June 24, 2012

What Must I Do To Be Saved?

Acts 16:29-31~ “…and the jailer called for lights and rushed in, and trembling with fear he fell down before Paul and Silas. Then he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” And they said, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” 

The clear statement on/in most Christian web sites is that: Salvation is a gift from God we can’t earn, we can only receive it from Jesus! This is a correct statement. It is indeed by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God (Ephesians 2:8). This is so that no man can boast in anything they have done. Nothing you've done gets you salvation. It follows that once salvation is attained, continued work is not necessary to maintain it as it was never attained through work to begin with. The flip side of this as James tells us is that, although we are not saved by our works they are indeed fallout or manifestations from our salvation and an absence of them is a possible indicator that we were never saved to begin with. If we are saved we are suppressing the Holy Spirit with sinful behavior as to make the works of the Spirit unrecognizable or misinterpreted by outside observers (including ourselves). It is because of God’s love for us that we receive this mercy and grace that even allows us a chance at salvation. The grace is unmerited. We did nothing to earn it, God gave it. It is part of the exchange between the Father and the Son. We are literally a gift from the Father to the Son…and from the Son back to the Father. The implication is that it was predetermined since before the foundations of the world or pre-time in eternity past. A sinner (you and I) were kept for this purpose. Surprisingly, we are even extended an undeserved gift in this transaction: Grace. Please note this is predestined for those willing to obey His call, not against but with God’s will to do so. It is a concurrence of wills not a conflict of wills, like two rails on the same railroad track heading in the same direction at the same time-albeit for possibly different reasons...the train will arrive at its intended depot on time as determined. (I refuse to get into the Calvinist/Arminian debate here. I merely mention this because this is what I see in Scripture when I read it)

Having said this I now shift gears to address salvation and conversion in and of itself.

Many will say Romans 10:9-10 is pretty self-explanatory: “That if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.  For with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” What must be seen here is that it is not the confession that is the route of salvation in this passage. It is an effect of the salvation that is caused by the “belief in your heart”. We need to interpret this passage correctly and delineate. I have heard many say that you need to believe and confess verbally to be saved. Confession verbally is a work and it is not by works that we gain our salvation it is purely by trust and belief in the Gospel or what Jesus Christ did on the Cross. To attribute any man-centered act as a vehicle for gaining correct standing in God’s eyes for eternal life is a misinterpretation. Any works centered salvation goes against the premises we know to be true in Scripture (Ephesians 2:8).

I believe you can say a sinner prayer and accept God into your life. You can pray a prayer of repentance and ask forgiveness from Jesus. If the Christian life for the sinner stops here I hardly think we can consider these people saved in the strictest sense. If this “convert” shows no fruits of the new life and does not leave habitually sinful ways behind (1 John 3), this person had better take a better look at themselves. They may be flirting with the razor thin edge of damnation. If there is no repentance and no change there is a high probability this convert is no convert at all. The path to salvation is narrow. Just because one thinks they are saved because of a single prayer and then manifests absolutely no outward signs of salvation or presence of the Spirit is bad news. A Godly inward reality should be busting at the seams of a person to get out and should be fairly evident to observers over time in that person's acts/actions. To say a prayer like a magic incantation does not necessarily magically create a Christian (*POOF*)....eh...no...it doesn't work that way. Christianity is a permanent change at the very core of being (we are ontologically changed or created anew, and a new heart is put within us (Ezekiel 36:26). Our “new”evangelical way of converting people is to have them say prayers almost in a ritualistic practice. This is fine but we also need to then follow-up and assure that their roots of faith have taken root in the word. This will become manifest in the behavior of the person (or not).

I often hear people say that we need to confess Jesus and what he has done. We can invite Him into our hearts. This strangely sounds an awful lot like a work. We need to “invite” God to do something, thereby performing an act ourselves to attain salvation. This is where we flirt dangerously with “Evan-jellyfish-isms” and poor word usage that makes our repentance or “attempts” at conversion rather watered down in an attempt to draw numbers rather than true converts. Instead of demanding that converts come to God on his terms, instead we try to get God to come to us on ours. To me this is amusing in a sad way. When we “accept” Christ, who is accepting who here? It’s not as if we can just march right up to God on our own terms. A few people tried that in the Old Testament and they were toast, literally (as in dead, just as Uzzah). We can paint the approach from a human point of view any way we want. If we approach God in a way not prescribed by God we will get no closer than if we had walked away. It’s God’s way or the highway…not our way. God’s way is one-way or no way.

