The young man who was very rich came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) The same question has been asked by many from the first days until now, and it is one that has a certain degree of legitimacy. That people ask the question at all is a sign that there is hope in the world for future generations of saved people – it shows that some people know there are things they must do, and that eternal life is something that cannot be realized without appropriate deeds of preparation. In response to the question posed by the inquisitive young man, Jesus answers, “If you wish to enter life keep the commandments” (19:17). It is significant to note that Jesus believed that a life of inaction could never result in salvation. It is not as if we earn Heaven by our deeds, but we certainly cannot see the grace of God at work without obedience to His will.
In the New Testament, we are given some commandments to keep which aid us in our journey from condemnation to salvation. While the rewards of the eternal dwelling cannot be earned, there are essential deeds and attitudes which place us in a wholesome and righteous relationship with God. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But even a free gift requires some kind of action on our part. Although one may win a prize in a raffle, there is often some list of requirements on the back of the raffle ticket – age limitations, citizenship, the need to go to a certain place at a specific time to claim one’s prize. These actions have nothing to do with the fact that the gift is free, but they are essential in obtaining it.
Hearing the Word of God
When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus Christ responds by saying, “‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31). Inherent in obedience to this law is hearing its words. Without the desire to listen to the message of the Gospel, our actions in this life are worthless. We are told throughout the Bible that “he who has ears, let him hear…” (Matthew 11:15, Revelation 13:9). Furthermore, Jesus states in Luke 8:21, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
Can we please God without hearing? Can we accomplish anything in life without hearing instructions? Most importantly, is hearing an act of salvation? By hearing, of course, I do not mean the literal, physical act of receiving messages through the human ear. Otherwise, those who are deaf would never be able to obey the Gospel. In the truest sense of the word’s spiritual application, “hearing” means inviting the Word of God into your heart, either through reading the Bible or listening to its words spoken out loud. After all, “When you read you can understand [the apostle Paul’s] insight into the mystery of Christ, which in other generations was not made known to the sons of men, as it has now been revealed to His holy apostles and prophets in the Spirit” (Ephesians 3:4-5). And also, “Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of Christ” (Romans 10:17). One writer said, “We once saw an educated mute, who was quite an intelligent member of the church of God. We wrote on a slip of paper and handed him the following question: ‘Sir, Paul says faith comes by hearing;’ as you cannot hear, how came your faith?’ He was a good penman, and quickly wrote the following answer: ‘Though I can not hear, thank God I can read. I heard the Gospel like I heard the question you asked me. John says, “Many other signs and miracles Jesus did which are not written in this book; but these are written that you might believe…” I read, understood, believed, and obeyed what was written.’ We were pleased with his answer, for it evinced that he know much more about the faith required by the Gospel than many who have ears to hear but seem not to understand what faith is, or how it comes” (The Gospel Plan Of Salvation, Brents, 214).
“But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world’” (Romans 10:18). There is no excuse for any person not to hear the Word – after all, let us remember that Jesus said anybody who has ears has an obligation to hear! In numerous accounts of people being saved, hearing and believing the Gospel plays an essential part. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:37, the people “heard” Peter preaching and were pricked to the heart. This soul searching never would have happened had they not heard Peter’s words. In Christ’s prayer to the Father, He prayed for people who would believe in Him by hearing the words of the apostles (John 17:20). The faith of the Gentiles came in the same way, for Peter said, “Brethren, you know that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7). In Acts 18:8, many of the Corinthians, after hearing, believed and were baptized.
But what if we choose to not hear? Can we not just plead ignorance
by plugging our ears and crying, “I did not hear?” That this argument is
self-defeating seems clear, for ignoring a plain truth does not make it vanish!
To close our ears when a teacher assigns homework does not expunge that
assignment from the grade book, does it? When our employer orders the completion
of a job in such and such a time, does turning and fleeing from him remove all
Can we make cancer disappear by plugging our ears when the doctor comes to tell us the bad news? Then how, my friends, can anybody think that ignoring God will detach us from obligation to His Law? Consider, for example, the Jewish leaders who stopped their ears and cried aloud to keep from hearing the sermon of Stephen in Acts 7:57. Did ignorance save the Israelites in the wilderness? Surely not, or else the Lord never would have pronounced a judgment against them in Psalm 95:7-11 and Hebrews 3. There are many reasons why people choose not to hear the Gospel – for some of the same reasons we choose not to listen to the good instruction of our parents, the warnings on a label, the posted speed limits, the disclaimer before a monster truck show, or the sermon of a preacher. “But they refused to pay attention, and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing” (Zechariah 7:11).
