Repent then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out.
Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved.
What we have really been talking about in this series is a way of understanding the whole world and everything in it. You could call it a Christian worldview, or a Christian philosophy of life. Everything up to this point in the series (and in the pamphlet "Quest for Joy") has been aimed to help a person know what it means to become a Christian.
What It Means to Become a Christian
Becoming a Christian means recognizing that there is a great God who created all things and all persons for his glory—to display the greatness and beauty and power of who he is.
Becoming a Christian means recognizing that this is why every person exists. This is our reason for being. This is the meaning of human life—to reflect back to God and to reflect to each other the glory of our Maker and all his attributes, by loving him and trusting him and thanking him and obeying him.
Becoming a Christian means recognizing that we have all failed to do this. We have fallen short of living for his glory. We have exchanged it for other values we preferred, and so we have scorned his glory. This is what the Bible calls sin. And we are all guilty.
Becoming a Christian means recognizing that we are all therefore condemned justly by God to eternal punishment for the infinite guilt of dishonoring an infinitely glorious God.
And becoming a Christian means recognizing that the love of God moved him to send his Son, Jesus Christ, into the world to provide eternal life for helpless sinners. When Jesus died for sinners, he became our ransom, our substitute, and the vindication of God's glory on our behalf.
How Do You Become a Christian?
Now the final question in the series is, How do you become a Christian? How does the ransom Jesus paid become a ransom for me? How does the substitution he made for sins become a substitute for my sins? How does the repair he made for the injured glory of God become a repair for the injury I have done? What must I do to be saved?
It is a very important question. When the Philippian jailor cried out in Acts 16:30 to Paul and Silas, "Men, what must I do to be saved?" they did not answer, "You don't have to do anything because you are already saved, because Jesus died for the whole world."
That is not what they said, because that is not true. The death of Jesus for sinners was not designed to save people apart from a personal response. If you ask, "Did Jesus pay a ransom for everybody in the world, and did he give himself as a substitute for everybody in the world?" the biblical answer is this: the death of Christ is of infinite worth and has in it enough grace to save every person who ever lived. It is all-sufficient in its saving worth. But in its effective design it only saves those who respond to the gospel offer.
The death of Jesus can be held out to any and every person in the world with this assurance: there is grace here to cover all your sins if you will receive it and believe in Jesus Christ. There is a substitute for sinners here able to bear all your sins if you will receive him and believe on him. There is a ransom here that has paid the whole debt of all who come to Christ and believe. All that Christ is he will be for you if you come to him and believe in him.
God has provided a salvation for sinners. It is sufficient for all sinners. And all are invited to come. But it does not save a person who will not come. A personal response is absolutely necessary. And that is what we want to talk about this morning. What response to Jesus is necessary in order to have our sins forgiven and in order to have eternal life? Or, as the jailor said, "What must I do to be saved?"
Two Obstacles to the Right Answer
There are two very big obstacles standing in the way of a right answer to this question.
1. Our Own Sinfulness
One obstacle is our own sinfulness. We do not want to admit that the answer might include some deep changes of what we love. We don't want to admit that WE might have to CHANGE. We want to hear an answer that says we can be saved from our sins and escape hell by just believing that Jesus died for our sins as long as that belief does not imply any changes in my life. That's the first obstacle to hearing a right answer to this question: our sinfulness does not want to hear that salvation may cost us something.
2. Many Teachers in the Church Today
The other obstacle is that there are thousands of people in the church today who are teaching that the Bible requires nothing of us except an intellectual belief in the gospel. They are saying that any other requirements for salvation are what the New Testament calls "works" and that would mean that we have to earn salvation.
So our own sinful nature and many teachers are conspiring to hinder us today from hearing the full New Testament answer to the question, "What must I do to be saved?" Let's let the New Testament speak now on this matter.
