These questions are prompted by the occasional run-ins I have had with those of other religious traditions. Most of the time, certain verses are put forth as ‘the’ definition of how one obtains salvation.
I have heard and seen some of these verses being quoted by people of other religious traditions almost like they stand independent of what the rest of the scriptures have to say. So I decided to lay out and categorize some of the New Testament verses that seem the most specific in saying ‘do this’ and ‘the same shall be saved’.
Belief or Faith
- “And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” (Acts 16:31)
- “And Jesus said unto him, Receive thy sight: thy faith hath saved thee.” (Luke 18:42)
Calling on the name of the Lord
- “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” (Romans 10:9)
- “For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.” (Romans 10:10)
- “For whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord shall be saved.” (Romans 10:13)
- “Even when we were dead in sins, hath quickened us together with Christ, (by grace ye are saved)” (Ephesians 5:5)
- “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” (Ephesians 5:8)
- “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:16)
- “The like figure whereunto even baptism doth also now save us (not the putting away of the filth of the flesh, but the answer of a good conscience toward God,) by the resurrection of Jesus Christ:” (1 Peter 3:21)
Saved by Jesus’ life or blood
- “Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” (Romans 5:9)
- “For if, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.” (Romans 5:10)
- “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved, and shall go in and out, and find pasture.” (John 10:9)
- “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Mark 13:13)
- “And ye shall be hated of all men for my name’s sake: but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” (Matthew 10:22)
- “But he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13)
Members vs. Non-Members
There are several more complex verses that can be studied, but these are very simple statements and many seem very clear, ‘do this’ and ye shall be saved.
The most common quotes I hear are out of Romans and Ephesians, i.e: “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved.” and “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves:it is the gift of God:”
Now let me clearly say that I absolutely believe these verses and others like them, but we must understand the context in which all of these things are said. First of all, who was being spoken to by Paul when he wrote the letters to the Romans and the Ephesians? Were they non-members or members of Christ’s church? Let’s read in Romans 1:7 ” To all that be in Rome, beloved of God, called to be saints: Grace to you and peace from God our Father, and the Lord Jesus Christ.”
These were already baptized members of the Church! Yes, I did say ‘baptized‘, read for yourself “Know ye not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death? Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.” (Romans 6:3,4)
What about the Ephesians? Again, members of the church, “Paul, an apostle of Jesus Christ by the will of God, to the saints which are at Ephesus, and to the faithful in Christ Jesus:”
How did people become added to the Church of Christ as members?
First, let’s consider one of Jesus Christ’s final commands to his apostles just before ascending into heaven: “And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” (Mark 16:15,16) and again Matthew records Christ saying, “Go ye therefore, and teach all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost: Teaching them to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you:” (Matthew 28:19,20)
The apostles were obedient to the commandments of Jesus Christ. Virtually every single bit of teaching in the New Testament after the Book of Acts is directed toward those that are already members of Christ’s church. This is extremely important to understand because the apostles, naturally, address members of the church differently than non-members.
A member has already done things a non-member hasn’t. So when we read in Romans and Ephesians that confession and grace lead to salvation without any mention of baptism, etc, it is because this council is given with the understanding that the people they are speaking to were already baptized, which they were.
That may or may not make sense to some, so let’s take a look at what the Bible itself says and search the Book of Acts to see the beginnings of the church and what the apostles taught to non-members. We will see what procedures actually brought people into the church, and can observe what was essential for membership in Christ’s church and salvation.
In Acts 2, we see Peter and the apostles speaking to a vast congregation after the day of Pentecost. The hearers were ‘pricked’ in their hearts and were compelled to ask the apostles “Men and brethren, what shall we do?”
