“What Must I Do?”
The young man who was very rich came to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may obtain eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16) The same question has been asked by many from the first days until now, and it is one that has a certain degree of legitimacy. That people ask the question at all is a sign that there is hope in the world for future generations of saved people – it shows that some people know there are things they must do, and that eternal life is something that cannot be realized without appropriate deeds of preparation. In response to the question posed by the inquisitive young man, Jesus answers, “If you wish to enter life keep the commandments” (19:17). It is significant to note that Jesus believed that a life of inaction could never result in salvation. It is not as if we earn Heaven by our deeds, but we certainly cannot see the grace of God at work without obedience to His will. “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). But even a free gift requires some kind of action on our part – there is a fundamental difference between earning salvation and obtaining salvation.
Hearing the Word of God
When asked what the greatest commandment is, Jesus Christ responds by saying, “‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these” (Mark 12:28-31). Inherent in obedience to this law is hearing its words. Without the desire to listen to the message of the Gospel, our actions in this life are worthless. We are told throughout the Bible that “he who has ears, let him hear…” (Matthew 11:15, Revelation 13:9). Furthermore, Jesus states in Luke 8:21, “My mother and My brothers are these who hear the word of God and do it.”
In the truest sense of the word’s spiritual application, “hearing” means inviting the Word of God into your heart, either through reading the Bible or listening to its words spoken out loud. After all, consider Ephesians 3:4-5, and also Romans 10:17.
“But I say, surely they have never heard, have they? Indeed they have; ‘Their voice has gone out into all the earth, and their words to the ends of the world’” (Romans 10:18). There is no excuse for any person not to hear the Word – after all, let us remember that Jesus said anybody who has ears has an obligation to hear! In numerous accounts of people being saved, hearing and believing the Gospel plays an essential part. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:37, the people “heard” Peter preaching and were pricked to the heart. This soul searching never would have happened had they not heard Peter’s words. In Christ’s prayer to the Father, He prayed for people who would believe in Him by hearing the words of the apostles (John 17:20). The faith of the Gentiles came in the same way, for Peter said, “Brethren, you know that a good while ago God made choice among us, that the Gentiles by my mouth should hear the word of the Gospel, and believe” (Acts 15:7). In Acts 18:8, many of the Corinthians, after hearing, believed and were baptized.
But what if we choose to not hear? Did ignorance save the Israelites in the wilderness? Surely not, or else the Lord never would have pronounced a judgment against them in Psalm 95:7-11 and Hebrews 3. There are many reasons why people choose not to hear the Gospel – for some of the same reasons we choose not to listen to the good instruction of our parents, the warnings on a label, the posted speed limits, the disclaimer before a monster truck show, or the sermon of a preacher. “But they refused to pay attention, and turned a stubborn shoulder and stopped their ears from hearing” (Zechariah 7:11).
Believing In Jesus Christ
We must believe that Jesus existed for all time at the right hand of God, infinitely inhabiting the same realm as the Father (John 1:1, Philippians 2:6). We must believe that He is who He claims to be, the Son of God. In Acts 8:37, as the Ethiopian Eunuch is considering baptism, He asks Philip if there is anything preventing him from fulfilling the deed. In response, the evangelist states that the only thing that could separate the Ethiopian from being baptized and saved that very day is his belief in Jesus.
We must also believe in the resurrection of Jesus, which is considered of utmost importance to Paul in his letter to the Corinthians. He makes it very clear in 1 Corinthians 15:3-4 that the first lesson he tried to teach the Corinthians was that Jesus died and was raised. Later, he writes, “But if there is no resurrection of the dead, not even Christ has been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our preaching is in vain” (1 Corinthians 15:16-17).
There is no way that we can be saved unless we are willing to confess Jesus as Lord. What is so interesting, though, is that we will all confess Christ someday, though it may be all for naught at that point. Our Lord tells us that “not everybody who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord!’ shall enter into the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 7:21). A day will come when the King will return to this world in a cloud, surrounded by a host of angels, and all the people of the earth will finally know for sure that Christ is Lord! Unfortunately, confession on the day of judgment is confession that is too late. Consider another scripture: Romans 14:11-12. We have a choice, therefore, to either confess now or later. As one writer puts it, “A willing confession now, with other things being equal, produces a blessing in this world and being confessed ultimately by Jesus before God and holy angels in judgment. A compelled confession at judgment will only add up to eternal condemnation” (Studies In Romans, Robert Taylor, Jr., 249).
Philippians 2:9-11 – This passage serves as a wonderful companion to our previous scripture. Paul very clearly states every single knee will bow, and every single tongue shall one day confess Jesus. Some to be sure will reach the judgment seat having already confessed. These will get to enjoy the benefits of having Christ confess them before God (Luke 12:8-9). All others, however, will be forced to confess because of undeniable circumstances – there are no valid arguments that can be made by an unbeliever or an unrepentant sinner while standing before the Almighty!
Consider Romans 10:8-10. The opportunity to be saved is for all of us, for there is no distinction made in this passage between Jew and Gentile, slave or free man, male or female (Galatians 3:28). One step on the road to salvation is no further away from us than in our own mouths – amazingly, so few people choose to take advantage of it! How said it will be on that day when God will condemn so many people simply because they did not believe, repent, confess, and be baptized! A closer look at the verse, however, reveals that within the context of the verse belief is also a necessary step to heaven. So what is it? Does confession alone save us? Or does confession and faith? The answer is that it is both, for we cannot just look at Bible verses independently from the rest of the Bible! If that is so, then we could easily argue that baptism and belief are the only requirements to salvation (Mark 16:16), or baptism and repentance (Acts 2:38), or even baptism alone (1 Peter 3:21). The fact is that all of these things are necessary because they are interconnected, just as Romans 10:10 is saying!
