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What must I do to be saved?

By Eric Johnson 

In the sixteenth chapter of the Book of Acts, a story is told about Paul and Silas that proves to be very interesting. The two men had been arrested in Philippi. While they were in jail “praying and singing hymns to God,” there was a “violent earthquake. “All the prison doors flew open, and everybody’s chains came loose.” Because he would be counted as responsible for the missing prisoners, the jailer on duty was about to commit suicide when Paul and Silas yelled for him to stop before he could harm himself.

Hearing this, this Roman solider immediately understood what had just taken place. The two famous prisoners could have escaped but didn’t. With gratitude, the jailer fell at the men’s feet and, trembling, asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (vv. 25-30).

Suppose Paul and Silas were touting the beliefs of some of the major religions of our day. Imagine what their simplistic answers might have been:

Buddhism: Just meditate and achieve a higher level of consciousness through the practice of the Four Noble Truths and you might someday qualify to have your soul extinguished in Nirvana.

Islam: Just believe Allah is the only God and Muhammad is His messenger and then follow the other four Pillars of Faith. If your good works weigh heavier than your bad deeds on the scales of justice, perhaps you will be allowed to enter Paradise and have seventy virgins to do with as you please (if you’re a male).

Hinduism: Just achieve good karma and have more good works than bad, and if you can do this, you may eventually reach a higher level of consciousness through a process of multiple reincarnations.

Catholicism: Just get baptized into the one true church, participate in the other six ordinances of the faith including participating in Mass and regular confession, and in cooperation with God (infusion) be sure you have more good works than bad. Don’t forget to venerate the saints along with Mary, and when in doubt, accept the church’s tradition over the teachings of the Bible. Do all of this and perhaps you may one day attain heaven.

Mormonism: Just get baptized into the LDS Church, have a temple marriage for time as well as eternity (and be sure not to drink hot drinks, wear special garments, and pay your tithe in order to qualify for entrance into this building), obey all the other commandments, and for good measure endure to the end. Then, if you successfully abide in all of this, you might have a chance to be with your wife and children in the celestial kingdom–though you’ll never know for sure until after death.

In other words, if Paul and Silas were good members of these religions, they would have explained how, with enough effort and a little luck, it might be possible to somehow earn God’s favor. After all, Religion says that individuals are responsible to pull themselves up by their own bootstraps and earn eternal life according to the precepts set by the particular religion or philosophy. Follow the rules and you might just get to the Promised Land.

Just how did Peter and Silas respond? Listen to what they said in verse 31: “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved—you and your household.”

That’s it! Not, “practice the Four Noble Truth” or “fulfill the Law.” Not “believe in God and be successful in your completion of all the commandments.” Not “have more good works than bad.” And certainly not “go and get baptized” (notice, baptisms did take place in this Acts passage, but only after the belief had already taken place), the first of the many never-ending commandments.

No, they didn’t say anything like this. They merely said “believe.” The result: salvation. That’s all there is to it. Man-made Religion has missed the simplicity of the Gospel.

Consider how this statement is consistent with so many other passages throughout the Bible, including:

Acts 10:43-44: (Peter preaching to the Gentiles) “’All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.’ While Peter was still preaching these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message.”

Romans 3:28: “For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.”

Romans 5:8: “But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” (Notice, Christ did His work for His people before they ever had a chance to do anything good for ourselves. It’s an important point to make.)

Romans 6:23: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Romans 10:9-10: “That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.”

Ephesians 2:8-9: “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works so that no one can boast.”

Perhaps you are skeptical that such an expensive gift—one so costly that it would surely be impossible for any person to earn on his or own!—is available in gift form. You might wonder, then about good works. Isn’t there something a person has to do in order to pay for at least part of this? And what incentive would there be for someone saved by grace to live righteously?

Human nature screams out that nothing is free, certainly not eternal life. And, in a sense, it’s true, for the gift of salvation did require Somebody to pay a high price. Jesus died on the cross to make this offer available. There is a word in Christianity called “imputation,” a concept completely opposite from the idea of “infusion” requiring cooperation with God. Imputation means that a gift is made available based on nothing the potential receiver did. In essence, no transaction is required, such as the labor necessary for a wage. In fact, any attempt to pay Jesus back for something of such value would be like trying to determine the cost of a birthday present that has just been given; to offer anything back in return for this gift–even 25 cents– would certainly be considered an insult to the one making the offer.

That might sound pretty heavy. It may even appear that there’s no appreciation for the value of what was received. After all, if the gift of salvation is free, why would there be any incentive to do good works? Yet good works are important in Christianity after a person has been justified from all sin. Ephesians 2:10—quoted right after the verses listed above that says that it is “by grace you have been saved, through faith” and “not by works—says, “For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.” This is why James says that faith without works is dead (2:14-26). In other words, there is no contradiction, as the fruit of our salvation will result in good works, but only after the fact that a person has claimed Jesus as Lord and Savior! The cause and effect in this situation is that Jesus caused the salvation (through belief), effecting good works. In other words, a person’s good works are the effect and not t
he cause of salvation, a much different concept from the other religions. Instead of asking “What can I do for God (as my part in earning my salvation)?” the regenerated Christian asks, “What did God do for me?” The response we have will be based on how much value we understand this gift to be.

The Bible says that believers can “know” that they have eternal life (1 John 5:13), with no guessing games required. Turning your life over to God doesn’t mean that you need to have everything in place, with perfection achieved. To show this to be true, remember that Jesus never commended the Pharisees–those legalistic Jewish rulers–for the incredible efforts they exerted in an attempt to be “good enough” for God. Why, they went above and beyond by even tithing off their spices to please God. Jesus understood that this type of mentality put the onus on the backs of individuals who are incapable of hoisting the heavy weight produced by sin. Instead, He pointed out how the publicans and sinners who had beat on their chests understood that they approached with nothing on the table and realized that they were not good enough to earn heaven. (See Luke 18:9-14.) Left to justice, these sinners knew that they deserved nothing less than death.

How about you? Are you attempting to somehow earn God’s favor by accomplishing the never-ending to-do list that Religion has set forth? Are you frustrated that you can never be good enough. no matter how hard you try?

The Bible says you need to realize that you will never be good enough for God’s acceptance if left to your own efforts, regardless of what Religion says you must do. Instead, the message repeated over and over again is to turn your life over by believing in Jesus and giving everything over to Him. Until you reach this point of no return, you will never be able to please God.

Why don’t you consider these words today? Jesus said that it is possible for anyone to come to Him, even those of us who are “heavy laden,” and He will provide rest. Are you ready to let God fulfill His promise?

If this is a decision you made today, or if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to write us at [email protected]. We really do care.

For a closer look at the Roman passages, see Take the Romans Challenge! And it’s also En Espanol by clicking that link. In addition, see these related articles, see:


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