“Then Peter said unto them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost. For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call. And with many other words did he testify and exhort, saying, Save yourselves from this untoward generation. Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls. And they continued stedfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship, and in breaking of bread, and in prayers. And fear came upon every soul: and many wonders and signs were done by the apostles. And all that believed were together, and had all things common; And sold their possessions and goods, and parted them to all men, as every man had need. And they, continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house, did eat their meat with gladness and singleness of heart, Praising God, and having favour with all the people. And the Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved.”Acts 2:38-47
In Acts chapter 9, during Philip’s ministry, the people believed his preaching in
“things concerning the kingdom of God, and the name of Jesus Christ, they were baptized, both men and women.”Acts 8:12
After hearing of Philip’s success, Peter and John were sent to confer the Holy Ghost upon them by the laying on of hands.
“Now when the apostles which were at Jerusalem heard that Samaria had received the word of God, they sent unto them Peter and John: Who, when they were come down, prayed for them, that they might receive the Holy Ghost: (For as yet he was fallen upon none of them: only they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus.) Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost. And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given…”Acts 8:14-18
It is clear that this ‘laying on of hands’ is how the Holy Ghost is given to new members. Next in Philip’s ministry is the account of an Ethiopian eunuch who he encounters and teaches the gospel to.
“Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him.”Acts 8:35-38
How was Paul the apostle ‘added’ to the church? After his encounter with Jesus Christ on the road to Damascus, he believed, but he was still baptized by Ananias
“And Ananias went his way, and entered into the house; and putting his hands on him said, Brother Saul, the Lord, even Jesus, that appeared unto thee in the way as thou camest, hath sent me, that thou mightest receive thy sight, and be filled with the Holy Ghost. And immediately there fell from his eyes as it had been scales: and he received sight forthwith, and arose, and was baptized.”Acts 9:17,18
The first Gentiles to come into the gospel through the apostles were not asked to ‘call upon the name of the Lord’ or ‘confess’, they were ‘commanded’ to be baptized.
“While Peter yet spake these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. And they of the circumcision which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we? And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then prayed they him to tarry certain days.”Acts 10:44-48
A woman named Lydia who’s ‘heart the Lord opened’ was baptized along with everyone in her household.
“And a certain woman named Lydia, a seller of purple, of the city of Thyatira, which worshipped God, heard us: whose heart the Lord opened, that she attended unto the things which were spoken of Paul. And when she was baptized, and her household, she besought us, saying, If ye have judged me to be faithful to the Lord, come into my house, and abide there.”Acts 16:14,15
In the same chapter, we read about the conversion of a prison keeper who seeks salvation by inquiring of Paul and Silas; they tell the prison keeper exactly what he needs to do.
“And brought them out, and said, Sirs, what must I do to be saved? And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house. And they spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway.”Acts 16:30-33
Then there’s Crispus, all of his house, and many Corinthians:
“In And Crispus, the chief ruler of the synagogue, believed on the Lord with all his house; and many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized.”Acts 18:8
When Paul the apostle encounters a group of disciples he discovers that they were not baptized properly and re-baptizes them, which would be a little odd if it was something not necessary for their salvation.
It appears that this ordinance must be done the right way and with proper authority. Paul also finds out that they had not received the Holy Ghost, so he ‘lays his hands upon them’ just like Paul and John did and they received the Holy Ghost.
“And it came to pass, that, while Apollos was at Corinth, Paul having passed through the upper coasts came to Ephesus: and finding certain disciples, He said unto them, Have ye received the Holy Ghost since ye believed? And they said unto him, We have not so much as heard whether there be any Holy Ghost. And he said unto them, Unto what then were ye baptized? And they said, Unto John’s baptism. Then said Paul, John verily baptized with the baptism of repentance, saying unto the people, that they should believe on him which should come after him, that is, on Christ Jesus. When they heard this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Ghost came on them; and they spake with tongues, and prophesied.”Acts 19:1-6
Later on in Paul’s ministry, he recounts his conversion and the words that Ananias spoke to him after restoring his sight:
“And now why tarriest thou? arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”Acts 22:16
Being baptized for the washing away of sins and ‘calling on the name of the Lord’ seemed to be part of a combined process.
Characteristics of Conversion
According to the Acts account:
- People were ‘added’ to the church by believing and baptism
- They did this to be ‘saved’
- Those that were ‘added’ to the church were those that ‘should be saved’
- The new converts continued in doctrine & fellowship, (they met together) broke break, (Communion or the Sacrament) and offered prayer.
