What is the biblical response to one who asks, “What must I do to be saved?” The answer depends on who is asking and where the person is in relation to the Lord.1
A complete unbeliever must first believe in God (Acts 14:15; 17:23-27) and the Lord Jesus Christ (Acts 16:30-31). Without this initial step of faith, one can go no further in the salvation process. And before believing is even possible, the truth of God’s word must be communicated, understood and accepted (Acts 2:37; 8:12a; 16:32; 17:23-34). Once the divine message has been received and trusting faith has been generated (Romans 10:17), what must the one now believing do to be saved?
A believer must repent, i.e. turn away from sin (Acts 2:38a; 3:19; 17:30; 26:20). Without repentance, salvation is not available (Luke 13:3, 5; 24:47; 2 Peter 3:9). When a believing one turns from darkness to light, what must this penitent believer do to be saved?
Upon the profession of faith (1 Timothy 6:12),2 a penitent believer must be baptized (immersed in water) for the forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:1-5, 17-18). Unless one is born of water and the spirit, entrance into God’s kingdom is prohibited (John 3:5, 22-23). Seeing that salvation is “in Christ” (2 Timothy 2:10) and baptism places one “into Christ” (Romans 6:3; Galatians 3:27), baptism is therefore necessary for salvation (Mark 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:20-21). After baptism, what must the penitent baptized believer do to be saved?
A penitent baptized believer must continue in the faith (Acts 2:42; 11:23; 14:22). This involves acknowledging and repenting of sins whenever necessary (Acts 8:22; 1 John 1:7-10). It also involves learning, growing, obeying, and serving as an active member of the Lord’s church (Romans 12:1-18; 1 Corinthians 12:12-27; 2 Peter 1:2-11; etc.).
What must I do to be saved? Well, who’s asking? An unbeliever must believe. A believer must repent. A penitent believer must be baptized. And a baptized penitent believer must continue living a life of faithfulness according to biblical directives. God himself is faithful and does his part as each of us humbly complies.
--Kevin L. Moore
1 This question was asked on three separate occasions in the book of Acts (2:37; 16:30; 22:10), with a different response given each time.2 Unfortunately some believe in Jesus without confessing him (John 12:42), and some confess Jesus without obeying him (Matthew 7:21).