What must I do to be saved?
During World War Two C.S. Lewis was asked to give a series of talks over the radio to encourage the people of Britain during such troubling times. In those talks he distanced himself from all of the controversies that surrounded religion and God, deciding that it would be better if we could get back to Mere Christianity. He wanted to do exactly what we have been doing over the past four weeks, make sure we have the basics right so that we can move from an empty religion to a full and wonderful relationship with God.
I believe that it has been important for us to go back and look at the basics, because if we get the basics wrong then nothing else matters. That being said, we need to be careful because it is so easy for us to take for granted that everyone has the same understanding of these issues that we do. We assume that everyone knows that God is real. We assume that everyone knows that the Bible is the word of God, and we assume that everyone accepts the fact that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the promise, that He is the Messiah and Savior of mankind.
We assume that people are smart enough to understand what we understand the same way we understand it. Truthfully, they don’t. Not everyone who claims to be a believer asserts that God is alive and active in the world today. Not every Christian believes that the Bible is without errors, and not everyone who claims to be religious believes that Jesus was the fulfillment of the promise. And not everyone who claims to be a Child of God will answer our question today the same way.
Staying with the basics of faith this morning we need to look at the question: What must I do to be saved? Let me want to warn you as we start this morning, not to get to comfortable and dismiss this question. Like every question we have looked at, I want us to try to get rid of any preconceived notions that we are right and everyone else is wrong. I want us to go back to the Bible and see what God has to say on the matter. Because at the end of the day what I, one of our elders, or your parents had to say about this question doesn’t mean a thing. The only one who is qualified to answer the question, is the one who actually does the saving.
This morning I am asking you to go against your nature and take a fresh look at this question. The problem this morning is that many of you already have your answer before you even open your Bible. That’s a dangerous place to be. You know, when we asked if God was real some of us said Yep He sure is and then turned off our minds.
When we asked if the Bible was the word of God complete and correct, some of us though, of course it is, now it’s time to take a nap.
And today when we ask the question what must I do to be saved, there will be the temptation to think that since I am saved, I can go back to making out my shopping list or finish that needle point that I started last week.
I want to remind you that we are looking at these questions for a couple of reasons. First, I believe that every now and then we must go back and look at the fundamental questions of Christianity. That’s why the book Mere Christianity has had such an impact on the religious world. We all need to make sure that we have the basics right every now and then.
But the second reason that we are going over these questions, is to help you help the people that you care about. I am sure that you know someone that has struggled with the existence of God, or Jesus’ claim to be the Messiah. Not only are we reconfirming what we believe, I have tried to give you a pattern to follow when you talk with the folks you love about God.
If you have ever talked, or listened to anyone talk about their relationship with God, or their own salvation you know that we all have a different point of view when it comes to the scriptures. It’s like a man who is traveling through Houston and sees a wild pack of dogs attacking a boy. The man gets out of his car, grabs a stick and beats the dogs off the boy and as he is helping the boy up a man runs over to them as introduces Himself as a reporter for the Houston Chronicle. The reporter says you are a very brave man for helping this young boy and I can see the headlines, Houston man saves boy from wild pack of dogs. The man replies well I’m not from Houston.
The Reporter says, “The headline will read, A Texas man saves a boy from a dog attack.”
The Man replies “I’m not from Texas, I’m from New York.”
The reporter says, “The headline will read, Yankee kills families pets.”
It all depends on the way you are looking at something to the way you respond. Some folks will tell you if you want to be saved then you need to ask God into your heart. Others will tell you that you need to make a public commitment before a church if you want to be saved. Then some people will tell you if you want to be saved all you have to do is live a good life and God will have to let you into heaven. Today as we consider the question, what must I do to be saved we need to open our Bibles and see how God would answer the question, since He is the one who does the saving.
Let’s stop here for a moment. We need to get rid of a thought that you might have. And I need you to listen very closely to what I am about to say, because if you misunderstand me we will have a bit of a problem. You are not saved by the 5 step Plan of Salvation. Now I am thankful for the Plan of Salvation. I won a few ribbons in the 2nd and 3rd grade because I could quote Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and Be Baptized. I even got extra credit because I would add the 6th step, live a Godly life.
But I believe that we like the plan of salvation because we have this legalistic belief that says Baptism is something I do to save myself. I Hear, I Believe, I repent, I confess. And that’s really what legalism is all about when we believe that by my thoughts, deeds, actions, and reactions I am able to secure my salvation.
That belief stands in stark contrast to what Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9: For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. There is nothing we can do to save ourselves. Salvation is a gift from God. But like any gift we have to unwrap it.
First we have to hear the bad news
Have you ever had somebody come up to you say, “I’ve got some good news and some bad news, which one do you want to hear first?” I hate when folks do that to me. According to some personal research most folks I have met would prefer to hear the bad news first. We tend to think that the good news will help us get over the bad news.
If you have ever read the book of Romans you know how that works. The apostle Paul begins his letter by saying that he is ready to come and share the good news with them, but first he needs to tell them and us the bad news. If you look at Romans 1:18 you will see that it is really bad news. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness.
Now it’s important that we understand why Paul would start his letter this way. Paul knew full well that we can’t fully appreciate the grace of God until we fully understand what we’ve done wrong and what we deserve as a result.
It’s like in Matthew 9 when the Pharisees are challenging Jesus and His decision to eat with the tax collectors and sinners at Matthews’s house. In verse 12-13 Jesus responds by saying, “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.”
