Many believe that if you just say the words “I accept Jesus as my Savior,” you will be immediately and permanently saved. Is that what the Bible teaches?
Some religious people ask others, “Are you saved?”
If the answer is no, the suggested solution might be to recite a short statement: “I accept Jesus as my Savior.”
Such advice about being saved implies that a simple, albeit sincere, declaration explains both the how and the when of salvation. Yet Jesus Himself counseled, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Matthew 7:21, emphasis added throughout).
Wait! Have you been told that you do not have to do anything to be saved? If that is what you have read or been told, how does it square with what the Bible says?
According to Jesus Christ, just words alone are not enough. You have to conduct your day-to-day life according to God’s will. And implied in Jesus’ statement is that complete salvation is not now, but in the future (He said, “shall enter the kingdom of heaven,” not “has entered the kingdom of heaven”).
Unconditional love does not equal unconditional benefits
We must not confuse unconditional love with unconditional benefits. An argument commonly used against what Christ said above is that God’s love is unconditional. The reasoning is that since God’s love is unconditional, His free gift of salvation is also unconditional.
It is true that God loves us unconditionally. He loves male and female, wealthy and poor, highly educated and illiterate, people of any and every racial background. His love is without discrimination or prejudice.
Does the fact that He has unconditional love for humankind mean that He gives His benefits unconditionally? That is comparing apples and oranges—two completely different issues. Unconditional love by God does not equate to unconditional benefits from God.
Of course, nothing anyone can do earns salvation. Even so, there are requirements, according to what Christ said above—and what the Bible says in numerous other scriptures.
Requirements do not mean earning salvation
Some assume that saying Christians are required to do anything in order to be saved teaches that salvation can be earned. That reasoning is false.
Can you inherit a gift you have not earned and yet be required by your benefactor to do certain things before receiving your inheritance? Sure! It happens all the time. For example, a wealthy benefactor may leave an heir a million dollars, but the benefactor can stipulate in his will that the heir must complete a college education and reach age 21 before receiving the money. Does the heir “earn” the million dollars by fulfilling the will’s requirements? No, fulfilling requirements to receive the inheritance is not the same as earning the inheritance.
If we tried to understand the doctrine of salvation by human debate, the arguing would be endless. God alone determines the parameters of salvation. And He declares it is a gift! That means God says salvation cannot be earned. It is, by analogy, an inheritance. We are heirs of salvation (Romans 8:17) by faith, not by works (Romans 4:14).
Salvation is the single greatest benefit that any human being could receive. As we explain in detail in our other articles about salvation, being saved is a process that begins with the human mind turning away from living and thinking the way that comes naturally to living and thinking the way God expects.But, as in the human inheritance analogy above, God also declares unambiguously that the inheritors of salvation must fulfill certain requirements to receive it.
You would think Jesus’ words would have settled the matter, but this debate continues even today. We will come back to this, but we first need to consider what salvation is.
What does it mean to be saved?
Salvation is the single greatest benefit that any human being could receive. As we explain in detail in our other articles about salvation, being saved is a process that begins with the human mind turning away from living and thinking the way that comes naturally to living and thinking the way God expects.
To draw an analogy with a race, the starting line is baptism, at which time a person’s sins are forgiven and God gives the gift of His Holy Spirit.
Some would have you think that the starting line and the finish line are one and the same.
However, the Bible teaches that the finish line, when salvation is complete, is when God changes a person from physical existence to spirit existence. Then the person is “saved” from perishing. It is no longer possible for one who is completely saved to suffer an injury, to contract a disease, to age or to die.
In everyday language, “to be saved” means to be spared or rescued from something undesirable. One might be saved from drowning by being rescued from a body of water. A person can be saved from asphyxiation by being pulled from a burning building by a firefighter. Someone could be saved from death by the successful medical treatment of an injury or disease.
What are we saved from?
The concept of salvation in the Bible is similar. A person is saved from something undesirable. In the case of spiritual salvation, the undesirable condition from which one is saved is eternal death—death from which there is no resurrection.
What did Jesus say to the woman of Samaria at the well? “Whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life” (John 4:13-14).
“Everlasting life” is another way of saying “saved.” After receiving everlasting life, a person will no longer be subject to those elements that cause pain, suffering and death to a human being.
The spiritual water Jesus was speaking of is the Holy Spirit, the divine nature that is given to a person at the “the starting line” of the process of salvation.
When is a person saved?
But did not Jesus also say that a person who believes in Him has everlasting life? Yes, He did: “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me has everlasting life” (John 6:47).
The question is, when is a person saved? Well, in one sense, as soon as the conversion process begins, a Christian has within his or her mind some of God’s nature—that is, divine essence (2 Peter 1:4). God’s Spirit is the down payment (earnest) one must have for ultimate salvation (Ephesians 1:13-14; Romans 8:11).
That does not mean that every Christian is completely divine upon conversion! It means the process has begun. That is what Jesus meant.
Reinforcing the truth that there are requirements
Now that we’ve looked at what salvation is, let’s continue our study of God’s expectations. Consider what Jesus said to a young Jewish ruler. This young man asked Jesus, “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16).
Jesus told him, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17). We know from the scriptures we have been reading that “life” means everlasting life, which means the same as eternal life, which means the same as salvation. Again, we find there is a requirement of believers in order to receive salvation. Nothing we can do earns salvation, and yet we are required to keep the 10 Commandments or we will not be saved!
If you study this story, you will learn the young man already kept the letter of the 10 Commandments. And you will see that Jesus did not deter the man from doing so, but rather, that Christ steered the man deeper into the intent and spirit of the law. Measuring oneself by the law alone would be legalism. But searching out and living by the 10 Commandments and the spiritual intent for which God gave each one is the pathway to salvation.
The finish line
We have enough background information that we can now understand a difficult scripture, which will help bring the points of this article to a conclusion.
Four days after Martha’s brother Lazarus had died and been buried, Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:25-26).
Now, we can understand Jesus’ words. The believer has the promise of eternal life. But until the process is complete, the person is still subject to injury, disease, aging and death. He or she therefore is not “saved” from perishing yet.
When does the believer cross the finish line? Christ inspired the apostle Paul to relate the answer:
“Now this I say, brethren, that flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God; nor does corruption inherit incorruption. Behold, I tell you a mystery: We shall not all sleep, but we shall all be changed—in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, and the dead will be raised incorruptible, and we shall be changed.
“For this corruptible must put on incorruption, and this mortal must put on immortality. So when this corruptible has put on incorruption, and this mortal has put on immortality, then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written: ‘Death is swallowed up in victory’” (1 Corinthians 15:50-54).
Of course, these verses concern all who become believers before Christ returns. Many more will become believers during and after the Millennium. Their salvation will be the same; it will begin with repentance and baptism; it will be complete when God changes them to spirit beings.
Saved through a process
In summary, salvation is a process. It begins with repentance, baptism and receiving the Holy Spirit. It continues with a Christian, out of love and appreciation, striving with God’s help to live a life pleasing to God by obeying His laws and doing His will. It concludes when God changes a physical being into a spirit being, a being that can never be injured, become sick, age or die.
Do not go by what you may have always thought or by what other people say. Look at what the Bible says by reading the Scriptures. Plus, we encourage you to read the accompanying biblically based articles on salvation and conversion on this website. Also, you may use the search box at the top of any page of the website to look for information you cannot find on any topic. And, if you need help, feel free to ask us!