It seems that among those that call themselves "Christians," there is fairly consistent agreement over what the word "salvation" means, but much disagreement over how to obtain it.
Let us start by addressing the first, and then speak at length of the second.
- The act of saving or protecting from harm, risk, loss, destruction, etc.
- Deliverance from the power and penalty of sin.
The first definition above might be considered a secular definition of salvation, but is nonetheless closely tied to the second, non-secular or religious definition. To deliver someone from the "power and penalty of sin" is at the heart of our discussion of salvation, and closely tied to "redemption." See the article about "God's Redeemed" on the home page.
The word "salvation" comes from the Latin word "salvare," meaning, "to save."
Why do we need to be saved?
As it is written, there is none righteous, no, not one. (KJV)
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. (NASU)
For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. (NASU)
We see from these passages that we have ALL sinned, and that the price to be paid for that sin is death. The Bible is not speaking here of a physical death, for these fragile bodies that house our souls will all cease to exist at some point. Instead, it is speaking of a spiritual death - eternal separation of our soul from the Creator.
Okay, but what is sin?
... sin is transgression of the law. (KJV)
The Creator has, from the dawn of creation, made known to mankind what is right and acceptable in His sight. From how we should worship Him, to how we should conduct ourselves with our fellow man, God has always expressed His desires (in the form of law), and allowed man the choice of whether to obey or disobey. The choice to disobey, to "transgress" God's law, is sin.
What do we need to be saved from?
2 Thessalonians 1:7-9
And to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on them that know not God, and that obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ: Who shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of His power.
"Flaming fire," "vengeance," "punished," "everlasting destruction." All these words apply, not only to those who simply do not know who God is or refuse to accept His existence; but also to those who "know" God - those who recognize His existence - but are not "obedient" to the teachings of Jesus Christ.
I believe it was Samuel Clemens who once said, "It's not the things I DON'T understand about the Bible that bother me... it's the things I DO understand!" (emphasis mine)
I don't know about you, but there's no misunderstanding that passage. How then, can one "obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ" and avoid this punishment? How can one know what is right and acceptable to God?
Well, for starters, don't rely on someone else to tell you. I know, I know... I'm telling you - but search your Bible as you study with me to make sure that I am speaking the truth. If you find that I am NOT speaking the truth, then by all means, find out what the truth is, and FOLLOW it!
And you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free. (NASU)
I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by me. (KJV)
The time that we spend here on this earth is so short, compared to eternity. If you don't hear anything else I say in this lesson, hear this... don't trust your eternity to someone else! To do so is the equivalent of "spiritual roulette." Don't trust your eternity to your preacher, your pastor, your priest, your family... not anyone... they could be wrong! Find out for YOURSELF.
... work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. (KJV)
Study to show thyself approved unto God, a workman that needeth not be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth. (KJV)
I can tell you this, when you stand before your Creator in Judgment, your answer better not be, "But my preacher said..."
Thus far, we've talked about what sin is, and the penalty for it, but what about the second half of Romans 6:23
... that part about the "free gift of God" and "eternal life?"
Well, as I mentioned at the start of this lesson, most Christians will agree on what the word "salvation" means, and why we need it. But if you ask ten different Christians, from ten different bodies of believers, what it means to "be saved," or how to "be saved," you will likely get ten totally different answers.
Talk about confusion! Is it really any wonder that many people today are turned away by what they perceive as "inconsistencies" with the Gospel? Remember, it is not God who is the author of confusion... but Satan! (1 Corinthians 14:33
Believers in God, this should not be! For we can conceivably disagree on many things that the Bible teaches, but if we cannot agree on what it takes to get to Heaven, then nothing else really matters, does it?
Let us study and reason together, and see what the BIBLE says about our path to salvation...
THE SINNER'S PRAYER
No doubt, you have heard this phrase before, and I feel reluctant to continue on with our study without mentioning it. Many are surprised to find that there actually is no mention, anywhere in the Bible, of anything even remotely resembling "The Sinner's Prayer." In no passage of scripture will you find where it says, "repeat after me," and you will have eternal life.
I vividly recall, many years ago, listening to a televangelist say, "Now, place your hands on the television and repeat these words." This he called, "The Sinner's Prayer," and afterwards told me, and millions of other viewers, that if we had prayed that prayer in sincerity, then we were eternally saved.
Again, because "The Sinner's Prayer" is not in the Bible, if you ask ten different people what the words of "The Sinner's Prayer" are, you will get ten different answers. Here is the first one that came up for me in an Internet search:
“Father, I know that I have broken your laws and my sins have separated me from you. I am truly sorry, and now I want to turn away from my past sinful life toward you. Please forgive me, and help me avoid sinning again. I believe that your son, Jesus Christ died for my sins, was resurrected from the dead, is alive, and hears my prayer. I invite Jesus to become the Lord of my life, to rule and reign in my heart from this day forward. Please send your Holy Spirit to help me obey You, and to do Your will for the rest of my life. In Jesus' name I pray, Amen.”