John in his Gospel is clear what Jesus says, “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. (John 14:6)” In reality we are accepting nothing. What we are really doing is trusting God’s promise and believing what has done for those that will repent and believe that He did what he said He would do. It is what saved the likes of Abraham and it is what will save us. If we are going to split hairs on terminologies we had better do it right. The confession is not the Salvation, nor the sinner’s prayer. It is the simple act of believing and trusting God. So… go ahead confess Jesus and what He has done and invite others to do so but remember that these acts/works and are not what is saving you. These acts are called evangelism. They are signs of the salvation that has already taken place or at least should be.

In a short sermon essay from Cotton Mather, What Must I Do To Be Saved? The Greatest Concern in the World, Cotton Mather asks: “What must one do to be saved?” I suspect Mather knew he was using a misnomer or misappropriated word to get his point across when he answers the question. When he answers he alludes to the fact that the “do” is not a “do” at all. We “do” nothing. It is what we “know”. I suppose know is the ultimate desire of any Christian. To know what Jesus has done for us. To know Jesus. This “knowing” starts as faith in what He has done or belief that He did what He promised He would. We are to trust Him because ultimately, He is trustworthy and deserves our trust as He has given us no reason to not trust Him, only reasons to trust Him. It is what follows the knowing that becomes the doing. Once we know that Jesus died on the Cross for our sins, was buried and rose again the third day in accord with Scripture, it is then and only then that the “do’s” come along as they are not the conduit but rather the aftermath. Mather states:

“You must know, that There is a Great Salvation proposed unto the sinful Children of men”
“There must be practice joyn'd [sic] with your knowledge” [in other words, faith without works is dead]

Cotton Mather than goes on to drive the nail home. He unequivocally states:

“A pure gospel, a sound doctrine, must be pursu'd, You are now to be treated with nothing but wholesome Words; nothing but the faithful sayings of God"

Then a sentence later he hits the nail again.

“When the poor man said what must I do to be saved, we read they said believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” "Faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, who is the Only Saviour; This, This must be found in all that will be saved. The faith, which is, a satisfaction of the mind in the way of salvation by a glorious Christ revealed in the Gospel. The Faith by which we deny ourselves, and rely on a glorious Christ, for all salvation. The Faith by which we receive a Glorious Christ, and Rest on Him for Salvation as He is offered unto us.”

After this has happened, anything that comes of this...is the Holy Spirit working through us. We then go out and preach/teach the Gospel as commanded by Matthew 28:19-20. Why? Because faith comes by hearing.

Romans 10:17: “faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word about Christ”

The believer becomes a believer because of the Spirit working through another believer. It takes one that already has faith to proclaim it so that others will hear and come to faith. That way the very vessel that God converts becomes the very vessel to convert others and the Spirit indwells them all. This then causes unity of the Body of  Christ. This method and message based in faith has continued in an unbroken chain since time immemorial.

1 comment:

Gary said...

Salvation is actually a much simpler event that what many evangelicals make it out to be. Lutherans believe that salvation occurs solely due to the will and work of God. The sinner is a passive participant in his salvation. The sinner DOES nothing.

The Lutheran interpretation of Scripture on the Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is often confusing to evangelicals. Why? Understanding what the Bible really says depends upon your world view.

Most Christian evangelicals, and all other world religions, come from the viewpoint that: "I must do SOMETHING for God to love me and want to save me! I can't believe that God would just give me his love, his grace, his mercy, his peace, his forgiveness AND eternal life...based on absolutely nothing that I do. Can it really be true that God gives me all that, in addition to the fact that he gave his only Son to die for me...not based on any good quality, trait, or deed that I can provide to earn his good favor, and not even based on me making a decision that I want his gift??

That is INCOMPREHENSIBLE, illogical, unreasonable, and makes no sense!

But that is what the Bible says that God does: He gives us the free gift of salvation based on his love for us ...alone.
"But God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."
So if you are able to remove YOU from the act of salvation, here is how the Bible says that GOD does it:

Salvation occurs by only one means: the power of God's declaration of righteousness/the power of his Word.

In the New Testament, God says that he uses his Word to save and forgive sins in two situations: when the Word is preached, and when the Word is spoken with the application of water…Baptism.

It's that simple.

Who do Lutherans baptize? Answer: We baptize anyone who comes to us, or is brought to us, seeking God's free gift of salvation and the forgiveness of sins. Do you have to be baptized to be saved? No. But why would you refuse this beautiful act of God? Why would you refuse God's gift of the forgiveness of your sins? Do you really have true faith?

As Christ says in Mark 16:16, it is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of belief/the lack of true faith that damns.


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