In desperation, the Philippian jailer cried, “What must I do to be saved?” Paul’s reply was simple: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31).
The great apostle said nothing about baptism or sacraments, candles, incense, church attendance, reforming one’s life, or anything else being necessary or even helpful for salvation. From Genesis to Revelation, the Bible makes it clear that there is nothing a sinner can do, much less must do, to pay the infinite penalty required by God’s justice. One can and need only believe in Christ, who paid the penalty in full: “It is finished” (John 19:30)!
Scripture could not be clearer: “[T]o him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness” (Rom. 4:5); “For by grace are ye saved, through faith…not of works, lest any man should boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). To attempt to do anything for one’s salvation beyond believing “on the Lord Jesus Christ” is to deny that Christ paid the full penalty for sin on the cross and to reject God’s offer on that basis of forgiveness and eternal life as a free gift of His grace. Clearly, we can be saved only by faith in Christ—but exactly what does that mean? What must one believe?
Paul declares that “the gospel of Christ…is the power of God unto salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom. 1:16). So believing “the gospel of Christ” gives salvation. But is believing the gospel the only way to be saved—and if so, what is the gospel? Peter declared, “There is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). No answer is given to the question, “How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation…” (Heb. 2:3)? There is no escape except in Christ: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
Christ warned a group of Jews, “ye shall…die in your sins: whither I go, ye cannot come….if ye believe not that I am he…[he is in italics, added by the translators] (John 8:2; John 8:24). “I AM” is the name of God that He revealed to Moses at the burning bush (Exo. 3:14) and that Christ clearly claims for Himself: “I and my Father are one” (John 10:30). Isaiah declared prophetically that the Messiah who would be born of a virgin (Isa. 7:14) would be “The mighty God, The everlasting Father” (Isa. 9:6). Christ’s language is precise. He doesn’t tell the Jews, “Before Abraham was, I was.” He says, “Before Abraham was, I am” (John 8:58). He is the self-existent One without beginning or end, “the Alpha and the Omega” (Rev. 1:8, Rev. 1:11; Rev. 21:6; Rev. 22:13).
So we have it from the lips of Christ himself that in order to be saved, one must believe that He is God come as a man through the promised virgin birth. Of course, that makes sense. No one but God could be our Savior. Repeatedly, Yahweh, the “God of Israel” (203 times from Exodus 5:1 to Luke 1:68) declares that He is the only Savior (Isaiah 43:11; Hosea 13:4, etc.). Thus, to be saved, one must believe that Christ is God. To deny this essential is to reject the gospel that saves.
Believing that Christ resurrected is also essential for salvation: “[I]f thou shalt…believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Rom. 10:9).
And here we face another essential of the gospel that must be believed for one to be saved: “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:3). His being scourged, abused, beaten, or mistreated by men—or even crucified, though in fulfillment of prophecy—could not pay the penalty for sin and would not save us. Christ died for our sins. “The soul that sinneth, it shall die” (Ezek. 18:4; Ezek. 18:20); “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Salvation comes through Christ’s death. Death is the penalty for sin, and Christ had to pay that penalty for all mankind in full. In full? Isn’t death just death? Could it be worse than we imagine? Indeed, it is!
That Christ’s suffering for sin was not just physical but spiritual is clear: “when thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin…he shall see of the travail of his soul…he hath poured out his soul unto death” (Isaiah 53:10-12); “Christ…through the eternal Spirit offered himself without spot to God” (Heb. 9:14).
Christ’s offering of Himself to the Father for sin took place on the cross: “who his own self bare our sins in his own body on the tree” (1 Pet. 2:24). So, again, it was not in being scourged that Christ bore our sins. He endured something far worse than physical suffering. In the garden, in dread anticipation of that horror, “his sweat was as it were great drops of blood falling down to the ground” (Luke 22:44).
And here again we see the vital importance of distinguishing between the physical suffering our Savior endured at the hands of men, and the punishment He endured from God: “…the LORD hath laid on him the iniquity of us all…it pleased the LORD to bruise him; he hath put him to grief…” (Isa. 53:6; Isa. 53:10).
Christ said, “I lay down my life…no man taketh it from me” (John 10:17-18). Thus the soldiers could not and did not kill Him. But Christ died for our sins—so again, what the soldiers did could not have paid for our sins.
No person (except Christ) has yet experienced the utter horror of death in its fullness. That will only occur after the final judgment: “death and hell…and whosoever was not found written in the book of life…were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death” (Rev. 20:14-15). Christ became a man so that He “by the grace of God should taste death for every man” (Heb. 2:9). Therefore, His death on the cross had to include the “second death.” Thus Christ endured on the cross the eternal suffering that all mankind face in the lake of fire! This could only have been at the hands of God, not at the hands of man.
“The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23)—not merely temporary physical separation of soul and spirit from the body, but eternal separation from God. Therefore, in suffering for sin, Christ must have experienced the horror of the eternal separation from God that was due to all mankind. No wonder He cried out in agony, “My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken Me” (Ps. 22:1; Matt. 27:45; Mark 15:34)?! No physical suffering, especially at the hands of sinful men, could mete out that awful penalty. Sin is a moral, spiritual problem involving God’s law and man’s rebellion against God. Both the punishment and the solution can only be spiritual.
Key Scripture verses related to “Salvation”(in addition to those above)
Isa. 45:22; Isa. 51:5
Luke 1:76-79; Luke 7:50
John 3:14-17; John 10:9
Romans 5:8-10; Rom. 10:9-13; Rom. 10:17
2 Corinthians 6:2; 2 Cor. 7:9-10
1 Timothy 2:3-4
1 Thessalonians 5:9
Hebrews 2:14; Heb. 9:27-28