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What Must I Do To Be Saved?

This question was asked by a prison keeper who lived in the Roman city of Philippi nearly 2,000 years ago. He experienced something which was totally unexpected; an earthquake which caused all the prison doors to suddenly be flung open. Expecting that the prisoners would escape, the jailer realised he would forfeit his own life and was about to kill himself.

Among the prisoners at that time were Paul and Silas, who assured him that none of the prisoners had escaped. Recognising that he owed his life to them, he "fell down trembling" and said to them: "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"

  • Acts 16:26-30

The answer of Paul was: ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you will be saved ...’

  • Acts 16:31

This was followed by his baptism. The record tells us that the jailer: "rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household."

  • Acts 16:34

A new birth Baptism is described in the New Testament as a re-birth and is a fundamental condition for salvation. The teaching of Jesus summarises this very well. He said to Nicodemus, one of the religious leaders of the Jews: " . . .unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God."

  • John 3:3

Jesus then explained to Nicodemus that eternal life is dependent on a number of things – first belief, then baptism and then what? Do these two things alone guarantee that we shall live for ever in the kingdom of God? It may come as a surprise to many Christians that there is much more to it than that.

Picture RusianDashinsky/istock

As with all children, being a child of God is a growing process and lack of growth will hinder progress. If we don’t grow spiritually, we will not become mature sons and daughters of God. On one occasion Jesus spoke to a young man who, like the Philippian jailer, asked a similar question: "Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"

  • Mark 10:17

The answer of Jesus must have surprised this young man: "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God."

  • Mark 10:18

Although Jesus lived a sinless life, he too needed salvation from death. In these words, Jesus recognises the fact that, in the fullest sense, only God is "good" by His very nature, being immune from sin.

‘All have sinned’ There is a fundamental principle here that must be grasped if we are to progress as a child of God – we are all sinners in God’s sight and in need of forgiveness. This is a human condition which the Bible tells us we have inherited from our first parents (Adam and Eve). Being sinners alienates us from God and leads only to death. The Apostle Paul wrote: "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God."

  • Romans 3:23

However, by becoming God’s children through belief and baptism, we can obtain forgiveness of our sins and commence a new life. Jesus is our example, for it is recorded of him that when he was baptised there came a voice from heaven which said: "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."

  • Matthew 3:17

How then can we be like Jesus and please God in our lives? How can we obtain the eternal life that Jesus now enjoys? In his teaching Jesus made it very plain that it requires effort on the part of the believer. What does it really mean to be a Christian? Jesus said: "Not everyone who says to Me, “Lord, Lord”, shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven."

  • Matthew 7:21

What shall I do?

To many people religion is more about ‘doing good’ – for as Jesus reminds us in those words already quoted from Mark, not one of us is ‘good’. If you ask people to give you a definition of being a Christian, probably many of the answers would involve some of these things: ‘I think Christianity is all about helping others’ or ‘it involves giving time, effort and money to a good cause’. Some people do devote their lives to helping others – but we must ask ourselves if this is really what Christianity is all about. Jesus said to his disciples: ‘Follow me’; but what did he really mean? If we want to understand what it means to be a Christian, we must consider carefully the teaching and example of Jesus and those who were his immediate followers. Jesus made it very plain that ‘doing good’ was part of being a Christian but by itself was not enough. If we are to follow him, our lives must be become more like the one we profess to follow. True Christianity is demonstrated in many of the parables of Jesus. Perhaps the most well-known is the parable of the Good Samaritan. It was prompted by a similar question to that asked by the rich young man. This time a lawyer asked a question to test Jesus: ‘Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?’

  • Luke 10:25

It’s a fundamental question – salvation is dependent on the correct answer and its application in everyday life. But Jesus didn't answer the question – instead he asked the man a question: ‘What is written in the law?’ (Luke 10:26) The man knew the answer to this question and was just testing Jesus to see how he would respond. He answered: ‘You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.’

  • Luke 10:27

In these telling words we see two vital principles which cover every aspect of the true Christian's way of life. Note the order – love God first, our neighbour second. The idea of being a good Christian these days places all the emphasis on the second commandment – and in the main ignores the first. It is a great mistake to neglect our duty to God – the one who has given us life and the opportunity to serve Him. He has given us His own dear Son as the Saviour, has raised him from the dead and offered us hope of unending life.

The Need For Prayer

And so, first and foremost the Christian has the privilege of expressing his or her love for God in worship. Individually, this can be expressed in prayer. Jesus gave his disciples an example when they asked him: ‘… Lord, teach us to pray.’ (Luke 11:1) The model prayer which follows in Luke chapter 11:2-4 has been recited by countless millions of people since that time. But how many think about the meaning of the words?

  • If we think about it carefully, the ‘Lord’s Prayer’ firstly emphasises the supremacy of God our Creator: ‘hallowed be Your name’.
  • Secondly, it reminds us of God’s plan for the world and the need to pray ‘Your kingdom come’.
  • Thirdly, it recognises that our lives depend on God: ‘Give us day by day our daily bread.’

The Apostle Paul reminded the Athenians of God’s hand in our everyday lives. He said: ‘for in Him we live and move and have our being...’