- They had all things common and shared with others in need (organization for carrying out the care of the needy)
- “Continued daily with one accord in the Temple”
- Received the Holy Ghost by the ‘laying on of hands’
It is a clear fact that the apostles rigorously put into practice the Savior’s commandment that all nations should be taught and baptized in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. The apostles taught was necessary for salvation and gave these people instructions that they then followed.
After the Book of Acts, we have Paul’s Epistles to the members of the church and then various letters from Apostles to disciples and associates in the church. Their instruction was given to those who had already been baptized in the same manner as in the Book of Acts.
Here is an analogy, you meet a man who has been driving from New York to Los Angeles, while at the Will Rogers Turnpike in Oklahoma. He is asking for directions on how he should proceed to Los Angeles. You would probably would not start out by telling him to pull out of his driveway in New York and make his way to the interstate and proceed through Ohio, etc, because he has already been there and done that. You would tell him his next steps, where he would go from the current location.
In like manner, we see in all post-Acts accounts, instruction to members of the church. Now if you return and read verses that deal with salvation in the proper context, everything becomes more clear.
Telling a non-member of Christ’s church that all they need to do to be saved is ONLY confess and believe is like giving the man in the previous analogy instructions on how to get to Los Angeles by only telling him how to get there from Oklahoma while he is still in New York just beginning his journey. But this is exactly what I have seen many in modern religious traditions put forth.
Grace, faith, and falling
Is it enough for man to just believe and be saved? We read that it is by “grace are ye saved; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” or wait, I misquoted that verse and so do many that I have discussed this topic with, it actually says that by “grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:” James the apostle asked the question “though a man say he hath faith, and have not works? can faith save him?” and comes to the conclusion that “by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.”
So does this mean that we can buy our way into heaven without faith. No, because Christ is the way, the truth and the life and the only way whereby man can be saved. The point James was trying to make is that faith compels a person to action, indeed, faith is to act on what you believe. If you are not acting on what you believe then you are a ‘hearer’ and not a ‘doer’ of the law.
Paul told the Romans that “(For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified.” James as well counseled “…be ye doers of the word, and not hearers only, deceiving your own selves.”
In speaking of these faith/grace dynamics, Paul said that “we have access by faith into this grace wherein we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God.” (Romans 5:2) and then asked “What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?” (Romans 6:1) He then teaches about how we, through baptism, are dead to sin through Jesus Christ. We are no longer under the law of sin because we have come into a new law, the law of grace, but he asks again “What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.” (6:15) He continues “Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness? But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” (6:16-16) He says that “…even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness.” (6:20).
Paul clearly teaches that we do not justify sin and unrighteousness because we are under grace, we must still “yield [our] members servants to righteousness.” We must not become as those that Titus warned about who “…profess that they know God; but in works they deny him, being abominable, and disobedient, and unto every good work reprobate.” (Titus 1:16)
Paul warned the Corinthians “Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall.” (1 Cor. 10:12) and continued saying “There hath no temptation taken you but such as is common to man: but God is faithful, who will not suffer you to be tempted above that ye are able; but will with the temptation also make a way to escape, that ye may be able to bear it.” (10:13) He said to ” keep the ordinances, as I delivered them to you.” (1 Cor. 11:2) Paul wrote to the Corinthians “For to this end also did I write, that I might know the proof of you, whether ye be obedient in all things.” (2 Cor. 2:9)
The letters to the early Christian church are a continual exhortation to righteousness and periodically warn of the perils that could cause one to fall.
