This is the most important question one may ask. We know that all who are of accountable age “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Many disregard sin as being an inconsequential matter. Others mock the very concept of sin. Yet the Scriptures paint a grave reality. Sin makes “a separation between you and your God” (Isaiah 59:2). Paul plainly affirmed, “The wages of sin is death” (Romans 6:23).
Yet the death that comes as the punishment for sin is not physical death. Tragically, infants sometimes die even though they never committed a sin. They are not suffering the punishment of their parents’ sin. “The person who sins will die. The son will not bear the punishment for the father’s iniquity” (Ezekiel 18:20). Physical death is not the punishment for sin.
The Hebrew writer said, “It is appointed for men to die once and after this comes judgment” (Hebrews 9:27). Punishment for sin will come after this judgment. It is the “second death” mentioned in the book of Revelation (Revelation 20:14). Paul described it as “the penalty of eternal destruction, away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power” (2 Thessalonians 1:9).
Think of what Paul was describing there – eternal separation from God. Jesus said it is a place of “fire,” “outer darkness,” and “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:42,50). Surely we all want to avoid such a place! Paul said that those who will be lost will be “those who do not know God and…those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:8).
That is where we will find the answer to our question – the gospel. If one wants to know what to do to be saved, he simply needs to look to the gospel and do what it teaches. Paul boldly affirmed, “I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek” (Romans 1:16).
“What must I do to be saved?” Our soul’s salvation depends upon us getting the right answer to this question and acting upon it. God has given us the answer in His word.
What Do the Scriptures Say?
This question (“What must I do to be saved?”), or a variation of it, was asked three times in the New Testament (Acts 2:37; 9:6; 16:30). When the Jews asked on the day of Pentecost, they were told: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins” (Acts 2:38). On the road to Damascus, Saul was told: “Get up and enter the city, and it will be told you what you must do” (Acts 9:6). When Ananias came to him, he said, “Get up and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name” (Acts 22:16). When the Philippian jailer asked this question, Paul answered, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household” (Acts 16:31).
The same question was asked each time. But different answers were given. How do we explain this? What each example has in common is the goal – salvation. The reason different answers were given was because each individual or audience was at a different place on the road to salvation. The Philippian jailer was told to believe because he had not yet done that. In fact, Paul had to speak “the word of the Lord to him” (Acts 16:32). Then he was baptized “the same hour of the night” (Acts 16:33). The Jews on the day of Pentecost believed. We know that because “they were pierced to the heart” (Acts 2:37). They did not need to be told to believe. So they were told to repent and be baptized. Saul believed – he called Jesus “Lord” (Acts 9:6). He was penitent, evidenced by the fact that he spent three days in prayer and fasting (Acts 9:9, 11). Ananias did not have to tell Paul to believe and repent. So he told him to be baptized. Again, in each of these examples, the goal (salvation) was the same. But not all of them had reached the same point when they asked the question.
We should note that confession is also included as being necessary for salvation. Paul wrote, “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” (Romans 10:9-10). Before his baptism, the eunuch confessed, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God” (Acts 8:37). Confession is just that – an affirmation of one’s belief. This confession is necessary for salvation.
The psalmist wrote, “The sum of Your word is truth” (Psalm 119:160). If we want to know what we need to do to be saved, we simply need to look at all that the word of God says on the subject. “What must I do to be saved?” What do the Scriptures say? We have seen that in order to be saved, one must believe that Jesus is the Christ, be willing to confess that faith, repent of his sins, and be baptized to have his sins washed away.
The line between the Christian and the non-Christian is the watery grave of baptism. Just as the water divided the living from the dead in the days of the flood (Genesis 7:21-23; 1 Peter 3:20), the waters of baptism divide the living and dead today. Notice what Peter wrote:
“For Christ also died for sins once for all, the just for the unjust, so that He might bring us to God, having been put to death in the flesh, but made alive in the spirit; in which also He went and made proclamation to the spirits now in prison, who once were disobedient, when the patience of God kept waiting in the days of Noah, during the construction of the ark, in which a few, that is, eight persons, were brought safely through the water. Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you—not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience—through the resurrection of Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 3:18-21).
Peter reminded his readers of the flood in Noah’s day and stated that it parallels baptism. In the time of the flood, there were two groups of people – those who were saved and those who were lost. The ones who were lost were those outside of the ark. The ones who were saved were those in the ark who “were brought safely through the water.” The water made a clear distinction between these two groups.
Peter then said that in the same way, “baptism now saves you” (a shocking statement to many in the denominational world). Just as the flood waters separated the saved and the lost in Noah’s day, the waters of baptism make a clear separation today.
- Baptism separates those who are saved from those who are lost (1 Peter 3:20-21).
- Baptism separates those who have been forgiven of their sins from those who are yet in their sin (Acts 22:16).
- Baptism separates the slaves of righteousness from the slaves of sin (Romans 6:16-18, 3-4).
- Baptism separates those who are in the Lord’s church from those who are outside of the church (Acts 2:41, 47).
- Baptism separates those who are in Christ from those who are outside of Christ (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27).
When we look at the two groups, it is obvious where we should want to be – in the group that is saved, forgiven, righteous, in the Lord’s church, and in Christ. The dividing line between them is in the waters of baptism. Do not let someone tell you that baptism is unimportant or unnecessary. Look at what the Bible teaches – baptism is essential for salvation.
This is not to say that baptism is the only thing that is necessary for our salvation. The prerequisites of baptism are belief (Mark 16:16), repentance (Acts 2:38), and confession (Acts 8:36-38). This way of salvation is made possible through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross (1 Peter 3:18). But none of these take away from the importance of baptism. Just as Noah and his family were saved “through the water,” we are saved through the waters of baptism today.
Centuries of compounding religious theories and doctrines have clouded many people’s perception of the Bible and its teachings. If we can get past that fog of ideas, the truth becomes clear.
Who will be saved? Look at what Jesus said: “He who has believed and has been baptized shall be saved; but he who has disbelieved shall be condemned” (Mark 16:16).
What must we do to be saved? Look at what Peter told the Jews on Pentecost: “Repent, and each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38).
Ignore what man has said. If salvation is important to you, listen to Jesus, His apostles, and His word.