On the television, I see an excited man telling me about all the benefits of his new product. After only a few moments, I’m sold. I move from vague interest to “I’ve got to have this” in only a few moments.
But even though I’m already hooked, he buries the hook into my mouth by telling me there are even more benefits than what was first promised. Now, all I need to know is, “where do I sign up?”
Sometimes, I think we view salvation — or presenting the gospel — in a similar fashion. After all, aren’t we supposed to be fishers of men? And doesn’t this require bait and hooks? And isn’t selling the benefits of Jesus part of what evangelism is?
There is a question that appears a couple of times in the scriptures. And at first glance, it seems like the question of a person who is convinced by a TV ad. It sounds like asking, “Where do I sign up?”
Is this the case? And what is the answer to the question? What must I do to be saved?
What Does it Mean to Be Saved?
I suppose the first thing that must be established is what does it even mean to be saved? Saved from what? Or saved to whom?
The Greek word for “saved” is σῴζω (sōzō). Its most basic meaning is to be snatched by force from serious peril or death. It is a word that has a wide meaning of creating well-being in the life of another.
In secular usage, it also has a connection to the king’s pardon (Werner Foerster). All of these meanings transfer over when the word is used in a religious setting.
We see this in particular in the healings of Jesus. It is never just that someone is healed physically. But it is also more than simply being saved from an eternity in hell. There is a holistic aspect to being saved. The Theological Dictionary of the New Testament explains it well:
“In the healings of Jesus σῴζω never refers to a single member of the body but always to the whole man, and it is especially significant in view of the important phrase ‘thy faith hath saved thee.’ The choice of the word leaves room for the view that the healing power of Jesus and the saving power of faith go beyond physical life” (Ibid.).
It is common parlance in the West to refer to “being saved” as saying a prayer or doing something that moves a person from being under God’s wrath to being saved from hell.
The most common idea is that we are saved from spending eternity in hell. That is the peril that God rescues us from.
In this instance, the jailer in Acts 16 would have been saying to Paul and Silas, “What must I do to be saved from going to hell?” That is not entirely untrue, but such a view does not do justice to the fullness of a word like σῴζω.
Consider by way of an example what Athanasius taught about salvation. As a summary of Athanasius’ thought, Justo Gonzalez says this:
“Sin is not, therefore, a mere mistake that man has made and that now must be corrected; nor is it a debt that it is now necessary to pay; nor is it even that man has forgotten the way that leads to God and must be reminded of it. Sin is rather the introduction within creation of an element of disintegration that leads man toward destruction, and that can only be expelled through a new work of creation…if that salvation that we need is really a new creation, only the Creator can bring it to us” (The History of Christian Thought).
What must I do to be saved? Athanasius would answer similarly to what Jesus said to Nicodemus in John 3. You must be born again. You must have a new life. You must be created again. We are saved from death, and we are given life.
When we view it this way, we see that salvation isn’t merely being saved from an eternity in hell. It is being snatched from an all-encompassing death and transferred into an all-encompassing life.
This is what was meant in Acts 16:17 when the servant girl proclaimed the reality of Paul and Silas’ ministry. “These men are servants of the Most High God, who proclaim to you the way of salvation.”
Paul and Silas are in that Philippian jail because they are telling people about the way of salvation — the way of life instead of death.
So, it is not surprising that when the jailer not only sees the earthquake but also the integrity of Paul and Silas, he cries out, “What must I do to be saved?”
So, how do they answer?
What Must We Do to Be Saved?
In Acts 16:31, they say to the Philippian jailer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household.” The Scripture says that they kept speaking the Word to Him.
And as he received the Word, he began to serve them and dress their wounds. He was eventually baptized and ended up rejoicing with his entire family because they “had believed in God.”
The answer is simple. Believe in the Lord Jesus.
I suppose we do not like simplicity as much as the Bible. What does it mean to believe? How do I know if I’m actually and truly believing? Am I believing rightly? Am I trusting fully? What kind of role does baptism play?
The reality of salvation is that it is both a miracle and it is incredibly simple. When we believe in Jesus Christ, we are saved. Period. As simple as that. To believe in Jesus means to trust in Him. To be united to Him by faith. To cry out to Him.
How Does This Apply to Us Today?
My son has a scar on his chin that is a constant reminder of the nature of trust and belief. But in this case, it’s in the negative. We were in a McDonald’s waiting for a few friends to appear.
And my son, who was about three or four at the time, was doing that thing that kids do when they grab ahold of your hands and throw all of their weight towards the ground. They are being held up not by their own strength but by the strength of another.
He was doing this, and I didn’t even realize it. We’d kind of played this game for so long that I would mindlessly hold him up.
He didn’t know that he did not have my attention at that moment. And he was putting all of his weight into my hands. I was the only thing keeping him from smacking face-first into the floor.
That would have been fine except that our friends came into the door at that moment, and I, unthinkingly, let go of him to wave to our friends and let them know where we were.
It was a horrible sound as he hit the floor. He screamed and put his little hands over his chin, blood pouring out, unable to be contained by his little clasped fingers.
I felt awful. He put all of his trust in me to hold him up, and I let him down. I didn’t even know that I was letting him down. But this is really a picture of trust and belief.
We are putting our full weight on the strength of another. All of his momentum was going towards the ground, and his only rescue was the strong arms of his daddy keeping him from hitting the floor.
I let him down. But Jesus will never let us down. That is, in a sense, what it means to be saved. We put our full weight upon Jesus, believing that He will give us life and rescue us from death.
Thankfully, my son only needed a few stitches. And he has learned that I can be trusted — but not nearly as much as we can trust Jesus. His scar is a reminder of that.
What must I do to be saved?
Put all your weight on Jesus.