Am I saying that it is wrong to say these words in your heart, if you mean them? Of course not. These words do capture the "spirit" of the sinner who recognizes the consequences of their sin, repents of that sin, and who wishes to lead a life of obedience to God. But "repeating after me," even if in sincerity, is not what saves a person, as we shall see in this lesson.
One of the greatest dangers I see with "The Sinner's Prayer," is what I like to call one of Satan's most subtle tools - "a little dose of Christianity." Having much the same effect as a Flu vaccine, a little dose of Christianity goes a long way toward keeping the sinner from ever reaching the gates of Heaven.
I personally know people who believe they are going to Heaven because, (a) they believe there is a God; (b) they believe He sent His son to die on the cross for their sins; and (c) they prayed the sinner's prayer at some point in their life. Even if they were sincere at the time they said those words, they have never since darkened the doorway of an assembly of believers, and they live a life dominated by immoral behavior, with not even the slightest clue that their eternal salvation is in jeopardy. Pretty clever, that Satan! (1 Peter 5:8
I realize that the example I just gave is an extreme, but where do you stand?
In the second chapter of Acts, Peter, by inspiration of the Holy Spirit, preached the first gospel sermon. In his audience were some of the very Jews who had crucified the Messiah just five weeks previously. Verse 37 tells us that after they heard this message, they were "pierced to the heart" (NASU). The New English Translation (NET) says that they were "acutely distressed." We witness that their recognition of wrong-doing was followed by the same question that all penitent believers ask... "What do I need to do?"
Notice from verse 38 that Peter DID NOT say, "Bow your head, close your eyes, and repeat after me."
What he DID say was, "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (KJV)
Having said that, walk with me through the scriptures, and let us discover together what the Bible says about the most important decision you will ever make during your brief sojourn here.
For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved. (KJV)
Is this ALL there is to being saved? Just "call on the name of the Lord?" There it is in black and white! All you have to do to be saved is to “call upon the name of the Lord.” Some would argue "God said it. I believe it. That settles it!"
Oh, I believe this verse, don't get me wrong. I just don't believe it was meant to be ripped from scripture and allowed to stand on its own. There is more to it. The verses following the 13th verse, tell us that we must first HEAR the word, and then BELIEVE it, before we can CALL on His name.
And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. (KJV)
Again, seems pretty simple doesn't it? “Believe in Jesus Christ and you’ll be saved.” This verse all by itself tells me that all I need to do is BELIEVE – all I need to do is have faith and I’ll be saved.
But… is FAITH all I need in order to be saved? We just saw in Romans 10:13
that we needed to do something else – CALL ON THE NAME OF THE LORD.
Consider these verses from James:
17 Even so faith, if it hath not works, is dead, being alone.
24 Ye see then how that by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.
26 For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also. (KJV)
In Acts 16:31
, it seemed as if all we needed was faith in order to be saved. But evidently, not just any kind of faith, because here we learn that there are different kinds. There is a dead faith - a faith void of works, which won’t save anyone. And then there is a living, working faith - the kind of faith that saves!
Oh, believe me, I am not saying that works alone will save a person either. There is absolutely NOTHING that we can do by ourselves to earn salvation. It is only through the grace of God, and through the sacrifice of His son, that salvation is even possible.
For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. (KJV)
I've heard some argue, "It is a GIFT! God does not offer the gift and then take it back." Or, "It's a FREE GIFT, all you have to do is accept it, no strings attached!"
Well, it is a GIFT... no doubt about that. It is FREE... we certainly can't buy it. It is ours to either accept or deny. But to say there are no strings attached goes beyond what scriptures teach. Consider the following:
If you love me, you will keep my commandments. (NASU)
What is implied here? If you don't keep His commandments - if you don't do the things that He says - then you don't really love Him, do you? Those are Jesus' words, not mine. Can one expect to get to Heaven if they don't love their King - if they don't follow His laws?
Why do you call me "Lord, Lord," and don't do what I tell you? (NET)
Not everyone who says to Me, "Lord, Lord," will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, "Lord, Lord," did we not prophesy in Your name, and in Your name cast out demons, and in Your name perform many miracles? And then I will declare to them, "I never knew you; depart from me, you who practice lawlessness." (NASU)
There you have it... you can HEAR the Word; you can BELIEVE it all you want; you can even have FAITH that is punctuated by good works and good deeds; but if you don't LOVE Christ enough to abide by His teachings, you will not gain entrance into that eternal rest.
