If you spend much time talking about your faith and what you believe about Heaven, God, salvation, grace, etc., it is going to come up. You will be asked the question we, as Christians, all long to hear, “What can I do to be saved?” The problem is there that there continues to be a great divide among Christian scholars, ministers, and laymen about the answer to this question. Some of the division comes through denominational traditions and beliefs, while others come through misinterpretations. Whether these misunderstandings come from the pulpit, Bible readings, or word of mouth, it is wise for the Christian to remember some key facts when answering this kind of questions.
First things first. If we are going to be effective in our Christian ministry whose primary goal is to lead the lost to Christ, we must understand that we will have to cross the denominational divide. So what exactly does that mean? The denominational divide is all the beliefs, laws, bylaws, rules, regulations, and restrictions that separate Christians as individuals and force us to align with a particular group of same minded believers, further causing the world to raise their eyebrows. Because of the divide, when someone asks how to be saved, the answer differs depending upon the denominational value of the person asked. This array of answers include, “Stop drinking, smoking, and sleeping around, change your life, ask to be forgiven, get baptized, and join a church,” “Come to this specific church, at this specific time, pray this number of prayers, to this particular person, sign a contract to convert, and get your whole family to convert,” “Repent of your sins, ask Jesus to forgive you, change your life, and don’t turn back to your old ways because, if you do, you aren’t really saved,” and my personal favorite, “There is nothing you can do to be saved. You are either born saved or not, but until you find out, attend this church and follow these rules.”
The Bible is clear on many things. One is that if we are going to teach about faith and salvation, we better know what we are talking about. “Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment,” (James 3:1, New American Standard Bible). In fact, numerous Scriptures warn against teaching doctrine apart from the truth (1 Tim. 6:20, Gal. 1:8, Col. 2:8, Tit. 3:9, etc.) and remind us to resist the temptation to alter the Gospel to fit particular needs, “For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine; but wanting to have their ears tickled, they will accumulate for themselves teachers in accordance to their own desires,” (2 Tim. 4:3, NASB). This is evident in churches everywhere today as supposed pastors preach surface doctrine in order not to “step on the toes” of not only unbelievers, but also those who are members of the Body. Paul challenged the church to make sure of one thing, teach the same truth, “Now I exhort you, brethren, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that you all agree and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be made complete in the same mind and in the same judgment, (1 Cor. 1:10, NASB). Therefore, as Christians, in order to be effective in ministry, we must be on the same team, teach the same rules, prove the same results, and live by the same standards.
Now we can prepare to find the real answer to that all important question, and the best place to look, of course, is in God’s Own Word. After all, He is the One Who knows the whole truth, and He is clear in this area. It is important to remember that the Bible is an instruction book for Christians. So, when we read of Christian behavior, right and wrong, what to do, and things such as these, the directions are for those already saved. In other words, you cannot tell a lost person that in order to be a Christian they must do these things, because many of them will be in direct conflict with their nature. Further, they have no impact on the way to salvation. In fact, there is only one way to salvation, and that comes through belief. If you think this is not true, take a look into what God has to say. When the teacher of the Law, Nicodemus, came to see Jesus, he wanted to know about Jesus’ teaching. Jesus responded with a message about belief and told Nicodemus that salvation would come only through belief (John 3:1-21). Jesus Himself said that whoever believes in Him would have eternal life (John 3:15-16, paraphrased). Numerous other times, Jesus told His followers that faith/belief equaled salvation, (Mark 5:34, Mark 5:36, Luke 17:19, John 8:11, etc., and perhaps the most commanding John 6:47.)
But is that the end? Just believe? Again, we go to the Text. As Jesus hung on the cross between two thieves, one ridiculed Him while the other confessed Who Jesus Was, asking Him to remember him (the thief). We all know Jesus’ response, "Truly I say to you, today you shall be with Me in Paradise," (Luke 23:43, NASB). Earlier in the Text, one of the most beautiful depictions of faith is described. When Lazarus was sick, his sisters sent for Jesus, but He did not arrive until four days after Lazarus’ death (John 11). When Martha heard He was finally there, the Bible tells us that she “ran out to meet Him and cried out, ‘Lord, if You had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever You ask of God, God will give You.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Your brother will rise again.’ Martha said to Him, ‘I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.’ Jesus said to her, ‘I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies, and everyone who lives and believes in Me will never die. Do you believe this?’ She said to Him, ‘Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ, the Son of God, even He who comes into the world,’” (John, 11:21-27, NASB). Jesus stated that salvation came through belief. Later, He reminded Martha as she protested about removing the stone from her brother’s tomb, “Did I not say to you that if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” (John 11:40, NASB).
There are so many references to salvation by belief that they are too numerous to discuss in one writing. However, each is clear in their own description. For example, in Paul’s letter to Rome he explains that salvation comes through belief, with the key verses stating, “’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 will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation,” (Rom. 10:8-10, NASB). In other Scriptures, the Bible tells us to simply believe, as in the powerful messages of Acts 16:31, John 20:31, John 5:24, John 1:12, Mark, 1:15, Rom. 3:21-18, and more. Story after story tells of salvation coming through belief as when Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian Eunuch in Acts 8 and the incredible story of the jailer’s salvation in Acts 16. The message is so clear. The jailer was ready to take his own life for fear of what his commanders would do to him, but Paul called out to him to keep him safe. Afterwards, the jailer asked Paul and Silas, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Verse 30). How beautiful their reply, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your whole household,” (Acts 16:31, NASB).
Nowhere in the text are bylaws, laws, rules, restrictions, and regulations added to salvation. Over and over again the Bible says salvation comes through belief. So why do we insist on adding all kinds of conditions to salvation. Perhaps we are like Nicodemus. Jesus asked him how he (Nicodemus) could be a teacher of the Law and not understand what He was saying. Nicodemus was a Pharisee and was taught to follow the rigid rules of their “denomination.” But this did not come from God. In fact, Jesus abhorred all the rules that bogged people down and responded by saying telling us “His yoke is easy, and His burden is light,” (Matt. 11:30, NASB). He was explaining the simplicity of the Gospel to those who were burdened by the laws of the church which taught against simple belief.
As Christians, we must always be mindful that the fight for power, the laws and rituals of man, and the teaching of false doctrine are the very things that put our Lord on the cross. What is the answer then, and how must we respond when someone asks how to be saved? The truth of this is simple. Turn your back on the denomination divide. Offer the same mercy, compassion, and grace as did Jesus. Tell them the way to eternal life comes through belief and only belief. In other words, teach Jesus. God bless