Question: I’m confused about how one gets saved. As a Catholic, my favorite catechism stated: “What is necessary to be saved? You have to be baptized, belong to the Church established by Jesus Christ, obey the Ten Commandments, receive the Sacraments, pray, do good works, and die with Sanctifying Grace in your soul.” That seemed to impose a hopeless burden. If I missed Mass and died with that mortal sin upon me before I could get to confession, I would be lost forever. Since leaving Catholicism I’ve only become more confused by the contradictory teachings among Protestant denominational churches. Some say baptism is essential for salvation, others that it isn’t. Some say that holiness or speaking in tongues are necessary, others say no. How can I know the truth?
Response: Your very question, “What must I do to be saved?” was asked of the apostle Paul. His concise answer is the truth you seek: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts:16:30,31).
Note that Paul said nothing about baptism, church membership, penance, Mass, Mary or other saints, good works, or anything else. Salvation comes through faith in Christ and nothing else. To suggest that more is needed is to deny the Bible’s clear teaching that Christ is the only Savior of sinners. Never does the Bible suggest (and common sense also rejects the idea) that Christ can only partially save us, and it is up to us or some other pseudo-Savior to make up for what Christ couldn’t do. If Christ was not able to complete our salvation, then it would do no good to look elsewhere for supplemental help.
Of course, to believe on Christ one must know who He is, how He accomplished our salvation, and why we need to be saved. God’s infinite justice requires an infinite penalty for our violation of His holy law. As finite beings we could never pay that infinite penalty, but would be separated from God for eternity. God, being infinite, could in one sense pay the penalty His justice demands, but that wouldn’t be right because He isn’t one of us.
Consequently, because of His great love, God became a man through the virgin birth. He never ceased to be God (an impossibility) and will never cease to be man. In love, He took our sins upon Himself and paid the infinite penalty we deserved. On that basis He offers complete pardon and eternal life in heaven for all who will repent of their sin against God and receive the forgiveness that God offers in Christ.
The following true account, as I remember Billy Graham telling it, illustrates the point very well. When driving through a small town in southeastern United States, he was pulled over by a motorcycle officer who gave him a speeding ticket and brought him immediately before the local judge to pay the fine. It happened that the judge was a barber, and Billy had to wait until he finished a customer.
Having taken off his barber’s apron and put on his black robe, the judge pulled a gavel out of the court’s drawer and called the court to order. “What is the charge?” he asked the officer.
“Your Honor,” the officer replied, “this man was doing 35 in a 25-mile zone.”
“How does the defendant plead?” asked the judge, turning to Billy.
“Your Honor,” said Billy, “I wasn’t looking at the speedometer, so I’ll have to take his word for it.”
“That will be $10,” said the judge, pounding with his gavel. “One dollar for every mile over the limit.” (This was obviously very long ago.)
Billy took out his wallet, opened it, and began to count out some bills when the judge interrupted him. “Haven’t I seen you somewhere?” he asked Then looking closer, and before his famous defendant could respond, he exclaimed, “Of course! You’re Billy Graham! What an honor! I’ve seen you on TV….”
A friendly conversation followed. In fact, it became so friendly that Billy put his wallet back into his pocket. The conversation seemed to come to an end, and Billy turned to leave.
“That will be $10,” said the judge firmly, pounding with his gavel. I may just be a barber most of the time, but I try to run an honest court. The ticket has been written out and has to be paid.”
Again Billy pulled out his wallet and started searching for the proper amount, but the judge was quicker. Reaching into the barbershop drawer, he pulled out a $10 bill and put it in the court’s drawer. Then he wrote out a receipt and gave it to Billy Graham, now a free man.
That’s exactly what Christ did for us! The “ticket has been written out” in heaven on all of us: “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” (Romans:3:23) and it must be paid because God runs an honest court. Billy Graham could easily have paid the $10 in his case, but we cannot pay the infinite penalty assessed against each of us. So God himself, becoming a man to die in our place, paid the penalty and gives us the paid-in-full receipt the moment we receive the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior.