Tuesday, September 30, 2014

"What must I do to be Saved?"

"What must I do to be saved?"  

Surely there are few greater inquires that any believer would ask of God!

Many would likely disagree with this assertion and some might point out that there are actually a number of variations to this all-important question are asked in the Bible.  In at least 4 different instances, there would appear to be no less than 4 different answers...

1.  The Young Ruler in Mark 10:17-19  

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.  You know the commandments: ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not bear false witness,’ ‘Do not defraud,’ ‘Honor your father and your mother.’”

In this particular instance Jesus Himself told the Young Ruler to basically just keep the Law of Moses.

Why was he not told to obey the Gospel?

2.  The Jews on the Day of Pentecost in Acts 2:36-38

“Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”

Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”

\Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

This time Peter told the Jews that they needed to repent and be baptized.

Why were the Jews not told to believe?

3.  Paul in Acts 22:10, 16

So I said, ‘What shall I do, Lord?’ And the Lord said to me, ‘Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do.’

And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.’

Paul recounted that he was told in a vision that he should "arise and be baptized".

Why was Paul not told to believe or repent?

4.  The Philippian Jailer and his Household in Acts 16:26-30

Suddenly there was a great earthquake, so that the foundations of the prison were shaken; and immediately all the doors were opened and everyone’s chains were loosed.  And the keeper of the prison, awaking from sleep and seeing the prison doors open, supposing the prisoners had fled, drew his sword and was about to kill himself.  But Paul called with a loud voice, saying, “Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.”

Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas.  And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”

So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”

Paul and Silas told the Philipian Jailer that he and his household need only believe in Jesus to be saved.

Why did Paul and Silas leave out baptism and repentance?


At first glance, three different answers to the same question would appear to be a major inconsistency  in the Scriptures when it comes to salvation.  An incongruence such as this would justifiably cause some to wonder about the validity of the Word of God as a whole!

But, rather than be satisfied with these Biblical "sound-bytes", let us dig a little deeper and examine context of each of these instances.  Let us see if we can't make sense of these apparently different responses and find a definitive answer once and for all.


1.  The Young Ruler 

Looking back at the instance involving the Young Ruler, we must look at the historical context in relation to the Scriptures.  During this time in which Jesus was still on Earth in the flesh, the New Covenant was not yet in effect.  Jesus was right to tell the Young Ruler to follow the Old Law since the New Covenant was yet to arrive.  Only after Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection was the Old Law done away with to make way for the New.

Colossians 2:14  ...Having wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross. 

Ephesians 2:14-16  For He Himself is our peace, who has made both one, and has broken down the middle wall of separation,  having abolished in His flesh the enmity, that is, the law of commandments contained in ordinances, so as to create in Himself one new man from the two, thus making peace, and that He might reconcile them both to God in one body through the cross, thereby putting to death the enmity.

Hebrews 8:13  In that He says, “A new covenant,” He has made the first obsolete. Now what is becoming obsolete and growing old is ready to vanish away.

At the time when the Young Ruler asked Jesus what he needed to do to inherit eternal life, Jesus told him to obey the Law of Moses because that law was still in effect.

2.  The Jews on the Day of Pentecost

Reexamining the answer that Peter gave to the Jews, it is again important to examine the historical context.  As previously discussed, we have already established that the New Law did not come into effect until after Jesus' death, burial, and resurrection.  Notice that the 2nd chapter of Acts takes place after these events.  The Day of Pentecost is famously remembered as being the occasion of the first Gospel sermon.

Toward the conclusion of Peter's message, the Jews were charged with bringing about the death of Christ.  As we read, we know that they were "cut to the heart" and they subsequently asked what they should do about it.  Remembering that the New Law was now in effect following Christ's death, the Jews were rightly told to repent and be baptized. 

One might ask why they were not told to believe.  The answer is simple:  We can infer that the Jews were aware of who Jesus was at this point.  They would have known Him in the flesh and witnessed His teachings.  They now knew that He was the Son of God and that they were responsible for His death.  If they did not believe why would they ask what they needed to do to avoid condemnation?  It is apparent that the Jews already believed, and that being the case, they need not be told to do so once again.

3.  Paul

Once again, context is very important to consider.  Remember that prior to becoming the Apostle Paul, he was known as Saul, a man who was definitely not a believer in Jesus.

Acts 8:3  As for Saul, he made havoc of the church, entering every house, and dragging off men and women, committing them to prison.

When Saul was on his way to Damascus, "still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord", he had a vision of the Lord that caused him to have a change of heart.

Acts 9:4-6  Then he fell to the ground, and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting Me?”

And he said, “Who are You, Lord?”

Then the Lord said, “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting. It is hard for you to kick against the goads.”

So he, trembling and astonished, said, “Lord, what do You want me to do?”

Then the Lord said to him, “Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”

Annanias met Saul in the city and baptized him.

It is evident, that following the vision, Saul believed.  His actions proved his working faith that would lead him to become the Apostle Paul, as he would soon come to be known.

What about repentance?  In Acts 9:9, 11 we read that Paul was in prayer for three days.  Imagine how Paul must have felt realizing that he had done so much damage to the church! We can infer that Paul was praying for repentance at during this prolonged period.   Additionally, this can be further evidenced by Paul's future teachings on the importance of repentance.

4.  The Philipian Jailer and his Household

Unlike the others we have discussed up to this point, the Jailer was not aware of who Jesus was.  Therefore we see that he was taught the Word by Paul and Silas.

Acts 16:31-34  So they said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.”  Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house.  And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized.  Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.

After the Jailer and his household were taught the Gospel message, they believed as evidenced by their being baptized immediately thereafter.

Additionally, we can find evidence for the Jailer and his household's repentance in the 33rd verse in which it is mentioned that they "washed their stripes."  The "stripes" spoken of here were the wounds that the Jailer had previously inflicted upon Paul and Silas when they were whipped in the prison.  The Jailer washed their wounds, demonstrating his sorrow for his sinful deeds against them.


Rather than an inconsistency, we instead see that these 4 "different" answers to the same question actually reveal a consistent message regarding what one must do to be saved.

We must recognize that the Word of God and the teaching of Christ and His disciples are consistent!

Jesus Himself stressed the importance of repentance and baptism.

Luke 13:3  I tell you, no; but unless you repent you will all likewise perish.

Mark 16:16  He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.

Notice that even when the question, "What must I do to be saved?" is not asked explicitly...
  • The Ethiopian Eunuch was taught the Word and subsequently baptized in Acts 8:26-39.
  • During the first Gentile conversion involving Cornelius the Centurion, teaching was followed by repentance and baptism in  Acts 10.

Why resist what the Bible plainly and consistently states regarding salvation?


Note:  This lesson was originally presented by Steve Clayton at Science Hill Church of Christ.

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