18 August 2009

Communicating better: what must I do?

by Dan Phillips

With our first installment in this series-of-indeterminate-length (i.e. this could be the last one), you offered your thoughts on the famed/dreaded Altar Call. Then I offered mine.

Now let's take up a related topic: the answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?"

Like the first, here's one in which Calvinists really puzzled me, even long after I'd become convinced of the doctrines of grace myself. It was the way they dealt with that critical question.

Christians at large would tell a seeker any or all of the following:
  • 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
At one time or another, I have heard Calvinists pour molten flames of scorn on every one of those answers, except maybe the last one. I have heard them — not merely disagree, not merely suggest they might be inadequate, not merely express concern but — mock and ridicule and reject these responses, just as roundly as if one had said "Put on a pink tutu and dance the Conga in the rain."

You hear things sneered with much acid, like:
"You don't accept Jesus. He's a King! He doesn't need your acceptance!"

"'Believe,' pah! The demons believe. You have faith in your faith. That won't save you. You're lost!"

"The Bible never says to pray to receive Christ!"

"The Bible never says to let Christ into your heart!"
So, we're clearly supposed to think that these are horrible answers. I became very clear on that.

And once again, these Calvinists showed a wonderful facility for criticizing, shredding, tearing down, and explaining why everyone else was wrong. What didn't come across so clearly — in spite of a pretty strong Biblical background and a lot of reading and listening — is this one thing: what are you supposed to do to get saved?

All the energy goes into tearing down virtually every other Christian who draws breath. Not so much in providing a better answer. Far more concern in talking about how wrong everyone else is.

So, here are my questions:
  1. Are those all really abominable answers?
  2. Are those all really un-Biblical answers?
  3. Is it really horribly complicated, requiring a certain education-level?
  4. Is an unsaved person who does one of these still unsaved? On what authority?
  5. 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?
If you want to say "Believe in the Lord Jesus," all those other approaches are trying to say the same thing. Tell me how, and make it clearer and better and more Biblical than all those approaches that so many Calvinists despise.

Same rules as before: stay on-topic, and observe a firm 200-word limit. Nobody broke the rules last time; let's keep our good record. I really don't want to have to delete anything.

Also, once again: this is an in-house discussion. You're not a Calvinist, you don't have a dog in this hunt. Do the Scarlett O'Hara thing for today, please.

If you can't answer all the questions, pick some.

Have at it. Then perhaps next time, I'll share my own thoughts.

Dan Phillips's signature


James Scott Bell said...

Well yes, I think those are non-biblical and misleading answers. Why not use the one in the actual Bible? The very first time this question was asked, Peter told the people to repent and be baptized (Acts 2:38). This is the "pledge" or "answer" that the Apostles called for (cf. 1 Pet. 3:21).

It's true that this doctrine is sometimes mishandled, e.g., some Churches of Christ. But the answer is not to ignore the biblical teaching here. (And no, the baptism in Acts 2:38 is not Spirit baptism).

"For it is his will that all who have believed, be baptised for the remission of sins. Hence those who have thought that baptism is nothing else than the badge and mark by which we profess our religion before men, in the same way as soldiers attest their profession by bearing the insignia of their commander, having not attended to what was the principal thing in baptism; and this is, that we are to receive it in connection with the promise, “He that believeth and is baptised shall be saved” (Mark 16:16)…" (Calvin, Institutes).

Jerry said...

This is what is printed on my business cards:

Repent of your sins - Luke 13:5
Trust in Jesus - Romans 10:9

(I posted this a minute ago, but the scripture references disappeared.)

DJP said...

Okay, so the first answer is that to be saved a person must repent and be water-baptized.

I think you misunderstand the question. I do roundly reject that answer.

Let's be more specific: answers from Calvinists only, please. This is an in-house discussion.

G N Barkman said...

Why is it so hard to restrict ourselves to Biblical answers? Why must we invent new answers? No one in the Bible ever told someone to pray to receive Christ. When we manufacture un-Biblical answers, we always blurr a clear understanding of the Gospel. I explain the Gospel as clearly as possible, endeavor to see if the prospect understands the Gospel, and tell them they must believe on Christ. I pray For them (not with them), and encourage them to get alone with God and settle the matter with Him. When the Holy Spirit is at work, they always manage to close with Christ. What's so difficult about that?

DJP said...

Okay, and one dismissal of the question as silly.

"Great, GN! Thanks! I believe in Jesus, so I'm going to Heaven! Yayyy!"

Tom said...

The first thing I think we (Calvinists) need to realize is this: what actually happens at salvation, and what people (yes, even Calvinists) think happens at salvation. We know that God didn't save us because we asked, or we "sincerely" believed, etc. We know God chose us.

So, in answer to your questions:
1. SOME skew the gospel.
2. SOME are unbiblical.
3. Complicated? No. But it does require spiritual ears to hear, and God grants this.
4. Still unsaved? Not necessarily: God does the work.

*HSAT, I think someone who has done one of those "no-no's" isn't necessarily unsaved, just because it didn't realize how exactly God did the saving.

I think our proper response should be theologically accurate, but need not explain every minute detail. Do what Christ and the apostles did: "Repent, and believe!" That is: understand you are a sinner, you can't save yourself, God is holy, He is just, you deserve punishment, Christ took the blame and died, rose again, and you must repent of your sins and believe in God's provision. In short: share the gospel, and tell him to believe it.

Great series!

In Christ

* [does this count as four words or one? :)]

DJP said...

Helpful answer, Tom. Thanks.

Tom Austin said...

Perhaps this betrays an over-reliance on fleshly works, but the crux of the matter seems to be the verb here: "what must I do?"

What do I do to repent? What does that look like? How do I start?

When someone falls to his knees in your dorm room and asks you what Jesus wants him to do, don't you tell him to pray? Pray for what?

James Scott Bell said...

That's why I included a quote from John Calvin. I did think it would help your "in house" debate. Why isn't that relevant? Honestly not trying to be a gadfly. I find your question extremely important.

Anonymous said...

I think the options you gave are mostly just incomplete. Some more than others.

What they all seem to be missing is our sins. But, in their defense, if you assume a Philippian jailer situation, which seemed sort of common in the NT, then the sin thing seems to be dealt with by the repentant sinner. The person who asks "What must I do?” understands that their sin needs fixing. We could salvage or improve that whole list by adding "...that he may cleanse you of your sins."

I think that those answers are usually given to a direct question by an individual and not in a sermon setting. I would have a bigger problem if they were the whole explanation offered from the pulpit.

I think the “right answer” is turn from your sins to Christ. But even that requires an explanation.
We Calvinists like the clear explanation, and we should. But perhaps we need to be more careful to allow the short answers that we tend to jump on, to be explained as well.

Do we really think that all Paul said to the jailer was “Repent and be baptized”? Did he not give a fuller explanation?

Hayden said...


I feel your pain. What I think that happens is that MANY Calvinists come out of an Arminian background and cannot see anything from said background as good. (AN overreaction) I believe many of the answers that you put above are acceptable. My favorite is Romans 10:9,10 which is what I tend to use.

To all the Calvinists that pour molten hot lava on the above statements,

Isn't God sovereign in salvation? Could He save someone that said such statements.

My .02 cents

David Rudd said...

i have to remind myself that what i see going on at any given time is not the ONLY thing going on. i cannot speak to the moment when God has regenerated a heart, but i think most of the things listed here are often appropriate expressions of one who has received grace.

when sharing the gospel, i try very hard to emphasize the importance of repentance (of sin) and reliance (on Christ's work -- his life, death, and resurrection).

G N Barkman said...

Dan, I'm afraid your sarcasm betrays your confusion. Directing the prospect to get alone and settle the matter with God is exactly what is needed to avoid the response, "I believe in Jesus, so Yay, I'm saved." It's when you lead them in prayer and assure them that if they will pray and mean it, they are saved that produces this result. When left to deal with God alone, I've never seen anyone claim an assurance of salvation that proved to be spurious over time. They are unlikely to claim salvation unless the Holy Spirit gives them assurance.

Jay said...

Act 16:29-34 NASB - And he called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas, and after he brought them out, he said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
They said, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household."
And they spoke the word of the Lord to him together with all who were in his house.
And he took them that {very} hour of the night and washed their wounds, and immediately he was baptized, he and all his {household.}
And he brought them into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, having believed in God with his whole household.

What must I do?
1. Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ
2. Hear the Word
3. Be baptized
4. Act on your faith - bear good fruit, fellowship with other believers.

Tom Chantry said...

1. No, not necessarily abominable, but some may be misleading, which can cause trouble down the road.

2. Some more than others, perhaps.

3. No, but then, some of these answers make it so. I mean, trying to gage “sincerity” or to define “accept” in this context can confuse the whole matter more than scripture does.

4. Not at all.

5. I think you laid your finger on it: the problem is with the word “do.” The biblical answers, repent and believe, are not distinct actions, per se. Faith comprises an entire renewal of the mind toward Christ and His gospel, while repentance comprises an entire renewal of the life. It is true that persons who repent and believe are saved, but the person saying “what must I do?” has a more immediate focus. “What must I do right now?”

My answer is one which indicates both faith and repentance: Ask God to forgive your sin. Luke 18:13 comes to mind: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” This is something you can do, right now. It is tangible, it is biblical, and it is a right response to the gospel.

DJP said...

GN, you can certainly leave that as your answer if you like. I find it unhelpful and unresponsive.

Jay - the question is how to GET saved. Water baptism and good works to GET saved? I don't think you mean that.

corinthian said...

If you confess (agree with something that is true) with your mouth that Jesus is Lord (so to confess it is to agree with the truth of Jesus' Lordship over your life) and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead (faith in the sacrificial work of Christ on the cross) then you shall be saved.

Faith is acting on belief, or belief and trust. So is it having faith in the Lordship and salvation of Jesus.

CGrim said...

Even if some people can nit-pick the semantics, the average hearer understands the concept being expressed. Critics like to tear apart the sentences in a vacuum, but in the real world, those desiring salvation don't hear those answers in a vacuum.

