What must you do to be Saved?
This is partly from a sermon I preached last Sumer in Ecuador:
Acts Chapter 2 v36-39.
36 “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.”
37 Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
38 Then Peter said to them, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.”
What is the greatest question we will ever need answered. Yes there are other great questions, but all other questions fade into insignificance when compared to this one.
A bit of background. Jesus has been crucified, resurrected and ascended to Heaven. It has been 10 days since Jesus ascended when 120 disciples including the Apostles where in the upper room waiting as they had been instructed to do. This upper room was quite likely according to most sources part of the Temple. Nothing in the Bible happens by chance, and what happened on this day was not only foretold in the Old Testament but it was actually enacted as well. According to Jewish tradition and the book of Exodus, the Torah was given to Moses on Mount Sinai on the festival of Shavuot otherwise known as Pentecost. This is also the day when God spoke in all the languages of the world and when torches of fire which came to every Jew individually. What does this remind you of? This is exactly what happened as well in Acts chapter 2. Tongues of fire came upon the disciples and they spoke in all the languages that where present in Jerusalem that day. You see that you can never understand what is happening in the New Testament if you do not understand what was taught in the Old Testament.
After this Peter preached in the power of the Holy Spirit mainly from the book of Joel and the Psalms. After he finished they asked the most profound question that anyone can ever ask. This was what shall we do? Most of us have heard the Gospel thousands of time. But it is one thing to know what the Gospel is and another to know how to get saved which this question is asking. Up until about 5 years ago I had never heard a sermon or read a book about what we must do to be saved. All I ever heard was what the Gospel was not how to attain Salvation. Now this does not mean that people who only hear the Gospel cannot get saved. Of course they can but wouldn’t it be a lot easier if we also where shown and taught what we must do also. Most of us have heard statements like “Ask Jesus into your heart” and “You Most be born again” But neither of these statements are biblically correct and are not found in your bible. Some of your bibles may say “born again” but this is an incorrect translation and does not appear in the original Greek and Aramaic. The actual translation should be “born from above” which has an even deeper meaning than “born again”. The book of Acts is full of literally thousands of people becoming believers and being saved. And we are often told exactly what these people did. But there is no record of any of them doing anything like “asking Jesus into their heart” to be saved. Now SURELY, if the church has even remotely got its act together, it would have this one thing right. Surely this has got to be one of the most crucial and basic points in the whole New Testament: – How exactly are people supposed to become Christians? What were they told to do in the New Testament? A very simple and straight-forward question, you would think. And so vitally important. But incredibly, it seems that very few of us have even bothered to ask this question or to take on board the glaringly obvious answer. Here we have one of the most vital, fundamental points of Christianity:- “What shall we DO TO BE SAVED?” And generally speaking, our answer today is utterly different from that of the apostles. Incredible really, isn’t it? It’s right there in black-and-white, time after time! But TRADITION has blinded our eyes to the Truth.
In Peter’s answer to their Question he mentioned 3 elements. He mentioned REPENTANCE, WATER BAPTISM AND RECEIVING THE HOLY SPIRIT. There is a fourth element which is not mentioned in this translation but does appear in the original between Repentance and Water Baptism. This is Return To God or Belief in Jesus. I will discuss this point as well. Most people believe that they just need to ask Jesus into their hearts but this is not what Peter answered here. Now please understand me I am not saying that if you asked Jesus into your hearts 20 years ago that you are not saved. I do not know you and I am not your judge, only God and you know what your correct spiritual standing is. Just like a mother giving birth. If a baby is delivered by a bad birthing process, yes the Baby may survive but he or she will have a lot of problems in life as it grows, so a person who becomes a Christian if they are saved through a bad process they may also survive but they will have a lot more problems and struggles to deal with than if they had started correctly.
