What must I do to be saved? This is a very important question to ask and this lesson is going to show you the answer to this question by looking at what the scriptures teach about how to be saved. We are going to look at the first century church, as recorded in the book of Acts, and see what they did to be saved. Whatever they did for salvation is the same thing we must do today for salvation.
The question that we are asking, “What must I do to be saved?” is the very question the people asked in Acts 2:37. Peter has preached a sermon to the people in Jerusalem telling them that they crucified Jesus, who is the Son of God. Look at the response of the people in hearing that they had sinned against God by crucifying Jesus: Acts 2:37, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” The people were greatly moved by what they had heard and wanted to know what they must do to have their sins forgiven. Notice Peter’s response in Acts 2:38, “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” Here is the answer given to the people that everyone must repent and be baptized to have their forgiveness of sins.
This is a good time to learn what it means to “repent” and be “baptized.” Repentance is defined by Thayer as “to change one’s mind for better, heartily to amend with abhorrence of one’s past sins.” We see that repentance is turning our heart and mind against the sins that we have committed and give effort to not commit them again. We learn that repentance is not simply being sorry about our sins, but it is a sorrow about our sins that leads us to strive not to commit violations against God’s law. Baptism is defined by Thayer as “to dip, to immerse, to submerge.” Peter was telling the people that they needed to turn their hearts back to God and dedicated themselves to try to not commit sin and then be immersed and they would receive the forgiveness of sins. We will now go through the book of Acts showing examples of people having forgiveness of sins by doing this very thing.
Acts 2:14-47 The people at Pentecost
In Acts 2:40-41, the people that Peter had been preaching to, after they heard that they needed to repent and be baptized, did exactly what Peter said. Acts 2:40-41 reads, “With many other words he warned them; and he pleaded with them, ‘Save yourselves from this corrupt generation.’ Those who accepted his message were baptized, and about three thousand were added to their number that day.” Those that received the message of Peter did as he said and there were three thousand that were saved that day. Acts 2:46-47 tells us that the Lord added those who were baptized to His church. Acts 2:46-47 says, “So continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, they ate their food with gladness and simplicity of heart, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily those who were being saved.” Here is the first example of what people did in the first century to receive forgiveness of sins.
Acts 8:5-13 The Samaritans
In Acts 8:5 we see that Philip is preaching Christ in the city of Samaria. Read what the people did in Acts 8:12, “But when they believed Philip as he preached the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus Christ, both men and women were baptized.” Here we see that when the Samaritans believed what Philip was teaching about Christ, they also were baptized.
Acts 8:26-40 The Ethiopian Eunuch
In Acts 8:27 we see a man who was returning back to Ethiopia after worshipping in Jerusalem. By the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Philip runs into this man who was reading from the prophet Isaiah (8:32-33). In verse 35 we see that Philip preached Jesus to the Ethiopian eunuch. Now notice what happens in Acts 8:36-39, “Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, “See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?” Then Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he answered and said, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.” So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing.” Philip and the eunuch are riding in the chariot. The eunuch asks what is preventing him from being baptized since there is water. Philip responds that if the eunuch believes with all his heart, he can be baptized. Notice they both go down into the water and come up out of the water, showing us that baptism is immersion in water. It is also important to be mindful of the fact that Philip preached Jesus to both the Samaritans and to the eunuch. We logically conclude that preaching Jesus also included baptism since the Samaritans and the eunuch are baptized, and the eunuch asked to be baptized. These events verify what Peter taught in Acts 2, that repentance and baptism in the name of Jesus Christ forgives us of our sins.
Acts 9:1-19; 22:6-16 Paul
In these two passages we have the account of the conversion of Saul, whose name was later changed to Paul. Paul in Acts 22 recalls the events that occurred in Acts 9. Paul was going along the road to Damascus in order to persecute the Christians who were living in Damascus. Along the way, a great light from heaven shines around Paul and Jesus speaks to him (Acts 22:6-10). The glory of the light that shined around Paul blinded him and he had to be led by the hand to Damascus. In Damascus, a man named Ananias heals Paul of his blindness and tells Paul that he has been chosen by God to be a witness to all men (Acts 22:11-15).
Now, we want to stop the story for a moment and consider what has happened. Imagine if this had happened to you. You were walking along and the glory of the light of Christ blinds you, Jesus speaks directly to you, you fasted to God for three days, and you are healed of your blindness. Would you think you are saved? Many today would teach that you would be saved, but Paul was not. Read Acts 22:16, “And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Ananias says to Paul, what are you waiting for? Get up and be baptized to wash away your sins. Here we see that even the apostle Paul, after all the miraculous things that happened to him, still had to be baptized to have his sins forgiven.