As a result, I think all the answers are generally fine, although clearly we ought to make sure the person listening understands that repentance is a crucial part of the package. The OT prophets continually criticized the outwardly religious people for offering sacrifices without any inward repentance.

The primary criticism I can see with these answers is that there may be room for someone to believe Christ died for their sins (in the same way that a nominal OT believer believed the animal being offered died for their sins), but without true repentance.

But like I said, no one hears these answers in a vacuum, and even though it's not explicit, the concept of repentance and a change of heart is at least implicit in words such as "accept," "believe," "receive," "sincerely," "your sins," etc.

G N Barkman said...

Dan, I don't understand why you find my comments unhelpful, and "unresponsive." (I'm not sure what you mean by "unresponsive.) It is impossible to improve upon Paul's reply to the Philippian jailor, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Why can't we say that, and direct a person to seek God for the assurance that he has, in fact, savingly believed? When he has that assurance, he will present himself for baptism (if he has been correctly instructed). We don't need to nail down the time and place of regeneration, because we can't. We can only point men to Christ, and disciple them when they profess that they have come to know Him.

Steven said...

I think that the problem that many Calvinist have is with the question itself – What must “I” do to be saved? There is nothing that the unrepentant sinner can do of himself to bring about his salvation. Nonetheless, salvation does involve a human response, even if that response is divinely inspired.

The stage for salvation must involve first the proclamation of the gospel. Rom. 10:17; 1 Cor. 1:21. The divinely inspired human response to the proclamation of the gospel is faith (Eph. 2:8) that Christ died for your sins (Matt. 1:21; 1 Tim 1:15), was raised from the dead (see 1 Cor. 15).

The bottom line is the sinner must have faith, or believe, in the accomplished work of Christ. That faith is immediately expressed in a variety of ways: conviction of sin (Acts 2:37 – this is what led to Peter saying “repent and be baptized”), or confession of Christ as Lord (which is certainly a manner of repentance) (Rom 10:9-10). But again, these are the effects of God’s grace through salvation, not the means of salvation.

danny2 said...

1. Abominable? no. Are there worse answers out there? Absolutely. Are these a representation of the best answers possible? Nope.

2. Unbiblical? Each of these are an attempt to convey a Biblical concept (to one extent or another), but the potential to be misunderstood is pretty great.

3. Better not be, or we violate Jesus' standard for how to get into the kingdom of God. Doogie Howser is the only Doctor level child I know of.

4. Most believers in my church probably did one of these things at a point in time. Yet, if God is drawing them to Himself, even our sloppy explanations of the gospel can be used. (Not saying we should intentionally be sloppy.) Since we can't see the heart, we can know if a person is saved anyway after they do one of these things, or even if they do a more "reformed formula."

5. Repent. Call me crazy, but I think a call to repentance even makes "ask Jesus into your heart" make more sense (though that still needs greatly unpacked for people). Repent of your sins and trust that Christ's death and resurrection are you only way to be forgiven.

NoLongerBlind said...

You mean that if I "put on a pink tutu and dance the Conga in the rain", I might not be saved?

Woah, this is very unsettling.....

Mark Patton said...

Great questions. I like a lot of what Hayden had to say. The last thing I want to do in a gospel presentation is forget about presenting the gospel because I don't want to trip over a "calvanistic" no-no.

I just had the opportunity to preach through the four parables in Mark 4. It seems to me that Christ taught that
1. God was sovereign in salvation (vv. 10-13),
2. there is a guaranteed harvest (v. 20),
3. (even though God is in control of salvation) we must let our gospel-lights shine (vv. 21 -- 25),
4. how it all works is still a little mysterious (vv. 26 -- 29),

and the key,

5. it is a musturd seed faith that exemplifies salvation (vv. 30 - 32).

It doesn't require perfect knowledge of the process.

HSAT, I try and emphasize with my kids this: by God grace you need to turn from doing what you want to do (1st half of repentance), trust in Jesus to take away your sins (finished work of Christ), and let Him be your boss (last half of repentance).

Mark Patton said...

P.S. My scripture reference for my last paragraph is Mark 1:15: "Repent and believe the gospel."

Michael Adams said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Jared Reed said...

Here it is! We Calvinists are now asked to demonstrate rather than condemn. Our reputation preceeds us. "Here comes so and so to tell us how NOT to do -worship, bible study, evangelism, etc." Where are all the 5 pointers at? Is it enough to repent and believe or not? Do we have to be able to spell tulip? Thanks Dan! Hope your arms don't get too tired holding that huge mirror up for us.

Jay Miklovic said...

I agree with Citizen Grim that this question is not answered in a vacuum. Our problem lies in a 'programmed' response.

When someone asks 'what must I do to be saved?' Often it is appropriate to ask them what they want to be saved from, and begin a conversation. Within conversation the doctrines of salvation and 'how to be saved' (repent and believe) can be communicated logically and tangibly and Lord willing conversion occurs.

The simple fact that this question is asked and answered in so many different ways in the scriptures dependent on the situation should leave us to conclude that the situation mandates the response.

(Ultimately repent and believe must be communicated, but set words to communicate that are not necessary.)

DJP said...

Had to delete a comment for the first time because of length-limit violation.


G N Barkman said...

The problem, as I see it, is that similar to the Altar Call, we have a strong desire to do more than we should, more than is Biblically indicated. We wouldn't even raise this question if we were content to use only Biblical answers. The sinner always looks for someting to "do." We must not mislead him by encouraging him to do something that an unregenerate man could "do" and thereby confuse him regarding his heart's condition. When we tell him to believe in Christ, and leave him to take the initiative to tell us when he has believed in Christ, we eliminate most of the false professions.

DJP said...

Yes, GN, we hear you. You're being a pretty good example of what I think is all wrong about many Calvinists' approach.

You fasten on "do," and want to say in effect "Nothing! You can do nothing!"

This is an answer no apostle or prophet ever gave.

Alternately you say "Just tell them to believe and work it out with God."

I tried to get you to think about that. I'll try one more time.

He'll go off, say "Heck, I've believed in Jesus since I was a kid! Everybody believes in Jesus."

And there will be no change, because you're unwilling to explain what the Bible says in the name of not going beyond the Bible.

Josh B said...

I always try to keep the focus on man's sin and God's Grace - hence I say something like:

"You need to come to Repentance"

And then its Gospel time.

By keeping the focus on sinful man's need to be reconciled with a Holy God I stay theologically correct, while at the same time show that there does need to be a human action involved.

Agree? Disagree?

Anonymous said...

At some point we need to tell people to do something. Wouldn't that be why Jesus told the parables of the lost sheep and lost coin AND the prodigal son at the same time?

The first two emphasize that God does it all. The prodigal son emphasizes that we need to repent. Yes, it's a gift from God but still, we need to do something.

There is time to explain what really happened later.

Aren't we taught that anyone who comes to him, he will in no wise cast out? Somethin's being done by somebody, and that's what we need to tell them.

G N Barkman said...

But Dan, I am saying exactly what the Bible says. "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." What I wish to avoid is saying more than the Bible says. It does not say, "Pray to receive Christ," etc. What must the sinner do? Repent of his sins and believe the Gospel. We tell him this in preaching. We tell him this in personal evangelism. However, he wouldn't be asking if he has assurance that he has already believed, ever since he was a little kid, now would he? But what more can we tell him than the Bible does? If we tell him something the Bible does not, don't we risk misleading him?

It seems like we are conflating the issue of "What must I do" with "How can I know I am saved?" That is two different issues. When he has savingly believed because he has been regenerated, God will give him assurance.

Mel Kizadeck said...

The answers aren't unbiblical (except asking Jesus into your heart). The answers aren't horrible either. The problem with the answers you listed is that they are fairly nebulous.
What must you do to be saved?

Acknowledge that you've broken God's Law, and recognize that God is justified in sending you to Hell.
Then believe that God made a way for you to be forgiven through the atoning work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
The way to accept the free gift of eternal life and to commute your death sentence is to repent of your sins and trust in Jesus as your Lord and Savior.

Renee said...

I ditto Hayden. Romans 10:9-10

Penn Tomassetti said...

I have heard this question asked sincerely by people before more than a few times. It usually comes after hearing about the depravity of human sin.

2. They are not all un-Biblical answers. Actually, the term "receive Christ" is Biblical (John 1:12). Some are un-Biblical.

5. 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).

Z said...

I don't understand why this is at issue. The Word is clear in Rom 10:9, as others have said:

"...if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."

Penn Tomassetti said...

I had to limit my answer a lot to keep it under 200 words.

DJP said...

Penn, preach it. Loved it.

Z, get out more. It's an issue.

Penn Tomassetti said...

DJP, thanks and I do often. :) ...by grace.

Gary said...

I think the biblical answer is "repent and believe".

Calvinists, of all people, don't need to be paranoid about repentance and faith being seen as salvific human works. Are they the proper human response? Yes. But they are not our works. They are God's works.

Death or Glory Toad said...

Noob here, first time chiming in:

The statements aren't unbiblical per se; rather they aren't complete or expressive enough to convey the depth of meaning in this single-most-life-changing-event.

To communicate the salvation process, I suspect a one-liner isn't sufficient.

This isn’t perfectly analogous but: I didn’t ask the chair into my life before I believed it would support me as I sat on it. I understood the situation and trusted it would do.

Would this fit better?
Understand the condition of man (personally!), his relationship to God, what God has done to correct the problem (Christ on the cross), accept all this, decide on it, believe it. Repent. Proceed in new relationship with God.

No one-liner was involved at salvation time for me. It was intellectual comprehension, an action based on belief-faith and understanding together.

Is an unsaved person who just “Accepted Christ” unsaved?
Response: Did that unsaved person merely act on magic words or did the depth and breadth of the equation register, prompting understanding-based action?

Does God elect by just “into-your-heart” without the required "worldview"?

DJP said...

Good first entry, Robert! Welcome to the fray.

Richard said...

Sometimes I have told a person they must die to themselves and live to God.

Stop putting yourself first and Put God first.


Because Jesus died for your sins and is not only worthy of everything you can give Him but commands it.

In a nut shell I tell them to repent (turn from their sins) and trust the Gospel.