The first element is Repentance. Without Repentance there is no Salvation. If you are not sorry for your sins why would you want to be saved. Real repentance begins when we realise the consequences for God and his Son; 2 Cor. 7:9 says ‘godly sorry which does not of itself constitute repentance, but which can lead to it’. Light dawns when we realise we have ‘sinned against Heaven’, as well as against others and, in a sense, against ourselves (Luke 15:18, 21). Only then are we able to grasp that we have defied God’s authority, broken his laws, polluted his creation, spoiled his pleasure, provoked his anger and deserved his judgement. At this point we should be in a position of fear. Fear of what God could do to us, but also a fear of not being able to live another day without God by our side guiding and directing us.
Scriptural repentance involves three dimensions: Thought, Word and Deed.
The word repent (Greek: metanoeό or Hebrew: Shuv) means literally to change one’s mind. It means to think again, particularly with reference to past behaviour. To repent means to think about things from God’s point of view, to agree with his analysis and accept his verdict. Jesus came to save us from our sin, not our sin (Matt 1:21). It is vital to know what those sins are from which we need to be saved. This is where the Word part comes in.
Thinking differently about former actions needs to be followed by speaking differently about them. When we pray asking God for forgiveness we need to pray aloud not because God can’t hear but rather so that Satan can. While Satan has some power he is not all powerful. We also need to name the sins that we need forgiveness from. We do this as much for our benefit as for God. Have you ever done something terrible and tried to keep it a secret. You feel terrible, depressed and very unhappy but when you tell someone, while their may be consequences, you immediately feel better because it is out in the open. There is no more hiding. It is the same with naming your sins individually before God so that he can deal with them one at a time.
Words of repentance need to be followed by works of repentance. It is said by their fruits you will know them. Paul expected repentance to be demonstrated in practical ways. The “Heavenly vision”, to which he was not disobedient, was a mission to the Gentiles, calling them to “repent and turn to God and prove their repentance BY THEIR DEEDS” (Acts 26:20). John the Baptist, Jesus and Paul all demonstrated that repentance involves putting the past right wherever that is possible. Any umbilical cord which is a link to past sin must be tied off and cut. The past must be brought to a conclusion. When we change our minds about sin, he can change his mind about us. One of the clearest statements about this in the Bible is Jeremiah’s observation of the potter and his clay (Jer 18:1-10).
So Repentance is a process of your words changing, your thoughts changing and your deeds changing. If any one of these are missing I would seriously suggest that you ask yourself are you really saved at all.
BELIEF IN JESUS OR RETURN TO GOD
Now what good is repentance if you do not believe in the one true God, The God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and his Son Jesus the Messiah. The reason that this was not a big issue in Acts 2 was that most of the people in the audience that day where in Jerusalem exactly because they believed in the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, but they still needed to believe in his son also. If a Hindu started to repent of all his sin and decided that he must live a better life, what good is that if he still worships all his Hindu gods. It would make no difference at all to his eternal salvation.
Faith needs to be possessed and practised, as well as professed and proclaimed. Faith is based on facts, not feelings. Many Christians today are into a feelings and emotional Christianity. It comes down to how they feel which guides what they do rather than facts. Feelings can change from one minute to another. If we let feeling dictate our Christian walk then most if not all of us would not be Christians anymore.
Faith includes an acceptance of the significance of events as well as there occurrence. Since Jesus who was crucified, buried and raised proved what he claimed to be, the incarnate Son of God, these events take on an importance for the whole of history and the whole of the human race.
It is also the case that to believe that Jesus is the Saviour of the world is not the same thing as believing that he is my Saviour. Even Satan believes and trembles.
True faith means ‘keeping faith’. True faith is what we finish with, not what we start with. Justification may be ours in a moment of faith; sanctification and glorification are the results of a lifetime of faith. Saving faith is not just a step; it is a walk, a series of steps stretching from this life into the next (1 Cor 13:13 says “But for now, three things last – trust, hope, love; and the greatest of these is love. Pursue love!”). Many Christian believe that once they are saved that, that is it and they don’t need to do any more and that they can live any way they want. Well if you believe that, you have never read the Bible and you are making a mockery out of God. Please go away and read all the bits in the Bible which teach us how to live. Please remember that we can do nothing to win salvation but we can do a lot to lose it. Works will never get us Saved but rather it is because of our Salvation that we do good works. If you are married or have children you will do everything for them not because you have to so that you can keep them but rather you do these things for them because you love them. It is the same with God. We can do nothing which will save us but rather it is because we love God that we do these things. Once a person has put their trust in Jesus, the next step is to be baptised in water.