Acts 10 Cornelius and his household
In this chapter we read of a man named Cornelius who was a devout man who feared God, gave generously to the people, and prayed to God always (Acts 10:1-2). But simply praying to God, fearing God, and doing good deeds toward the people was not what God had said to do for the forgiveness of sins. Many groups teach that all one has to do is pray to God to have forgiveness of sins, but we see that is not true from this text. Peter comes to Cornelius and his household and preaches to them. Notice their response in Acts 10:45-48, “And those of the circumcision who believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles also. For they heard them speak with tongues and magnify God. Then Peter answered, ‘Can anyone forbid water, that these should not be baptized who have received the Holy Spirit just as we have?’ And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay a few days.” Here we see that despite all the things that were happening, Cornelius and his household were commanded to be baptized, just like Peter commanded in Acts 2:38, for the forgiveness of sins.
Acts 16:13-15 Lydia
Here is a woman named Lydia who is a seller of purple in the city. She also was someone who worshipped God and she listened to the things being taught by Paul (Acts 16:14). Read Acts 16:15, “And when she and her household were baptized, she begged us, saying, ‘If you have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come to my house and stay.’ So she persuaded us.” After she heard the teaching of Paul she also was baptized, like everyone else in the book of Acts.
Acts 16:25-34 The Philippian jailor and his household
Paul and Silas are in prison for preaching the name of the Most High God and casting out demons in the city. While in prison, there is a great earthquake so that the prisoners chains were loosed and the prison door was opened. The jailor must have learned from some things from Paul and Silas for he asks in Acts 16:30, “And he brought them out and said, ‘Sirs, what must I do to be saved?'” Let us read what happens in the following verses. Acts 16:31-34 says, “So they said, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household.’ Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night and washed their stripes. And immediately he and all his family were baptized. Now when he had brought them into his house, he set food before them; and he rejoiced, having believed in God with all his household.” Paul and Silas teach the same thing that Philip did to the eunuch in Acts 8, believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. Notice that Paul and Silas spoke the word of the Lord to them after that, teaching them about Jesus. What happens next? Immediately the jailor and his family are baptized. The same response as the people in Acts 2 when asking what must I do to be saved. Believe on the Lord, repent of your sins and be baptized.
Acts 19:1-5 Disciples in Ephesus
Some claim that baptism is not important or has no bearing upon our salvation. But as we have seen thus far, baptism is tied to the forgiveness of sins, just like belief and repentance. Here in Acts 19, Paul comes across some disciples in Ephesus and asks them if they received the Holy Spirit when they believed. The disciples respond that they have not heard whether there is a Holy Spirit, for they had been baptized into John’s baptism (Acts 19:1-3). Notice what Paul says in Acts 19:4, “Then Paul said, “John indeed baptized with a baptism of repentance, saying to the people that they should believe on Him who would come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus.” What is the response of these disciples? Read Acts 19:5, “When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.”
We should notice a couple points from what occurs here. First, we must notice that belief and baptism are tied together and cannot be separate. They must be together. Paul quotes from John the baptist that people should believe on Him who could come after him, that is Christ Jesus. When the disciples heard that they needed to believe on Christ Jesus, what did they do? They were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. Belief and baptism are together. This is why Jesus said in Mark 16:16, “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Even Jesus himself put belief and baptism together. They cannot be separated.
Second, this passage shows us the importance of being baptized into the correct faith. These disciples had already been baptized before, but it was into John’s baptism and not in the name of Jesus Christ. Because of this, they had to baptized again in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of their sins. If baptism is not important, why were these disciples baptized again? If baptism is not necessary, why were these baptized again? Baptism is necessary for the forgiveness of sins.
All of these passages clearly show us what we must do to be saved. Once we believe on Jesus, that is going to lead us to repent from our sins and be baptized so that we can have forgiveness of sins. Peter clearly tells us that at the point of baptism is when our sins are washed away. 1 Peter 3:21, “Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you–not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience–through the resurrection of Jesus Christ….” This is what Ananias told Paul, to be baptized and wash away your sins. This is the command of Jesus and the example left to us. We can be forgiven of our sins and look forward to being in heaven with the Lord when we follow these steps. Why not repent and be baptized for the forgiveness of your sins today