But, all of it is in God's hands and they will only be born again if God gives sight to their eyes and hearing to their ears and life to their souls.

Not sure if this is what you guys were asking but that is how I have shared the Gospel in the past.

Kurt said...

I suppose us calvinists would say that technically there is nothing you can do to be saved. It is God's decision and by His grace. That is completely unhelpful (dare I say even hostile) to someone who asks however.

I think the real objection to altar calls as they are sometimes done, is that implied (or even explicit) assurance is given to those who respond positively. That is what gives us apoplexy. :-)

For those asking like the jailer, the right response is there in Acts, simply believe on the Lord Jesus Christ.

There is a lot packed into those few words. We could go on at length what saving faith looks like (repentance, obedience), that faith in Him alone (and not works) is critical, who Jesus is, and why belief in Him is important. But while those are essential details, the long and short of it is believe in Jesus as He is revealed in scripture.

Seems like some of those "Arminian" phrases got pretty close too.

DJP said...

Yes, Kurt. Saying that preaching the Gospel involves telling sinners they can't do anything is like saying that Jesus should have raised Lazarus by shouting "You can't come out!"

Penn Tomassetti said...


"the long and short of it is believe in Jesus as He is revealed in scripture."

Amen to that.

CR said...

Answer to Question 5: You must exercise faith and repentance. Faith involves knowledge, trust and commitment to Christ. Repentance involves sorrow of your sinful nature and (here’s where it becomes biblical repentance) changing your mind and will and actions to the will of Christ.

For answers to Questions 1 -4: Any answer to the question what must you to be saved that does not involve faith and repentance is abominable, is unbiblical. Yes, it's horrible requiring a certain education. Yes, the person is still unsaved if he exercises one of the things on your list but does not exercise faith and repentance.

Anonymous said...


You are doing a good job of "stirring the pot" lately.

I for one appreciate it, it makes everyone really think.

This is a tough topic for me, since I don't believe that anyone is a seeker. I probably lean more toward the old Reformed line.

However, Christians must be calling the world to Christ. This must involve an explanation of personal sin & repentance "the bad news" and Christ's atonement "the good news."

If the Gospel is presented, those elect who God wants to save will be saved.

We must be careful to balance John 3:8 and 3:16.

JackW said...

I kind of like Bunyan’s answer:

“Fly from the wrath to come.”

“Whither must I fly?”

“Do you see yonder wicket-gate?”


“Do you see yonder shining light?”

“I think I do.”

“Keep that light in your eye, and go up directly thereto, so shalt thou see the gate; at which, when thou knockest, it shall be told thee what thou shalt do.”

“… come a little way with me, and I will teach thee about the way thou must go. Look before thee; dost thou see this narrow way? That is the way thou must go. It was cast up by the patriarchs, prophets, Christ, and his apostles. And it is as strait as a rule can make it; this is the way thou must go.”

Yeah, that’s better than anything I could come up with.

JSA said...

Wow, this post and comments thread makes me unashamed to be a Calvinist again. Great discussion.

I'll note that the question "What must I DO to be saved?!" would typically be asked by someone who realizes that he is lost; which is a good starting point for salvation. It could also be asked by someone who just wants to argue, which is not such a good starting point for answering the question.

David Regier said...

Unpacking Romans 10:9 is helpful.

Confess that Jesus is Lord.
That's a little different than professing that "Jesus is my Lord." It means that He is Lord over all things, heaven and earth included, and I confess that as an enemy warrior to the King who captured me.

Believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead.

In other words, know where the power lies, and know it in the depth of your being. The God who raised Him will raise you.

ukjh said...

I would tell them something along the lines of:

"Ask God to give you a new heart that hates sin and desires to obey Him at all costs. Ask Him to give you a heart that trusts only in Jesus Christ's good works instead of your own. Stop loving other things more than you love God and start living your life for Him alone. Because the only way to escape God's judgment in hell is to have this new heart, and only God can give it to you."

Rachael Starke said...

For the past few years I've used a version of what I read from you a year or two back:

Believe what God says in His Word about Himself:
-that He is the one true God, holy and creator of all things.

Believe what God says in His Word about you:
-that you are made in God's image, but separated from Him by your sin.
-that you are wholly incapable of atoning for that sin yourself, and that you rightfully deserve God's wrath and eternal punishment.

Believe what God says in His Word about what He has done for you:
-poured out His wrath on His Son Jesus on the cross on your behalf
-offered you forgiveness and new life.

Believe what God says in His Word about what you must do:
-repent and believe these things.

(hope that's under the limit; I'm on my iPhone and can't count them easily)

donsands said...

I have a friend in Nepal who preahces the gospel to the unbelievers, and he simply declares the good news of Jesus Christ, who died and rose from the dead. He is the Savior of the world. In order for your soul to be saved Christ has to save you. And so if you cry out for mercy and forgiveness for your sins, and believe in Jesus Christ, and that He died for you, and was raised from the dead, then you shall be saved.

And then you want to exaime yourself, see if you now have a different heart. A heart that is convicted, and cares about people, and is less selfish.

For many will believe in vain, but time will tell if the soil is good; the heart is good, and the Word is embedded.

MarieP said...
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Bob Johnson said...

I'm at lunch and sorry I don't have time to read every comment. I do think those answers are weak at best. My thought is that, once I'm sure a person understands their need of a Savior, and how Christ fully fulfills that need, I encourage them to repent of the sin and cry out to Him for mercy, forgiveness and ask Him to apply the benefits of the cross to their situation.

8acp said...

First I want to know what the person is doing consciously or unconsciously to try and be saved. Are they accumulating/hording wealth to be saved? Then rest in Christ as your true treasure.

Are they trying to merit their salvation through good works? Then rest in Christ as your righteousness.

And so on...

danny2 said...

Saying that preaching the Gospel involves telling sinners they can't do anything is like saying that Jesus should have raised Lazarus by shouting "You can't come out!"

Love that!

MarieP said...

Repent and believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent means we turn from going our own way and pleasing ourselves to living God's way and pleasing Him. We foolishly try to earn God's favor by our own efforts, but God says the only way we can be made right before Him is through His Son. We must believe in Jesus for the forgiveness of our sins. This means we trust that Jesus' perfect life, sacrificial death, and resurrection from the dead is sufficient to cleanse us from all unrighteousness and give us eternal life. We have faith, which means we have assurance of eternal life and forgiveness of sins. We take up our cross and follow Jesus, meaning we daily choose to say “no” to ourselves and “yes” to God. Christ promises that none who come to Him will be cast out, but God also tells us that we must grow in the grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. God not only unites us with Christ but with other believers. Christ calls us to visibly demonstrate our dying to self and living for God, and our union with Christ and other believers, by baptism and joining a local church.

DJP said...

Tsk, you don't see them, but now two deletions for exceeding length-limits!

Bunch of scofflaws!

DJP said...

Thanks, Danny.

You know, it's funny. Critics of Calvinism mock the doctrine of election; they say, "So, if you're elect, you don't even have to believe!" Or they say, "How can anyone be saved unless he knows he's elect first?"

And what do we (or at least I) always answer? "They don't have to figure that out first. The Gospel isn't, 'Figure out if you're elect, and if you are, believe.'"

But this sounds just like that to me. Total inability is true, but it isn't the Gospel. It's why we need the full Gospel of God's monergistic grace!

We just prophesy to the bones to live, and God is the one who gives the life. (So to speak.)

MarieP said...

"Saying that preaching the Gospel involves telling sinners they can't do anything is like saying that Jesus should have raised Lazarus by shouting 'You can't come out!'"

Love that too!!!

How about this:

Ezekiel 18:30-31- "'Therefore I will judge you, O house of Israel, every one according to his ways,' says the Lord GOD. 'Repent, and turn from all your transgressions, so that iniquity will not be your ruin. Cast away from you all the transgressions which you have committed, and get yourselves a new heart and a new spirit. For why should you die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,' says the Lord GOD. 'Therefore turn and live!'"

God's not a very good Calvinist, is He ;-) As Augustine prayed, "Command what You will, and will what You command!"

I love the account of Spurgeon's conversion.


Peter said...

I'm a big fan of Jesus' approach with the rich young ruler. He asks what he must do to inherit eternal life and Jesus replies by pointing out that he is a lawbreaker and helpless to save himself.

Granted in that instance the guy walks off upset without an answer beyond "be perfect". But that is certainly a good place to start.

Repent and believe seems to be pretty good common ground, because it implies that the person has understood the gospel, and accepted it as true.

I would also want say that I am not convinced that everyone has a "conversion experience" which they can pinpoint to a moment, and we certainly can’t tell what is going on in another person’s heart. Telling a person to “repent and believe” is certainly not what makes the conversion happen, you are simply trying to point them in the right direction (that is towards the cross).

Strong Tower said...

Check your word counter. Mine had it at 193.

What must you do to be saved?

Learn to count.

DJP said...

Try 238.

Which is a BIGGER number than 200.

Stefan Ewing said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Stefan Ewing said...

It seems to me that in the end, the outward Gospel call should sound the same to the hearer, whether the evangelist is a Calvinist or an Arminian: fundamentally, repent and believe in Jesus Christ (or similar words).

This reminds me of the old saying variously attributed to Moody or Schaeffer, that emblazoned above the gate to eternal life is the line, "Whosoever will may come," and on the inside of the gate, "Chosen before the foundation of the world."

The sweet and precious doctrines of grace are fundamental to our understanding of God's redemptive work and how we proclaim the Gospel—but they should not be an explicit part of the external Gospel call, in the same way that a building's foundations are an integral but invisible part of the the building's outward appearance.

The Gospel call includes a call to act—to repent and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ. It is a command. It is not something we can do of our own volition, but by the grace of God the Father and the person and work of His Son Jesus Christ, through the sweet and wholly unmerited gift of repentance and faith by the Holy Spirit.

~Mark said...

Believe ON the true Christ. Entrust yourself to Him. How is this accomplished? By hearing who He really is, and understanding why He had to do what He did in sacrifice. (That includes understanding our own depravity and that fact that He does the saving, not us).

greglong said...

