Although there is only one way to be saved, I think that many times Christians will try to tell someone how to be saved, yet their instruction in the subject is too difficult to follow. In other words, Christians and even Preachers will try to tell someone how to be saved, with the understanding in mind that the person already knows how to be saved. What good does that do? While most Christians who do this are not aware that they are doing it, still the poor person is left thinking that it is some big secret that if they don’t already know they never will, or, worse yet, they may be left thinking that they are saved when they really are not, which puts the person in a very dangerous situation.
It would be sort of like me trying to give directions to my own house and trying to give those directions to someone who has never been to my town or even heard of it before. Obviously, I don’t want to insult the person by giving them so much direction that it seems as though I am treating them like a child, but if they have never been to the place in question, I must start from a place that they are familiar with and give them concise directions from that point. Otherwise, they may get lost before they even get started, and then it is my fault that they got lost; because my directions were not thorough enough.
And in the case of salvation, we are not talking about simply taking a wrong turn somewhere, we are talking about taking the ultimate wrong turn.
Many Christians say that the way to get saved is to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved”(Acts 16:30-31). or they will quote some other similar passage. And though that is certainly correct to do, and we should tell people from the word of God how to be saved, we often leave the person nodding their head in the affirmative, and within themselves saying, “I do believe on Jesus,” but, at the same time, the person does not feel saved; because they don’t know what those words mean.
And what exactly is meant by those words?
Jesus said, “For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. He that believes on him is not condemned: but he that believes not is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”(John 3:17&18) So, sad to say, the default position is that we are already condemned, and the only way to get out of that position is to believe on Him.
But how do we believe on Him? I think many people would say believing on Him means that we believe He is God and that He is the Son of God, or that He died for me and that He was raised from the dead, and all of that is true, and we do need to believe that, but that is not what He was talking about when He said believe on Me. I am going to explain what those words mean: “believe on Him,” but let me first start by laying a foundation for this process called salvation.
The first thing that must be understood, and you will never get anywhere in the realm of salvation without understanding this, is that I myself, you yourself, we ourselves are sinners. I know that no one likes to hear that, and few people like to admit it, but there is no way to be saved unless we first admit to that which we need saved from. “For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”(Rom. 3:23)
What does it mean to be a sinner? For most people, when you ask a question like that, their thoughts almost inevitably go to things that they have done wrong, or things that they don’t do that they know they should do, etc. But it should be understood that sin has not so much to do with the things we do or fail to do, but it has more to do with what we are. It does mean that we have committed crimes against God, but most of the everyday things that we do in the realm of right and wrong are not the problem, but they are merely symptoms of the problem.
What the word sinner actually means is that we were born in a state of perpetual rebellion to God. It means that we have been given a life, and we each only get one, and instead of using that life for what God intended for us to use it for, we spend that one and only life that we have been given using it for what we want to use it for. We are not doing with our gift of life what God has created us to do; we are doing with our life what we want to do. This is the state that we must be saved from. We must be brought from a place of rebellion to a place of obedience to God’s will.
I know that with most, this state of rebellion is not a blatant thing. In other words, the person doesn’t know that they are doing this. But, also sad to say, ignorance of the condition we are in does not negate the condition itself. If you are dying of a particular disease, and you don’t know that you are, you are still going to die. Ignorance will not save you, but a cure for the disease in question will save you.
It is obvious that it is not my own personal fault that I was born in sin, yet it must also be understood that I am still responsible. I am responsible; because God has provided a way out of this condition of being a sinner, and indeed God has done every bit of work that need be done to provide that way. But if I don’t take advantage of the way that God has provided, then it is, obviously, no one’s fault but my own. And if I refuse God’s way of salvation, then that in itself is the ultimate rebellion against God. I would be saying that I do not want the greatest and most precious gift that God could ever give. I would be saying that I want to remain in my sin.
