A Quick Look
The Bible teaching regarding our personal salvation is very clear:
Mark 16:16 "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned."
Just incidentally, the ‘condemnation’ at the end of this quotation is not a punishment issued by God, as has been a view quite widely held over the years, but a punishment we deserve because of our sin.
To escape that condemnation, we need to do two things, according to this passage – first to believe, then that belief will lead us to do as God has instructed, and to show our allegiance to Jesus by associating ourselves with his death and resurrection in the symbol of baptism by total immersion in water. This will lead us to be so overwhelmed by God’s goodness towards us that we will then choose to do, in our lives, those things which please Him.
Important Note: None of this earns us eternal life – that is a gift from God.
A Personal Analysis
It would be easy to read the statement above and go away thinking, no I couldn’t do that. I’m not good enough, and if you have done that, then you have misunderstood the statement, so let us fill in what is missing from it. First of all, although there is a sense in which it is our choice (or use of our free will) to accept Jesus’ sacrifice, as perhaps we could argue that we have to make the first move towards God, in the end it is God who calls us to Him. He makes that very clear in the Bible. Jesus says “No-one can come to me unless the Father calls him”, so, whilst there is a sense in which we have chosen to accept these things, there is another, potentially greater, sense in which we have been chosen (by God). After that, the Bible makes it clear that we should be baptised – a symbol of death and resurrection with Jesus, so it needs to be a total immersion type baptism.
Our statement then speaks of trying to live our lives following his example. This sounds like a route to guaranteed failure – so let’s just put it a different way. Once we believe and realise the great things God has given us – even though we do not deserve them at all – we find within us a desire to want to do what pleases Him. Imagine a friend, who for no reason at all, gave you £5m. Would you not feel a desire to say thank you by doing what they wished? So this is not the rather scary ‘Can I do well enough’ sort of feeling, but more a ‘Wow, God has given me so much I want to please Him’ sort of feeling. It is not us that have to be perfect, but God who is willing to make us that way, so that He can save us.
More Detailed Bible Teaching
So the way to salvation from sin and death is by believing that God can and will do that for us (as He has promised He will). And that process involves associating ourselves with His family by becoming a brother or sister of Jesus, which we do by baptism into his death. This process is described in beautifully simple detail for us by Paul in his letter to the Romans:
Rom. 6:3 Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death?
4 Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.
5 For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection,
6 knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin.
7 For he who has died has been freed from sin.
8 Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with Him,
9 knowing that Christ, having been raised from the dead, dies no more. Death no longer has dominion over Him.
10 For the death that He died, He died to sin once for all; but the life that He lives, He lives to God.
11 Likewise you also, reckon yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Notice that baptism, the process by which God has asked His followers to associate themselves with His son, is a picture of being associated with that resurrection from the dead when Jesus returns. It is a picture of new life – the old sinful life having been done away with (v.6), and freedom provided instead (v.7) and life (v.8)
God undergoes a transformation of us. It begins when we start to believe – we will need to pray to Him for His help with this – and it continues for the rest of our lives, moulding us to His ways and His wisdom. Somewhere (usually near the beginning) in that development, we will realise the need to be baptised, but after this the transformation continues. Baptism may be a ‘one-off’ event in itself, but it is part of a lifetime process to which God is committed for those who believe, so removing our condemnation we previously had when we were in the flesh:
Rom. 8:1 There is therefore now no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit…
26 …Likewise the Spirit also helps in our weaknesses. For we do not know what we should pray for as we ought, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered.
27 Now He who searches the hearts knows what the mind of the Spirit is, because He makes intercession for the saints according to the will of God.
28 And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are the called according to His purpose.
29 For whom He foreknew, He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brethren.
30 Moreover whom He predestined, these He also called; whom He called, these He also justified; and whom He justified, these He also glorified.
31 What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?
We see in v.29 above that Jesus was to be the firstborn among many brethren – the first to rise from the dead, with many to follow when he returns to establish God’s kingdom on earth. That ‘many brethren’ can include you and me, if we believe what He is promising us in His word. His offer is eternal life in His kingdom.