Arlen Stuart wrote:

I would tell them something along the lines of:

"Ask God to give you a new heart that hates sin and desires to obey Him at all costs. Ask Him to give you a heart that trusts only in Jesus Christ's good works instead of your own. Stop loving other things more than you love God and start living your life for Him alone. Because the only way to escape God's judgment in hell is to have this new heart, and only God can give it to you."

Arlen, do you see anything like this anywhere in the New Testament? Peter sure didn't use that approach. Paul sure didn't use that approach.

Great post, Dan. Agree completely.

Strong Tower said...

Trust not your word processor.

You were right, Dan. May the force of deletion be with you.

Now the NST Revised Edition:

Be perfect...

Go, sell all you have, then come and follow me.

Jesus' claim on the people was perfection.

Therefore it is commanded: "While you have the light, believe in the light, that you may become sons of light...

Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts."

There is a lot to do. Perfectly.

To that idea the disciples queried: "Then who can be saved?" Jesus' response indicated that the disciples were right. What is impossible for man is possible for God.

We then appreciate the plea of the tax-collector: ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’

What must I do?

Everything which the Lord commands: Matthew 5:19; John 3:35-36; John 6:29.

Even beg for mercy.

But I would answer the inquirer: "Come and learn of Christ. He alone has the words of life." Simple answers are not necessarily sufficient ones. Other Scripture must be brought to bear upon the heart so that it is equipped to follow.

Or, as JackW said.

olan strickland said...

What’s wrong with those other answers is that all though they may seem simple there is far too much ambiguity involved. There must be boldness and accuracy and clarity in speaking the gospel. Paul and Silas did not just tell the jailer to believe in Jesus – “and they spoke the word of the Lord to him…” (Acts 16:32). Faith comes by hearing…(Romans 10:17).

Men must understand their sinfulness, God’s righteousness, and the judgment to come. These things combine to make a man understand that there is only one way in which a holy God can forgive sinners while He remains just – Penal Substitution. This will mean that the person will understand that God can only give mercy and pardon through the substitute.

Jesus told of a man who prayed a prayer and was justified. The man prayed, “God have mercy on me, the sinner” (Luke 18:13). The word for “mercy” is the same word used for “propitiation” which is also the same word used in the O.T. for “mercy-seat.” He was seeking God’s mercy through an innocent substitute paying his penalty – and Jesus is the only one that God has provided!

linda68701 said...

John 1:12, "But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, to those who believe in His name."

What we Calvinists tend to do, as do all those with dearly beloved theological systems, is to answer questions such as these according to our system, using the Bible whenever it seems convenient.

I appreciate the biblical answers given, but the truth is that the Bible doesn't give a step-by-step definition of "receive" or "believe" or even "repent." Now, either the Holy Spirit was distracted when those parts of Scripture were supposed to be penned, or the words themselves contain all the detail we need, albeit not all the detail we want.

With man-derived systems using a simple biblical word like "repent" is not sufficient. We want to add our own definitions or procedures or methodologies to those words.

Fortunately, while I know many fine Calvinists, many of whom are, in fact, Christians, Calvinism saves no one. Jesus does, by grace and through faith.

olan strickland said...

Wow! I write like I talk - all though instead of although. Could have been one word less :)

olan strickland said...

There's 21 chapters in the Gospel of John. If all he needed to say was in John 1:12 then there was no need for the other 20 chapters. It isn't until John 20:31 that John stated that all the things he had written was so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in His name.

Believe in Jesus and receive Jesus are not the gospel. These are what happens to the elect when they hear the gospel

DJP said...

Aigh! Dudes! You're killing me!

Just deleted a 255-word comment!

Bill said...

Sorry, it was my first attempt . . .

DJP said...

Please, do try again. I hate to delete. But... I laid it as a firm rule. The kids will swarm me if I buckle.

Associate-to-the-Pastor said...

They are not necessarily unBiblical as much as unhelpful. Different people can mean different things by them. Explain them!

Obviously, to say a certain education level is required nullifies Jesus' statements about infants and the wise.

A person who follows on of these ‘formulas’ may or may not be saved: salvation is neither dependent upon that immediate response nor nullified by it. Someone could respond and never change. Someone could respond and it's true. There are no magic words and no forbidden formula: it's a heart issue either way!

It seems the way we explain or call or exhort should be textually driven- and I don't mean tacking on Romans 10 to a sermon on Job. Take the main point of the sermon and 'twist the knife.' Apply it to real life! Tell me how idol worship or the fellowship of the saints or meat sacrificed to idols relates to my family or my job or my free time!

The sermon then is the platform for a universal call for repentance. True discipleship and evangelism both call for the same response: to declare that Christ is Lord and worship Him for it.

Associate-to-the-Pastor said...

The hardest part was 200 words or less. I wanted to explain more! Bleh.

Bill said...

What leaves most presentations of the gospel deficient is the missing call to repentance and mortification over our sin towards a holy God.

We must be careful making statements like "Come to Christ as you are." While we never want to promote working to attain God's favor, we also shouldn’t mislead sinners into thinking that their love of sin doesn’t matter to God.

Softening the gospel as presented in scripture is born out of pride on the part of the preacher. Many who do this would rather see large numbers (genuine or not) than accept their role as messenger and let God receive the glory for regenerating dead sinners no matter how few.

It’s our duty to call sinners to repentance and faith in Christ. We err when we alter the playbook to manipulate the outcome. The elect will be drawn without manipulation. The results belong to the Holy Spirit.

Why don't we follow Christ's example from Mark ch.1:14-15?
14 Now after John had been taken into custody, Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, 15 and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand ; repent and believe in the gospel." (NASB)

Scot said...

I’ll add my 2 cents, since God opened my eyes through, “Pray to receive Christ” and I still struggle with the “molten fire of scorn” Calvinist in me. I need 2,000 words, but since I get 200...

I say only some of those answers are unbiblical, such as “Believe in Christ sincerely” or maybe “Pray to receive Christ.” All others strike me as an attempt to contextualize the Gospel to help seekers understand biblical concepts.

Dan, when I see your answers what bothers me is the Gospel presentation behind those answers. For example, inadequate definitions of repentance or no mention of sin can lead Ernest Evangelist to pressure Nermel Nonbeliever to say a prayer and count her a Christian. But did Nermel understand that repentance means flee from sin to God or pray Ernest’s prayer back to her?

In any Gospel presentation, especially my own, I want clarity. I don’t assume the non-believer has the same vocabulary I do. I want to present the Gospel clearly and clearly share the response to it. It’s up to God to apply it to their hearts. I don’t care if it’s a 5 minute tract or half the night conversation.

donsands said...

"..Calvinism saves no one. Jesus does, by grace and through faith."


Calvinism helps us have total assurance in God though. He will seek and save His lost sheep, even leave the ninety nine for that one. And he will call us by name, and we will follow, and there will to flocks called, and the Good Shepherd will make one fold.

One other thought came to me about "getting" saved.

I believe I may have had a Cornelius type of salvation. I think the Lord cleaned me up a bit at first, and brought me back to church, the Catholic Church. And then somewhere in the following few months I recognized I was in need of Christ for forgiveness. I did the confessing to the priest and all that. I stopped cursing and getting drunk, and hating people, just because I hated their skin color, or the way they talked, or whatever.

God brought me out of the darkness. And yet I believe God sent Peter, (not the real Peter), but through WRBS Christian radio, and the teachers on there: MacArthur, Kennedy, D. James, Swindoll, Stanley, etc.

is that 200?

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

The Bible is clear that in order to be saved, we must repent, believe, take up our crosses, sell everything we own and give it to the poor, be baptized, choose Jesus, follow him, and keep his commandments. A repentance that saves must be perfect, a belief that saves must be perfect. This is all to demonstrate that men are incapable of doing anything to be saved. We should repent, believe, choose, follow, obey...but we can't. Commanding these will facilitate the Holy Spirit in granting new life. (John 6:63)

Unknown said...

Another noob here.

1. Not abominable I would say, but incomplete. I see gospel presentations all the time that are one sided; nothing but grace, and no conviction of sin via the Law (Romans 7:7-13)

2. Not necessarily. I think other commenters touched on this nicely.

3. No, but churches once again, often fail to preach the gospel in a complete manner. Jesus will save you! He has a wonderful plan for your life! /s

4. Yes, if it was belief minus repentance. I don't aim to add to belief of the gospel...but true faith has evidence.

5. So what must you do to be saved? Call on Christ. Do you not see what mercy he offers? It is freely and unconditionally given. Stop trying to save yourself, you cannot do it. Believe ON Christ. Lay your trust and hope in his divine grace and mercy. To see this mercy and to know it is the only thing that will save you and to take it, this is the faith that is of God. If your eyes have been providentially opened to the light of the gospel, see that by this grace of Christ, you are saved.

Stefan Ewing said...

When I wrote earlier "Repent and believe in Jesus Christ," I would rather have summarized the Gospel call as "Repent and believe that Jesus is the Christ" (cf. Matthew 16:16; Luke 24:26, 46; Acts 2:36; Romans 10:9).

Not that I necessarily use those exact words in my elaboration of the Gospel message, but it is in unpacking who the Messiah is as promised in the Old Testament and fulfilled in the New Testament that we get to the heart of "why God became man" (to borrow Anselm's title).

...And it strikes me on reading Acts that the Good News for the first Jewish believers (given their background in the Law, Prophets, and Psalms) was not merely that Jesus Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day as the firstfruits of redemption, but that Jesus was the Christ Who God promised would do all this.

rwt said...

When a person is under conviction of sin and the weight of judgment bears down heavily upon him, then I liken that situation to drowning. Most people instinctively know what to do; they call out for help. Our job is to evangelize the sinner and tell him who can help him. In my case, I knew that if I did not call out for help, I would go into eternal damnation, so I called out, "Lord, save me!"

The people who evangelized me used some of the terminology that you mentioned and it did not hinder me any. The key elements I needed to understand were the basic elements of the gospel: (1) I am a sinner. (2) I am condemned. (3) Christ provided a way of salvation. (4) I must repent and believe the gospel. (5) Whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord shall be saved.

