Okay, this one is a doozy so buckle up.
I’ve been reading the book Radical by David Platt recently and it is AWESOME. Reading through some of the ideas that David engages are really great and I’ve already been super convicted of particular things that I need to reevaluate in my own walk with Christ.
The first chapter tackles the nature of the good news that Jesus came to preach about and that supposedly we are all to receive as just that, Good News. The story of salvation and how salvation comes to one who desires to be saved is provocative and for a Christian, essential.
Throughout the Scriptures, we see people coming up to Jesus or approaching the disciples asking, “What must I do to be saved?” or “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus talked a lot about what was required to “enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” The Old Testament is filled with laws and requirements to please God and specific speaks of salvation. So how do we sort through all of this? What must we REALLY do to be saved?
I started sorting through Scripture and specifically looked at the times that Jesus answered this question and this is some of what I found.
28 “And afterward,
I will pour out my Spirit on all people.
Your sons and daughters will prophesy,
your old men will dream dreams,
your young men will see visions.
29 Even on my servants, both men and women,
I will pour out my Spirit in those days.
30 I will show wonders in the heavens
and on the earth,
blood and fire and billows of smoke.
31 The sun will be turned to darkness
and the moon to blood
before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the LORD.
32 And everyone who calls
on the name of the LORD will be saved;
for on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem
there will be deliverance,
as the LORD has said,
even among the survivors
whom the LORD calls.
Joel talks about everyone who calls on the name of the Lord being saved from the great and terrible day of the Lord (something in the future) and they will find deliverance. Okay, cool. What does that mean or even look like? Let’s continue.
8 When I say to the wicked, ‘You wicked person, you will surely die,’ and you do not speak out
to dissuade them from their ways, that wicked person will die for their sin, and I will hold you
accountable for their blood. 9 But if you do warn the wicked person to turn from their ways
and they do not do so, they will die for their sin, though you yourself will be saved.
The implication in this Ezekiel passage is that since those who do not turn from their wicked ways will die, that in order to be saved, one must turn from their wicked ways. Okay, that sounds very much like a specific behavioral and moral guideline that needs to be followed in order to be saved. This is all from the Old Testament. Ideas that people would have had the opportunity to explore and would have known. I mean, calling on the name of the Lord and turning away from your evil ways…seems straightforward.
Jesus goes on to give some insight into this plan for salvation for the world.
13 “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction,
and many enter through it. 14 But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.
So salvation is apparently not as straight-forward as it sounds. Many miss it and only a few find the proper way to enter life. Jesus has more to discuss when it comes to what is required to be saved, inherit eternal life, enter life, enter the Kingdom of Heaven…etc.
21 “Brother will betray brother to death, and a father his child; children will rebel against their parents
and have them put to death. 22 You will be hated by everyone because of me, but the one who stands
firm to the end will be saved.
Perseverance is required to follow through on this path to salvation.
2 He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. 3 And he said: “Truly I tell you,
unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
4 Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.
Humility and simplicity are essential to this salvation that Jesus is talking about.
15 He said to them, “Go into all the world and preach the gospel to all creation. 16 Whoever believes
and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17 And these signs will
accompany those who believe: In my name they will drive out demons; they will speak in new tongues;
Mark 15: 15-17
Faith and belief in this good news about Jesus and the outward commitment of baptism are also required
25 On one occasion an expert in the law stood up to test Jesus. “Teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to
inherit eternal life?” 26 “What is written in the Law?” he replied. “How do you read it?” 27 He answered,
“‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and
with all your mind’, and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’” 28 “You have answered correctly,”
Jesus replied. “Do this and you will live.” 29 But he wanted to justify himself, so he asked Jesus, “And
who is my neighbor?” 30 In reply Jesus said: “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, when he
was attacked by robbers. They stripped him of his clothes, beat him and went away, leaving him half dead.
31 A priest happened to be going down the same road, and when he saw the man, he passed by on the other side.
32 So too, a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. 33 But a Samaritan, as
he traveled, came where the man was; and when he saw him, he took pity on him. 34 He went to him and
bandaged his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he put the man on his own donkey, brought him to an inn
and took care of him. 35 The next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper. ‘Look after him,’
he said, ‘and when I return, I will reimburse you for any extra expense you may have.’ 36 “Which of these three
do you think was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of robbers?” 37 The expert in the law replied,
“The one who had mercy on him.” Jesus told him, “Go and do likewise.”
Loving God and loving others is a prerequisite for this life and not just when it is easy. Jesus says that it has to be as if showing mercy to someone you have no business showing mercy to like the Good Samaritan did.
Now it starts getting more nitty gritty and more difficult to picture and this is where I think it’s cool what Jesus does. He goes ahead and highlights how incredibly difficulty this is (narrow gate remember?!).
18 A certain ruler asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
19 “Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. 20 You know
the commandments: ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder, you shall not steal, you shall
not give false testimony, honor your father and mother.’”
21 “All these I have kept since I was a boy,” he said.