Believing In Jesus Christ
It almost goes without saying that belief is an essential part of salvation. Upon hearing the Word, it is necessary for us to believe it and make application of its lessons to our own lives. Of the many things that we must believe, the foremost is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. After all, without believing this, what point is there to becoming a Christian? Why would one adhere to a religion that one does not believe? It is especially significant when we realize that so much of the Christian faith depends on the simple fact of Jesus’ honesty in His claims of divinity.
We must believe that Jesus existed for all time at the right hand of God, infinitely inhabiting the same realm as the Father (John 1:1, Philippians 2:6). We must believe that He is who He claims to be, the Son of God. In Acts 8:37, as the Ethiopian Eunuch is considering baptism, He asks Philip if there is anything preventing him from fulfilling the deed. In response, the evangelist states that the only thing that could separate the Ethiopian from being baptized and saved that very day is his belief in Jesus.
We must also believe in the resurrection of Jesus, which is considered of utmost importance to Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. He makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the first lesson he tried to teach the Corinthians was that Jesus died and was raised. Later, he writes, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17). Our faith is worthless if we do not believe in the resurrected Savior – if Christ has not been raised, then salvation is not open to anybody, and there is only death and nonexistence awaiting us after this life comes to a close. What kind of hope is that?
There is no way that we can be saved unless we are willing to confess Jesus as Lord. What is so interesting, though, is that we will all confess Christ someday, though it may be all for naught at that point. Our Lord tells us that “not everybody who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). A day will come when the King will return to this world in a cloud, surrounded by a host of angels, and all the people of the earth will finally know for sure that Christ is Lord! Unfortunately, confession on the day of judgment is confession that is too late. Consider another scripture; “For it is written, ‘As I live, says the Lord, every knee shall bow to Me, and every tongue shall give praise to God.’ So then each one of us shall give an account of himself to God” (Romans 14:11-12). What a sobering thought! On that great and terrible day, every single person who rejected the Gospel, every single skeptic who needed more evidence, every single unbeliever who just did not feel the need for Christ, every single teacher of falsehood, and every single arrogant atheist will bow before God out of terror. We have a choice, therefore, to either confess now or later. As one writer puts it, “A willing confession now, with other things being equal, produces a blessing in this world and being confessed ultimately by Jesus before God and holy angels in judgment. A compelled confession at judgment will only add up to eternal condemnation” (Studies In Romans, Robert Taylor, Jr., 249).
“Therefore also God highly exalted Him, and bestowed on Him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those who are in heaven, and on earth, and under the earth, and that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God that Father” (Philippians 2:9-11). This passage serves a wonderful companion to our previous scripture. Paul very clearly states every single knee will bow, and every single tongue shall one day confess Jesus. Some to be sure will reach the judgment seat having already confessed. These will get to enjoy the benefits of having Christ confess them before God (Luke 12:8-9). All others, however, will be forced to confess because of undeniable circumstances – there are no valid arguments that can be made by an unbeliever or an unrepentant sinner while standing before the Almighty!
With this choice in mind, let us make the decision to confess Christ now, while it is still our choice. Turn to Romans 10:8-10, “But what does it say? ‘The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart’ – that is, the word of faith which we are preaching, that if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved; for with the heart man believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” The opportunity to be saved is for all of us, for there is no distinction made in this passage between Jew and Gentile, slave or free man, male or female (Galatians 3:28). One step on the road to salvation is no further away from us than in our own mouths – amazingly, so few people choose to take advantage of it! How said it will be on that day when God will condemn so many people simply because they did not believe, repent, confess, and be baptized! Unfortunately, many will take this verse to mean that confession alone saves us (i.e., the “sinner’s prayer”). A closer look at the verse, however, reveals that within the context of the verse belief is also a necessary step to heaven. So what is it? Does confession alone save us? Or does confession and faith? The answer is that it is both, for we cannot just look at Bible verses independently from the rest of the Bible! If that is so, then we could easily argue that baptism and belief are the only requirements to salvation (Mark 16:16), or baptism and repentance (Acts 2:38), or even baptism alone (1 Peter 3:21). The fact is that all of these things are necessary because they are interconnected, just as Romans 10:10 is saying! Our faith not only manifests itself in a desire to repent of our sins, but also to confess to the world that we believe. That confession, however, is meaningless without the action (baptism, repentance) to back it up. Moreover, those actions are worthless without the faith (James 2).