I think a lot of people may ask, “Saved from what? What do I need to be saved from?” I think it safe to say that most believe that they are just fine the way they are; there is nothing that they need to be saved from. Yet millions are in bondage to something, and they know that they are, and they will turn to anything and everything to try to treat, cure and escape those bondages. And I speak of such things as alcoholism, drug addiction, sexual fornications and perversions, uncontrollable anger, and there are a hundred and one other things. Men and women will turn to psychologists and counselors, they will turn to methods and schemes, they spend millions of dollars on every fad and fancy that comes along, trying to either exchange one problem for another, or simply trying to distract their mind from the problem, and then, at the last, most just settle for the fact that they have problems in their life that they will never be free from. They will turn to everything except God. Why?
And let me say this, and let me try to be as emphatic as possible: religion is not Christianity, and religion is not God. I would say of all the things that people turn to for help, and of all the deceptions that will condemned people to eternal hell, with no chance of salvation, are the religions of this world. They tell people, “follow our laws and follow our rules, and you will be just fine”, but those are guilty men and women trying to save guilty men and women. They are the blind trying to lead the blind. And that is the opposite of Christianity, and from such turn away. Jesus said of the Scribes and Pharisees of His day, “woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for you shut up the kingdom of heaven against men: for you neither go in yourselves, neither suffer you them that are entering to go in”(Mat. 23:13). Meaning that they don’t know how to get into heaven themselves, and yet they try to tell others how to. They are fools!
Jesus also said, “Woe unto you also, you lawyers! for you lade men with burdens grievous to be borne, and you yourselves touch not the burdens with one of your fingers”(Luke 11:46). Meaning that those who purport such religious rules and laws and ceremonies claim to keep these laws, and that everyone else should keep them, when in truth they cannot even live up to them themselves. And the worst part is that many different religions claim to be Christianity, when they are not!
Christianity is a relationship with God, our Creator. It is not just a relationship with Him as our Father, our Creator, our Savior and our King, but it is a relationship with Him as our Friend and loving Parent who is ever longing for our love toward Him, that He might show more and more love toward us. And as it was said in one place: For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son…”(John 3:16) meaning that He gave His Son to die for us, because He loved us that much.
Sin is like a prison. All of us are born in captivity. We are all born in this prison called sin. And there is no way for us to get out of that prison ourselves. And no one who is in that prison with us can help us get out either. They are prisoners too, and so many proclaim to be able to free us from prison, when they cannot even free themselves. There is only one way out. Someone must first come along and absolve us of the crime that we have committed, and then they must open the door for us to walk out. It had to be someone on the outside. Someone who was not a prisoner had to be the one to free us from prison. This someone called Jesus has already done this. He has already been executed in our place; in other words, he has paid the penalty for our crime, and he has in fact already opened the prison door. And so the only thing we need to do to be free is to walk through the door.
But this prison is also like a maze, with many and varied obstacles seemingly blocking our way to the door, and with many different things holding our attention and distracting us from the understanding that we are indeed in bondage, and that the door is in truth open. And I would maintain that the number one obstacle that keeps us from finding freedom is our own pride. People refusing to admit to their sinful condition is the greatest thing that will keep them from being saved.
So herein lies the first step to getting saved. We must admit that we are in a state of bondage to sin. I am a sinner, in other words. That is the first step, and there is no way to get any further in the process until that first step is taken.
Lord, you are right; I am a sinner. I admit it.
The next step is in understanding that salvation means that I must become something different than what I am. “You must be born again”(John 3:3). The Bible is full of passages that say things to the effect that the unrighteous shall not enter the Kingdom of Heaven; the wicked shall not inherit Eternal life, etc. So, in order to be saved, I must be changed from a state of being unrighteous to being righteous. I must be converted from a state of being a sinner to a state of not being a sinner. And how is that done?
