Of all the questions which men might have, none equal in importance to this one. Such a question acknowledges several facts:
1) that we are needing to be saved;
2) that human existence goes beyond this world;
3) that we cannot design our own means of salvation.
Ask this question in today's religious world, and prepare to receive a myriad of differing responses. Some will tell us that we cannot do anything, and must simply rely upon the Lord choosing us. Others will tell us that we must be immersed in water or sprinkled with water as a child, and thereby we have been saved. Still others will call upon us to word a prayer, asking Jesus into our heart, and affirm that the result will be salvation.
Rather than listen to the various thoughts of man on such an important question, we would do well to consider what the Bible says. Three times in the book of Acts, we find this question asked, and given a response. The first occurrence is in Acts 2:37, when the crowd gathered for Pentecost in Jerusalem listened to the preaching of Peter. We find it again in Acts 16:30, as the Philippian jailer received instruction from the apostle Paul. And the final time in Acts 22:10, as Paul recounts his own conversion to Christ. Let us consider what the Bible answer to this question is.
"WHAT SHALL I DO, LORD?"
Travelling the road to Damascus, ready to persecute those who called upon the name of Christ there, Saul of Tarsus was confronted by a great light from heaven. Unable to see, he fell to the ground, hearing a voice, "Saul, why are you persecuting Me?" Upon asking who it was, Saul heard in return, "I am Jesus of Nazareth..." This is when the future apostle inquired, "Lord, what do you want me to do?" (Ac 9:6; 22:10).
Some teach that Paul was a saved man at this point. Man may teach so, but the Scriptures do not. Jesus responded, "Arise and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do." Doubtless, Paul believed in the Lord, but he had yet to hear the word of the Lord. Like Cornelius (Ac 10:1-6; 11:13-14), the Lord placed Paul with a teacher of His word, so that he might be instructed in the way of the Lord. Paul's question of what the Lord would have him do would be answered in the teaching of Ananias.
"WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?"
Paul and Silas, having cast out a spirit from a girl who had been exploited by her master, were harshly beaten and thrown into prison, given into the charge of the jailer. You may recall that at midnight, they were singing and praying, when an earthquake rocked the prison, freeing all inside from their bonds and opening the door. Awaking from sleep, and seeing the prison door open, and thinking that the prisoners had escaped, the jailer drew his sword to kill himself. From inside the prison, the voice of Paul rang out, "Do yourself no harm, for we are all here."
Having confirmed this to be true, the man fell to the ground at Paul's feet, begging, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" It is possible that this man had heard of Jesus of Nazareth, but he knew nothing of Him as a saviour. However, at this point, he understood that he needed salvation, and perceived that Paul and Silas could help in this endeavour.
Notice the response, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." (Ac 16:31). Mere recognition of the name of Jesus (assuming this man had even heard the name before) was not enough. He needed to believe on the Lord Jesus. I can imagine the jailer's next question... "Who?" And so we read, "Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house." (v 32). Romans 10:17 records, "Faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." This man needed to develop faith in Christ if he was to be saved, and so the disciples spoke the word to him.
"MEN AND BRETHREN, WHAT SHALL WE DO?"
Peter's sermon at Pentecost climaxed with the following statement, "Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ." (Ac 2:36). Having been cut to the heart by the realization that they had killed the one whom God has sent to save them, the crowd asked the apostles what they were to do now. Notice what the answer was not. Peter did not say, "There is nothing that you can do". He did not command them, "Say the sinner's prayer and you'll be saved". He gave them the simple, God ordained response to the question, "Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins..." (v 38).
WHY DIFFERENT ANSWERS? ARE THEY DIFFERENT?
Now one might be prone to question, why one three separate occasions do we find the same question answered in three different ways? The reason is quite simple: you need to begin with some one where they are. It would have done the Philippian jailer no good had Paul and Silas responded to his question by saying, "Repent and be baptized..." The man had yet to believe in Jesus. Likewise, Peter would have left the answer to the Jerusalem crowd incomplete had he responded, "Believe on the Lord..." They already did; that was the purpose and the successful goal of Peter's sermon. But they perceived that there was more. And they were right.
Simply, unbelievers must believe. Once they have become a believer, then they need to hear and heed. We so often use the word "believer" as a synonym for "Christian", and certainly, it can be used in that way. But understand, there are some believers who are not yet saved. They may believe in the Lord, but they have not yet obeyed His word. For instance, Cornelius was a believer (Ac 10:1-2), but he was not yet saved. He was commanded to send for Peter, for "...he will tell you what you must do." (Ac 10:6).
Notice the parallel between the three accounts. See the culminating response unto salvation. The Jerusalem crowd were commanded to "Repent and...be baptized..." (Ac 2:38). The jailer, having heard the word of the Lord, and cleansed Paul and Silas' stripes (repentance?), "...immediately he and his family were baptized." (Ac 16:33). After Paul went into Damascus, the Lord sent Ananias to him. Having spoken with Paul, Ananias inquired, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Ac 22:16). In each instance (and in fact, in every instance of conversion recorded in the book of Acts), baptism is mentioned.
Many today will scoff at those who say one must be baptized for the remission of sins to be saved. It is thought that such is "working for salvation" or shows a "lack of faith in the Lord". Do you think the people at Pentecost were concerned that they might be "working for salvation" if they obeyed the command given by Peter? Did they think that being immersed in water for the forgiveness of sins demonstrated a lack of faith in Christ? No! They gladly received Peter's word (for it was from the Lord), and were added to the number of the saved (Ac 2:41, 47).
Friend, we are talking about your soul's salvation. Will you attempt to be saved by some means decided upon by men, or will you follow what God has revealed in His word? When we stand in judgment, it won't be before our local preacher, or a council of the church we belonged to – it will be before the Lord. He will not judge us based upon whether we believed and abided by the doctrines of this or that denomination. He will judged us based upon whether we believed and abided by His word, as revealed in Scripture. If you will be saved, you must obey the word of God, not the word of man.
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Click here for this week's Answering The Atheist
Did Jesus tell His disciples everything? In John 15:15, He indicates that He shared with them "all things", but in John 16:12, he had things which He had not told them yet. Is there a contradiction?