Too many folks are not interested in being saved because they don’t believe that they are really lost. Even some folks here struggle with this thought. We believe because we grew up going to church, we have done a good job raising our kids, or that we have been good to our parents. We think because we have never been in jail, or committed a crime that we are good enough. And Jesus says that we cannot be saved because we are righteous, or consider ourselves righteous.
That’s not the picture that Paul paints in the book of Romans. He paints a very clear picture about our standing with God. In Romans 3:10 he writes “there is none righteousness, no not one.” Not you or me. Then he continues in Romans 3:23 “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” Once again by using the word all he is including you and me. And if that was not bad enough he writes in Romans 6:23 that as a result of our sin we all deserve to die because “the wages of sin is death.”
The bad news that we all have to understand is that everybody means you and me. God lead Paul to write that every single person on the face of the earth is a sinner. You, your friends, your parents, even preachers have all sinned. As a matter of fact there was only one person who ever lived on the earth that never sinned, His name was Jesus. Everyone else has fallen into the trap of sin.
The Bible says that our sins have caused us to lose our relationship with God. They create a huge valley that separates us from God. Sin separates us from God because God is perfect and we aren’t! We all need help to get back to Him. And while that may sound like we are hopeless, we have hope.
Paul writes in Romans 5:8 “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” Jesus knew that we were going to reject Him but He loves us so much that He still came and sacrificed His life for us on the cross, making eternity with God a possibility instead of a dream. But in order to receive that gift we need to unwrap it a little more.
Next we need to act in Faith
We need to act on our faith and understand that faith is a two-step process. It’s not easy, but it is rewarding. The Hebrew writer says that faith is the only way in the entire world to please God. In Hebrews 11:6 we read And without faith it is impossible to please him, for whoever would draw near to God must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who seek him.
The first step to having faith is believing. I know it’s tough to believe in something or someone that you can’t see, but we believe in all types of things we cannot see. We believe in the wind, we believe in our own brains, and we believe in the North Pole.
We have faith that these things exist because we see the results of these things. We see the trees sway and have no problem believing in the wind. The same goes for God. We can see the results of His work all around us.
I would suggest that it is easier to believe in God, Jesus who died to pay for our sins, and that God raised Jesus from the dead; than it is to believe that all of this stuff just happened, and we are floating around aimlessly.
Believing is not really that difficult. We merely have to make a decision based on the evidence in front of us. I believe in gravity because every time I drop a ball it falls to the ground. It may bounce but it always ends up on the ground. The same is true for any decision of faith. You must make a decision based on the evidence before you.
The second step to faith is action. Faith has always required action. The walls of Jericho fell by faith, but would they have fallen if the people would have sat in camp and just believed that they would fall? No they had to complete God’s divine instructions. Noah and his family were saved by faith, but they still had to build the ark. While it was God who made the walls fall and God who saved Noah, they had to take personal responsibility by accepting what God was doing in their lives. They could not just sit there and be saved.
The same is true for us today. We can only be saved when we act on our faith. You know when I was little I used to think that the baptistery was pretty special, even magical. Now I understand that there is nothing special about the baptistery; it’s what you do in the baptistery that is so special.
When a person dies we have a funeral where the person is placed in the ground and completely covered with dirt, or buried. That’s what happens when a person is baptized, but instead of being covered with dirt we are completely buried in water. Paul describes it in Romans 6:4: We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.
Through faith we enter into “death” just like Christ did, and then as we rise up out of the waters of baptism; we too get a new life just like Jesus when He came back from the dead. We also get some pretty cool gifts on top of eternal life with God in heaven. We get our sins forgiven for the first time and we get the Holy Spirit living in us to help us in our new lives as Christians.
This is what happens at your baptism. That’s why baptism is so important, and so incredible! Baptism shows the beauty of what God is accomplishing in us. It shows on the outside what is going on in the inside. That’s why Peter would write in 1 Peter 3:21 “Baptism saves you, not as a removal of dirt from the body but an appeal to God for a good conscience, through the resurrection of Jesus Christ,”
It’s not the water that saves you, it’s the appeal. Baptism is an object lesson, a symbol of your willingness to give your life to God. Baptism makes us obedient to Christ and it shows that we are willing to make a commitment to become part of God’s family. When you become part of His family you are called by a new name: Christian. A Christian has a special relationship with God. God is your Heavenly Father and you are His child.
This wonderful new life in Christ means that our sins are forgiven. And when we sin we can pray to God and He will forgive us. We belong to Jesus. We are part of Christ’s body, the church, the family of God. The Holy Spirit lives within us to help us and to guide us. We will live for Jesus and tell others about Him and His wonderful love. We are promised eternal life in Heaven. All of this is available because God loves us. Not because of anything that we did, or can do, but because of what God did.
Questions To Consider
What problems do we have, when we believe that everyone has the same beliefs and understanding we do?
I said that the 5 step plan to salvation (Hear, Believe, Repent, Confess, and Be Baptized) can lead to a legalistic mindset. Do you agree or disagree?
Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-9 that we are “Saved by grace, through faith”. Explain what he means and what is our part in the whole process?
Talk about your conversion process. Did you ever really feel lost?
When did you come to the decision that you couldn’t save yourself?
Hebrews 11:6 says “without faith it is impossible to please God”. Unwrap that a bit. How does our faith please God?
What does your faith cause you to do?
What must you do to increase in your faith?
Then why do we struggle doing what we know will draw us closer to God?
This morning I listed some things that a life in Christ offers believers: Forgiveness of sins, we belong to Jesus, we are part of Christ’s body, the church, the family of God, the Holy Spirit lives within us to help us and to guide us, we will live for Jesus and tell others about Him and His wonderful love, we are promised eternal life in Heaven. Which of these promises gives you the greatest sense of peace?