The greatest and most imperative question facing every person on this planet is: “What must I do to be saved?” Everyone who desires to be saved must answer it, and failure to do so will bring condemnation to their very soul.
We are not the first generation to ask what we must do in order to obtain salvation. This specific question is propounded a number of times, several of which are recorded in the Scriptures.
A Jewish Audience
In Acts 2 we find a record of the preaching of the first gospel sermon. On the first Pentecost following Christ’s resurrection from the dead, there gathered in Jerusalem a multitude of Jews from every nation under heaven. The Holy Spirit had been promised to the apostle, and at this time, He came, enabling these apostles to speak to this Jewish multitude in tongues which they had never learned.
On this occasion Peter was the main spokesman, and he argued logically and forcefully from the Old Testament prophecies, and from what these individuals had seen and heard that Jesus was actually the Son of God. Some in Peter’s audience had been influential in procuring Christ’s death, even so that Peter charged that “Ye” have with wicked hands crucified and slain the Lord of glory. They believed his charge and admitted their guilt. After the presentation of Peter’s forceful proof, they were persuaded that they were the actual murderers of God’s own Son.
“Now when they heard this, they were pricked in their heart, and said unto Peter and the rest of the apostles, Brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Here again we find the very question which we are seeking to answer asked. “What must we do?” These men recognized that the blood of the Son of God was on their hands. They were guilty of one of the most heinous crimes of which one could be charged. It was not a matter of convicting them of their guilt. They recognized and admitted it, but what could they do to clear themselves in God’s sight of such a great sin? Remember that Peter was not speaking to unbelievers. When Peter began preaching, perhaps they were unbelievers, but by the time the sermon was completed, they knew and believed that the one whom they had slain was God’s Son. So Peter did not tell them to believe that Jesus was the Son of God, for they already believed Him to be God’s Son. Notice what Peter told these believers. He did not tell them that they were alright now, that they had become believers. Some preachers would have told these Jews that you are already saved, for you are believers, and there is nothing else for you to do in order to get your sins forgiven. Not so with Peter. “And Peter said unto them Repent and be baptized everyone of you in the name of Jesus Christ unto the remission of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). They were told to do two things: repent and be baptized for the remission of their sins. You will remember that this is precisely the instructions given to the jailer. What did these Jews have to do in order to be saved? They had to believe, repent and be baptized.
A Philippian Jailer
First, let us turn to Acts 16, for we find an honest inquirer asking what he must do in order to be saved. The apostle Paul had gone for the first time into Europe to preach the gospel of Jesus Christ. The first European city in which he preached was a city called Philippi. Paul, and Silas, one of his helpers in the gospel, had gone into this city. There they chanced to see a young maiden who was possessed by a spirit of divination. Certain men were using this maiden to make money. But Paul commanded the evil spirit to come out of her. This antagonized her masters for they saw that their hope of gain was gone. Consequently, Paul and Silas were committed to prison. After being securely put in stocks, about midnight they began singing praises unto God, and were praying in their jail cells. God sent a great earthquake so that the bonds were loosed, and the doors to the cells in the prison were opened. The jailer, who had been asleep, suddenly awoke, and seeing the prison doors all open, supposed that all his prisoners had escaped. The law stated that if the jailer should permit his prisoners to escape, he would forfeit his life. Therefore thinking that those committed to his charge had escaped, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself. “But Paul cried with a loud voice, saying, Do yourself no harm: for we are all here. And he called for lights and sprang in, and, trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16: 28-30). He asked the very question that we have asked and are seeking to answer in our lesson. If any of us are to get to heaven, it is a question that we must both ask and have answered.