In this passage Baptism is very much part of the answer. It is not an option. Before I continue please understand that Baptism alone can never save. If you do this you are simply having a public bath. But repentance without baptism equals disobedience. Now if you repent and fail to be baptised, I cannot say whether that means you are not saved as the Bible doesn’t say, but I wouldn’t like to try it to find out. While Baptism is very important and the Bible teaches so, it is not a doorway into salvation rather it is a tool to help us in our Christian walk. The word baptise in Greek is baptizein which is a descriptive word for the sinking of a ship. It implies total immersion. No where in the Bible where Baptism is mentioned does it mean anything but immersion. Also Baptism was not a new concept. It is mentioned many times in the Tanach and comes from the Hebrew word Mikvah.
Why do we get Baptised? It is a bath for those who are dirty. In Acts 22:16 it says “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord” In Eph 5:26 it says “in order to set it apart for God, make it clean through immersion in baptism”. And Hebrews 10:22 talks about baptism washing away sins. Justin Martyr one of the early Church Fathers wrote, “There is no other way to obtain God’s promises than this – to become acquainted with Christ, to be washed in the fountain spoken of by Isaiah for the remission of sins, and for the remainder, to live sinless lives”. The early Christians didn’t separate baptism from faith and repentance. Baptism wasn’t some magical ritual that could regenerate a person if it wasn’t accompanied by faith and repentance. They specifically taught that God was under no necessity to grant forgiveness of sins simply because a person went through the motions of baptism. A faithless person was not reborn through baptism. Baptism is a burial for those who are dead. The burial in water is the vital link between the believers’ death to his old life and his resurrection to new life. The New Testament writers do not hesitate to use the word ‘save’ in connection with baptism (Mark 16:16 says “Whoever trusts and is baptised will be saved; Acts 2:41 says “those who accepted what he said were baptised”; and 1 Peter 3:21 says “This also prefigures what delivers us now, the water of baptism, which is not the removal of dirt, but one’s pledge to keep a good conscience towards God, through the resurrection of Jesus the Messiah). If they do and believe this maybe we should also.
When was it done? According to the book of Acts as soon as they could convince others that they had truly repented and believed. It could therefore happen on the same day as they heard the Gospel (Acts 10:48 says “And he ordered that they be baptised in the name of Jesus the messiah.”), or even the same night (Acts 16:33 says “Then, even at the late hour of the night, the jailer took them and washed off their wounds; and without delay, he and all his people were baptised”). Many people today when they get saved either wait many years before they get baptised or never get baptised at all. If you say you love God and His Son Jesus so much why would you disobey his very commandment to you as a new believer. It is a bit like in my opinion a couple who have got engaged but don’t plan to get married for another 2 or 3 years. Why would you get engaged if you didn’t plan to get married as soon as possible. This doesn’t make sense on many levels especially a Biblical level. In Acts 22:16 it says “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptised, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord”. This moves us on to the last element to Salvation, receiving the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Receive the gift of the Holy Spirit
Now I come to probably the most controversial part of Peter’s answer. I am not going to give a full teaching on the Holy Spirit and the gifts as this would take quiet a few hours to complete. Someone once said that if you are teaching about the Holy Spirit properly you will find that you offend about 75% of your audience. I don’t mind offending people but unfortunately I don’t have enough time to offend all sides in equal measure to give it justice.
The first thing you should notice from what Peter said was that it was a gift. It cannot be earned, bargained for or worked for; it can only be ‘received’ with gratitude or refused. If you watch or listen to a lot of Christian tv or radio you will be really be confused by this. Actually much of this is actually wrong and contrary to the Bible. When did the Bible ever say that you should shout and scream at the top of your voice for an hour so that people or God could hear you. While it is ok on occasions for a preacher to raise their voice to preach or teach a whole sermon like that will make people just switch off after 5 minutes. Also on radio or tv you will see a lot of preachers asking the listeners to pray that they will receive the gift. When was the last time you asked someone for a gift? You haven’t because it is rude and it is not the way to do things.