Salvation Is by Grace Not Works
First of all, it is right to stress that salvation is free and not earned. Ephesians 2:8 says, "By grace are you saved through faith, and this is not your own doing, it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast." Let's make this very clear, we are not saved by WORKS. This means that you cannot DO anything to EARN salvation. You cannot do anything that you might boast in. You cannot BUY salvation. Christ bought it for you. It is free.
Not Earning Does Not Mean No Requirements
Revelation 22:17 invites sinners to be saved like this: "Let him who is thirsty come, let him who desires take the water of life without price." Now notice: you cannot buy this water. It has no price for you. It is free. But that does not mean there are no requirements for drinking and being saved. It says, "Let him who thirsts come . . . " Thirst is crucial. Coming is crucial. It says, "Let him who desires [or: "whosoever will"], take the water of life . . . " Desiring is crucial.
In other words, when the Bible says you cannot EARN salvation, or you cannot do any WORKS to buy it, it does not mean that there is no cost or requirement. In fact it will cost you a change in what you are thirsty for. It will cost you a turning from the water of death to the water of life.
Faith Glorifies God; Works Glorify Us
The reason the Bible is so jealous not to let salvation be by works is because that would rob God of glory in the work of salvation. If we try to work our way to salvation, it draws attention to our strength and our value and our contribution. But faith on the other hand throws all attention on the value and the sufficiency of who Christ is and what Christ did. Faith glorifies God. Works glorify us.
The root reason God will not let salvation be by works—why he will not let salvation be earned by our efforts—is because this would rob Jesus of his glory. God is trying to bring creation back to its original purpose (Truth #1). God began by creating the world for his glory, and he is now saving the world in a way that restores that great purpose. So anything that diminishes his glory in the work of salvation will not be accepted.
Paul said in Ephesians 2:8, "By GRACE are you saved through faith." He saves by grace because grace is the capstone of his glory. We know this because it says in Ephesians 1:5f. that he "predestined us to be his children according to the good pleasure of his will unto the praise of the glory of his grace." Everything he has done in salvation is aimed at winning praise from us for the glory of his grace.
Once you get a handle on this, you realize why certain things are required for our salvation and certain things are not. In a word, God requires of us things that glorify his grace, and rejects things that would glorify our self-sufficiency or glorify sin.
What Kind of Response to the Gospel Glorifies God?
Now what would that be? We have seen from Acts 16:31 that God demands faith: "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved." Let's let the rest of the New Testament speak on this matter. What does the New Testament say is the kind of response to the gospel that will glorify God's grace?
1. Believing That Certain Things Are True
Sometimes the New Testament says that we must believe THAT certain things are true in order to be saved. John 20:31, "These things are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that believing you may have life in his name" (See 1 John 5:1).
2. Believing In or On Jesus as a Person
Other times the New Testament says that we must believe IN or ON Jesus as a person, that is, trust him and count him faithful. John 3:16, "For God so loved the world that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life." Acts 10:43, "Everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name."
It glorifies Jesus when you believe the truth about him, and it glorifies him when you trust him as a reliable person. Both kinds of faith are necessary to honor the Son.
Acts 3:19 says, "Repent and turn again, that your sins may be blotted out." And Jesus said in Luke 13:3, "Unless you repent, you will all likewise perish" (See Luke 15:7, 10).
Some say that if you require repentance for salvation, you make salvation depend on works. But this is not true. Repenting is not the same as works. It means turning away from the hog-pen of sin to the banquet of grace. When the prodigal son decided to turn away from the pigpens of the world and come home to his father's house, his father did not make a slave out of him. He gave him a party. Turning from the pigpen of the world to the banquet of heaven is not works. You do have to turn from sin and come home to God. That's repentance. It is NOT works. He didn't earn anything by coming home. It was free. And it will be free for you too. But if you want God, you have to let sin go. That's repentance, not works.
4. Becoming Like Children
In Matthew 18:3 Jesus says, "Truly, I say to you, unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." This is another way of saying, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God" (John 3:3).