Anonymous said...

When one comes under the conviction of the Holy Spirit about his/her need for salvation they don't need anyone there leading them along. I certainly didn't have anyone besides God besides me. He had been working in my life over a period of time. When the "light bulb of understanding" finally came on, the wieght of my sin overwhelmed me. I had such a strong desire to give up my sins...I was mourning over them for the first time...and give my life completely over to Christ...holding nothing back.
I was at an IFBx teen camp as a counelor at the time. All I ever heard from man was the 1,2,3 pray with me mantra. Yet, that night the Lord got a hold of my heart, I responded and my life has never been the same. No man was there telling me to repent it was the Holy Spirit who brought me to repentance.
So, my repsonse is, the Holy Spirit can do His job WITHOUT our play with words. Sometimes, I believe, we get in the way more than anything else.

Stevemd said...

It is a question that if coming from a sincere person is more than likely already regenerated. The command to repent is a lifelong process and be baptized is identification of the regenerated person with Jesus in his death/burial/resurrection.

DJP said...

Reidster, thanks, but 293 is also a larger number than 200.

Stefan Ewing said...

I hope he can edit that quote from Edwards down to 200 words. Wow!

Michael said...

1. No, not abominations. Overused, clich├ęd, misapplied and now meaningless, yes.

2. Not initially unbiblical. What does faith mean in our individualistic culture? Something like this, but also more. It's the more that's missing.

3. Not complicated. Romans 10:9-10. But it does require a certain willingness to learn and to be taught by Scripture, largely absent these days (and perhaps through all times)

4. It's possible, it does depend what God does. If an unsaved person does this ("and then" or "after" or "and despite this" -choose preferred joiner) God's Spirit rebirths them into the new creature, they are saved, if not, not.

5. Turn away from your old rebellious life, re-order your new life around the truth of Jesus the murdered and raised-to-life saviour, believing his story in the pages of the Bible and acknowledging his good and complete authority over every area of your life. (attempting to express Acts 2:38 with Romans 10:9-10 in ordinary-ish language)

I've come to the conclusion that the Bible teaches predestination but preaches like there's freewill?

So I teach 'Calvinism' but preach like an 'Arminian' (please excuse simplification and generalisation)

NewManNoggs said...

I am way out of my league with you guys, but I'd like to give it a shot.

The question is, what must I do to be saved? I answer:
1) Plead with God to help you to see who He is and who you are. (Repent)
2) Plead with God that He would grant you belief. (Believe)
3) Read your Bible and repeat steps 1 and 2 daily and if you have truly repented and truly believed, He will save you.

We should also be ready to give a recommendation for a good church, be prepared to meet them there, and give them our phone number if they would like to talk more.

The Brewing Chaplain said...

I'm a staunch Calvinist. Some in my circles may label me a "TR" (Truly Reformed). I have actually been asked, "What must I do to be saved?" at least twice. My answer - Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved. That was Paul's message - perhaps the greatest "evangelist" ever to live. I figure it's OK for me. I am constantly amazed at the ability of many Calvinists to overwhelm the gospel message with so much law.

Unknown said...

I was intrigued in my reading this week with Paul saying he was speaking/writing in human terms in Romans. My mind has a hard time even conceiving that there are terms beyond human terms, but that is another discussion. So if we are speaking in human terms, I don't find any of those phrases abominable; I think I know what they mean. Am I comfortable with them? No. But I am not afraid to sing some hymns that venture into the sentimental because I know what is intended. There is a realm that is God's realm that we can't understand now. Our words are going to fall short. I don't like saying that I have made a decision to follow Christ, but it sure seems like I made a decision. I know that I was/am incapable. I know I know I am worse than I think. But it sure seems like I accepted... something... that was beyond my ability to accept. But gifts get accepted, right?

Rileysowner said...

I tried to read all the comments, but I ran out of energy, and they started to run together.

What must I do to be saved?
Believe in the Lord Jesus.

Of course today that needs to be unpacked a lot as our culture has done a good job in corrupting the word 'believe.' However, that does not mean it is a wrong answer.

If a person is convicted of their sin before God, and brought to the point where they are truly asking this question, that is the short answer.

Aaron said...


Thank you for this post. I have this running argument with my more learned brothers. Many "Calvinists" tend to be extremely persnickety about one's choice of words. Word selection is important but not the end all to be all.

Scripture records persons who asked "what must I do to be saved?" Was the reply some snidely clinical retort such as"You can't do anything." No! The answer was "Believe in the Lord Jesus." We can bicker over the terminology but most of the examples you provided are merely different iterations of "Believe in the Lord Jesus." They may be in need of some refinement for accuracy’s sake, but they aren’t wholly anti-Biblical.

IMHO, the biggest complaint is that many evangelicals use the “sinner’s prayer” like a magic incantation. Rather than the prayer being a verbal and outward expression of belief, it is sometimes presented as the instrument of salvation. Instead of telling people to “pray to receive” Jesus, I simply tell them that they may choose to offer a verbal expression, in the form of a prayer, of their belief.

Finally, it is important that people understand who Jesus is and what it means to believe in Him.

Stefan Ewing said...


"But gifts get accepted, right?"

Yes. And even the desire and ability to accept is itself a precious gift of God.

What a wonderful Saviour we have!

Anonymous said...

Hanegraaf has a "3R" method:

Recognize you're a Sinner.

Repent of your Sins.

Receive. Ok. So the last "R" isn't the best. Let's change it to how a good "7 point Calvinist" has referred to it as "Making Jesus your Treasure" (Piper).

Really the question is mis-leading. There's nothing we can "do" to be saved. We are at a place where the only thing we are left with is a feeble pleading "Lord, have mercy on me, a Sinner!" (Lk. 18)

And it is only the trust that mercy and imputation will occur that we are Saved.

Reidster said...

Edwards redacted to 199:

"Come to Christ and accept salvation. You are invited to come to Christ...and to trust in Him for salvation. If you do...you shall have [all] the benefit of His glorious contrivance...as much as if the whole had been contrived for you alone...and there is nothing wanting but your consent. Since God has taken this matter...He has made a thorough work of it. He has not left it for you to finish. Satisfaction is already made; righteousness already wrought out; death and hell already conquered. [Christ] has already taken possession of glory...to bestow on them who come to Him. There were many difficulties in the way, but they are all removed...[He] has already triumphed over all, and is at the right hand of God to give eternal life to His people. Salvation is...brought to your door; and the Savior stands, knocks, and calls that you would open to Him so that He might bring it to you. There remains nothing but your consent. All the difficulty now remaining is with your own heart. If you perish now...It must be because you would not come to Christ that you might have life, and because you virtually choose death rather than life."

Us said...

(I hope this won't show up twice)

If someone ACTUALLY ASKS me, with evident spiritual angst, (or even without, I suppose)

"What must I do to be saved?"


1. "Oh Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!"

2. "Lord, save me!"

If someone nonchalantly asks me, what's the program...what do you have to do to be saved?...

Answer: ask Jesus Christ to forgive you for sinning and fighting against Him your whole life, beg Him to purify and change your heart, beg Him to give you a heart that loves Him, beg Him for faith that follows and obeys Him, beg Him for strength to live for Him,

and PURSUE HIM with all your strength,

keeping in mind that,

"...the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him..." (1 Chron 28:9)

So in short,


"What must I do to be saved?"


"He who comes to me, I will in no wise cast out".

Susan said...

What must one do to be saved?

This is not a WWJD situation (not that WWJD is a good question to begin with) but rather "WDJS" (What Did Jesus Say?)....

From that time Jesus began to preach, saying, "Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand" (Mt. 4:17).

"Whoever does not honor the Son does not honor the Father who sent him. Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life" (Jn. 5:24).

So, I guess, in a nutshell, "Hear, believe, and repent!"

As for all the answers that you posted there, Dan, I think they aren't so abominable if the person who describes his/her salvation with one of those responses shows forth some measure of good fruit (and therefore is shown to be genuinely converted). The phraseology may not be ideal, but the sentiment expressed is understood.

Susan said...

Gisela said: keeping in mind that,

"...the LORD searches all hearts, and understands every intent of the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will let you find Him..." (1 Chron 28:9)

That's what I read today in Spurgeon's Faith's Checkbook, Gisela! (And, boy, I sure needed it....)

Matt Tyler said...

Is it not the Lord who converts? At conversion several things happen simultaneously, or perhaps in milliseconds. However it is God who regenerates a person so that they can then believe on Him. Even when we were dead in our trespasses we were made alive in Christ (Ephesians 2:5). It is by Grace alone (God starts it, through faith alone (now we can believe), in Christ alone.

Faith is a turning from sin to God. Faith needs to be explained to the sinner wanting to be saved.

While certain phrases are unhelpful, it is no indication of whether they are a Christian are not. God can use the foolishness of preaching and His grace can go beyond human's ridiculous phrasing.

When I am giving the Gospel and someone wants to be saved they need to pray for themselves. I have no magical prayer. I will explain what faith is (after explaining sin and hell, ect) and then they can pray.

joel said...

I don't know if this will be helpful Dan but speaking from my experience I was raised in a church were I was taught that I had to have faith in Christ to be saved; I spent 20 years of my life always feeling like a failure because I could never muster quite enough faith and I would always fail when temptation came along. I remember sitting in a class with Phil Johnson not that long ago and hearing him say something to the effect of "it is not about what we do or don't do for Christ it is about what He has already done for us. Even while we hated Him", and something in my heart broke for good. I think that this was the begining of my coming to know Christ, and the more He reveals to me about myself and my sin the more heart broken I feel and the more in awe that he would save someone like me.

Stevemd said...

Luk 10:25+

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the Law? How do you read it?" And he answered, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself." And he said to him, "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live."

J♥Yce Burrows said...

What Must I do to be saved?

The question of Matthew 19:16; Luke 10:25; Acts 2:37; Acts 9:6; etc.

Shall those in Christ point to what the Word still says in the verses that follow the question posed time and time again in the Bible; point graciously/mercifully/humbly without embellishment or disparagement of truth, whole truth, nothing but the truth? To human commentary elevate one aspect(human) to the exclusion of the other aspect(God's work) is half-truth = lie that can result in non-saving/pseudo faith professions/actions rampant in many circles(Calvinism and Arminianism)???