What was this Philippian jailer told to do in order to inherit eternal life? Paul and Silas told him to “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you shall be saved, you and your house.” This was the answer that was given to an unbelieving Philippian jailer. Certainly Paul would not have instructed this man to become a believer if he was already a believer. So what must an unbeliever do in order to be saved? He must become a believer. Now some people think that this is all that one has to do in order to get to heaven, and they sometimes use this very incident to prove that all a person has to do to get forgiveness is believe. But doesn’t it seem rather irrational to use a passage to prove a doctrine which it emphatically denies? Paul and Silas told this man to believe, but they did not tell him that this was all that he had to do. Read the next few verses and you will see what this man was instructed to do in order to be saved: “And they spake the work of the Lord unto him, with all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes, and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly, with all his house, having believed in God” (Acts 16: 32-34). You will observe that the Jailer did not think he had done all that was required when he believed. He did two other things of which this passage tells us. He repented, for he now washed the stripes that he had been at least instrumental in inflicting, indicating that he had changed his mind and his attitude toward these two servants of Jehovah. As an unbeliever, he was commanded to believe, as a believer he was therefore instructed to repent, for he did repent. And then as a penitent believer, this sinner was told to do something else. He was baptized. Verse 33 tells us that he went even the same hour of the night and was baptized immediately. This is what the jailer had to do to be saved. The jailer asks the question with which we have entitled our lesson: What must I do to be saved? Paul answers it. You must believe, repent, and be baptized.
Regardless of whether this might be in harmony with what I had rather do, this is precisely what the Book says do. There is no way to argue around it. One can but obey it.
A Militant Jew
There is yet another instance in which a pointed question is asked concerning what one must do in order to be saved. You will remember that Paul was not always favorable to the truth. At one time he was a very militant and violent persecutor of the church. He had done all he could to stamp out the church in the city of Jerusalem, and had even received papers authorizing him to go to Damascus to find all that he could that were Christians in order that he might bind them, punish and even kill them. While on the road to Damascus, Jesus Christ appeared to him. After Paul had fallen to the ground following the appearance of the great light, Jesus said, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” And Paul answered, “Who are you Lord?” and Jesus answered, “I am Jesus of Nazareth, whom you persecute.” Saul then asked, “What will you have me do?” And the Lord said, “Go into Damascus and there it will be told thee what you must do.”
So once again we are told that the question of what one must do in order to be saved is raised. Jesus told Saul that he is to go into the city of Damascus and there it will be told what he must do. You will find these details recorded in Acts 9, 22, and 26.
Saul went on into the city of Damascus. In the meantime the Lord appeared unto a preacher in Damascus, Ananias by name, and told him to speak to Paul and tell him what he must do. Remember the Lord had told Paul, while on the road, that in the city he would be told what he must do. Before we read what he was told to do, let us inquire into the condition of Paul when the preacher came to him in Damascus. He was now a believer, for the Lord had spoken to Him on the way, and Paul knew that he had been wrong in fighting against Jesus, for He was no impostor, but truly God’s Son. He had also repented, for Paul went three days with neither food nor drink. He had fasted, and even when Ananias came to him, he was praying. He was a penitent believer, so Ananias came to him and said, “The God of our fathers hath appointed thee to know his will, and to see the Righteous one, and to hear a voice from his mouth. For thou shalt be a witness for him unto all men of what thou hast seen and heard. And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name” (Acts 22:14-16). What was he told to do? Paul was commanded to be baptized to have his sins remitted. It is very plain, then what Paul did in order to be saved. Paul believed, repented and was baptized.
Conclusion: The believing Jews on Pentecost were told to repent and be baptized. The unbelieving Philippian jailer was told to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and was then taught to repent and be baptized. To the penitent believing Saul came the instruction to be baptized. These are very plain teachings and has one unmistakable conclusion all must accept in order to be saved. One must believe Jesus Christ to be God’s Son with their heart and confess such with their mouth (Rom 10:8-10), repent of their sins and be baptized in order to have his sins forgiven (Acts 2:38). All of us can understand this simple procedure. I have not written what I think about this matter, but have only recorded what the Bible actually teaches. Those who really want to go to heaven will not try to reason around these commandments, but will be glad that they learned them, and will readily obey them. Remember, God is not a respecter of person (Acts 10:34). What God demands of one he demands of all. Each of these converts were commanded after they heard the gospel preached to believe, to confess, to repent and to be baptized. If they were commanded to do so in order to be saved, then so is everyone on the planet for every generation!