Paul told Timothy that the Bishops of the church must be “Not a novice, lest being lifted up with pride he fall into the condemnation of the devil. Moreover, he must have a good report of them which are without; lest he fall into reproach and the snare of the devil.” (1 Timothy 3:6-7) He told the Hebrews “Take heed, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, in departing from the living God.” (Hebrews 3:12) and again “Let us labour therefore to enter into that rest, lest any man fall after the same example of unbelief.” (Hebrews 4:11) Peter warned the church “Ye therefore, beloved, seeing ye know these things before, beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own stedfastness.(2 Peter 3:17)
Peter even went so far to clearly say “For if after they [the members of the church] have escaped the pollutions of the world through the knowledge of the Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning.” (2 Peter 2:19-20)
Enduring and overcoming
It is clear that we must watch and be aware and even though we have entered under the law of grace, the blessings are conditional upon our continued obedience to the laws and ordinances of the gospel. Grace is not a free ticket into heaven, we must continue to ‘endure to the end’ to be saved as Christ said.
Jesus said that “…he that shall endure unto the end, the same shall be saved.” (Matthew 24:13) Paul said to Timothy “Therefore I endure all things for the elect’s sakes, that they may also obtain the salvation which is in Christ Jesus with eternal glory.” (2 Timothy 2:10) James taught “Behold, we count them happy which endure.” (James 5:11) Paul taught the Philippians “…that every tongue should confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. For it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure. (Philippians 2:11-13)
Now no one would accuse Paul of teaching that one could ‘work out [their] own salvation” by ignoring the atonement. It does take effort on our behalf to keep ourselves “unspotted from the world” (James 1:27) With the power of grace comes when we are faithful in keeping God’s commandments and enduring life’s challenges, it is then that we can say as Paul “I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me.” (Philippians 4:13).
We are supposed to ‘do well’. “And let us not be weary in well doing: for in due season we shall reap, if we faint not.” (Galatians 6:9) “But ye, brethren, be not weary in well doing.” (2 Thessalonians 3:13) “Wherefore let them that suffer according to the will of God commit the keeping of their souls to him in well doing, as unto a faithful Creator.” (1 Peter 4:19) and Paul said to the Romans “Be not overcome of evil, but overcome evil with good.” (Romans 12:21)
But it isn’t enough to just endure and do well, the power of Christ’s atonement gives us the power to overcome all things and great blessings are promised to those that do. John taught “For whatsoever is born of God overcometh the world: and this is the victory that overcometh the world, even our faith. Who is he that overcometh the world, but he that believeth that Jesus is the Son of God?” (1 John 5:4-5)
Through a revelation, John the apostle on the Isle of Patmos received these words from Jesus Christ:
- “To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the tree of life, which is in the midst of the paradise of God.” (Revelation 2:7)
- “He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death.” (Revelation 2:11)
- “He that hath an ear, let him hear what the Spirit saith unto the churches; To him that overcometh will I give to eat of the hidden manna, and will give him a white stone, and in the stone a new name written, which no man knoweth saving he that receiveth it.” (Revelation 2:17)
- “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels” (Revelation 3:5)
- “Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out: and I will write upon him the name of my God, and the name of the city of my God, which is new Jerusalem, which cometh down out of heaven from my God: and I will write upon him my new name.” (Revelation 3:12)
- “And he that overcometh, and keepeth my works unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations:” (Revelation 2:26)
- “He that overcometh shall inherit all things; and I will be his God, and he shall be my son.” (Revelation 21:7)
- “To him that overcometh will I grant to sit with me in my throne, even as I also overcame, and am set down with my Father in his throne.” (Revelation 3:21)
The word “overcometh” in this context is translated from the Greek word “nikaw” which means to “subdue (literally or figuratively):–conquer, overcome, prevail, get the victory.” We are able to overcome this world through the atonement of Christ and his grace. We make the decision to follow, we make the decision to repent and enter the waters of baptism, and we accept the Holy Ghost and the strength that comes through Jesus Christ.
C.S. Lewis I think, said it best:
“We might think that God wanted simply obedience to a set of rules; whereas He really wants people of a particular sort”
Here is yet another analogy. Think of a gym where you would go to lift weights. You are bench pressing and in order to lift more weight, you must tear muscle and continually push your limits. Sometimes, you can not get in the final two reps, but those extra reps are necessary, it’s that extra effort that gets you results but you cannot do them yourself. So you have a spotter. The spotter places two fingers under the bar and gives you just enough, he doesn’t grab the bar with both hands and yank it up for you. He watches carefully, he gives you exactly the amount necessary for you to overcome the obstacle placed in front of you. In this way, he develops you, because even though he can lift the weight himself and do all the work, you will not become anything if you sit idly by.
