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What must one do to be saved?

Part 1 of three parts:
What did Jesus teach?

What must one do to be saved according to the Bible, Christian creeds, etc.?

To those who believe in an afterlife with two possible eventual destinations -- paradise in Heaven and eternal torture in Hell -- the topic of salvation is of extreme importance. All of the tens of thousands of Christian denominations, sects, faith groups etc., each teaches specific criteria by which a person will be saved. Unfortunately, their teachings differ greatly.

As listed in this section's menu on salvation, the Bible is ambiguous concerning salvation. It contains many conflicting passages that imply that:

bullet Salvation is by faith only, or

bullet Salvation is by works and faith, or

bullet Salvation is by works only, or

bulletSalvation is by faith motivated by love.

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There are also criteria for salvation contained in Christian creeds and other non-biblical writings:

bullet Salvation is pre-determined; we cannot influence our own salvation, or

bullet Salvation occurs at baptism, or

bulletSalvation for some infants and mentally challenged adults is automatic.

Finally, no agreement exists about whether non-Christians will be saved:

bullet Some passages in the Bible suggest that all non-Christians will be lost, while

bulletUniversalist and liberal Christians generally believe that all will be saved.

There are over 20,000 of Christian denominations, sects, and faith groups in the world. One source says that there are over 30,000! They have never been able to reach a consensus about exactly what a person must do to be saved. Various groups select their favorite passages in the Bible, interpreting them literally. They then either ignore conflicting passages or interpret them symbolically. For example:

bulletSome conservative Protestants believe that one need only trust Jesus as Lord and Savior to be saved.

bulletMost conservatives add to the above requirement that one must first repent of one's sins.

bulletMost progressive Christians downplay salvation, interpreting many biblical passages on the topics of sin and salvation as poetry.

bullet The Roman Catholic Church teaches that a person is initially saved if they are baptized, that salvation can be lost by committing a mortal sin later in life, but that salvation can be regained through the church's Sacrament of Penance & Reconciliation.

One might logically conclude that:

bulletAlthough individual biblical passages teach precise criteria for salvation, the Bible as a whole is ambiguous on this topic.

bullet There are many different criteria for salvation in the Bible, Christian literature, and church teaching.

bulletChristian denominations hold many conflicting beliefs about what one must do to be saved.

bulletAll or essentially all faith groups are certain that their beliefs are absolutely correct.

bullet Many Christians are not confident that they know exactly how to be saved. However, most adopt the teachings of their own faith group as truth.

How does one select a path that assures salvation:

Simply accepting the teachings of one's own denomination may be dangerous. With so many conflicting beliefs about salvation among Christian faith groups today, the chances are very high that a Christian's own denomination is wrong about salvation. Unfortunately, if a person believes in the reality of Hell, the stakes are very high. It is of paramount importance to be confident of one's salvation.

Some Christians believe that they can assess God's will through prayer. However, a small-scale pilot study that we conducted indicates that prayer is a very unreliable method of determining God's will.

One way to work out their salvation may be for Christians to go back to the basics: "WDJS" (What Did Jesus Say?).

In the following excerpts from the Gospels, the authors of Mark, Matthew, and Luke record Jesus' statements on the topic of salvation.

How reliable are the biblical passages on salvation?

The reliability of passages dealing with Jesus' teachings is an open question:

bullet Many conservative Christians believe that the Bible is inerrant, and that these passages are without error. Thus, the words that Jesus actually said in Aramaic -- his native language -- were accurately translated into Greek and recorded in the original autograph copies of the books of the Bible without error.
 
bulletMany mainline and liberal Christians believe that the authors of the Gospel partly based their writing on an evolving oral tradition, and partly on a desire to promote their own group's teachings. Thus, there is a high probability that many the passages presented as quotations of Jesus' actual words were never actually said by him.
 
bulletEven if Jesus' thoughts were accurately recorded in the original copy of the author's writings, they may have been altered by subsequent scribes.

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Passage 1: Matthew 25:34-45:

Matthew 25:31-45 appears to precisely describe the details of the Last Judgment (sometimes called the "Day of the Lord"), when Jesus is expected judge every human who has ever lived. The passage explains that he will separate those who are saved (the sheep) from those who are not saved (the goats). The saved will "inherit the kingdom" -- that is, go to Heaven. The unsaved will go to Hell where a literal interpretation of the Bible implies that they will be eternally tortured without any hope of relief.

The passage in the King James Version of the Bible eloquently describes the scene:

"When the Son of man shall come in his glory, and all the holy angels with him, then shall he sit upon the throne of his glory. And before him shall be gathered all nations: and he shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats. And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:"

bullet"For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat:

bulletI was thirsty, and ye gave me drink:

bulletI was a stranger, and ye took me in:

bulletNaked, and ye clothed me:

bulletI was sick, and ye visited me:

bulletI was in prison, and ye came unto me."

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This topic continues in the next essay.

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References used:

The books cited are not necessarily still in print.

  1. Philip Comfort, Ed., "New Commentary on the Whole Bible," Tyndale House, (1990), Page 89-90.
  2. Ibid, Page 209.
  3. Ibid, Page 210.
  4. Harold Willmington, "Bible Handbook," Tyndale House, (1997), Page 544.
  5. Charles Laymon, Ed., "The Interpreter's One-Volume Commentary on the Bible," Abingdon Press, (1971), Page 639 - 640.

Site navigation:

or Home > Christianity > Christian themes > Beliefs > Salvation > here

Home > Christianity > History, Beliefs, etc, > Beliefs > Cardinal beliefs > Salvation > here

Copyright 2006 to 2016 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Originally written: 2006-AUG-22
Latest update: 2016-JMAR-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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