If someone asked us, “What must I do to be saved?” we
know the answer. Romans 10:9-10 says we must believe and confess that Jesus is the
Christ, the Son of God, and that He was resurrected from the dead.
Acts 2:38 says we must
repent and be baptized for the remission of our sins. Colossians
1:23 says we must continue in the faith. In short, we must
obey the gospel or we will be dealt retribution (II
Thessalonians 1:8). Let’s ask another question. “How good
must I be to be saved without obeying the gospel?” Two different
people must ask this important question. The first person I have
encountered in numerous studies. They have been shown these verses
and yet are absolutely sure that God could never condemn them to
hell because of they have done so much good. The second person I
have encountered in several churches. These Christians look at
folks who have all of these verses in their Bibles and yet have
not obeyed them. However, they are devoted and sincere in their
religion. They are religiously moral. In short, they have done a
lot of good things. So the Christian says he has a hard time
saying God would condemn someone who was so good to hell. Both of
these people need to answer our question. To do so, we must ask
several ancillary questions.
have any of us really been?
problem is we look at things through human eyes. When we look at
good people and become convinced that because they are good, God
must save them, we are not using God’s eyes but our own. Never
forget Isaiah 55:8-9.
God does not think like us.
provides a clear picture of how God sees all of us, even those who
seem so good. None is righteous. No one understands. All have
turned aside. Romans 3:23
drives it home, “All have sinned and fallen short of God’s
glory.” The fact is we are dead in trespasses and sins
good works pay for our past sins?
recognized how bad we have been. And we have decided to change.
For a moment, let us consider how we might live in order to be
saved without obeying the gospel. How many good works will it take
to pay for our sins so that God will no longer view us as dead?
Does one good work cancel out a sin? Or maybe two? Perhaps a
parable in Luke 17:7-10
answers this question. Good works do not pay for any of our sins.
If I change my life and do nothing but good works from now on,
never sinning again, the most I can say about myself is that I
have finally started doing what I should have done my whole life.
I am still an unworthy slave.
point does God owe us salvation?
question is answered simply, with one word. Never. There is
no one alive to whom God owes salvation. That is why the Bible
consistently speaks of salvation as mercy and grace.
hammers down that salvation is not a matter of God’s debt to any
man, but a matter of God’s grace. There is no one so good that
they may boast of their goodness before God and expect salvation.
According to Romans 9:15, God can have mercy on whomever He desires. Since that
is the case, we must now determine upon whom God has said He would
bestow mercy. This leads us to our next question.
salvation to be found?
John answered this question in Acts
4:10-12. “… by the name of Jesus Christ … there is
salvation in no one else.”
There is no
salvation in my name. That is, I cannot come up with a list of
good works to which I personally devote myself that will save me.
There is no salvation in any other man’s name. That is, devoting
myself to the teaching of some preacher cannot save me. There is
no salvation in the name of some denomination or church. That is,
there is no denomination or church to whose teaching I can devote
myself and earn salvation. Salvation is only in Jesus. Clearly,
the issue of salvation is not about goodness. Rather, it is about
being in Christ.
Who is in
Christ? Romans 6:3-4
says we are baptized into Christ. Colossians
2:9-15 talks about the salvation in Christ, saying we receive
it when we are “buried with Him in baptism” and “raised up
with Him through faith”. Galatians 3:26-27 says we enter Christ through baptism. Who is in
Christ? Those who believe and obey the gospel.
coincides with Jesus’ words in Mark
16:16. Those who believe and are baptized will be saved. Those
who do not believe (obviously they do not obey [Romans
10:14]) will be condemned. To claim that some people are saved
by being good enough questions Jesus’ honesty. Additionally, it
questions whether or not God does what He says. We are forced to
ask, “If God saves some of those whom He promised to condemn,
how do we know He will not condemn some of those whom He promised
the gospel a good work that earns salvation?
obedience to the gospel, does not make God indebted to us. I am
often amazed that anyone, at any time, as a part of any discussion
would make the statement that getting baptized can in any way be a
good work that might obligate God.
In fact, the
way non-Christians and Christians state the issue demonstrates how
ridiculous it is to claim such. Have you ever heard that someone
was so good and devout and “I just can’t imagine that God
would condemn them over such a small thing as baptism”? Baptism
really is a small thing. If salvation were an issue of enough good
works, then surely such a small thing as omitting baptism would be
salvation is not about good works and baptism is not about earning
salvation. Baptism is an appeal to God for mercy in the way He has
commanded (Acts 22:16; I Peter 3:21). It is nothing more than following the
example of the prodigal son in Luke
15:17-21. Had the prodigal not humbly appealed to his father,
his sonship would never have been reinstated. However, his appeal
did not earn his reinstatement. His father’s mercy gave it to
There is not
one individual who deserves salvation because of any work he has
ever done. There are only some who have made an appeal to God for
mercy and forgiveness in accord with His instruction. They have
not become better or more worthy than others. They have simply
entered Christ and been given grace.
If all this
is true, can I simply continue sinning and expect salvation?
I have to
provide this simple disclaimer as we conclude our study to make
sure there are no misunderstandings. Some, learning that salvation
is by grace and not about good works, may be tempted to claim,
“Well, I have been baptized. Therefore, I am in Christ and now I
can sin with impunity and God will still save me.”
anticipated this mindset and taught about in Romans
6:1-2. When we enter Christ, we have died to sin. We are not
to continue living in it. Paul continued in Romans
6:12-18, describing the kind of life we are now to live in
Christ. If we refuse to live that life, God will refuse to extend
When you do
live that life, you cannot say you have earned salvation. All you
can say is, “I am an unworthy slave and have done only that
which I ought to have done” (Luke
17:10). However, having grown in Christ, you can rest assured
that you will be saved. Not because of your goodness but because
of God’s promise. Remember, God cannot lie (Hebrews
We began with a question. “How good must I be to be saved
without obeying the gospel?” I hope you have seen the answer.
You cannot be that good. Are you in Christ? Have you obeyed His
gospel? There is salvation in no other. You cannot trust in your
good works. You cannot trust in devotion to a preacher, teacher,
church or denomination. You can only trust in God and His word.
Will you trust God today and appeal to Him for mercy in the way He
has prescribed? Do not submit to what I say. Submit to what God
says (Romans 10:9-10; Acts
2:38; 22:16 I Peter 3:21).
to God in the church by Christ Jesus
Church of Christ