What Must We Do to Be Saved?
A MAN once asked Jesus: “Lord, are those who are being saved few?” How did Jesus reply? Did he say: ‘Just accept me as your Lord and Savior, and you will be saved’? No! Jesus said: “Exert yourselves vigorously to get in through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will seek to get in but will not be able.”—Luke 13:23, 24.
Did Jesus fail to answer the man’s question? No, the man did not ask how hard it would be to be saved; he asked if the number would be few. So Jesus merely indicated that fewer people than one might expect would exert themselves vigorously to receive this marvelous blessing.
‘That’s not what I was told,’ some readers may protest. These may quote John 3:16, which says: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” (King James Version) However, we reply: ‘What, then, must we believe? That Jesus actually lived? Of course. That he is the Son of God? By all means! And since the Bible calls Jesus “Teacher” and “Lord,” must we not also believe what he taught, obey him, and follow him?’—John 13:13; Matthew 16:16.
Ah, here the problem arises! Many people who have been told that they are “saved” seem to have little intention of either following or obeying Jesus. In fact, a Protestant clergyman wrote: “Of course, our faith in Christ should continue. But the claim that it absolutely must, or necessarily does, has no support at all in the Bible.”
On the contrary, the Bible lists immoral practices that are common among some people who think that they are “saved.” Regarding one who continued in such ways, it instructed Christians: “Remove the wicked man from among yourselves.” Surely God would not want wicked people contaminating his Christian congregation!—1 Corinthians 5:11-13.
What does it mean, then, to follow Jesus, and how can we do that? Well, what did Jesus do? Was he immoral? a fornicator? a drunkard? a liar? Was he dishonest in business? Of course not! ‘But,’ you may ask, ‘do I have to clean all those things out of my life?’ For the answer, consider Ephesians 4:17 through 5:5. It does not say that God will accept us no matter what we do. Instead, it tells us to be different from the worldly nations who have “come to be past all moral sense, . . . but you did not learn the Christ to be so . . . Put away the old personality which conforms to your former course of conduct . . . Let the stealer steal no more . . . Let fornication and uncleanness of every sort or greediness not even be mentioned among you, just as it befits holy people . . . For you know this, recognizing it for yourselves, that no fornicator or unclean person or greedy person—which means being an idolater—has any inheritance in the kingdom of the Christ and of God.”
Are we following Jesus if we do not at least try to live in harmony with his example? Do we not have to work on making our lives more Christlike? That vital question is rarely, if ever, considered by people who say, as one religious tract does: “Come to Christ now—just as you are.”
One of Jesus’ disciples warned that ungodly men were “turning the undeserved kindness of our God into an excuse for loose conduct and proving false to our only Owner and Lord, Jesus Christ.” (Jude 4) How might we, in fact, turn God’s mercy “into an excuse for loose conduct”? We could do so by assuming that Christ’s sacrifice covers deliberate sins that we intend to keep on committing rather than sins of human imperfection that we are trying to put behind us. Surely we would not want to agree with one of America’s best-known evangelists, who said that you do not have to “clean up, give up, or turn around.”—Contrast Acts 17:30; Romans 3:25; James 5:19, 20.
Belief Prompts Action
Many people have been told that “believing on Jesus” is a single act and that our faith does not have to be strong enough to prompt obedience. But the Bible disagrees. Jesus did not say that people who begin the Christian course are saved. Instead, he said: “He that has endured to the end is the one that will be saved.” (Matthew 10:22) The Bible likens our Christian course to a race, with salvation being the prize at its end. And it urges: “Run in such a way that you may attain it.”—1 Corinthians 9:24.
Thus, “accepting Christ” involves far more than just accepting the blessings that Jesus’ superlative sacrifice offers. Obedience is required. The apostle Peter says that judgment starts “with the house of God,” and adds: “Now if it starts first with us, what will the end be of those who are not obedient to the good news of God?” (1 Peter 4:17) So we must do more than simply hear and believe. The Bible says that we must “become doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving [ourselves] with false reasoning.”—James 1:22.
Jesus’ Own Messages
The Bible book of Revelation contains messages from Jesus, transmitted through John to seven early Christian congregations. (Revelation 1:1, 4) Did Jesus say that since the people in these congregations had already “accepted” him, that was sufficient? No. He praised their deeds, their labor and their endurance and spoke of their love, faith, and ministry. But he said that the Devil would put them to the test and that they would be rewarded “individually according to [their] deeds.”—Revelation 2:2, 10, 19, 23.
Thus Jesus described a far greater commitment than most people have understood when they were told that their salvation was a “finished work” as soon as they “accepted” him at a religious meeting. Jesus said: “If anyone wants to come after me, let him disown himself and pick up his torture stake and continually follow me. For whoever wants to save his soul will lose it; but whoever loses his soul for my sake will find it.”—Matthew 16:24, 25.
Disown ourselves? Follow Jesus continually? That would require effort. It would change our lives. Yet, did Jesus really say that some of us might even have to ‘lose our souls’—to die for him? Yes, that kind of faith comes only with knowledge of the magnificent things you can learn from studying God’s Word. It was evident on the day Stephen was stoned by religious fanatics who “could not hold their own against the wisdom and the spirit with which he was speaking.” (Acts 6:8-12; 7:57-60) And such faith has been demonstrated in our time by the hundreds of Jehovah’s Witnesses who died in Nazi concentration camps rather than violate their Bible-trained consciences.*
We must hold firmly to our Christian faith because, unlike what you may hear in some churches or on religious television programs, the Bible says we can fall away. It tells of Christians who abandoned “the straight path.” (2 Peter 2:1, 15) We thus need to ‘keep working out our own salvation with fear and trembling.’—Philippians 2:12; 2 Peter 2:20.