In any study of a word like this, we must first look at what the word actually means, that is, what the original text says about this word. In Greek, which is the primary language of the New Testament and the translated Old Testament, the word for repentance is metanoew, which literally means “to perceive something after it has been done, or to change one’s mind” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vine, 279). The common usage of the word, however, suggests a change in action. And, every single time that it is used in the New Testament, it is referring to a change of action for the better.
We know that repentance is an essential part of the plan of salvation because we see it exemplified and mentioned right alongside other actions leading to salvation. We see it with baptism in Acts 2:38. The Apostle is asked by the crowd, “What must we do?” He responds, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” We see that repentance leads the soul to forgiveness in Acts 5:31. Peter says, “[Christ] is the One whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” We see that repentance also leads to knowledge in 2 Timothy 2:25.
As examples of true repentance, consider, first of all, the Corinthians. We find out from the text that many of them were fornicators, and drunkards, and adulterers, and all manner of despicable characters (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). But baptism and faith in Christ Jesus saved them. It washed them. It cleansed them and made them whole.
There are some valuable lessons that we can learn from the Corinthians. Primarily, we find that Gentiles are most certainly under the specific, outlined Law of Christ, not protected by ignorance or their own moral code. The sins described in the text are very specific sins, some of which would not be considered unlawful to Gentiles (i.e., alcoholism is not an illegal thing for most people, neither is homosexuality, and neither is adultery in our society). But these ignorant, unbelieving, lawless Gentiles were still being judged by the Lord through Jesus Christ. And they were still criminals held accountable to the Gospel. Take a look at Acts 20:21.
Another lesson that is valuable is that nobody is stuck in any certain sin, no matter how strong the temptation may be. These Corinthians were homosexuals, yet changed and became productive heterosexual Christians. These people were drunkards and alcoholics, yet overcame that as well. These people were living in adulterous and incestuous relationships, yet they rejected worldly “love” to live a better, more righteous life.
Also take note of the kind of repentance displayed by Zaccheus. In Luke 19:1-10, we see that this man was a very wealthy tax collector – likely supporting himself by the illicit funds skimmed off the top of the taxes. However, after only one day with Jesus, this man was so affected by the Lord that he proudly proclaimed that he would repent of his sins to the utmost extreme. “Behold, Lord, half of my possessions I will give to the poor, and if I have defrauded anyone of anything, I will give back four times as much.” As a shining example of repentance, Zaccheus shows us that trite acts of change mean nothing compared to the desire to repair and repay every mistake he had ever made in his career. Do we show the same zeal for our repentance?
The word that is used in the New Testament for baptism is BAPTISMA (baptisma) for the noun, and BAPTIZA (baptiza) for the verb. According to Vine’s Dictionary of the Bible, the noun form (baptisma) means “consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.” The most important aspect of this definition is that it entails the entire process of entering, staying, and exiting the place of burial.
The verb form (baptiza) means “to baptize, primarily a frequentative form of the word to dip, was used among Greeks to signify dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another.” Here, again, notice that the entire process of dipping and removing is described. When one is dyeing a garment, she does not simply sprinkle that garment with the dyeing agent. How ineffective! Rather, a complete burial is necessary. Also, one cannot say a garment has been “dyed” until it has gone through the entire process of being cleaned, prepared, dipped into dye, removed, and dried. Perhaps this is the same with the process of salvation. Visualize these two definitions and you will undoubtedly realize the importance of both liquid and complete burial in both descriptions.