First it must be realized that I, you, we, cannot change what we are. “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.”(Mat. 19:26) God can make dust into a man and make that man come to life. God can take water and turn it into wine. God can make light come from darkness, land come from out of the water and life come up out of the ground. He can bring the dead back to life, and so it is but a small thing for Him to take what we are and change it into something else. So the simple truth is that we must come to God so that He can change us. Many people get the idea in their minds that they can get saved from sin today and tomorrow go right back into the life they were living before they got saved. It will not work that way. While it is true that God will accept us exactly as we are, and we do not need to change in order to come to Him, at the same time it must be realized that we are coming to Him because we do need to be changed, and He is going to change us. It makes absolutely no sense to believe that Jesus died on Calvary to save us from sin, so that we can just continue being sinners. He died on Calvary so that we could be changed from a state of being a sinner to a state of not being a sinner; because that is the only way that we can be acceptable to God’s Kingdom. He gave His life to free us from prison, and not so that we would turn around and go right back into the thing.
So with the first step being that I come to God realizing that I am a sinner, the second step is that I come to Him asking Him to change me, so that I will not be a sinner any longer.
Lord, make me into something Holy and Righteous and free from Sin. Please change me.
We are coming around to the final step, which is how to believe on Jesus. But there is one key ingredient that I want to be sure to add to the mix of all of this; because without this ingredient none of this is going to work. You may think I am going to say that faith is this key ingredient; however, I have already added that ingredient. It takes faith to believe that I am a sinner, and it takes faith to believe that Jesus dying on a cross is what can free me from that state of being a sinner. As a matter of fact, it takes faith to believe all of this, but faith without humility is not faith in Jesus but rather faith in oneself. This is the key ingredient that will either make or break this process. That ingredient is humility.
In the story of the two thieves that hung on the cross on either side of Jesus, we have the two positions of humility and pride. Humility brought the one thief into paradise with Jesus on the very day of His crucifixion. Pride saw the other thief cast his own soul down into hell. The prideful said, “If you be the Son of God, then get us down from these crosses.” In other words, “it doesn’t matter that I am guilty, and it doesn’t matter that I have committed sin, I still deserve to live anyway.” And in doing so, he reviled the only possibility he had of being saved. The humble thief said, “I do deserve to die on this cross, but Jesus does not deserve such.” And he said, “I don’t deserve anything good, but, Jesus, if you could possibly spare just a small amount of mercy, ‘remember me when you come into your kingdom’.” He didn’t ask the Lord to bring him into the kingdom, and in fact he didn’t even ask Jesus to save him, but he asked the smallest of mercies that he could think to ask. “Just sometime, Lord, when you are sitting in that beautiful, glorious kingdom, please try to remember me.” But because of this man’s humility and his faith in the fact that this one hanging on the cross beside him was the only hope he had, he is now in that glorious, beautiful kingdom with Jesus and he forever shall be. (The story of the two thieves can be found in Luke 23:39-43)
So many people are fond of saying things like I deserve this, or I deserve that, or I have the right to this or that. We all have a tendency to believe that we are owed something. However, if you come to the Lord with the attitude that “God has to save me, He owes it to me, and I deserve it”; then you are not going to get anything from God.
The truth is that God does owe us something, and the truth is that we do deserve something from God. What we deserve is eternal damnation, and that is what we will receive if we don’t come to Him in the right way. And though we do not deserve it, He will give us eternal life, provided we come to Him in the spirit of meekness and humility, understanding that we deserve punishment rather than good, and that if God gives anything good to us, it will not be because we deserve it or earn it, but it will be because God is merciful and He loves us.
So putting this roadmap of directions all together, this must be my prayer thus far if I wish to be saved.
Lord, I am a sinner, and as such I do not even deserve to be talking to you. I don’t deserve anything good from you, and, in fact, I deserve death for my sin. But, Lord, if you don’t help me, I will never get free. Be merciful to me, Lord, and change what I am. Change me from this sinful thing that I am into something righteous and holy.