Micah 6:7,8

John 6:28,29

Acts 2:38,39

Matthew 5:20

...For by grace are ye saved through faith(Strongs G4102 ~ Luke 18:42; Philippians 3:9; Galatians 3:26;5:22, etc.); and that not of yourselves: [it is] the gift of God:...Ephesians 2:8

Jesus and His disciples/followers time and time again boldly did teach that Lazarus couldn't come out...but God. So should we likewise in Him following Him and those that follow(ed) Him, in love, inspired of Heaven...not PC mince the Word's words?

DJP said...

Yet another deletion. 516 words is indeed more than 200.

Penn Tomassetti said...

In my opinion, to try to fit a gospel presentation or answer to a question about how to be saved, into Reformed Calvinistic language is not helpful at all, if it is to the distortion of the Biblical response.

I've been guilty, we have all been guilty of thinking at once or other, that since we are saved by grace, telling someone to repent and believe will lead them to think they are saving themselves by their own efforts... if that is so, then either we have failed to proclaim the Good News of God's grace, or they have failed to understand it.

Anonymous said...
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David Kyle said...

Russ... you just plain hurt my head... really man, I'm not kidding this time.

DJP said...

Russ just wanted to tell everyone how much he loves them, and is tickled we're talking about the glorious Gospel of Christ, which is after all of paramount importance.

Or something.

Now, on- topic. Next comment.

DJP said...

Penn, I can't agree, as you word it. I think we should fit it into Reformed Calvinistic language if we believe that is Biblical. But I don't think that (A) we need try to fit every point of doctrine into a Gospel presentation to an unbeliever, and (B) if our grasp of Calvinism is such that we can't use the language of Scripture in evangelism, something is seriously wrong with us.

So, as I said, the Gospel is not "You can't do anything at all!" — though there's truth in that. The Gospel is not "Unless you are elect, you won't be able to believe savingly" — though there's truth in that, too.

But to give an example from the other side — and here I differ from many of my betters — I myself would not present the Gospel by saying "God loves you, and Jesus died for your sins." I wouldn't, (A) because it does jar with how I see Scripture, and (B) the apostles and early church are never, ever reported as saying this in their evangelism. If it wasn't necessary for them, it isn't for me either.

David Kyle said...

Since it is God who does the saving, as many here have pointed out, then we can do nothing in of ourselves to earn, warrant, or bring about said salvation.

What happens is when God regenerates the human heart and places His Spirit within someone, they have been saved. Their ears are now open, they are now alive and no longer dead. The Words of God used to bring all this about give an outlet for a now obedient heart to respond be it repent, believe, obey… or simply follow me.

Think of someone who might be and invalid and unable to move or even speak; would their response be the same as someone walking down the street?

DJP said...

BTW, FWIW, I had to edit my own comments to keep from having to delete myself for length-violation.

Penn Tomassetti said...


Amen. That is why I said, "..if it is to the distortion of the Biblical response." If it is Biblical, then I agree. I had in mind an answer that I myself have even given, that goes along the lines of, "You need to go to God and seek Him to give you the faith to come to Christ." Instead of just saying, "Come to Jesus now" after explaining what it means Biblically to repent and believe.

olan strickland said...

Dan, I whole-heartedly agree that we do not need to fit every point of doctrine into a gospel presentation to an unbeliever.

However, as is evident in many comments here, there is an unacceptable reduction of necessary gospel doctrine even among Calvinists. Believe in the Lord Jesus is not the gospel. It is ok to say that ahead of a gospel presentation or after a gospel presentation but not as a gospel presentation.

Lifting Acts 16:31 from the Bible as though Paul and Silas used it as the gospel is to take Scripture out of context and overlook the truth that they preached the gospel to the jailer after using that phrase (Acts 16:32).

DJP said...

True enough, Olan, but off-point.

My very specific question was how to answer the question "What must I do to be saved?" Here, I'm not even getting in to the particular kettle of fish that is the definition of the Gospel.

As I said, I found that many Calvinists were sneering at what seemed like almost any answer to that question. Everyone who was doing it, was doing it wrong.

What they weren't so clear on was: what is your better way of telling a (presumably evangelized, convicted, ready-to-convert) sinner what he must do to "close with Christ," as the Puritans used to put it.

Jamie said...

Thank you Dan; this is one of those great posts that actually engage the mind which usually causes our box (u know the one we keep God in) to expand just a little.

I think it bears remembering, as some have demonstrated above, that with nearly all Scriptural Doctrine there exists a tension of apparent opposites. How does a virgin conceive remaining a virgin, how is an eternal soul/body continually destroyed in hell, how is a bush set ablaze and yet not consumed, etc. And so it is here in Salvic Doctrine we see another tension; that God who is the loan sovereign agent in the redemption of those whom he calls nonetheless acts upon the exercise of faith by those whom He has called. We cannot escape that the question “what must I do” was not corrected but answered with “believe” followed by preaching. Throughout Scripture is not the exercise of faith toward God rewarded? Was not Abraham’s exercise of faith credited to him? Discounting either side of the tension may lead one to hyper-Calvinism or rank Arminianism both equally detestable.

1 not all
2 see 1
3 no
4 no
5 I cannot I am out of space

DJP said...



Anonymous said...

Uhmmm...I need to read through these responses. I left my church about a year ago and now attend a "Reformed" style church. I have been grappling with the thoughts in this post because it's the background I have come from. I am a believer in Jesus, a Christian, and yet came from the "decisional" background. I've always known you can say a prayer and it can be false, you can say you believe and really don't. I have also known for some time that it is God who even gives us the faith we do have. Yet, there is something nice about having a time when you know you are saved because something happened differently to save you. So I am anxiously awaiting some sort of clarity on this. The other day my daughter, who is six, asked me this question, "what do I do to be saved" and my real answer was "trust in Christ...repent and believe." That's the best I could give for now until I have a better understanding.

DJP said...

Lady, I would encourage you to read the comments, simply because some are really excellent. Certainly many very thoughtful responses.

I think your answer was splendid.

I intend to give my own answer to my own question... maybe tomorrow.

Also that whole matter of "decision" is on my list for a possible future installment of this series.

olan strickland said...

My bad Dan. I thought that you meant by the term "seeker" someone who has been awakened to an interest in spiritual things and not someone who was presumably evangelized, convicted, ready-to-convert.

I suppose the reason that I thought that is because the Philippian jailer asked the question, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved", before he was evangelized.

Therefore I saw all those answers as inadequate based solely on the reason that they are not the gospel.

Anonymous said...

Reading through, and yes, it's getting clearer in terms of verbalizing salvation. I think in decisional circles, people can be saved...it's just they are doing a bit extra in the fluff area. There is an aspect of "coming" whereby people go up to the altar but if they are actually coming to Christ and repenting and believing then they can be saved. It's not the outward walk, it's what the Holy Spirit is doing inside that matters. Sadly, so many really think they were saved because of the act.

Michael Adams said...

To Quote AW Pink:
Verses of Scripture must not be wrenched from their setting, but weighed, interpreted, and applied with their context; and that calls for prayerful consideration, careful meditation, and prolonged study; and it is failure at this point which accounts for these shoddy "messages" of this rush-ahead age.
Look at the context of Acts 16:31, and what do we find?
What was the occasion, and to whom was it that the apostle and his companions said "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ?"
First, the man to whom those words were spoken had just witnessed the miracle-working power of God.
Second, in consequence thereof the man was deeply stirred, even to the point of self-despair:
Third, he took his proper place (before God), for he "fell down before Paul and Silas"
Sixth, he showed respect and consideration for God’s servants.
Seventh, then, with a deep concern for his soul, he asked, "What must I do to be saved?"
It was no giddy, careless, unconcerned person, who was exhorted to "simply" believe; but instead, one who gave clear evidence that a mighty work of God had already been wrought within him. He was an awakened soul.

Esther said...

After reading every comment, I begin to wonder if perhaps it might not be best to answer the question "what must I do to be saved" with another question:

"Why do you want to know?"

and then, assuming the answer is indicative of true desire to know, another question:

"What do you think you should do?"

These two questions elicit a lot of answers about the state of a sinner's heart and his/her understanding of the gospel, and also opens the door to teach the foundational good news, because any answer they give will provide an opportunity to open the scriptures...which is what Paul did for the jailer, and seems to me to be what Jesus did for the rich young ruler also.

Properly applied, no one will leave without knowing the answer to their first question.

So often we want to give an answer; a concise, quick, and possibly easy one, when the reality is that God does the saving and then we Christians must get our hands dirty and take up our valuable time in discipling the baby.

Esther said...
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Tynes Tales said...

This is my first post to your blog. I have found it very educational. I come from a fundamental background and agree with you on most issues. I am a border line Calvinist, proably more so than not. I was saved when I wa 11 years old. After the pastor and my mother talked to me several times I finaly "went down to the altar and asked Jesus into my heart". I had never heard of Calvin or TULIP but I knew I was a rotten sinner and could do nothing for salvation. I repented of my sins and am sure I was saved before I went down to the altar, because I had decided to do so before the church service. The bottom line is I was preordained before the worlds to be saved long brfore I knew how it all worked,despite man's flimsy attempts. Thanks God for His grace! Thanks for making me think.

Jacob said...

[quote]You fasten on "do," and want to say in effect "Nothing! You can do nothing!"

This is an answer no apostle or prophet ever gave.[/quote]

Well not in so many words, but what about "all our deeds are as filthy rags" and similar statements made by the prophets?
What about how no man is righteous, no one even one?
They are all making the same point and bring us to the same conclusion as "you can't DO anything to save yourself".

Jacob said...

Perhaps I should clarify that I mean that the INTENTION behind the statement "you can't DO anything" is the same as those verses. Sure, someone could use that statement incorrectly, but that's not the true use of it.

Also, besiderself - awesome post!

Rileysowner said...

I tried again to read all the comments, but yet again failed.

