What Must I Do To Be Saved?

It is important that one read the Bible to determine exactly what he must do in order to please God, and to come to have remission of sins. The inspired writer Luke provided us with at least eight, detailed accounts in the book of Acts as to how men came to be saved. We want to select just one of those cases of conversion, and examine the question asked by the Philippians jailer as it is recorded in Acts 16:11-34. The background of this case is most interesting. Paul had come into the city of Philippi, and following the conversion of Lydia, Paul and Silas, his co-laborer, were arrested, beaten with stripes, and thrown into jail. About midnight, as these two stalwart soldiers of the cross were singing in the darkness of their prison cell, there came an earthquake, and the gates to the jail were opened and the shackles on their feet and hands were loosed. When the jailer concluded the prisoners had escaped, he determined that he would take his own life rather than face the wrath of his superiors for his neglect. But out of the darkness came the plea from Paul, “Do thyself no harm.” Upon closer investigation the jailer found Paul and the prisoners still in the jail. We may never know exactly why the jailer asked the question that is pertinent to our study, but certainly the question he asked was, without doubt, one of the most important questions, if not the most important question, he would ever ask in his lifetime. “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Compared with other questions one may ask in life, this one is certainly the most important. “Where shall I go to college?” “Who shall I marry?” “What career shall I pursue?” As important as these questions might be, they pale in significance when compared to this one, most important question, “What must I do to be saved?” Let’s take a closer look.

By the confusion in the minds of men, one would think that the answer to this question is difficult, extremely complicated, or even beyond any possibility of understanding. But upon investigation, one will find that the Bible is clear, concise, and complete in its answer to this question. It is men who have made the answer obscure. Important steps in the process of salvation have been de-emphasized by self-proclaimed theologians. Some things have been stressed to the neglect of others. Often, we will hear someone attempt an explanation as to the varying answers to this question. “Oh, that’s just he way you interpret it.” Or, “You have a different understanding on the matter than I do.” But dear friend, these are nothing more than excuses on the part of the ignorant and unsteadfast who wrest the scriptures to their own destruction. Take, for example, the excuse we often hear that the differing answers are because one’s interpretation of the scripture. You mean to tell me that one can interpret a plain simple statement and come out with one meaning, and another can turn around, and by using some process of “interpretation” come out with exactly the opposite meaning to the word or words, and BOTH be right? Why, if that were the case, then none of us could ever be sure whether we knew what we were doing was right. What about it being a matter of different “understanding”? May I suggest to you that if a man understands something correctly, he will understand it only one way. You may mis-understand something a thousand ways, but if you understand it at all, you will understand it in precisely the way, and only in the way the author intended. IF it is the case that interpretation on the part of two parties can be such that BOTH come to CONFLICTING conclusions, and BOTH be RIGHT, then my friends, I suggest to you that we are hopelessly without any direction, like a ship on the sea without compass, rudder, map, etc. In view of man’s accountability thus stressed in the scripture, it would seem that one CAN come to a knowledge of the truth of the matter and KNOW that he knows the truth (John 8:32-34; Eph. 3:3-5). Hence, if it is the case that one can KNOW that he is in the kingdom, and if it is true that one is either IN the kingdom or OUT of the kingdom, then the point of transfer from darkness to light must be so concise, so clear, as to leave no doubt in the mind of the individual that such a change in his spiritual status has changed. Otherwise, how can he be certain that he has salvation?

A couple more preliminaries and we will be ready to pursue the answer to the question now before us. First, it must be remembered that the Bible attributes several things to man’s salvation. James 1:21 – “Wherefore putting away all filthiness and overflowing of wickedness, receive with meekness the implanted word, which is able to save your souls.” James 2:24 – “Ye see that by works a man is justified, and not only by faith.” 1 Timothy 4:16 – “Take heed to thyself, and to thy teaching. Continue in these things; for in doing this thou shalt save both thyself and them that hear thee.” Romans 5:10 – “For if, while we were enemies, we were reconciled to God through the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled shall we be saved by his life.” Romans 8:24 – “For in hope were we saved: but hope that is seen is not hope: for who hopeth for that which he seeth?” 1 Corinthians 15:2 – “by which also ye are saved, if ye hold fast the word which I preached unto you, except ye believed in vain.” Ephesians 2:8 – “For by grace have ye saved through faith.” Titus 3:5 – “Not by works done in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit.” Ephesians 1:7 – “in whom we have our redemption through his blood…” Romans 5:1 – “Being therefore justified by faith…” Now please note that there are a number of things that go into one’s salvation. To choose any one of these to the exclusion of others is not only poor hermeneutics, it perverts the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Second, it should be noted that the answer to the question of what I must do to be saved depends on where I am, spiritually speaking, when the question is asked. As an illustration, let us suppose that a man is standing at the foot of the Lincoln Memorial and asks how many steps it is before one enters the memorial hall, or to some fixed point in the memorial. The answer he receives would be different than it would be if he were standing part way up the steps. So, it is spiritually. The answer given in the Bible to essentially the same question takes into consideration exactly where the individual was in relationship to the fixed point of reference. Be sure to keep that in mind as you seek the answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?”

