam happily and grew plump and colorful, and I loved them.
And then there were the zebra fish... These busy little fishes were always looking for something else. Apparently they thought the water was clearer on the other side of the glass. If there was the tiniest opening in the cover, they would jump out and die. I wanted all my fish to live, but some of them wouldn't stay in the water. I said to their little dried-up bodies: "You stupid zebra fish! Why did you want to die?"
We are God's fish.
Matthew 18:10-14, God doesn't want any of the little ones to perish. (03/21/19)
It's easy to see why God would want to save you or me or the people in our churches. It's easy to see why God would want to save a great saint or theologian or preacher, or an important person like a bishop. The scripture says that as a matter of fact, God wants to save even the most insignificant person – the weak Christian, the one who isn't too sure about doctrine, the one who never contributes to the church, the newest member.
We are God's sheep, and the shepherd doesn't want to lose even one of his sheep.
Ezekiel 34:11-16; Luke 15:1-10, God seeks us. (03/22/19)
If you have turned away from God, God wants you to turn around and be saved. If you want to come back, but you are lost and can't find your way, God will come after you.
Hosea 3:1-5, 11:1-9, "How can I give you up?" (03/25/19)
This morning the choir sang, "What wondrous love is this, O my soul, O my soul! What wondrous love is this, O my soul!" This is such a good summary of the book of Hosea that I could quit now, except that some of you go to other churches. (Here's our own Shea Perry singing the hymn as a solo.)
The prophet Hosea loved an adulterous woman named Gomer – whether she was promiscuous before the marriage as well as after is unclear. Gomer bore three children – whether they were Hosea's children is unclear, although two of their names, "Not My People" and "Not Loved" are not auspicious. Eventually Gomer left Hosea. Things went badly for her, and she ended up being sold as a slave. And guess who bought her? Hosea! He took her back and changed the names of the children to "My People" and "Loved."
Hosea thought, "If I love Gomer this much, how much more does God love his people? If I'm willing to take her and her children back, how much more readily will God take us back?"
God says, "How can I give you up?" What wondrous love is this, O my soul!
Jeremiah 31:15-22, "Therefore my heart yearns for him, declares the LORD." (03/26/19)
The LORD yearns for anyone who has turned away, because he wants to save everybody. Even though the kingdom of Judah had to be sent into exile because of its many sins against God, God hoped against hope that the people would repent and return to him.
You may think the last part of vs. 22 is a little odd and doesn't seem to have anything to do with the rest of the passage: "a woman will protect a man." You would not be alone in this, because the translators can't seem to agree on what the Hebrew means. Here are a few other examples:
- A woman shall encompass a man. (American Standard Version, Darby, Douay Rheims)
- a woman changed into a man. (Bible in Basic English)
- A woman surrounding a man. (Easy-to-Read Version)
- a woman shall court a man. (Jewish Publication Society)
When you see something that isn't clear, get out your second, unrelated translation that I just know
you have by now, after all the times I've told you to get one! Maybe it will use different words to say the same thing, and you'll say, "Oh, I get it." Or maybe, as in this case, it still won't be clear. That's very often because the Hebrew or Greek isn't clear. I've have never, ever seen a case like this where the meaning is important to salvation, so you have my permission not to worry about them.
Isaiah 49:8-26, "Can a woman forget her nursing child? I will not forget you." (03/27/19)
Mothers are proverbial for protecting their babies from any kind of harm and for rescuing any baby who has gotten into trouble. God uses the example of mothers to show how much he wants to save us: "Even these mothers may forget; But as for me, I'll never forget you!"
John 3:1-21, "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son." (03/28/19)
We've discussed this passage quite a few times over the years, but today I want to point out just one particular point. Pay special attention to vs. 17, "God sent the Son into the world ... that the world might be saved through him." That word world
in Greek is kosmos
, which can have several different meanings, for example,
- the entire universe,
- the entire earth as opposed to heaven,
- the world at large as opposed to your own home, or
- all of humankind.
There is no meaning of kosmos
that limits salvation to some people as opposed to other people. God wants to save everybody.
Romans 5:1-11, "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us." (03/29/18)
I don't need original sin, and I don't need the Devil, because I demonstrate just about every day that I am perfectly capable of committing my own sins. God figured out a long time ago that I would need a lot of saving. God's love for us is so great that while we were still sinners, Christ died for me and for you.
More of What Must I do to be Saved
Point 1: God Wants to Save Everybody
Point 2: You Can Reject God's Plan for Your Salvation (Not Recommended)
Point 3: God’s Plan for Your Salvation is Broader than You Think
Point 4: How the Bible Answers the Question
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