It’s one of the most important questions that can ever be asked: What must I believe to be saved? And it was asked of Pastor John a few years back in a Q&A setting. Here’s how Pastor John answered the question:
Paul says, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31). He says, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9).
The Essential Problem
I would take texts like that and say that you should begin at this core — the death of Jesus. He died for our sins, which means I must believe I am a sinner. A person that doesn’t believe he is a sinner cannot be saved. If there is nothing to forgive, he didn’t do anything for me. If he didn’t do anything for me, I am not believing in him for salvation. If I am not believing him for salvation, I am not saved. So, you must believe that you are a sinner.
“A person that doesn’t believe he is a sinner cannot be saved.”
You must also believe that there is a God who has created the possibility for sin. That is, sin only has meaning as the falling short of the expectations of your Creator. So, there has to be a Creator God out there who has expectations of humans that they trust him, love him, live for him. And we fail [to meet those expectations].
Therefore, we are under his holy judgment or wrath. You have got to believe that. If you are a sinner, and there is a holy God, and you are defining sin as a falling short of that God, then, in order to understand what he is doing to solve that, you have got to understand that he is angry about that. He is just. He is a good judge.
The Essential Solution
So, what has he now done to solve the problem of our alienation from him? He has sent his Son into the world. You have got to believe in the deity of Jesus. It says, in Psalm 49:7, that no man can pay a ransom for another man. And just a few verses later, it says that God will pay the ransom (Psalm 49:15). So, he couldn’t have used John, or Peter, or Paul to die for us. He had to have the God-man die for us. So, the deity of Jesus is essential.
And then what did he do? Well, he lived a perfect life. You can’t believe that Jesus sinned and be saved, I don’t think, because then the sacrifice made for you was not what was required, and you are not believing in what God did for you. So, he is a sinless Son of God, and now he gives himself up to die in my place: the substitutional dimension of the death of Christ for my sins. And there are lots of ways to talk about that in the Bible. And I think you can be very confused about some of those and be saved.
I don’t want to start listing off all the ways the Bible talks about that and how confused a person can be about them and still be saved. Let’s just say that at the core of the gospel of how this is all remedied is Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who never sinned, got in my place and took the wrath of God for me, and died in my place. If he had stayed dead, we would still be in our sins. So, we must believe he rose from the dead.
Can You Believe It?
That is the cluster. You might be able to bring to my mind some things that would be so theologically closely attached to those that I would say: Yes, that has got to be included as well. But if somebody asked me, “What do I have to believe?” I would say, “There is the cluster of things that you have got to know about yourself, know about God, know about the cross.”
“You have to know the truth about yourself, about God, and about the cross.”
One other thing: I am assuming faith here, because they said, “What do I have to believe?” But you have to believe something about belief, meaning that it is required. If you say, “Oh, I get all that. I get all that. Now I am going to work so that God will let all that count for me. I am going to keep the law eighty-five percent so that all this redemptive work will count for me.” You have missed it. You are not saved.
What salvation requires you to believe is, instead of working for this salvation, that he has done what needs to be done. We receive it. “But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God” (John 1:12). So, I think sin, God, cross, faith summarize the core — it would be truths around those four things.
What About the Trinity?
Pastor John was then asked a follow-up question: In order to be saved, must someone understand the Trinity? Here’s what he said:
They certainly wouldn’t have to know that word. They wouldn’t have to be able to articulate it very well. But what they need to do is not deny essential things about it. So, a person may never have heard of such a thing as the Trinity and be saved. But if you said to them: Now, the Jesus you are believing in, is he divine or just a man? If they said he is not divine, I think that is a major problem. So, I am saying the implications and pieces of the Trinity.
Now, I don’t think a person has to have ever heard of the Holy Spirit to be saved. Is that radical? I don’t think so. If you get taught about the Holy Spirit and what he has done for you and say, “Oh, no, no, no. I don’t believe any of that. I don’t believe it took the Holy Spirit to save me,” then I am going to question your salvation. But, goodness, I just spent five minutes unpacking the gospel and I didn’t mention him. And that is not because he is not essential. We would never believe without him. But I think knowing the details of how God got you to believe is not essential. But denying it, once you know it, would undermine essential things.