Last week, I posed a number of questions how to respond if asked, "What must I do to be saved?" As with the first post in this series, a spirited and substantive discussion broke out. However, the Thread Cop (yr obdt svt) was obliged to write out a number of citations for length-violations. Very sad. Nonetheless, you gave some terrific answers.
Here were the popular answers, often scorned by Calvinists, we re-examined:
- Receive Christ
- Pray to receive Christ
- Believe in Jesus
- Believe in Jesus sincerely
- Let Christ into your heart
- Ask Christ into your heart
- Accept Jesus / accept Jesus as your Savior / accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior
- Believe that Jesus died for your sins
- Are those all really abominable answers? No, they really aren't.
- Are those all really un-Biblical answers? No, not really — though some Calvinists pour molten scorn on every one of them. In fact, it is some Calvinists who offer the most un-Biblical answer: to tell the sinner that he can do nothing in response to the Gospel, as if the Gospel is "sit there and go to Hell." Acts gives as many examples of that as part of bearing Gospel witness as it does of "Jesus died for your sins."
Scripture does say we should receive Christ (John 1:12), and there is, to say the least, no Biblical reason not to pray to Him for this (Matthew 7:7-8; John 7:37). Now, there is a danger. This can be perceived as urging a blind leap, a mere existential encounter, a mystical vibration — which it is not. It may, if misunderstood, elevate the mystical and the emotional over the central and Biblically-warranted element of faith.
But in that case, it seems to me best to redeem the image (since the image itself is, after all, Biblical) rather than abandon it or excoriate everyone who uses it. Simply teach that we must receive Christ, and we must do so by faith. Which segues nicely into...
"Believe in Jesus" is exactly what the Scriptures say to do (John 3:16 — we do still believe that one, right?). We should make clear that Biblical faith is repentant faith, and that it involves the truth of Christ understood, accepted as true, and embraced. But we shouldn't make it sound like quantum physics, because Jesus emphatically doesn't (cf. Mark 10:15; Luke 10:21; John 6:35, 37).
These are Biblical ideas, even if John Owen didn't phrase them exactly thus. When we carp at their precise wording, I think we advance nothing worthwhile nor essential. We don't make Christ and His Gospel look glorious. Instead, we just make ourselves look like snotty, imperious nitpickers, more excited about finding fault than in seeing people come to Christ. At best.
Give me the brother who is doing the right thing imperfectly, rather than the man who does nothing but find fault — perfectly .
I forgot to include another oft-criticized phrase: "accept Jesus as your personal Savior." That one is faulted because it may encourage a maverick mentality, and seems to negate that Christ loved the church and gave Himself for her. However, I believe the intent of the phrase was to counter barren institutionalism. That is, it was crafted to penetrate the thinking of cradle-Catholics and cradle-Baptists, who think that they are Christians because their parents were, or because they grew up in church, or because they attend a Christian church.
That being the case, mightn't it also be a useful phrase to communicate a Biblical truth? After all, God has no grandchildren. The gate is narrow, admitting one at a time. I am not saved by being related to a Christian or a Christian institution. Christ must be my savior, or I am not saved.
It may come as a surprise that my least-favorite version is "Believe that Jesus died for your sins."
Why? Because I am really uncomfortable with making salvation the result of singling out any one fact, one statement, and making ascription to that statement the vehicle of salvation. It isn't the characteristic way of Scripture. You see more believe-Him than believe-that. I can't think of any example in Acts where this is what is preached, nor anything in the epistles that elevates this one statement above others as being essential to conversion.
I'll return to this, but what we as evangelists want to do is get our hearers to Christ. Not to one fact about Him or His work; not even to a select cluster of facts about Him, but to Him, Himself. "Come to Me," Christ bids (Matthew 11:27). Come, believe, eat, drink, look, live (John 6:32ff.). Believe in Him, the apostles echo (Acts 16:31).
What should I believe? Everything. Everything Jesus Himself says, everything He moves His apostles to say. But wait, I don't even know everything, when I become a Christian. For that matter, thirty-six years later, I still don't have that down. So what does that mean to a would-be convert?
It starts with believing Jesus, with accepting Him as true, and His word as binding and true. We enroll in His school; and in that school, true students will continue and grow (John 8:31-32). But the premise is His truth and Lordship.
- Is it really horribly complicated, requiring a certain education-level? Saving us was horribly complicated for God, in order that it might not be so for us. We should not "improve" on what He has done and offered. Otherwise, see previous answer.
- Is an unsaved person who does one of these still unsaved? On what authority? If an unsaved person exercises repentant faith in the real Jesus of Scripture, he is saved, period. And that on the best and highest authority (John 3:36; John 6:35, 47, 54).
- And crucially, you put it simply and better, so a child or a simple man or woman could understand: what must I do to be saved?
But of all the many really fine answers that were given, the one that echoed my own heart best was Penn Tomasetti's:
Go to Jesus to be saved! He said, "I am the way..." He said, "Come to me..." (Mtt.11:28). He said, "If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink..." (Jn.7:37). He died and rose again to bring us to God. Salvation is in no one else. He was dead (in place of repentant sinners), and behold He lives forever and ever, and He holds the keys to death and Hades... (Rev.1:18). He has power and authority to forgive sins (Mk.1:10). He came to save sinners... trust Him, believe Him, rely on Him, do not turn away from Him. Christ Jesus is called "our great God and Savior.” Don’t harden your heart, but give up trusting in your own goodness to save you, and whatever else you are holding to, and trust Him alone. He will never turn away anyone who comes to Him in true repentance (Jn.6:37).Amen.