One other point I wish to make is that this was not the first time that the gift of the holy spirit had been given to people. Actually the Holy Spirit, which in Hebrew is the Ruach ha Kadosh was present on earth from Genesis ch1:1 up until the birth of Jesus when it was removed until Acts Ch2. So again we see that the whole Bible is important for our understanding and not just the New Testament.
The Holy spirit was a promise made by Jesus to his disciples which was received on the day of Pentecost. To receive the Holy Spirit is only just the beginning. In fact, living in the Spirit is a foretaste of heaven! One sign is the joy that expresses itself in music (Eph 5:18-20). Another is the fellowship experience by the people of God with each other and with him. Yet another is the increasing knowledge of God’s mind and heart (through words of wisdom, knowledge, prophecy and interpretation). It is also a renewal of your old life into a new life. In a sense it is about helping you as Max Lucado said to become “Just like Jesus).
There are many gift associated with the holy spirit but just like a child on Christmas morning we are happier to play with the box of the present rather that the actually present itself. I don’t speak in tongues or claim to prophecy not because I don’t want to or don’t agree with it but because it hasn’t been given to me. I do not agree with cessesionalism or dispensationalism as in my view and from my reading of the Bible this just limits the power of God and I am not prepared to do that. But why do a lot of Christians want to speak in tongues when as Paul says this is the least of the gifts. I have been in churches where people have started to speak in tongues which didn’t annoy me but what did annoy me was that no-body got up to interpret the tongues. Paul again says that if there is nobody to interpret then you should keep silent.
But even more important than the gifts is the fruit that comes from these gifts. Everyone knows them “Love, Joy, Peace, Longsuffering, Kindness, Goodness, Faithfulness, Gentleness and Self-control”. If you can not love the way you should then please stop speaking in tongues, if you cannot be kind then don’t prophecy, if you can’t have self-control then stop being a Pastor. I have seen people who speak in tongues on a Sunday but say the most horrible things to their wife, husband, Children on Monday. I have seen Pastor’s who preach great sermons but then go to the shop and treat the shop worker horribly. If you can’t live like a Christian please don’t pretend to be one. This only brings dishonour to the Holy Spirit.
You must remember that the Holy Spirit is not just a power, he is a person. He is a comforter to lead and guide. Unlike the Father and Son, he is not a King and does not rule with absolute authority. He can be grieved (Eph 4:30), quenched (1 Thess 5:19) and resisted (Acts 7:51). He never violates a human will nor forces his power or gifts on anyone. He even entrusts the control of his gifts to their recipients; they don’t ‘have’ to be used (1 Cor 14:28).
There is a lot more that can be said about each of these elements but time has run out. The people after hearing Peter’s answer responded and 3000 people where saved. The difference between then and now is that of those 3000 people that where save that day, they all remained saved, because they did what peter told them and then where taught daily from the scriptures. Today this is not the case. Most people don’t follow all the steps that Peter said and don’t get proper Teaching. About 3 years ago Franklin Graham was in Quito doing some meetings. 1000’s of people where reported to have gotten saved. Where are they now? I am not saying anything against Franklin Graham or any other Evangelist because even if out of those 1000’s only 100 where genuine then that is good. But raising you hand or repeating a prayer after me does not save you. Only true repentance, true faith in God, Baptism followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit will help you not only start you on the path of Salvation but will keep you there. With all our books and resources today the average Christian knows less about the Bible and God than they did 20 years ago. This is partly their own fault but it is also the fault of the Church not teaching properly. The average sermon today is no better than a small devotional which took less than half an hour to prepare. We need to get back to proper teaching and in depth teaching where the Pastor has to spent not just half and hour but rather hours in the Study so that they can deliver meat and not just milk to the congregation. If you are Christians question ask yourself have you been baptised and been given the gift of the Holy Spirit. These are not just good things to do but rather tools to help us in our walk with God. If you are not then I suggest you start today by repenting and believing in God and then as soon as possible get baptised.