To those who want to criticize taking the response of "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" as being out of context, does that not depend on the one asking the question?

My assumption was this was a person seriously asking this who already had a sense of their being lost in sin and under the wrath of God.

DJP said...

And yet another for-length deletion, because 411 is also a larger number than 200.

This time, I'm totally deleting the comments so no one knows who was math-challenged or antinomian.

Next time...?

Reidster said...

Dan - I am so sorry - I apologize for misunderstanding. I thought the idea was that our answer to the enquirer
had to be 200 or less. I thought other discussion comments might transgress that limit. I truly do apologize. My bad. (I hate that phrase.)

Reidster said...

Often, the confusion surrounding this question comes for a mistaken notion that "faith" - believing on Christ - is somehow a "work" - strangely meritorious and therefore we cannot call upon the sinner to "do" it.

Scripture however does not make this false dichotomy - it never posits faith faith as a work in that sense, but in fact pits faith and works against one another. Hence - Eph. 2:8 For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, 9 not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (ESV)

Men do not need to know the mechanics of how it is one comes TO have faith, in order to have faith. The exhortation of the Gospel is to exercise faith in in the work Christ has wrought as the only remedy for their sin, and for reconciliation to God. 

olan strickland said...

Simply and better: You should excogitate your execrable nature that brought about the execution and exequy of the sinless Son of God whom God set forth as an exposition of the exclusive way that He can expiate your exigible debt. Not only that, Jesus Christ was exonerated through His resurrection from the dead so that God is exonerated and the exonerator of the one who exercises faith in Christ.

Therefore to this exigent matter I exhort you to excoriate your excuses and exercise faith in Christ, exulting in His exoneration and extolling Jesus as exofficio head!


Michael Adams said...

Yes, it matters greatly!!!
But I think, and correct me if I am wrong...
That "Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved" many, many times is not sounded forth as a genuine question from a person.
But this is used by many evangelicals as they themselves ask the question out loud for others to hear, and then answer the question, and sound forth a message out of context so-to-speak.
They actually put the question into the hearers mind in a con-man fashion.
In a salesmanship context.
In a manner that the passage was never intended by way of using simple hermeneutics.
So it does matter greatly and there is a correct way to use this if someone has asked the question and seems contrite.

donsands said...

"FWIW, I had to edit my own comments to keep from having to delete myself for length-violation."

That was a worthwhile comment. Thanks for shring that.

This has been such a good dialog, for we are giving much glory to our Savior with so many testimonies, and showing how "salvation is of the Lord".

Craig and Heather said...

I hesitate to label myself as "Calvinist". But to the best of my understanding, I am one, in a practical sense. Is it okay to comment?

I've read most of the comments here and am encouraged to see so many thoughtful statements.
I wanted to offer my (comparatively simplistic) thoughts about "What must I do to be saved?"
I am assuming the person is asking because he already has a desire to be saved.

Answer: "Get off God's throne."

Chapter and verse: James 4:6-10 "...God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble."
Submit yourselves therefore to God. Resist the devil and he will flee from you.
Draw near to God and he will draw near to you. Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you men of double mind.
Be wretched and mourn and weep. Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to dejection.
Humble yourselves before the Lord and he will exalt you."


Spike said...

Paul tells the Colossians in the first chapter how he thanks God that the gospel is bearing fruit and growing around the world and among you ever since you heard it and "understood God's grace in all it's truth." This has always led me to believe (with my own experience supporting it) that there is nothing we can do to be saved, but when God reveals the truth to you about what by grace he has done, and you understand true freedom in dependance on HIM instead of US, that you just realize that you are saved. Your believe has turned to saving faith by grace. (And you life is never the same again!) So if someone felt compelled to ask me "What must I do to be saved?" My answer would depend on the questioner- At a discussion at a cafeteria among nonbelievers, the answer is "God just does the saving, you'll know it when it happens.." But to a serious seeker who is feeling grace to ask the question, the answer may be "Perhaps you're being saved right now."

Craig and Heather said...

I guess I should clarify--

My answer was not meant to suggest that we can do a list of things to get saved, but rather that it is the obedient response to the knowledge that we need to be saved.


Stefan Ewing said...
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Stefan Ewing said...

Atone by Bringing your sins to Christ who will Deliver you from Evil through Faith by Grace; for he is our Holy, Immutable, and Just King and Lord, our Melchizedek, the Nazarene Offered as a Propitiation to Quicken Recalcitrant Sinners: The Unsurpassed, Very Word of God, who rules a kingdom greater than a thousand Xanadus—Yea, Zion.

DJP said...

Spike, this is my third, calmest-possible response, after deleting my first two.

Does your answer line up with apostolic/apostolic-church practice? When the jailer asked, Paul certainly did not say "Do nothing, God will save you" (Acts 16:30-31). Peter told the first inquirers to repent (Acts 2:39). Paul said God commands everyone everywhere to repent (Acts 17:31). That's what Paul told everyone, everywhere he went (20:31).

I could go on and on.

Can you think of even one example that explicitly lines up with your "Do nothing" response?

J♥Yce Burrows said...

oops, neglected to count. Might be over.

DJP said...

Yes; 220 is a larger number than 200.


J♥Yce Burrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Aaron said...

Mike Adams:

Let me get this straight. You're preaching that we need to consider the context of Acts 16 but then you can create your own context for Dan's post? Dan specifically said "Christians at large would tell a seeker..." Dan didn't reference some theoretical conversation by believers who are trying to sneak people into the Kingdom by blatantly misusing Scripture. The question is specifically about what we should tell "seekers." Frankly, I don't see how you can contextualize Acts 16:32 out of the discussion about an appropriate Biblical response. The context is right in line. And just because people misuses the Bible, doesn't mean that the response is now wrong. Otherwise, we'd have to create a new vocabulary every time some cult co-ops Scriptural words and concepts.

Again, most of Dan's examples are merely different ways of saying Acts 16:31. And yes, we should expect to tell people what we mean when we say "Believe in the Lord Jesus" a la Acts 16:32. Duh! You have to know who Jesus is in order to believe in Him.

Sometimes I get the impression that some here think an appropriate presentation of the gospel is longer than the Bible itself.

J♥Yce Burrows said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
D. L. M. said...

Hello, my name is Daniel. In Acts 16 Paul tells the jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” This can be our answer too. We have broken no rules, committed no sin, darkened no one's understanding. The crux of this question lies not on how we respond to the question but on how the sinner responds to the answer.

“You can do nothing to be saved (Eph 2:8).” That's a biblical answer. It's also a bad answer to someone who is without hope. “Repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins (Acts 2:38),” is a good answer and we must discipline our minds to remember that it is a good answer. Jesus knows his own and they know him (Jo 10:27).

It is not ours to determine who made a decision and who did not. That answer can take decades to show itself. You do as Christ commands and go, teach, and baptize (Mat 28:18-20). Their actions will tell us if they truly believed (1 Jo 2:19).

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Tense in 16:30 is aorist/past. Same word in vs. 31 but missed that tense is future. Saved. Obey. Kept saved. How far off is that, Dan???

Canyon Shearer, DMin said...

I've been reading through the responses and thinking more about this. It reminds me of Josiah making a covenant with God, and then God crushing Israel anyways. (2 Kings 23:3-26, compare Psalm 50:16-23, and my bigger examination of it)

And when Joshua tells the Israelites to choose between the gods of Egypt or the Amorites, then afterwards makes a covenant for them with the Living God completely apart from their abilities. (Joshua 24:14-28)

And something I think that has been missed overall in this discussion board is that God does not hear the prayers of the sinner, so I recently wrote for a class, "we’ve discovered that God is not listening to our prayers, so for a sinner to pray for salvation is foolishness beyond foolishness." (Compare)

My final answer for what a person must do to be saved, "I believe, help my unbelief!" (Mark 9:24)

olan strickland said...

Tied to a clear presentation of the Gospel, either at the beginning or at the end, calling for trust in Christ as a proper response to the Gospel (what one must do to be saved) cannot be improved upon either in its clarity, simplicity, or Biblical nature.

olan strickland said...

C.B. Shearer: so I recently wrote for a class, "we’ve discovered that God is not listening to our prayers, so for a sinner to pray for salvation is foolishness beyond foolishness."

You forgot these two!

Stefan Ewing said...

Joyce wrote:

Funny, I counted and had 100 when about 3/4 to the end. So much for what I said, huh? LOL

There is an adage in software development, that the first 90% of a project takes 90% of the time, and the last 10% takes the other 90% of the time. (Unfortunately, it's closer to reality than not.)

joel said...

What must you do to be saved?

You must realize that you are a spiritually and morally bankrupt beggar and your only hope is to see the condition of your bankruptcy and reach out your hands to God as a wretch that can do nothing for himself. As a wretch go before God and beg Him to save you and clothe your nakedness with His perfect Son.

This is the type of person that God saves; those who are broken and acknowledge it before Him. Not just those who want a get out of Hell card and are willing to go through the religious motions to get it.

Aaron said...

So Joel, you have some Scriptural authority for your last two statements? If I'm a sinner, I know I'm a sinner and don't want to go to hell, I can't be saved? I have to be "broken?"

That Conservative Dude said...

When asked "What must I do to be saved?". First, look around & make sure no calvinists are within earshot, because if you use the "wrong" words they will chastise you for all eternity. Then ask God for guidance & to use you as His instrument to speak through. My response would depend on the person asking. I would not use the same words for a child as I would an adult, I would not use the same words for a person who has no biblical knowlwdge/experience as I would on someone who has grown up in church. Jesus saves, I am blessed if he chooses to use me as He would. Then praise God that we allowed to help 1 more sinner.

That Conservative Dude said...

Last line should have been...Then praise God that He allowed us to help 1 more sinner.

Spike said...


Thanks for the calm response. Let me explain myself. (And note did I said "perhaps"). I just have a problem with alter calls, and all of the responses that seem to leave God out of the equation that you hear everywhere.

I like the (albeit warn-out) CS Lewis experience in short: He gets on a bus on his way to refute these Christians, hopefully for the last time, goes over his notes looking for some snappy "kill lines" being the great anti-christian apologetic that he was, and gets off the bus twenty minutes later in tears because he realizes he believes it all... Which came first, repentance or the truth? The truth. So he was officially saved at some point, too.