The apostle Peter was there when our Lord gave
the commission to preach to all the nations, so he understood very well what was
inherently involved in
”making disciples.” Peter preached exactly what he was supposed to have preached, as a Christian and not as a Jew alone, and baptism was always the outcome. Consider Acts 2:14-38, in which Peter begins his discourse by saying, “You men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words…” It is at this point that he preaches Christ and Him crucified, with the result that those listening are “pricked to the heart” and ask Peter and the brethren what needs to be done. In response to this inquiry; “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38). That day, 3,000 souls were added to the church. The question that we must ask ourselves is what we need to do! When we consider our own sins, and the cruel nature of Christ’s death upon a cross, which one of us will not be pricked in the heart? Which one us will not bow his head and feel the deep regret that accompanies the guilt of sin? Contrasted so starkly with the individuals on the day of Pentecost is Felix, the governor who sat and listened to Paul preach the Gospel “quite often” but never took the necessary steps to ensure his salvation (Acts 24:24-27).
Philip is another preacher of the Word who understood the details of baptism, because on more than one occasion he was instrumental in convincing others to get baptized. Acts 8:12; “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” One point that we can make is that men and women are both welcomed into the church, and baptism is not a strictly masculine action. Galatians 3:28 states that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free man, neither male nor female…” Second, part of preaching the “good news about the kingdom of God” included preaching about baptism. Otherwise, why would these people want to respond to his speech by requesting baptism? One cannot separate baptism from the kingdom! In later verses, Philip is found preaching to a eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39), who questions him about a verse from Isaiah 53. Begin with that prophecy, Philip “preached Jesus to him.” By preaching Jesus and discussing the prophecy of Isaiah, the preacher convinced the eunuch to get baptized. Inherent in “preaching Jesus” is preaching baptism. Once again, they cannot be separated. Notice a few other things about this text: the eunuch was baptized as soon as possible, in the least likely of all places. He did not wait until he found a more appropriate time and place for baptism; if this act is not necessary, then why the rush? “They both went down into the water…” We all must be baptized by somebody, and there must be a witness around to attest to the action. We cannot baptize ourselves. Obviously, the baptism was full immersion in the water, because they both needed to get out of the chariot and descend into the pool. If the baptism were simply sprinkling, then why not just baptize the eunuch right there in the chariot? Finally, the eunuch did not “go on his way rejoicing” until after the baptism had taken place. If this Ethiopian received salvation by faith alone, then why did he not rejoice right there in the chariot before his baptism?
The apostle Paul, when his name was still Saul and he was a persecutor of the church, explains his own conversion in Acts 22. In Acts 9, Saul meets Christ on the road to Damascus and is blinded. The Lord says, “Rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6). Notice that whatever it is that will be told to Saul was not his choice. It will be something that he “must do.” After meeting Ananias and receiving back his sight, Saul is baptized. Later, Paul explains the event thus, “‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name’” (Acts 22:16). It is baptism that washes away our sins. We must also see that baptism is an action that we either decide to take, or decide to reject. We can “delay” at it. We must make the choice to “arise” to do it – that is, baptism is not just an action that we have done to us (passively), but it is an action that we decisively make.
In Acts 10, the Bible reader is introduced to a man named Cornelius, who is noted for his general kindness and righteousness (Acts 10:1-3). But for all his righteousness, he was not saved. He had not been baptized, because we read in Acts 11:14, in which Peter is recounting the events of his encounter with Cornelius, “And he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” It is not that Cornelius was already saved by his faith or his works according to the Law. He was not saved, and only a relationship with Christ, beginning with belief and baptism, could have saved him. After speaking to Cornelius for most of Acts 10, Peter finally concludes his discourse by saying, “‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized…’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47-48). Baptism is not just a choice we have, it is the only choice that saves! It is a direct command.
There is no place in the New Testament that teaches that ones is saved without baptism. In fact, just the opposite is true. Almost every time that belief in the Word or the Gospel occurs, it is followed by obedience (baptism). When Lydia believed in Acts 16:14, she was baptized. When the Philippians jailor heard the word spoken by Paul and Silas, he was baptized (Acts 16:32). When the Corinthians heard the preaching, “they believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). The Ephesians also “heard this, and they were baptized” (Acts 19:5).
What Must I Do To Be Saved?
Act. It is as simple as that. We must all do something if we ever expect to hear a favorable judgment when the Lord returns in glory. There is no better time to respond to the questions presented in this sermon. There is no better day than today to become a Christian. You have heard what must be done in the Bible. You need to believe that message, and be willing to confess it before man and God. You need to repent and change your life. You need to be baptized, for it is in baptism that we mirror the death, burial, and resurrection of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. “Today if you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts…” (Psalm 95:7-11).