According to the Bible, what is really required for us to have salvation?
Our understanding of salvation is heavily influenced by the Sinner’s Prayer, which is often used at revivals and evangelistic services to help people who come forward to accept Jesus Christ as their Savior. A basic, shortened version this prayer goes something like this: “Lord, please forgive me for my sins. I believe that you died on the cross and resurrected. Please come into my heart and save me.” This prayer is one of the best things the church ever created because it is a clear and succinct way of helping individuals come to Jesus. It’s based on the theology that faith is all we need for eternal redemption.
One of the most popular verses in the Bible which teaches this is Romans 10:9-13: “9 That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. 10 For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. 11 As the Scripture says, “Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.” 12 For there is no difference between Jew and Gentile—the same Lord is Lord of all and richly blesses all who call on him, 13 for, “Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved.”
The meaning of this passage is very clear. We have salvation if we believe in our hearts that Jesus is the Messiah and then confess it with our mouths. So, on Judgment Day, will simply having faith in our hearts and confession on our lips get us into heaven? A closer look at other passages reveals there might be more to having salvation than just living by verses like Romans 10:9-13.
In Luke 12:8-9 Jesus says “8I tell you, whoever acknowledges me before men, the Son of Man will also acknowledge him before the angels of God. 9 But he who disowns me before men will be disowned before the angels of God.” The gist of this passage is also very clear. Those who acknowledge Jesus will be acknowledged by him. However, this requires action on our part. This is moving beyond simply having faith in order to receive salvation.
1 Corinthians 3:10-15 teaches a slightly different perspective: “10 By the grace God has given me, I laid a foundation as an expert builder, and someone else is building on it. But each one should be careful how he builds. 11 For no one can lay any foundation other than the one already laid, which is Jesus Christ. 12 If any man builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, 13 his work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work. 14 If what he has built survives, he will receive his reward. 15 If it is burned up, he will suffer loss; he himself will be saved, but only as one escaping through the flames.” This verse says Salvation is in knowing Christ but each person’s works are judged. Our salvation is through faith but our actions and words will still be judged.
This raises an important question: If salvation is based on faith alone, why are our works even judged?
James partially answers this question in James 2:24: “You see that a person is justified by what he does and not by faith alone.” Or, to say it another way, if a person truly has faith in Jesus, it will be reflected in his or her actions.
One of the best ways to test whether or not we have true faith is to judge our own actions. Why is it important for us to judge our own actions?
We need to be honest with ourselves in this area because in Matthew16: 24-27 – “24 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will find it. 26 What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul? 27 For the Son of Man is going to come in his Father’s glory with his angels, and then he will reward each person according to what he has done”. Jesus himself says he is going to judge each person according to what he or she has done. He doesn’t say anything about having salvation simply by calling on his name. Constantly judging and evaluating our own actions helps us stay focused on living the way Jesus wants us to live and doing the things Jesus wants us to do.
Paul is the author of Romans 10:9-13, which says we have salvation if we believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord. However, in 2 Corinthians 5:10 he writes: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” This passage was written to the church at Corinth. Paul, who writes in many other places that our salvation is found through having faith in Jesus, doesn’t exclude Christians from being held accountable for their actions.
The Bible is clear that a day of accountability is facing each one of us. What exactly will it look?
The answer is found in Revelation 20:11-14: “11 Then I saw a great white throne and him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from his presence, and there was no place for them. 12 And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the book of life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. 13 The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. 14 Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. 15 If anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.”
Books will be opened on Judgment Day. One is the Book of Life. Each person must find his or her name written in it to have salvation. We’re taught that once we accept Christ as our Savior, our name is written there. But do you notice what happens before the Book of Life is checked? Other books are opened which appear to contain a record of our lives. Each person is judged according to what he or she has done. This passage indicates there’s a connection between these books.
The first passage we looked at says we have salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. The rest of the passages we’ve reviewed tells us Jesus is vitally important for our salvation but they also clearly teach our actions will be judged. Our actions will affect whether we go to heaven or to hell because they expose whether or not we really know Jesus. Faith and works are so intertwined that they can’t really be separated from each other.
A scary truth is the following list of scriptures also teach about Judgment Day. They don’t mention faith at all. Please prayerfully study these passages which, by the way, isn’t an exhaustive list.
Additional Passages About Judgment:
Mt.5:21-22 Mt. 5:27-30 Mt. 6: 14-15 Mt. 7:21-23
Mt. 10:24-42 Mt. 11:20-24 Mt. 12:36-37 Mt. 19:28-30
Mt. 25:31-46 Luke 12:1-12 John 8:51 John 5:28-29
Rom. 2:5-16 James 2:13 Rev. 2 – 3 Rev. 22:12
While the Sinner’s Prayer is one of the best things the church invented to help people understand salvation, a close look at the scriptures reveals it is also one of the worst things the church ever created. It has led many people to completely ignore their sin because they think they’re “in” once they pray this prayer. But, as the Bible reveals, sin will be judged.
So, does the Bible teach that for us to have salvation we start out believing Jesus is our Savior and then we have to work our way into heaven? No. This doesn’t fit with the theme found in either the Old or New Testament.
How do we reconcile the passages in the Bible which tell us salvation is based on faith with those that tell us judgment is based on our actions?
Let’s think about it this way. In many cultures around the world, the groom has to pay the bride’s family a bride price when he is going to marry a woman. The bride price can be money, property or both. The groom isn’t buying her as a slave but rather is reimbursing her family for the loss of her labor and fertility within her family group.
Although this isn’t something we’re familiar with in our culture, it’s still very common in parts of the world. A few years ago, an acquaintance of mine took her teenaged daughter with her on a mission trip to Kenya. During this trip, a young man approached her and offered her three cows in exchange for her daughter’s hand in marriage. Of course, she declined the offer.
Many times, the bride price might be most expensive thing the groom ever has to pay in his life. Imagine that you’re in a culture where the bride price is supposed to be paid. However, the bride’s family doesn’t want one. The groom doesn’t have to pay one cent or have to give up any property to marry his bride.
He marries her and his life is changed forever. Now he has a wife, and later on, children to support. He has to provide for them and put their needs over his own. This requires him to sacrifice many of his wants and desires for the good of others.
What if we think of salvation this way? Salvation is free, but it costs us everything.
The Bible tells us salvation is found through faith in Jesus Christ. This faith requires complete obedience on our part and, if our faith is genuine, it will be reflected in the way we act and in the things we do. We won’t be perfect but we will be producing fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus takes our words and actions seriously. He died on the cross for our salvation but he also demands that we give him everything in exchange for what he’s done for us.
Are we giving him our best? On Judgment Day, will the way we’re living our lives today allow us to hear “well done good and faithful servant” or “away from me, I never knew you?”