In order to answer the question, we will begin at the back of the question, and move toward the beginning. In other words, we will first examine the object of salvation, and then eventually move to the answer on how to obtain that object.  Let us proceed.

First, “What must I do TO BE SAVED?” The question arises, “to be saved from what?” The great challenge we face today in our “enlightened” world is convincing men that they have anything at all from which they need to be saved. It is precisely because men do not realize that they ARE lost that they are not interested in the question in the first place. The prevailing attitude is, “I’m OK, you’re OK.” Sin has been de-emphasized, and its consequences minimized. But the Bible sets forth in no uncertain terms that all men sin, that all men are lost, and thus stand in need of being saved from that lost condition (Rom. 3:23, 6:23). The prevailing attitude seems to be that the only plight from which men need to be saved is the economic and ecological disaster they have brought upon themselves. Men think we need to be saved from criminals, the crazy, and climate change! But it is the spiritual plight in which men find themselves that is the pressing need of all mankind, regardless of the age in which they live, or the country in which they might happen to reside. The enormity of man’s spiritual plight can be seen by a careful consideration of the horrible outcome should a man not be rescued from his lost condition. If men would consider the punishment attached to sin, he would quickly realize the seriousness of sin; any sin, and all sin.  Jack Cottrell very accurately described sin:

Sin is cosmic treason. Sin is treason against a perfectly pure Sovereign. It is an act of supreme ingratitude toward One to whom we owe everything, to the One who has given us life itself. Have you ever considered the deeper implications of the slightest sin, of the most minute peccadillo? What are we saying to our Creator when we disobey Him at the slightest point? We are saying no to the righteousness of God. We are saying, “God, Your law is not good. My judgment is better than Yours. Your authority does not apply to me.  I am above and beyond your jurisdiction. I have the right to do what I want to do, not what You command me to do.” The slightest sin is an act of defiance against cosmic authority. It is a revolutionary act, a rebellious act where we are setting ourselves in opposition to the One to whom we owe everything.  It is an insult to His holiness.

Second, our question asks, “What must I DO to be saved?” Salvation is not passive. God has done His part; man must reciprocate. In His infinite wisdom God purposed and planned to save man (Eph. 3:8-12). He was motivated by His great love, and He carried out that plan by His determinate counsel and fore knowledge. There are several factors involved in our salvation of which only God could have enacted. We sometimes say this is God’s part in man’s salvation. Included would be His eternal decree, His promise to Abraham, the sending of His Son, and the revelation to all men as to how they can appropriate God’s blessings. But it needs to be emphasized that, while it is the case that God has done His part, man has an obligation to reciprocate. Salvation is not entirely passive.

There are some who teach that man can do nothing to bring about his salvation.  Salvation by “faith only,” “grace only,” or “love only” are the figments of the imagination of men who seek to circumvent God’s plan for salvation. There are certain things that man must do to procure his salvation. A careful examination of the scriptures will show that heaven’s blessings, so far as man is concerned, are conditioned upon man’s obedience. We are to “work out your salvation” (Phil. 2:12). The problem arises when we fail to distinguish between works of merit and works of obedience. Heaven’s blessings, so far as individuals are concerned, have always been conditional (cf. Israel; Naaman). But some, in an attempt to de-emphasize some commands of God, as well as man’s responsibility, have equated works of obedience with meritorious works. In this they err. You can distinguish between the two if you will ask this simple question: Once the act has been performed, who is under obligation to who? In “works of merit,” the BESTOWER is under obligation to the one receiving the blessing! In “works of obedience,” the one receiving the blessing is still under obligation to the BESTOWER! (cf Luke 17:10).

We come now to our third point: “What must I do to be saved?” What is stressed here is personal responsibility! The jailor immediately realized that he needed to do something. There are others who also recognized personal responsibility when it comes to desired blessings. The rich young ruler – “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” The lawyer that approached Jesus; same question. Saul of Tarsus – “Lord, what would you have me to do?” Consider also Paul’s words in Romans 14:12 – “So then each one of us shall give an account of himself to God.” 2 Corinthians 5:10 – “For we must all be made manifest before the judgment seat of Christ; that each one of us may receive the things done in the body, according to what he hath done, whether it be good or bad.” You see, salvation is not based on what others have done or not done!