We can resist only until God calls. Then we're toast. And of course our response is repentance and gratitude, baptism, once our eyes are opened. But what part can we play in something that God does in his time. I have no problem with people preaching the gospel knowing the lost will be saved, I insist on it, and in fact try to live the gospel with all heart, too. And I would leave a church that wasn't gospel centered.

If a genuine seeker asked me what he must do to be saved, I'm not sure I'd call him a sinner that needs to change his ways and trust in Christ and be baptized. It starts him right off thinking that it's a bunch of stuff he has to do on his own, and maybe have to unlearn some stuff later. You pose an interesting question. How do you explain God's grace to someone who's eyes are not yet opened to it? Yes, Peter told the crowds to repent and be baptized, but was the question (he was answering) in response to what God had just done to the crowd? They had just heard the gospel preached, the great denial breaker, so maybe the answer is, "Hear the gospel, believe with saving faith, and be baptized." Yikes.

joel said...

Sir Aaron

Matthew 5:3-4
Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.
Matthew 21:44
He who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces, but he on whom it falls will be crushed.
Matthew 9:12-13
On hearing this, Jesus said, "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. But go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice. For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.
Jesus is talking about not just the cost associated with following Him but also the inner attitude and mind of the people He has come to save. He says that He has not come to redeem those who are righteous in their own eyes or spiritually self assured, but those who are broken and miserable.
In Matthew 7 Jesus acknowledges that mental ascent to Him is not sufficient for salvation; rather you have to be changed inwardly.
"Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.

Michael said...

Do not the apostles and the Scriptures teach the doctrines we call Calvinism but preach like an Arminian, demanding a response of the human will?

Why do so many Calvinists struggle to do the same?

The Spirit gives the response, but the Lord still calls it forth through the apsotle/preacher/evangelist.

DJP said...

Except I wouldn't agree that demanding a response is Arminian. It's Biblical, therefore Calvinistic.

What would be neither would be to say, "It's all up to you. God has done everything He can. His hands are tied. God has voted for you, the Devil has voted against you — now you must cast the deciding vote!"

Stefan Ewing said...

Who said that? That sounds really familiar....

Stefan Ewing said...

(I mean that earnestly, not in the "I know but I'm being cheeky" kind of way.)

DJP said...

No specific source.

J♥Yce Burrows said...

Hi Stefan ~ a very good reason why this wife & mum should keep to keeping to her own knitting. :-)

Tim said...

I don't believe the Jailer had the eternal salvation of his soul in mind when he asked, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved."
I believed he wanted to be "saved" from the wrath of lord Caesar and Paul introduced him to the idea of another "Lord".
Salvation is of the Lord.

Aaron said...


That's a unique perspective. But I disagree. As Matthew Henry said:

"The jailer needs not fear being called to an account for the escape of his prisoners, for they are all here....He is afraid he shall lose his soul"

Aaron said...

Joel: if what you are saying is that you can't simply say you believe in Christ as insurance against going to hell, then we agree. On the other hand, if you are saying that you can't come to true belief in Christ due to fear of the wrath of God (and hell), then I respectfully disagree. And the verses you quoted do not support the later thesis.

Jacob said...

@stephan: I believe Phil Johnson said it in one of his Shepherds Conference sessions. (He was using it as an example of Arminian-style evangelism). I don't believe I'd ever heard it said quite that way before but it is true enough that some form of that sentiment is what is conveyed in a gospel call where the it's portrayed as "up to them" whether they get saved or not.

JSA said...

@stefan: It's a straw man, used by Calvinists to smear Arminians. Of course, there are some self-professed Arminians who might agree with the sentiment, regardless of the fact that the quote is decidedly *not* a true representation of Arminius or other classical Arminians.

It's just like how Arminians smear we Calvinists by saying that our answer to "What must I do to be saved?" is "You can do nothing, unless you are elect!". Sadly, I have seen Calvinists say exactly this, but their confusion doesn't make the Arminian smear any more honest. I'm glad DJP posted this, to rebut the typical Arminian smear.

Reidster said...

Jacob - Don't confuse the fact that faith is a gift, with the responsibility every man has to believe the Gospel and trust Christ. We appeal to men according to their responsibility irrespective of their self-impaired moral ability. "You would not" is Jesus' rebuke in Matt. 23:37 - not you "could not." The problem reside in the will. No, no man can will to change his own will. A sovereign work is needed. But his problem is unwillingness and thus the will is appealed to AND, he is fully responsible.

DJP said...

Joshua — it is in no way a straw man. I have heard every one of those statements.

JSA said...

@Dan - Sorry; on second reading, you are right. You said that the answer would be neither Biblical nor Calvinist, which is correct. For what it's worth, that answer wouldn't be Arminian, either.

SP said...

As a few have pointed out, I think it's important to figure out where a person is coming from, and what their current perspective is. Jesus brought forth the rich young ruler's condition with a few poignant remarks.

If someone asked me the question, "What must I do to be saved?," I would ask "Umm...saved from what? And why do you need/want to be saved?"

Their answer would reveal what they understand about themselves, their condition, and God. Then you take it from there, and be willing to spend hours, if not days, if not weeks, if not longer talking through the Gospel with them.

Michael said...


Good clarifier. I think it's the point I was trying to make.

"like an Arminian"

When being Biblical sounds Arminian your Calvinism has become unbiblical (and hence uncalvinish)

Stefan Ewing said...

For the record, a Google search for the exact phrase "God has voted for you, the Devil has voted against you" turns up a few hits, in a few of which (a Wordpress blog, a sermon transcript, an old Baptist church newsletter), the line is used earnestly as part of a Gospel presentation.

But no, I wouldn't deign to consider that representative of the classical Arminian position, either. It is, however, archetypal of what passes for much of "evangelism" in this day and age though, unfortunately.

Stefan Ewing said...

I want to say that I respect the earnestness of believers who are genuinely trying to witness this way...even if their theology is muddled.

And by the way, a search for:

God "voted for you" "voted against you"

turns up a lot more hits, with the protagonist being variously named as God [the Father] or Jesus, and the Adversary being identified by various names.

JSA said...

@Stefan - Yes, I've heard people use that "God voted for you" line, and wanted to puke. However, it is no more "Arminian" than Daniel Dennet it a Calvinist for espousing compatibilist free will.

Looking on Google to find examples of this error, and calling it "Arminian", is like throwing stones in a glass house. ESPECIALLY on this issue, considering that this blog one of the only places on the Calvinist blogs that I have found a reasonable discussion of the salvation call that doesn't devolve into retarded compatibilist sophistry. Dan's post is like a tall glass of fresh water specifically because such common sense is so rare among Calvinist bloggers. If we were to define John Calvin's position on salvation call purely by what Calvinist bloggers say, we would be doomed.

Stefan Ewing said...


Did I call it an Arminian position? No!

In fact, I wrote:

"But no, I wouldn't deign to consider that representative of the classical Arminian position, either. It is, however, archetypal of what passes for much of 'evangelism' in this day and age though, unfortunately."

You seem to be pressing this point, when it was never cited as an example of "Arminianism" in the first place. (See DJP's comment from 4:07 p.m. on August 19th.)

greglong said...

After reading through all of the comments, I'm still amazed at all the variations of "Ask God to give you faith" or "Cry out to God to give you new life" or whatever, in spite of Dan's repeated reminder that we see no evidence of that kind of Gospel call anywhere in the New Testament. Not even once do the apostles say anything remotely similar to "You can't save yourself, so ask God to save you."

Mary Elizabeth Tyler said...

I think God is pretty accepting of all our infantile responses. When we first believe in Christ, we are babes and are not always sure how to frame our requests. He knows our sincerity, and is, I am sure, very forgiving if we say something silly. It is not how we ask, but is it done in faith, and only God knows that for sure.

When we believe in Christ we hopefully understand our deep need for a Savior and our totally bankrupt state without Him, this leads us **inevitably** to repentance. I like the inevitability of believing in Christ. :) (May write something about this).

God will take it from there and complete His good work in us. We are in capable hands!

I enjoy your writing **very much**, Dan, and enjoy all the other authors here, too.

Anonymous said...

Faced with the question "What must I do to be saved?" I would answer
1. Understand who God is
2. Understand the nature of man
3. Understand that Jesus Christ alone can bridge that gap between man and God
4. Understand that God has a plan for His kingdom
This understanding will manifest itself in any number of ways:
• Repentance – Prayer, Turning away from our fleshly nature
• Public profession of faith (baptism)
• A commitment to serve the Lord
None of us have a perfect understanding of salvation at the time of our conversion. Most of us start as Arminians and ask “What must I do?” In time, we come to realize it wasn’t anything we did, but it was all what God has done. If it is God who acted and God who changed me, the question we ask is “What have I become?” I must understand that the only reason I can do is because God has changed what I am. I come to understand that I didn’t become saved, but instead I realized I was saved, and that my behavior must and will change accordingly.
200 words is tough!

SolaMommy said...

accept Jesus as your Lord and Savior

I don't see anything wrong with this statement, but I would precede it with explaining repentance and follow it with unpacking "Savior" and "Lord" in simple terms. I would want them to understand what it is they are supposed to accept. I have been sharing the gospel with kids a lot this year, so I have really had to think this through and boil it down. Hopefully I am on target!

RichardS said...

Nicodemus was told that he must be born from above in order to see the kingdom. John 1:12-13 says a person must be born of the will of God and not the will of man. God does not command what we can do in our own power, but what He alone can do in us. We are commanded to believe in order to go to Him for a heart to believe. The statements listed tell a person what must be done but not that they must have God do those things in them. It is also true that for true belief a soul must have the life of God in it or it is not saved. It can believe the facts but still not have the life of God in it which is indicative of true faith. The 1689 gives the promise of the Gospel as God giving His Spirit to make the elect willing and able to believe.

"So long as the creature is puffed up with a sense of his own ability to respond to God's requirements, he will never become a suppliant at the footstool of divine mercy" (Pink)