The Bible clearly teaches that every responsible person has free will. People have the ability to choose whether to obey God’s word or not. God showed His grace to all men (Titus 2:11; John 3:16; Romans 5:8) by sending His Son to die as a sacrifice for sin. However, even though God is not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9), Scripture clearly teaches that not everyone will choose to be saved.
If salvation is a choice to be made, then perhaps it would be well to ask, “What must I understand to be saved?”
I must understand what sin is: The New Testament word most often translated “sin” means, “to miss the mark.” Sin is, by definition, transgressing or breaking one or more of God’s commandments. When responsible people choose to sin, sin creates a stain on their soul that can never be removed by merely “doing good.” When Adam and Eve were cast out of the Garden of Eden because of sin, there was nothing they could do to repair their broken relationship with God. Sin leaves an individual hopeless, helpless, and under the righteous judgment of an angry God (Gen. 18:25; Psalm 7:11).
I must understand what Jesus did: Here is where the “good news” begins. God, knowing that the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), sent His only Son into this sin-sick world to pay that price. When Jesus shed His blood on the cross, He was offering Himself as a sacrifice for sin (Heb. 9:28). Only His blood can wash away the stain of sin, and only His blood can make things right between God and man. When we were most hopeless and helpless, God made a way out — now that’s good news!
I must understand what repentance is: Repentance is a change of heart, brought about by a change of mind that leads to a change in action. To repent means that one chooses to “put to death” things that are sinful and to “put on” things that please God (Col. 3:5-17). If I am a thief, repentance means that I choose to steal no more. If I am an adulterer, repentance means that I choose not continue in that sin any longer. Wherever I find sin in my life, I find a need to repent. Peter told the crowds on Pentecost to: “repent and be baptized” (Acts 2:38). Repentance is essential to salvation.
I must understand what confession of Jesus means: To “confess” means to, “speak the same.” Our words are not to be spoken lightly, for we will give account for them one day (Matt. 12:36). Thus, when the Scripture commands us to confess the name of Jesus (Romans 10:9-10) in order to be saved, we should realize the implications. We are saying the same thing about Jesus that He said — that a person who was despised, rejected, and put to death is in reality the King of kings. To confess Him is to admit our own inadequacy and need for forgiveness, and to admit His inherent greatness.
I must understand what baptism is for: To be saved, one must understand the purpose of baptism. Romans 6:3-4 speaks of water baptism as a burial, a uniting, and a raising with Christ. Baptism is the point in time at which an alien sinner comes into contact with the saving blood of Jesus Christ. Many denominations these days teach that one is saved before baptism, and that baptism is merely an, “outward sign of inward grace.” That is not what Jesus and the apostles taught (Mk. 16:15-16; Acts 2:38; Acts 22:16; 1 Pet. 3:20-21, etc.). In order to be saved, one must understand that baptism is for the remission of sins. It is not an event that occurs after salvation — as one preacher was fond of saying, “You’ve got to get in the water to get to the blood of Jesus.” —JB