Is this how first-century Christians, the people who actually heard Jesus and his apostles teach, understood the matter? Yes. They knew that they had to do something. Jesus said: “Go therefore and make disciples of people of all the nations, . . . teaching them to observe all the things I have commanded you.”—Matthew 28:19, 20.
Some weeks after Jesus said that, 3,000 people were baptized in just one day. The number of believers quickly grew to 5,000. Those who believed taught others. When persecution scattered them, it only served to spread their message. The Bible says that not just a few leaders but “those who had been scattered went through the land declaring the good news of the word.” Some 30 years later, the apostle Paul could therefore write that the good news had been “preached in all creation that is under heaven.”—Acts 2:41; 4:4; 8:4; Colossians 1:23.
Paul did not make converts, as some TV evangelists do, by saying: ‘Accept Jesus right now, and you will forever be saved.’ Nor did he have the confidence of the American clergyman who wrote: “As a teenage boy, . . . I was already saved.” More than 20 years after Jesus personally chose Paul to carry the Christian message to people of the nations, this hardworking apostle wrote: “I pummel my body and lead it as a slave, that, after I have preached to others, I myself should not become disapproved somehow.”—1 Corinthians 9:27; Acts 9:5, 6, 15.
Salvation is a free gift from God. It cannot be earned. Yet it does require effort on our part. If someone offered you a very valuable gift and you did not show enough appreciation to pick it up and take it with you, your lack of gratitude might prompt the giver to present it to someone else. Well, how valuable is the lifeblood of Jesus Christ? It is a free gift, but we must demonstrate deep appreciation for it.
True Christians are in a saved condition in that they are in an approved position before God. As a group, their salvation is sure. Individually, they must meet God’s requirements. However, we can fail, for Jesus said: “If anyone does not remain in union with me, he is cast out as a branch and is dried up.”—John 15:6.
‘God’s Word Is Alive’
The conversation mentioned at the beginning of the preceding article occurred nearly 60 years ago. Johnny still believes that salvation comes only through Jesus Christ, but he realizes that we have to reach out for it. He remains convinced that the Bible points to the only real source of hope for mankind and that we must study that marvelous book, be moved by it, and let it motivate us to acts of love, faith, kindness, obedience, and endurance. He has reared his children to believe the same things, and now he is delighted to see them in turn rearing their children the same way. He wishes that everyone had that kind of faith, and he does whatever he can to instill it in the hearts and minds of others.
The apostle Paul was inspired to write that “the word of God is alive and exerts power.” (Hebrews 4:12) It can change lives. It can motivate you to heartfelt acts of love, faith, and obedience. But you must do more than just “accept” mentally what the Bible says. Study it and let your heart be motivated by it. Let its wisdom guide you. Some 5,000,000 willing Witnesses of Jehovah in more than 230 lands offer free home Bible studies. To see what you can learn from such a study, write to the publishers of this magazine. The faith and spiritual strength you gain will delight you!
In her book The Nazi State and the New Religions: Five Case Studies in Non-Conformity, Dr. Christine E. King reported: “One out of every two German [Jehovah’s] Witnesses was imprisoned, one in four lost their lives.”
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Why “Put Up a Hard Fight for the Faith”?
The Bible book of Jude is addressed to “called ones . . . , preserved for Jesus Christ.” Does it say that because they had ‘accepted Jesus,’ their salvation was sure? No, Jude told such Christians to “put up a hard fight for the faith.” He gave them three reasons for doing so. First, God “saved a people out of the land of Egypt,” but many of them later fell away. Second, even angels rebelled and became demons. Third, God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah because of the gross sexual immorality practiced in those cities. Jude presents these Biblical accounts “as a warning example.” Yes, even believers “preserved for Jesus Christ” have to exercise care not to fall away from the true faith.—Jude 1-7.
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Which is Right?
The Bible says: “A man is declared righteous by faith apart from works of law.” It also says: “A man is to be declared righteous by works, and not by faith alone.” Which is right? Are we declared righteous by faith or by works?—Romans 3:28; James 2:24.
The harmonious answer from the Bible is that both are correct.
For centuries the Law that God gave through Moses had required Jewish worshipers to make specific sacrifices and offerings, to observe festival days, and to conform to dietary and other requirements. Such “works of law,” or simply “works,” were no longer necessary after Jesus provided the ultimate sacrifice.—Romans 10:4.
But the fact that these works performed under the Mosaic Law were replaced by Jesus’ superlative sacrifice did not mean that we can ignore the Bible’s instructions. It says: “How much more will the blood of the Christ . . . cleanse our consciences from [the older] dead works that we may render sacred service to the living God?”—Hebrews 9:14.
How do we “render sacred service to the living God”? Among other things, the Bible tells us to combat the works of the flesh, to resist the world’s immorality, and to avoid its snares. It says: “Fight the fine fight of the faith,” put off “the sin that easily entangles us,” and “run with endurance the race that is set before us, as we look intently at the Chief Agent and Perfecter of our faith, Jesus.” And the Bible urges us not to ‘get tired and give out in our souls.’—1 Timothy 6:12; Hebrews 12:1-3; Galatians 5:19-21.
We do not earn salvation by doing these things, for no human could ever do enough to merit such an astounding blessing. We are not worthy of this magnificent gift, though, if we fail to demonstrate our love and obedience by doing the things that the Bible says God and Christ want us to do. Without works to demonstrate our faith, our claim to follow Jesus would fall far short, for the Bible clearly states: “Faith, if it does not have works, is dead in itself.”—James 2:17.
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Study the Bible, and be motivated by it