  • Acts 17:28

In other words our very existence depends on Him – how many people today recognise that? Lastly it contains a prayer for forgiveness: ‘forgive us our sins.’ Only Jesus himself led a sinless life, but his disciples without exception succumbed to the temptations of human nature. The important thing for the true Christian is to seek God’s forgiveness in prayer – it is a communication process which has great benefits. God will respond to the prayer offered in sincerity, as can be testified by many who have used this wonderful privilege to the full.

Picture Edward Kaprov/wikimedia

The second aspect of this parable of the Good Samaritan is to love our neighbour. ‘Who is my neighbour?’ That was the question from the Lawyer which prompted Jesus to tell the parable. The background of the parable needs to be appreciated. The Samaritans were hated by the Jews because they were Gentiles – descendants of people who had been settled in the land of Israel by the Assyrians after the Northern kingdom of Israel had gone into captivity 700 years earlier.

We can imagine the thoughts of the Jewish lawyer as the story unfolded – it took a Samaritan to show compassion on the wounded man. Then notice how the lawyer reacted to the pointed question of Jesus: ‘which of these three (Priest, Levite and Samaritan) do you think was neighbour to him who fell among the thieves?’

  • Luke 10:36

The lawyer replied ‘He who showed mercy on him.’ He couldn’t even bring himself to mention the word Samaritan. We can imagine then how he felt when Jesus told him: ‘Go and do likewise.’

  • Luke 10:37

The lawyer’s question had been answered in a very telling way, followed by that practical advice from the lips of Jesus.

Love your enemies

In the ‘Sermon on the Mount’, Jesus emphasises this Godly characteristic which is so foreign to the human mind – but one that is needed by all those who want to be his disciples: ‘You have heard that it was said “You shall love your neighbour, and hate your enemy”. But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you...’

  • Matthew 5:43-44

The path of discipleship, as we can see from these verses, goes against our natural inclinations. Jesus teaches us the opposite and he was the perfect example of such teaching. He did have many enemies and the Jewish leaders

True non-conformists

The true follower of Jesus will suffer persecution of one sort or another – it’s an ugly human characteristic that those who stand up for their beliefs, who are often in a small minority, are hated and persecuted. The first century Christians experienced this hatred and so it has been ever since. The life of a true Christian is not for the majority. The follower of Jesus is a non-conformist in the true sense of the word. This is summed up in some more words of Jesus from the Sermon on the Mount: ‘Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect.’

  • Matthew 5:48

These words may seem like an impossibly high standard to achieve, but Jesus wouldn’t have said them if this was so. The word ‘perfect’ in this passage, means ‘mature’ or ‘grown up.’ The child of God has to progress towards this maturity which can be achieved through a strong conviction and with God’s help. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Christians in Rome about how we can achieve this maturity of character which pleases God: ‘…do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.’

  • Romans 12:2

The word ‘transformed’ in this verse, is a translation of a Greek word – metamorphosis. This is a word that has come straight into our language from the Greek in which the New Testament was written. What does it mean? It is used in the natural world to describe the process of change which affects many species of living things. The butterfly is a good example (see front cover). In the early stages of its short life, it is an egg from which emerges a caterpillar. It then pupates and eventually a creature of great beauty emerges from its ugly shell. The life of the Christian follows the same pattern; it’s a transformation – not following the natural evil inclinations which lurk inside every one of us, but making a conscious effort to rise above these things as Jesus did. Read Romans chapter 12 at your leisure. Paul here enlarges on this idea of ‘metamorphosis’ – this change that must take place in our lives if we are to grow as children of God. Jesus set the example in his own life of obedience to his Father’s will and Paul tells us that we must try to do the same.

And so what did Jesus really mean when he said ‘follow me’? Put simply, Christianity as practised by Jesus and his immediate followers was not a part-time occupation. It was a lifetime commitment; it was a way of life with a very definite purpose. It meant conforming to a pattern – something which is not very popular today when everyone is encouraged ‘to do their own thing’ to use a modern expression. However, the pattern for a Christian is set before us in the life and example of Jesus himself. This pattern was copied by his immediate followers and passed on to others who received the Gospel message and acted on the instruction of Jesus to ‘follow me’.

There are many other aspects of practical Christianity which we cannot consider now. The teaching of Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew chapters 5–7) is full of practical guidance on many aspects of the Christian way of life; guidance on our relationships with one another, marriage and family life; our attitude to riches and material gain. The teaching of Christ covers the whole spectrum of daily life.

The promise of unending life

In essence, God requires us to obey Him first in our lives, to respond to His invitation to us, to follow the teaching and example of His Son Jesus and to prepare for his return to establish God’s kingdom on earth. The teaching of the Bible leaves us in no doubt as to what this means. Jesus told his disciples a parable about sheep and goats – about the time when he will return to judge all those who profess to be his followers. As a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats, Jesus will separate his true followers from the rest (Matthew 25:31-33).

The question we must ask ourselves is a very personal one – am I living my life in preparation for the return of Jesus? Will I be among the sheep or the goats? To those who are counted among his sheep he will say these words: ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’

  • Matthew 25:34
Author: Colin Dryland, London, UK
Source Light on a New World - Volume 34/2

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