This question appears three times in the New Testament (Acts 2:37; 9:6; 16:31). What does it imply? What does it suggest?
(1) It indicates that the questioner is lost. Why ask the question if he is not? (2) “What” implies something. There are terms, conditions, to be met. (3) “Must” contains the force of an obligation, a necessity. (4) “I” is individual, personal. A group is not under consideration. (5) “Do” is an action verb. The religion of Christ is one of duty and doing (Matt. 7:21; Lk. 6:46). Man is active, not passive, in his reception of salvation (Heb. 5:9). (6) “To be saved” shows the end in view. “Saved” refers to the forgiveness of sins (Mk. 16:16; Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19).
This question is not: (1) What must God do for one to be saved? God must act for one to be saved, but that is not the issue of our question (Jn. 3:16). (2) What did Christ have to do before “I” could be saved? Without his work none could be saved, but that is not the object of our query (Jn. 17:4). (3) What part does the Holy Spirit play in one’s salvation? The Spirit has done his work in the revelation and confirmation of the word of salvation (Jn. 16:13; Acts 2:4). Without his work, there would be no answer to the question of our discussion (Acts 2:4, 37, 38). However, our theme is not directly concerned with the Spirit’s role. (4) Are God’s grace, mercy, and love, and Christ’s blood important? Certainly they are! Salvation could not be provided without them, but these essential items are not the focus of the texts which contain our question.
Now that we have defined the question, let us discern the Holy Vible answer. The answer is not: (1) Determined by what “your church” or “my church” teaches. Since our question is a Bible question, it should receive a Bible answer (1 Pet. 4:11). Confusion and contradiction will reign if we allow various churches to provide their answers. (2) Decided by what “your preacher,””my preacher,” or any other man says. We should learn “not to think of men above that which is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).
The Question And Its Answers
Acts 2:37, 38: When men believed that Jesus was “both Lord and Christ,” they asked the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” They were told, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins.” This was the Holy Spirit’s answer (Acts 2:4). It is consistent with what the Savior said. Jesus said repentance and remission of sins were to be preached in his name, and “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mk. 16:16; Lk. 24:47). Those who “gladly received” the Spirit’s word “were baptized” (Acts 2:41). Those who did not “gladly” receive his word were not baptized “for the remission of sins.” The same is true today. Baptism “in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” was the consistent command and constant practice of apostolic preaching (Acts 2:38; 10:48; 19:5).
Acts 9:6; 22:16: Before the apostle Paul was saved, he asked, “Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?” The Lord told him to “go into the city, and it shall be told thee what thou must do.” He was instructed that what he must do would be “told” him in “the city.” When we find what he was “told” in the city, we will know “what (he) must do” to be saved. When God sent Ananias unto Paul, he “told” him, “And now why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.”
Paul believed on the Lord, as is indicated by his obeying Jesus’ command to “go into the city.” Paul repented of his sins, for he terminated his murderous mission against the disciples and prayed for three days (Acts 9:1, 2, 9, 11). Thus, he did not need to be told to repent. Having believed and repented, he was “told,””Arise, and be baptized and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord.” Thus, we know what it was that he was “told” he “must do.”
Baptism “for the remission of sins” is not a magical sacrament that imparts salvation. It is one of the conditions with which one “must” comply in order to be saved (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 22:16).
Acts 16:31-34: When a jailer in Philippi inquired, “What must I do to be saved?” he was told, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.” But how is faith produced? Faith comes by hearing the word of God (Rom. 10:14, 17). “And they spake unto him the word of the Lord.” Since Paul and Silas told the man to believe, it was necessary for them to preach the word so that he might do so. After hearing the word, the jailer “rejoiced, believing in God.”
Though not specifically stated, it is evident that he repented. First, as we have seen, one cannot be saved without repentance (Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38; 3:19; 17:30). Second, the fact that the jailer washed the wounds of Paul and Silas indicates he had repented. Third, the jailer repented because he “was baptized.” One cannot be baptized unless he first repents (Acts 2:38).
What led the jailer to be baptized? All he had heard was “the word of the Lord.” Yet, the text says he “was baptized.” Where did he learn about baptism?
Jesus said, “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” (Mk. 16:16). (A) In Samaria, Philip “preached Christ unto them” (Acts 8:5). It is not said he preached baptism, but the result of his preaching “Christ unto them” was that they were baptized (Acts 8:12). To preach Christ includes preaching baptism. (B) In Acts 8:35, Philip “preached…Jesus” to an Ethiopian. The man asked, “What doth hinder me to be baptized?” In preaching Jesus, Philip had preached what Jesus said about baptism. How else would the Ethiopian have known to ask about baptism? (C) To the Corinthians, Paul preached nothing except, “Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (1 Cor. 2:2). “And many of the Corinthians hearing believed, and were baptized” (Acts 18:8). Again, we see that to preach the gospel of Christ means to preach baptism.
That is how the jailer knew to be baptized. Having heard the word of God, he “was baptized.” If baptism is not part of the gospel, he would not have been baptized.
He was not told that “faith alone” would save him. We know this because: (1) If he had been told that all he had to do was believe, this would have excluded repentance. Since one must repent, we know he was not told to believe only. (2) To have told him so would have conflicted with Acts 2:38–“Repent, and be baptized…for the remission of sins.” (3) It would have differed from what Ananias told Paul when he was converted–“Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
“But,” one may object, “Acts 16:31 does not mention baptism.” No, and neither does it mention repentance. Is repentance, therefore, not essential? Acts 2:38 and 22:16 do not mention belief in the Lord. Suppose one were to argue that since faith is not mentioned in those passages, faith is not essential to salvation. Would that be a logical assumption? Of course not! Thus, though baptism is not mentioned in Acts 16:31, it is one of the terms of pardon the jailer obeyed in order “to be saved” (Mk. 16:16; Acts 2:38; 16:31-34; 22:16).
Summary And Conclusion
We have learned there is something “I must do to be saved.” We have seen the Savior’s answer to the sinner’s question. To one who does not know the Lord and has not believed on him, the answer is–“Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). To those who have believed, but have not yet repented and been baptized, the answer is–“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). To one who has believed on the Lord and repented of his sins, the answer is–“Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).
Have you done what one “must do to be saved?” If you have done something else, something less, or something different, you do not have the assurance of God that you have been saved. Why be in doubt? Why remain in spiritual darkness? If you have not believed on Christ, we encourage you to trust him as the lamb of God that taketh away the sin of the world (Jn. 1:29; 3:16). If you believe he is the Son of God, we urge you to repent and be baptized “for the remission of sins” (Lk. 24:47; Acts 2:38). If you believe on him, and have repented of your sins and confessed that he is Lord, “why tarriest thou? Arise, and be baptized, and wash away thy sins, calling on the name of the Lord” (Acts 22:16).