For me, sometimes the irony gets real thick. I remember watching a television evangelist spend fifteen minutes emphasizing “you are saved by faith not by works.” He correctly pointed out that we are not capable of being good enough to save ourselves; this would be salvation by works. And the scriptures do teach that we are not saved by our own merit; we must rely upon Jesus.
However, he also went beyond these biblical affirmations when he claimed that works meant doing something. Because of how he defined works, he concluded that there was nothing we could do in order to be saved. But then as the program came to an end, he began to encourage people to respond to Jesus. Guess what! He told them to do something in order to be saved! He told his listeners to say a prayer confessing that they were sinners and to ask Jesus to come into their hearts!
He obviously failed to realize that by defining works as “doing something”, he had also condemned saying a prayer and inviting Jesus into one’s heart! He could have avoided this whole awkward dance if he had just focused on preserving Paul’s definition of works and faith in Christ which boil down to self-reliance and trusting in Jesus.
Each branch of Christendom teaches that you must do something in order to be saved. Does it not make sense to ask, “what does the Bible teach us to do?”
This question is raised several times in the biblical books of Luke and Acts. We first encounter it being directed to John the Baptizer who was proclaiming a baptism of repentance unto the remission of sins as he preached the good news about the One to come (Lk. 3:3, 16-18; Acts 19:4). To him the crowds queried, “what should we do?” (Lk. 3:10,12,14). In each case, John’s response called for them to repent, that is, to cease ungodly behavior and exemplify lives of love. And of course, they were being baptized by him in the Jordan River.
After Jesus died on the cross establishing the new covenant, Peter preached for the first time on the next Pentecost the good news that Jesus was the Messiah and Lord. They had killed Jesus, but God had raised him to life. In response to his lesson, his Jewish listeners asked their Jewish brethren, “Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s answer was, “repent and be baptized, each one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38 NASB).
Later when Saul of Tarsus encountered Jesus on the road to Damascus, Saul came to realize that Jesus was Lord. And yet, Jesus told Saul, “Rise, and enter the city, and it shall be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6).
What was Saul to do? When Saul retold this story in his own words he recounted Ananias’ words, “For you will be a witness for Him to all men of what you have seen and heard. And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:15,16).
Perhaps the Philippian jailer had in mind saving his skin when he asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). But Paul and Silas jumped at the opportunity to teach him the gospel. What did he need to do? He needed to understand who Jesus was and to believe in him. But this jailer had no idea who Jesus was nor how he should trust in him. So Paul and Silas taught him. And immediately he and his household were baptized. Upon being baptized, they rejoiced because they had come to believe in the Lord (Acts 16:31-34).
Whether in the Gospels, the historical literature of Acts, or the Epistles, consistently the New Testament message announces what we need to do in order to be saved/1. We must rely upon Jesus, not ourselves, for salvation. We start down the path of relying upon Jesus and his blood by being baptized.
Every group in Christendom teaches that you must do something in order to be saved. Why not teach what scripture announces?
1/ Mark 16:15,16; Matthew 28:19,20; John 1:12,13; 3:3-5; Acts 2:37,38; Galatians 3:26,27; Romans 6:1-4; 17,18