Now to the all-important question of “What does it mean to believe on Jesus?” As it was said, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and thou shalt be saved.”(Acts 16:31) And in another place He said, “I am the way, the truth and the life; no man comes unto the Father but by me.” But how is Jesus the way, and how does one believe on Him, and how does one come unto the Father by Jesus Christ?
Believing on Jesus, or believing in Jesus means to believe that He is who He says He is, and He can do what He says He can do, which is to save us. When you believe in someone, you trust them because you know that they care about you, and you know that everything they do and everything they say to do is going to turn out well. When that person tells you to do something you do it knowing that they know what they are talking about, and if you do what they say it will turn out for your good. It means that when someone tells you to go in a particular direction, you go in that direction because you know that going that way will get you to the right destination. It means to treat Jesus as though He knows what He is doing, and He knows what He is talking about.
And then what is it that we believe in Him for? The answer to that question can be seen in the sacrifices in the Old Testament. The sacrifice as it was brought by believers in the Old Testament had the connotation of substitution and identification. Using the lamb as the example, the person offering the lamb was in essence saying by offering it, “I deserve to die because of my sin, but this lamb that I have brought has died in my place.” The lamb, in the mind of God and in the faith of the person, became the substitute for the one offering it. The lamb had no sin, but the person did. The lamb as an innocent victim was offered in place of the guilty sinner. And then, the sinner identifies with the innocence of the sacrifice, and the sacrifice becomes identified with the sin of the sinner. In other words, in the mind of God, the innocent lamb is executed in the place of the sinner who deserves to be executed. Within God’s judicial system, if one comes along and takes the punishment for another, the punishment is then over. The one deserving the punishment does not need to be punished; because the punishment has been settled. The debt has been paid. It doesn’t matter who paid it, it just matters that it has been paid.
As the thief said as he hung on the cross beside Christ; I deserve to die for my crimes, but Jesus does not deserve to die; because He has not committed any crime. He is innocent; I am guilty. But Jesus, being the only innocent man who ever lived, went to the cross of Calvary in order that He might die in the place of the guilty sinner. He took the punishment that should have been mine. He was executed so that I could go free.
The same thing can be seen in that Pilate offered to the people a choice. He told the people that he would let one of two prisoners go free. He could release the thief and murderer, Barabbas, or he could release Jesus. The sinner, Barabbas, was the one who was set free, while the innocent one, Jesus, was condemned to be crucified. And Barabbas is a type of us all.
So the answer to the question, “How do I believe on Jesus?” is that I believe that the cross that He died on should have been my cross. I believe that the death that He died should have been my death. I should have died there. It means to believe that while I was the guilty one and He was the innocent one, He volunteered to be executed in my place. It means to believe that His sacrifice is mine; He died in my place; He took my punishment; He died for me.
For a moment, as you read this, forget that anyone else in the world is guilty of anything, and focus only on yourself, and understand that you are the one who stands there with the choice being offered. You can be executed or Jesus can. And Jesus, being your loving, merciful savior said, “I will take the punishment.” You went free while He was condemned. He opened the door of the prison and set you free by volunteering to be your substitute on that cross. Now, believing on Jesus means treating Him as though He did that for you, and you owe Him your life. Start treating Him like He deserves your love in return for His. Start treating Him as though whatever He may ask you to do, you owe it to Him to do it. Start treating Him like He is the only one who can get you into heaven; because He is the one who has taken the punishment that would have banned you from that heaven.
Now the whole sum of the matter as to how to be saved is this:
Lord, I am a sinner, and I’m sorry that I am. Please forgive me, and please change me. I know that Jesus was innocent and I was guilty, yet He was crucified while I was forgiven and set free. And in that He gave His life in place of mine; He died the death that I should have died; I owe my life to Him, and I give my life to Him.
It is God the Father who saves us, but it is through the sacrifice of Jesus that God does this, for as He said, “no man comes unto the Father but by me”. God offered His only Son, as the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, on the altar of Calvary, as the substitute for my sin, your sin, and the sin of the world. But it only works if you believe it and accept it and make Him your own personal Lord.