“What must a person do to be saved?” – Part 1: Saved From What?
This is an important question, in many ways. In terms of whether or not we have an essentially Biblical answer to this question, this certainly goes into the category of “Essentials”! But in terms of how we answer some secondary questions about the specifics of how to respond in faith in Christ, this question also involves quite a few concepts that would fall into the category of “Convictions”. So, we’ll be answering a few related questions in upcoming Great Questions Answered posts, trying our best to focus on the essentials while perhaps occasionally pointing out where there is some room for differing convictions. (For more background on how we, as a church, judge the relative importance of various doctrinal questions to helps us navigate differences that are sometimes thorny and fraught with personal preferences and history, etc., see the “Essentials–Convictions–Opinions Chart” we use in Great Questions on Monday nights.)
This question–”What must a person do to be saved?”–assumes we are being saved from something and that there is some sort of response, (“What must a person do…?) We’ll deal with the saved from what part first, this week, and the response part second, next week.
The something from which a person is wanting to be saved is God’s just condemnation of sinners to hell (Matthew 25:31-46; Romans 3:23-26; 2 Corinthians 5:10; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Hebrews 7:26). Beginning in Genesis 3 with “the fall” (from unbroken fellowship with God) and the resultant “curse” (of living with the consequences of Adam and Eve’s sin that now characterize all creation as broken, not working right, frustrating, painful, etc.), the Bible assumes throughout that no human being other than Jesus is innocent of God’s punishment of sin. Rather than teaching the modern heresy of human innocence, the Bible speaks of the trajectory of every human heart as sinful, deceitful, and worthy of condemnation (Genesis 6:5; Jeremiah 17:9; Psalm 14:2-3; 51:5; Ecclesiastes 7:20; Luke 18:19; Romans 1:18-3:20, 23; Ephesians 2:1-3; 1 John 1:8) and says we cannot, by our own power, escape fully participating in the sinful nature with which we were born (Job 15:15; Psalm 51:1; John 8:34-38; Romans 1:18-3:20; 5:8, 12, 19; 6:6-7, 13, 23; 7:18; 8:7-8; Galatians 5:17; Ephesians 2:1-10; Philippians 2:13). This does not mean we are as intensively bad as possible but that we are extensively affected by our evil and sin in every area of our lives and in a way that deserves God’s righteous judgment and that blinds us to seeking after God’s goodness without His intervention. If you’re not yet tracking, not only are we humans in more trouble with God than we think we deserve, but we put ourselves there, and we cannot get ourselves out!
As modern Americans who exercise a sense of personal control of our lives that is unprecedented in world history, this is an especially hard pill for us to swallow. Think about it… As I’m driving to my office, without even having to touch my phone, I can declare, “Let’s get this party started!” and it will set off a chain of 1s and 0s in the sky that will automagically unlock the back entrance, turn off the alarm, unlock my office door, turn on the lights, and set the temperature! By the time I’m done parking, all I need to do is walk in as Master of my Domain! Just 20 years ago, this would’ve sounded like witchcraft or something out of The Jetsons, but today it surprises no one! Such unprecedented power and control, even in how we manipulate the things around us, is part of how we are deceived into the lie that we perceive ourselves rightly when we feel innocent. Who needs a holy God to save us when we can live the life we’ve always wanted by driving to the beach by noon, fixing our crooked teeth, and posting Fakestagram pics?! Our spiritual awareness of personal condemnation before a holy God is easily eroded by our illusion of physical control and power. In a world where we can tell the story we want to tell, prejudging ourselves instead of believing what God says about us, we always come out innocent! It’s like the common wisdom that says we judge others by their worst actions and ourselves by our best motives. When I judge myself, I somehow always come out on top! But according to Scripture, God alone is holy and can judge justly (Exodus 15:11; Deuteronomy 32:4; Isaiah 6:3; 61:8; Psalm 75:7; John 9:39; Romans 2:5-11; 12:19; Hebrews 12:14) and we are justly condemned.
In fact, our situation is so bad that we can only be made right with God (“justified”) by receiving Jesus’ sinless life, death, and resurrection as God offers them to us–as a free gift of grace that offers new life and new purpose (see esp. Romans 3:24; also cf. Acts 2:41; Ephesians 2:4-10; Romans 4:1-5, 16; 5:15-17; 6:23; 8:32; 9:16; 1 Corinthians 2:12; 4:7; Galatians 3:18; Philippians 1:28-29)!
In Part 2, the how do we respond part… What do we have to do to receive Jesus in a way that saves us?