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What Must I Do to Be Saved?

The following is an adaptation of the sermon ‘What Must I Do to Be Saved’ preached by Pastor Mike White on Sunday, 3/30/2014, at CityLight Church. To listen to the full podcast please click here:

The Question

In Acts 16:25-34 (read it here), Paul and Silas are imprisoned in Philippi. Instead of whining, complaining, and reacting with fear, they were ‘praying and singing hymns to God’ (v 25). When we pray & praise in the midst of our circumstances, two things happen: 1) the enemy becomes confused, and 2) the people around us will be moved to listen to us when we talk about God. As Paul and Silas were singing, the earth shook and the chains fell off every prisoner in the place. The jailer, fearing that all the prisoners had escaped, took his sword and was about to kill himself, but Paul interjected:

“Do yourself no harm, for we are all here.” Then [the jailer] called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” –Acts 16:28-30

The Answer

It is incredible to me that in the midst of his dire circumstances, Paul has no regard for his own life. He is laser-focused on making sure this jailer’s soul is saved – even though this was the very man who had been keeping Paul and Silas in prison! Paul’s answer to the jailer is profoundly simple: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).

If we want to be saved, we must believe in Jesus Christ. Paul expands further in his letter to the church at Rome:  

…that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has 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. For the Scripture says, “Whoever believes on Him will not be put to shame.” For there is no distinction between Jew and Greek, for the same Lord over all is rich to all who call upon Him. For “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” – Romans 10:9-13

Belief is required for righteousness, and confession is required for salvation. That’s it: plain and simple. In order to be ‘saved,’ God requires belief in Jesus Christ, and a confession that you rely on Him as your Lord and Savior.

The Issue

Now if you’re built like me, you’re probably wondering how something as complex as salvation – the eternal destiny of a soul – could be so simple! Everything you’re ever achieved in life has required a lot of effort on your part. If you’ve ever gotten a promotion at work, you probably had to earn it. If you have a great family, it’s because you’ve spent blood, sweat & tears making it great. When we do well and work hard, we get a reward. Even children know that. It’s built into our psyche as a necessary law of cause and effect.

Historically, the Church has piggybacked on that theme. There are entire Christian denominations built on the idea that salvation is unattainable without good works. The problem is this: the Bible promotes salvation by faith; not by works. Jesus Christ performed the only work that was ever required: He gave His life once as a sacrifice for all (Rom 6:10, 1 Pet 3:18).

If you believe that works are required for your salvation, you are placing faith in your own actions. If your faith is in your own actions, it can’t possibly be in the finished work of the Cross. Faith in your own works and faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ are mutually exclusive. If salvation depends on what you do, it can’t possibly depend on what Jesus did.

Furthermore, if you believe that you must perform good works to be ‘saved,’ the implication is that you can also become ‘unsaved’ if you fail to perform good works. Is that a reality you’re willing to embrace? So, in whom are you placing your faith: you, or Jesus? When you place your faith in Jesus Christ, your salvation is forever loosed and independent from your performance of good works.

By Grace, Through Faith

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted his ‘95 Theses’ on the door of the Castle Church in Wittenberg, Germany. For many historians, this marked the start of what would come to be known as the Protestant Reformation. Luther took issue with various practices of the Church at the time, including and especially the sale of indulgences as penance for sin. He opened the door for many to the realization that we are saved by grace, through faith: not by works. We have a choice: if we choose works (the Law), we will be judged according to our shortcomings; but if we choose Grace (Jesus Christ), we will be judged according to His Righteousness.

Paul said it best:

But God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them. – Eph 2:4-10

There are so many things to love in this passage. It’s important to note that grace is defined as ‘unmerited favor.’ By definition, we can never earn (merit) it. We can never deserve it on our own.

The 10th verse is one of my favorite verses in the Bible: “For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them” (emphasis added). My favorite word in the verse? For. Prepositions are important. No word in the Bible is included by accident. The fact that we are created for good works is so important because it means we are not created by good works. The creation (salvation) happens before the good works (sanctification). Works are not a requirement for salvation, but rather a result of it.

Good Works

It is true that Christians should perform good works. However, we must remember that we are never saved by good works. Works should be a natural by-product of our salvation. However, God prepared the works beforehand. In other words, God prepares the works; not you! The implication is that we don’t have to run around thinking up new works we have to do to keep our salvation! We simply have to recognize God’s will for us, and walk out those works which He has already prepared ahead of time for us.

Our purpose on earth is to enjoy salvation. Eph 2:6 says we are seated in heavenly places: not running around and trying to figure out how we got there and how we can keep our spot. Beyond belief and confession, your salvation has nothing to do with you! So if you’re not honestly enjoying your life here and now, ask yourself: am I running around and doing random things to make me ‘feel like I’m saved’?

There are certain passages in the Bible that have served as a stumbling block for Christians for generations. We read them and feel convicted, like we have to ‘earn’ our salvation all over again. One such passage is James 2:17: “…faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.” However, we always must recognize the intended audience of the passages we read. James was writing to Jewish believers: men and women who understood the burden of the Law and had made the choice to 1) believe in and 2) confess Jesus Christ. He was writing to Christians who already understood we are saved by faith, not to Gentiles wondering what exactly they must do to be saved. He was not arguing that we have to perform good works to establish or keep our faith; rather he was exhorting Christians to go out and walk worthy of the calling they had already received (Eph 4:1)!

Salvation & Redemption

Salvation has important implications for this life and the next. The ultimate goal of salvation is eternal: to secure a place with Jesus Christ in heaven until the end of time. But there are also immediate benefits to salvation, which David cautions us not to forget in the Psalms (27 & 103, among others). Part of the ‘salvation package’ is redemption from a life of purposelessness: true happiness based on a right relationship with God.

Even David admitted that he needed the present benefits of salvation to hold him until he saw the fulfillment of righteousness in eternity:

I would have lost heart, unless I had believed that I would see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait on the Lord; Be of good courage, and He shall strengthen your heart; Wait, I say, on the Lord! – Ps 27:13-14:

We should expect to see the goodness of God in this life: here and now. That means salvation should have tangible benefits for us all: healing, Biblical prosperity (resources to fulfill our purpose and bless others in theirs), relationship health, and happiness!

Enjoying More of God

God’s desire has always been to speak with us – His children – directly. It was actually our spiritual ancestors who made the decision to cut the lines of communication: not God. Moses reminded the people of Israel of their choice before he died:

“But when you heard the voice from the heart of the darkness, while the mountain was blazing with fire, all your tribal leaders and elders came to me. They said, ‘Look, the Lord our God has shown us his glory and greatness, and we have heard his voice from the heart of the fire. Today we have seen that God can speak to us humans, and yet we live! But now, why should we risk death again? If the Lord our God speaks to us again, we will certainly die and be consumed by this awesome fire. Can any living thing hear the voice of the living God from the heart of the fire as we did and yet survive? Go yourself and listen to what the Lord our God says. Then come and tell us everything he tells you, and we will listen and obey.’” – Deut 5:23-27

When God chose to speak to us directly, our spiritual ancestors asked Him not to. We wanted an intermediary. The people of Israel continued to have intermediaries in the form of prophets, priests and kings until Jesus Christ came and restored our direct connection to God. We should pursue deeper intimacy with our Father. Most of all, we should enjoy deeper intimacy with Him.

Salvation is not an end goal; it is a starting point. As a church, we exist not only to lead people to Christ and expand the Kingdom of God, but also to walk believers down a path of discipleship and increased relationship with God.

– by Pastor Mike White

© Michael D. White and CityLight Church, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Michael White and CityLight Church with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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