Here are a couple of others things to consider:
If FAITH or BELIEF is all that is required…
- The devils themselves would be SAVED!
- James 2:19 “Thou believest that there is one God; thou doest well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” (KJV)
- Many of the chief rulers of the synagogue who refused to confess Christ would have been SAVED!
- John 12:42-43 “Nevertheless among the chief rulers also many believed on him; but because of the Pharisees they did not confess him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue: For they loved the praise of men more than the praise of God.” (KJV)
- Matt 10:32-33 “Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven.” (KJV)
- Saul would have been SAVED on the road to Damascus.
- Saul already believed in the God of Abraham, but he had a problem with Jesus as the Messiah. But, after his incident on the road to Damascus where Jesus himself spoke to him, do you think he also believed in Jesus? He asked Jesus what he needed to do and Jesus told him to “arise, and go into the city” where someone would tell him what he needed to do to have his sins washed away.
- Cornelius, the Centurion, would have been SAVED.
- Acts 10:2 “A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God always.” (KJV)
Is there more? Most certainly...
For we are saved by hope: but hope that is seen is not hope: for what a man seeth, why doth he yet hope for? (KJV)
We are saved by HOPE. What does that mean anyway? Does that mean all I have to do is HOPE I go to Heaven and I’ll be okay? If that’s the case, almost everyone would be saved!
The question is, are we saved by “hope” alone?
Marvel not at this: for the hour is coming, in the which all that are in the graves shall hear his voice, And shall come forth; they that have done good, unto the resurrection of life; and they that have done evil, unto the resurrection of damnation. (KJV)
This verse, by itself, seems to indicate that all one has to do is BE GOOD in order to receive eternal life. I know people that are essentially "good at heart" - they are very kind, modest, humble - but they don't believe in God. To say that they are going to Heaven contradicts scripture that we've already studied. How, then, can we reconcile this? Obviously, there is more that is implied, though not specifically stated, about the phrase, "they that have done good." To understand what is implied, we must look to the scriptures as a whole.
Man shall not live on bread alone, but by every word that proceeds out of the mouth of God. (NASU)
I tell you, Nay: but, except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish. (KJV)
This verse, all by itself, seems to indicate that REPENTANCE is all that is necessary for salvation. But does that mean we are saved by “repentance” alone?
That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. (KJV)
This verse indicates that there are two conditions to salvation – CONFESSION and FAITH.
The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ: (KJV)
This verse says baptism saves us… but is that all that is required? What about the other things that have been mentioned?
He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. (KJV)
This one says I have to have FAITH and be BAPTIZED!
I'll finish with a well-known favorite...
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. (KJV)
Again, this verse by itself, indicates that BELIEF or FAITH is all that is required to have everlasting life. At this point, the student of the Bible who has an open and receptive heart will notice two things: (a) every word of this verse is absolutely true; and (b) certain actions are implied by "whosoever believeth in Him."
Why do I say certain actions are implied? Because we've already shown that FAITH ALONE does not save. In this verse, all of the other actions that we talked about are implied in the ACT OF BELIEVING. This is the only way the verse can be reconciled. Otherwise, it is inconsistent with other scripture.
I think we've adequately shown that we can't rely on one verse, to the exclusion of all others, to determine what it takes to be saved. God puts the responsibility on us to study and find out what His will is for us, and the bottom line is that ALL of these things are required for salvation. We are saved by:
- God’s grace… but not by His grace alone!
- Hope… but not hope alone!
- Hearing His Word… but not hearing alone! (James 1:22 – be doers of the Word and not hearers only!)
- Belief / Faith… but not faith alone!
- Works… but not works alone!
- Calling on the name of the Lord… but not calling alone!
- Repenting of our sins… but not repentance alone!
- Confessing the name of Jesus before men… but not just that alone!
- Being baptized… but not baptism alone!
Still not convinced? Read the Book of Acts from beginning to end. This book is essentially a history of the church in the first century. What "saved" a person then, will "save" a person now. Pay close attention to all of the things that are mentioned in each of the following conversions:
There could be other examples, but I believe that is all.
We ALL want to hear those words, "Well done, thou good and faithful servant. Enter into the joy of the Lord." (Matthew 25:21
We must take the necessary steps in the "here and now" - in order to secure our inheritance - before it is too late. And trust me (no, trust God), there will come a time in all our lives when it will be too late.
If, after reading the words of this study and confirming for yourself their truth from God's Word, you believe that you are a sinner in need of forgiveness, that you desire to repent and turn your life around, that you desire to live a life that is henceforth pleasing to God, and that you desire to be baptized for the remission of sins, please send us an email on the "Contact Us" page or call the phone number on that same page.
I've enjoyed the study. Thank you.
In His service,
~ David Creech