In Greek, which is the primary language of the New Testament and the translated Old Testament, the word for repentance is metanoew, which literally means “to perceive something after it has been done, or to change one’s mind” (Expository Dictionary of New Testament Words, Vine, 279). The common usage of the word, however, suggests a change in action. And, every single time that it is used in the New Testament, it is referring to a change of action for the better.
The Apostle is asked by the crowd in Acts 2:38, “What must we do?” He responds, “Repent, and let each of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.” We see that repentance leads the soul to forgiveness in Acts 5:31. Peter says, “[Christ] is the One whom God exalted to His right hand as a Prince and a Savior, to grant repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.” We see that repentance also leads to knowledge in 2 Timothy 2:25.
As examples of true repentance, consider the Corinthians. We find out from the text that many of them were fornicators, and drunkards, and adulterers, and all manner of despicable characters (1 Corinthians 6:9-11). But baptism and faith in Christ Jesus saved them. It washed them. It cleansed them and made them whole. There are some valuable lessons that we can learn from the Corinthians. Primarily, we find that Gentiles are most certainly under the specific, outlined Law of Christ, not protected by ignorance or their own moral code. The sins described in the text are very specific sins, some of which would not be considered unlawful to Gentiles (i.e., alcoholism is not an illegal thing for most people, neither is homosexuality, and neither is adultery in our society). But these ignorant, unbelieving, lawless Gentiles were still being judged by the Lord through Jesus Christ. And they were still criminals held accountable to the Gospel. Take a look at Acts 20:21.
The word that is used in the New Testament for baptism is BAPTISMA (baptisma) for the noun, and BAPTIZA (baptiza) for the verb. According to Vine’s Dictionary of the Bible, the noun form (baptisma) means “consisting of the processes of immersion, submersion and emergence.” The most important aspect of this definition is that it entails the entire process of entering, staying, and exiting the place of burial. The verb form (baptiza) means “to baptize, primarily a frequentative form of the word to dip, was used among Greeks to signify dyeing of a garment, or the drawing of water by dipping a vessel into another.”
The apostle Peter was there when our Lord gave the commission to preach to all the nations, so he understood very well what was inherently involved in
”making disciples.” Peter preached exactly what he was supposed to have preached, as a Christian and not as a Jew alone, and baptism was always the outcome. Consider Acts 2:14-38, in which Peter begins his discourse by saying, “You men of Judea, and all you that dwell in Jerusalem, be this known unto you, and give ear unto my words…” It is at this point that he preaches Christ and Him crucified, with the result that those listening are “pricked to the heart” and ask Peter and the brethren what needs to be done. In response to this inquiry; “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 2:38).
Philip was another preacher of the Word who understood the details of baptism, because on more than one occasion he was instrumental in convincing others to get baptized. Acts 8:12; “But when they believed Philip preaching the good news about the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, they were being baptized, men and women alike.” One point that we can make is that men and women are both welcomed into the church, and baptism is not a strictly masculine action. Galatians 3:28 states that in Christ “there is neither Jew nor Greek, neither slave nor free man, neither male nor female…” Second, part of preaching the “good news about the kingdom of God” included preaching about baptism. Otherwise, why would these people want to respond to his speech by requesting baptism? One cannot separate baptism from the kingdom! In later verses, Philip is found preaching to a eunuch from Ethiopia (Acts 8:26-39), who questions him about a verse from Isaiah 53. Begin with that prophecy, Philip “preached Jesus to him.” By preaching Jesus and discussing the prophecy of Isaiah, the preacher convinced the eunuch to get baptized. Inherent in “preaching Jesus” is preaching baptism. Once again, they cannot be separated. Notice a few other things about this text: the eunuch was baptized as soon as possible, in the least likely of all places. He did not wait until he found a more appropriate time and place for baptism; if this act is not necessary, then why the rush? Obviously, the baptism was full immersion in the water, because they both needed to get out of the chariot and descend into the pool. If the baptism were simply sprinkling, then why not just baptize the eunuch right there in the chariot? Finally, the eunuch did not “go on his way rejoicing” until after the baptism had taken place. If this Ethiopian received salvation by faith alone, then why did he not rejoice right there in the chariot before his baptism?
The apostle Paul, when his name was still Saul and he was a persecutor of the church, explains his own conversion in Acts 22. Later, Paul explains the event thus, “‘And now why do you delay? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on His name’” (Acts 22:16). It is baptism that washes away our sins.
In Acts 10, the Bible reader is introduced to a man named Cornelius, who is noted for his general kindness and righteousness (Acts 10:1-3). But for all his righteousness, he was not saved. He had not been baptized, because we read in Acts 11:14, in which Peter is recounting the events of his encounter with Cornelius, “And he shall speak words to you by which you will be saved, you and all your household.” “‘Surely no one can refuse the water for these to be baptized…’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ” (Acts 10:47-48). Baptism is not just a choice we have, it is the only choice that saves! It is a direct command.
When Lydia believed in Acts 16:14, she was baptized.
When the Philippians jailor heard the word spoken by Paul and Silas, he was baptized (Acts 16:32).
When the Corinthians heard the preaching, “they believed and were baptized” (Acts 18:8).
The Ephesians also “heard this, and they were baptized” (Acts 19:5).
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