“What must a person do to be saved?” – Part 2: How to Receive God’s Grace
There are 2 ways for you to be saved–one is by perfectly fulfilling every single nook and cranny of the entirety of God’s perfect law and the other is by letting Jesus do so for you. Given that, as we’ve covered in Part 1, you have already failed in the former, you’d better go with the “saved with Jesus” option which allows Him to live the perfect for you that you cannot!
So, to bring you up to speed… In Part 1, we ended by saying that the human situation is far worse than we imagine, such 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 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)!
Now we focus on the how do we respond part. How do we receive this free gift of God’s grace? What does our response look like? While there are numerous traditions surrounding the specifics of how to respond like baptism, catechesis, praying a prayer, raising a hand, checking a box, becoming a confirmed member in a local church, speaking in tongues, or throwing away all your evil secular tapes and CDs, (Been there, done that, more than once!), for our purposes, we’re going to focus on the simplest big picture essentials that have guided Christians for centuries and that are found in the best and most representative passages that directly answer our question about how we receive God’s grace.
- Matthew 19:16-22 – In this passage, someone asks Jesus, “What good deed must I do to have eternal life?” Jesus’ response points out 3 important takeaways: (1) Only when we realize God alone is good enough to warrant living eternally will we understand that human “good deeds” cannot warrant having eternal life (v 17). (2) Perfect obedience to God’s law, which comes from His perfect character and nature, is the standard for salvation. (3) By implication, you cannot earn salvation.
- John 1:11-14, 16; 3:1-11; 1 John 5:1 – In these specific verses, receiving and believing in Jesus as God’s perfect Son and Giver-of-the-fullness-of-grace is spoken of as the result of having been reborn/regenerated by the Spirit. (Note, the “perfection” of Jesus is not obvious in these verses until you see what John implies by the words “glory” (that is from the Father) and “fullness” in John 1:14, 16). This means that being reborn as children of God, from above, by God, is what enables us, not only to see the Kingdom, but to receive God’s grace that overcomes our inability to overcome our human will (see Part 1). D. A. Carson, a scholar I really like, says, “the tenses and the context of 1 John 5:1 strongly argue that faith, like love (1 John 4:8) is the evidence of the new birth, not its cause” (Divine Sovereignty and Human Responsibility: Biblical Perspectives in Tension, 182).
- Acts 2:37-41; 16:27-31 – In these two passages, we see 4 responses that mark saving faith, as an answer to, “What must I do to be saved?” (1) Repentance, turning from sin, (2) baptism, as an outward sign of inward cleansing, (3) receiving the good news of Jesus, involving hearing and assenting to its truth, and (4) belief in Jesus as Lord.
- Romans 5:1-2 – By faith in Christ, we have 3 new things in our relationship with God: (1) We are justified, declared righteous before Him. (2) We have peace in our relationship with Him. (3) We have access to grace that allows us to stand before Him.
- Hebrews 4:16 – Because of Jesus, the High Priest who mediates between sinful us and holy God, we can come near to God’s presence (“draw near to the throne”) to receive mercy and grace, His unearned blessing and goodness that forgive us (Genesis 12:2-3; Deuteronomy 7:7-9; Romans 11:6; Ephesians 1:7; 2:4-5; 1 John 1:9).
While there are quite a few theological eddies that tempt me to say much more, here’s the simplest way to summarize saving faith, bottom line… We receive God’s grace when we turn from faith in self to faith in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord.
One of the key points to understand here is the idea that a genuine and humble faith response involves receiving what God offers us in Jesus. If God’s grace is a gift, (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) then our response of faith/belief/trust, (which I am assuming are synonymous terms), is to receive God’s grace offered to us in Jesus’ perfect life sacrificed for us. We are recipients of God’s grace not earners!
Now, maybe this emphasis on being recipients feels particularly important to me because I am full of pride and am not exactly a sit-back-and-let-life-happen kind of guy, but there is great freedom in realizing that one’s faith is only as strong as the one in whom it is placed! If you had to choose to fly in a plane piloted by either a seasoned pilot or me, you had better not pick me! So, the human condition being what it is (see Part 1 ), saving faith/trust/belief that saves cannot be something we manufacture from within, out of our own goodness or faithfulness, or that depends on our ability to live sinlessly or even ‘good enough’, but is something that is placed in Jesus as its object! So saving faith is trusting in Jesus’ efforts to save me!
Now… a few related questions that have been asked, with no big Scriptural argument made to defend the answers… (Sorry… no time… and I’ve gotta get to other questions soon.)
- Does the Bible portray faith as a “doing” thing, a “knowing” thing, or a combination of both? The Bible portrays faith as both a knowing and doing thing, without any bifurcation or allowance for having one without the other. We have faith, intellectually, and we live faith, in behavioral terms.
- Is saving faith more punctiliar (one-time) or process (multiple moments over time)? What are the resulting practical implications? In simple terms, faith that saves, which can be a “small” one-time commitment, is always growing into more mature faith that results in less sin and more Christlikeness. In practical terms, we should approach all of life as an opportunity to grow in understanding God’s glory and goodness, realizing that we will never get to the bottom of a holy God. We should also allow for the fact that everyone is at a different place in their growth process.
- What is the minimum a person must know and/or do to have saving faith? Can’t be much that is required since Jesus Himself says that we are to enter the Kingdom like a child, and they don’t know much. While some would say that Jesus’ words about children are emphasizing the qualitative nature of their faith, as childlike and simple acceptance of Christ as Lord, I don’t think that means the issue of quantity of childlike faith is not in view at all. Childlike faith is a way of saying someone can enter the Kingdom knowing the simple gospel, the quantity of knowledge, if they accept it humbly, the quality of knowledge. So, in kid terms, the minimum a person has to know is that Christ lived and died for them, and the minimum someone has to do is to receive it. If it’s a genuine belief/faith/trust, it will show itself to be true. (So we needn’t perseverate over “doing” more to prove our faith is real. Real faith means that person wants to do everything possible to be Christlike, in behavior.)
Some upcoming Great Questions we’re going to be answering in the coming weeks…
- Why are regenerate/saved and unregenerate/unsaved both in the local church? How should that change our approach to teach, discipline, correction? And why does there seem to be a lack of church discipline?
- How do you decide when to leave a church?
- … and about 12 questions about eschatology (end times) and Revelation…