22 When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “You still lack one thing. Sell everything you have and give to
the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
23 When he heard this, he became very sad, because he was very wealthy. 24 Jesus looked at him and said,
“How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God! 25 Indeed, it is easier for a camel to go through
the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
26 Those who heard this asked, “Who then can be saved?”
27 Jesus replied, “What is impossible with man is possible with God.”
28 Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”
29 “Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters
or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God 30 will fail to receive many times as much
n this age, and in the age to come eternal life.”
Wait, it’s impossible? So the work is done by God? Then why did Jesus say we had to love God and others and do all that other stuff? Especially since he really picks on the rich young ruler here by pulling out the one thing that he didn’t want to do, something so specific it made it (to use a hyperbole) like threading a camel through the eye of a needle. In other words, impossible. And then God just does it anyway? Confused? It makes sense if you are.
5 Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of
water and the Spirit. 6 Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit.
So this incredibly difficult thing that Jesus says has to happen in order to be saved requires a person to be born of water and the Spirit. I think this verse is worth stopping at and thinking about a little more.
Up to this point, everything has been about doing something. Something that Jesus has just described as impossible with man, but possible with God is required of us to do in order to inherit eternal life and this just gets confusing. It’s like the story of the scorpion riding on the nose of the fox across a river. Even though the fox is keeping him safe and providing him passage, the scorpion still stings the fox on the nose sentencing them both to death simply because it is in his nature. He can’t defy who/what he was born to be. In this way, with humankind being born into the depths of depravity and sin, by myself I cannot change my nature. It is just who I am. So what Jesus is asking is impossible. I couldn’t choose that I was born this way.
This is what makes what Jesus says so compelling. Jesus says that you have to be born twice. We are born of one nature into our flesh and born into sinful bondage that we have no hope of walking away from. The requirements are all there for us to obey, but we lack the motivation and desire to do so with real authenticity. It is into that depressing truth that being born of the Spirit comes to play. As I was born into one nature in a physical sense “of water”, through the Holy Spirit I gain access and identity in a new nature which allows me to participate fully in what is required and in that participation I prove my new birth as authentic since I couldn’t possibly without being someone/thing completely different.
So how does this birth come about?
36 “Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”
37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”
38 Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.
And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—
for all whom the Lord our God will call.”
40 With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, “Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.”
41 Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.
This passage is from Peter’s sermon right after he and the rest of the disciples were transformed by the Holy Spirit coming on them and prompting them outside to go and share what had just happened to them. “The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off—for all whom the Lord our God will call.” It’s neat when part of Scripture refers to us today. So for us today (and for Peter’s audience) the message of how to receive this same
Peter specifies that it is in the name of Jesus that this must take place. Jesus highlighted this concept.
8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate;
whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes
only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.
Jesus described himself as a narrow gate and a path that many would miss. It isn’t about exclusivity, it is about the way that actually leads to rest and a full life.
21 They preached the gospel in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra,
Iconium and Antioch, 22 strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.
“We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God,” they said. 23 Paul and Barnabas
appointed elders for them in each church and, with prayer and fasting, committed them to the Lord,
in whom they had put their trust.
In participating in what Jesus has described, the way will not be easy. The full life Jesus talked about is not an easy life and there is an element of suffering that comes with this entry to the Kingdom of Heaven. This is more of a warning/heads-up than a requirement, but it is an important piece of what it means to fall Jesus. And this comes up again.
27 Whatever happens, conduct yourselves in a manner worthy of the gospel of Christ. Then, whether I come
and see you or only hear about you in my absence, I will know that you stand firm in the one Spirit, striving
together as one for the faith of the gospel 28 without being frightened in any way by those who oppose you.
This is a sign to them that they will be destroyed, but that you will be saved—and that by God. 29 For it has
been granted to you on behalf of Christ not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him,
As the church progressed, more and more people approached
29 The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. 30 He then brought them out
and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” 31 They replied, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved
—you and your household.” 32 Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all the others in his house. 33 At
that hour of the night the jailer took them and washed their wounds; then immediately he and all his household were
baptized. 34 The jailer brought them into his house and set a meal before them; he was filled with joy because he had
come to believe in God—he and his whole household.
But, what does it really mean to BELIEVE? Even the demons know about him, so it must not be an acknowledging existence thing it is something more. Paul clarifies in Romans.
8 But what does it say? “The word is near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart,” that is, the message concerning
faith that we proclaim: 9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God
raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and
it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.
There is a verbal and heart affirmation of this truth. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the key event here (for Paul) in which our faith is based and faith in the work of Christ that brings salvation is the gate by which we are saved.
Looking through Scripture with this intent took a lot of space (and time), but it was cool for me to get to see just how the response to the question fleshed out throughout Scripture.
If I have any encouragement for you, it is to not just roll with the “churchy” response to things. In answer to the question “what must I do to be saved?” it would be easy for me to just say what I’ve heard hundreds of times. It is so much better to approach Scripture with my questions and with confidence really grapple with what it is that God is saying about himself. I’ll tell you this, after hanging out in this much Scripture I can see where the church is coming from more completely and I am moved in awe to what it is God has done on earth through Christ. Might be worth your time to try.