This is grace.
In a talk entitled “Have You Been Saved?” Apostle Dallin H. Oaks points out at least six different definitions of the word “saved” in the context of LDS doctrine. Briefly outlined, they are:
- All mortals have been saved from the permanence of death through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ.
- Being cleansed from sin through Christ’s Atonement is conditioned upon the individual sinner’s faith, which must be manifested by obedience to the Lord’s command to repent, be baptized, and receive the Holy Ghost (see Acts 2:37–38). “Verily, verily, I say unto thee,” Jesus taught, “Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5; see also Mark 16:16; Acts 2:37–38). Believers who have had this required rebirth at the hands of those having authority have already been saved from sin conditionally, but they will not be saved finally until they have completed their mortal probation with the required continuing repentance, faithfulness, service, and enduring to the end.
- Our answer to whether we have been born again is clearly “yes.” We were born again when we entered into a covenant relationship with our Savior by being born of water and of the Spirit and by taking upon us the name of Jesus Christ. We can renew that rebirth each Sabbath when we partake of the sacrament.
- We are saved from the darkness of ignorance of God the Father and His Son, Jesus Christ, and of the purpose of life, and of the destiny of men and women. The gospel made known to us by the teachings of Jesus Christ has given us this salvation.
- The words saved and salvation are also used to denote exaltation or eternal life. If we use the word salvation to mean “exaltation,” it is premature for any of us to say that we have been “saved” in mortality. That glorious status can only follow the final judgment of Him who is the Great Judge of the living and the dead.
He summarized by saying “I have suggested that the short answer to the question of whether a faithful member of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints has been saved or born again must be a fervent “yes.” Our covenant relationship with our Savior puts us in that “saved” or “born again” condition…”
The Bible teaches that members of Jesus Christ’s church are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 5:8), the prophet Nephi in the Book of Mormon summed up the same idea by exhorting all “to believe in Christ, and to be reconciled to God; for we know that it is by grace that we are saved, after all we can do (most people stop here, but read on)…wherefore the law hath become dead unto us, and we are made alive in Christ because of our faith; yet we keep the law because of the commandments.” (2 Nephi 25:23,25)
We are required to do ‘all we can’ but it will never be enough, so this is why grace is necessary. Doing ‘all we can’ means that we endure to the end with faithfulness and when we are faithful, we receive the grace of Christ through the atonement. Salvation is free, it’s there for the taking, Christ won it for us but we must take it upon ourselves and protect it and keep it unspotted from the world because just as we voluntarily accepted this salvation, we can voluntarily destroy our status with God. He will not force salvation upon us; no man is infallible save Christ only.
I myself have been accused of not being ‘saved’ because I don’t agree with the misinterpretations of scripture that some stand by. Well, let’s look at what every person goes through to become a member of the LDS faith:
To become a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, one must answer a series of questions affirmatively in a baptismal interview, among which are the following: “Do you believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, the Savior, and Redeemer of the world? When you are baptized, you covenant with God that you are willing to take upon yourself the name of Christ and keep His commandments throughout your life. Are you ready to make this covenant and strive to be faithful to it?”
These questions are to confirm a decision that should have already been made between the believer and Christ when the Gospel was preached to them. Following the exact pattern found in the Book of Acts, the believer then exercises their faith in Christ by entering the waters of baptism, then receiving the Gift of the Holy Ghost by the laying on of hands, they continue in doctrine & fellowship, break bread, and offer prayer, they strive to have all things common with their fellow man by living the law of tithing and fasting once a month, giving a portion to the bishop for the care of the needy.
The grace of Christ is an active influence in their life which enables them to overcome the world and inherit all the promises that God has made to man, and in a future day, they will be crowned with salvation and exaltation and will sit with Christ in his throne.
This is the faith of the Latter-day Saints.