Have you ever heard this argument: “Well, if I accept what you are saying, I will condemn my mother to hell.” The fallacy of that argument lies in each of the passages above. But, let us assume for just a moment that your mother WAS wrong. What you do, or do not do, will have absolutely NO BEARING ON HER SALVATION!

Fourth, “What MUST I do to be saved?” Here is essentiality! Yet the prevailing attitude in our generation seems to be, “God will forgive me for what I do not know!” or “Those who are sincere will be saved, regardless of what they know or do.” Friend, when it comes to obtaining salvation, there are NO OPTIONAL COMMANDS! In fact, so far as commands are concerned, NONE AT ALL ARE OPTIONAL! So far as sincerity is concerned, while it certainly is essential, it will not in and of itself save a man (see Matthew 7:21-23).

Fifth, WHAT must I do to be saved?” Seeing that there is something that MUST be DONE, we come now to the instructions. Heaven’s directions to a saved relationship with the Father are clear and concise. Notice if you will that the jailor realized that he must respond, but that he was not in a position to set forth the terms! Humility of heart is essential to obedience. It should also be noted what spiritual state this jailor was in at the time he asked the question! He was a gentile; a non-believer responding to the power of these two men. He was, therefore, instructed that he needed to believe something! Hence the first step in the process of salvation is to hear something and believe it! Romans 10:14-17 is a description of that first step.

Following the hearing of the message, a man moves from the state of unbelief to that of belief. That faith is essential is seen in passages like Heb. 11:6, John 8:24, John 3:16. But what about someone who has already heard the word of God, and finds himself in the state of believing? What if they should ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer is going to be different; in fact we would EXPECT it to be different, would we not? Acts 3:19 is a good example of this: “Repent and turn again….” Hence, I learn that repentance is involved in the process of salvation (Cf 2 Cor. 7:9-10). Repentance is produced by godly sorrow. But sorrow over what? My sins and the consequences thereof (2 Cor. 5:21).

But now let us consider someone who has already HEARD, BELIEVES and has truly REPENTED, and asks this question. Our passage for consideration is Acts 8:35-39. The eunuch had heard (Acts 8:35), evidently had believed and brought to a state of repentance as evidenced by the question he asked. He needed to make ‘the good confession.” Consider Matthew 10:32-33, Matthew 16:16-17, and 1 Timothy 6:12 – “Fight the good fight of the faith, lay hold on eternal life, whereunto thou wast called, and didst confess the good confession in the sight of many witnesses.”

But what of one who has HEARD, BELIEVES, REPENTED, and has now MADE THE GOOD CONFESSION? Is he, at this point, saved from his past sins? Our passage for consideration is Acts 22:16 (though the good confession is not specifically mentioned, it is implied in other passages). “Arise and be baptized and wash away thy sins….” The role that baptism plays in process of salvation? Consider the following.

                A. 1 Corinthians 15:1-4 – the “facts” of the gospel;

                B. Romans 6:17 – they obeyed a “form” of that delivered unto them;

                C. Romans 6:1-6; a “death,” a “burial” and a “resurrection”;

                D. Hence, Peter would write, “The like figure….”

In order to grasp the role that baptism plays in our salvation, consider what it DOES! What it accomplishes. It washes away our sins (Acts 2:38). It saves us (1 Pet. 3:21). It puts us into the body (1 Cor. 12:13). It puts us into Christ (Rom. 6:3-5). It is in baptism that we put on Christ (Gal. 3:27).

Mark 16:16 is one of the most remarkable and simple statements having to do with the essentiality of baptism. Taking the very words of Jesus, let us arrange them in different order and formulate three sentences:

“He that believeth and is saved shall be baptized” – this represents the vast majority of protestant denominations.

“He that is baptized and is saved shall believe” – this represents those who hold to infant baptism for the forgiveness of the false notion of original sin.

“He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” – these are the very words of Jesus and stand in stark contrast to any position that would deny the essentiality of baptism for forgiveness of sins.


Only the sincere and humble of heart will every ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?” [with personal conviction and determination to apply]. We have provided a Biblical answer! The question remains, “Will you make a Biblical response?” To do so will provide you entrance into God’s kingdom, into His church, into the body of the saved; to refuse will leave you on the outside, void of all blessings, and without hope when you enter into eternity!

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