To enter the kingdom we must turn and become like children. That means we must humble ourselves before God and admit that we are helpless and that we want to trust him as our Father instead of being proud and self-sufficient and self-confident any more. That's what it means to turn and repent. But this is not works. In fact it is the opposite of works. Children are people who admit that they can't earn anything. They are helpless and dependent. It's a requirement that we become like children in order to enter the kingdom of God. But it is not works. You don't earn anything by becoming a child.
5. Obeying Christ
Hebrews 5:9 says, "Christ became the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him." And 1 Peter 4:17 says, "What will be the end of those who do not obey the gospel of God?" And John 3:36 says, "He who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God rests upon him."
What does this mean? It means is that the gospel comes to us with divine authority. The only way to receive an authority is obediently. If you don't receive it obediently, you don't receive it at all. You reject it. And if you reject God's authority in the gospel, you reject the gospel, and cannot be saved. The only way to glorify the authority of God's grace is by an obedient spirit.
We can see this in another text too, because it's what Jesus meant when he called people to take up their cross and FOLLOW HIM.
6. Dying to Ourselves and Following Jesus
In Mark 8:34 he said, "If any man would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it; and whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel's will save it."
Here the requirement for saving our lives is losing our lives, which means denying ourselves, dying to ourselves, and following Jesus. Is this works? Are we working for God when we die to self? No. Letting the old proud self die is not works. It's the death of works. That's who's dying. The old sin-loving, self-exalting, God-opposing me has to die. When that old rebel dies, I don't earn anything. Nobody boasts in having to be put to death on a cross. You don't earn anything by getting crucified. This is not works, but it is change—the deepest and most profound change possible.
And the same thing goes for "following Jesus." Following Jesus is required, but it is not works. Following Jesus is no more working for Jesus than the pigeons of Elliot Park are working for me when they follow me around because I have the breadcrumbs they want.
Following Jesus would be working for our salvation if we were following him to meet his need and not for ours. But the whole point of Mark 8:34ff. is this: if you lose your life, you will save it. If you die, you live. If you forfeit, you gain.
Jesus demands that we follow him not because he needs our labor but because we need his love and fellowship and help. He's the doctor and we are the patients. This is what he said in Mark 2:17, "Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous but sinners." When we obey the call of Jesus to follow, we are not coming to an employer to earn wages; we are coming to a doctor to get healing. And that is not works. The gospel is not a "help wanted" sign; it's a "help available" sign. Coming to one would be works. Coming to the other is faith.
Faith means coming to Jesus to have all our needs met and to have all our longings satisfied. "I am the bread of life, he who comes to me shall never hunger, and he who believes in me shall never thirst" (John 6:35).
Once you see the essence of faith as a coming to Jesus in order to be satisfied with all that he is, then you begin to see that all these other requirements are really just different ways of describing the demand for faith.
Turn to Jesus in Faith
So that is the one thing that I call upon you all to do this morning—to turn to Jesus in faith. To believe that all that he is, is all that you need. To say to him in your heart,
"You hold the key to truth and knowledge; you hold the key to forgiveness and acceptance with God; you hold the key to hope and eternal life; you hold the key to a life of meaning and purpose; you hold the key to righteousness and peace. So I come to you. I take you for all that you are. I forsake all others and cleave to you alone as my Savior and Lord. And I thank you and praise your name; that you have loved me and offered me all that you are for my everlasting joy. Amen."
See also the requirements in these texts:
- Hebrews 7:25, "He is able for all time to save those who draw near to God through him."
- John 1:12, "To as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God."
- John 10:9, "I am the door; if anyone enters by me, he will be saved."
John 6:35, "I am the bread of life; he who comes to me shall not
- John 4:14, "Whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst."
- Luke 14:33, "Whoever of you does not renounce all that he has cannot be my disciple." (See Luke 10:28, "Do this and you will live.")
- Romans 10:9, "If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved."
- Romans 10:13, "Everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord shall be saved."
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