So … if you read last week’s post, did you take time to pretend you were sitting across the table from someone held hostage by Satan – someone who knew absolutely nothing about Jesus? Did you formulate the exact words you would say to help them find freedom in Christ? Are these your own words you picked up as you traveled your own path to freedom?
I promised I would share the words I would say, so here goes … (Keep in mind, there are no right or wrong answers if all our words wind around the gospel of Jesus, joyfully maintaining respect and awe of His Word.)
From Adam and Eve’s sin onward, God continually offered His grace to those who chose to accept it. Noah, Abraham, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, kings, and prophets were sent to the Jews to instruct them on how to honor God and follow His commandments. The Old Law given by God to Moses showed them how imperfect they were. It magnified their imperfection and how much they needed a Savior. This Old Law was a hint of things to come – not only for the Jews, but for us Gentiles as well. Then, after 400 years of silence in the pages of God’s word, that hint became a reality with the birth of Jesus.
As Jesus’ ministry began, Matthew records His first words, “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” He spent His time on earth doing what He was sent to do: proclaim the Good News to the poor, provide freedom for prisoners, give sight to the blind, set the oppressed free, and proclaim the year of God’s grace. He did all these things to encourage people to repent from their most grievous sin – their unbelief.
Luke, the master historian, records two occasions when Jesus himself is asked the most important question of all time, “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” First, in Luke 10, a Jewish expert in the Law, bent on testing Jesus, asked Him that question. Jesus responded with a question of His own, “What do you think the Law says about that?” The lawyer demonstrated his knowledge of the Scriptures by admitting he should love the Lord with all his heart, soul, mind and strength, and love his neighbor as himself. Jesus agreed. But then, the expert in the law tipped his arrogant hand just slightly by asking, “Well, who is my neighbor?” Jesus then told the story of the Good Samaritan and instructed the man to go and do what seemed hardest for him – to go and be merciful.
Then in chapter 18, the rich government official asked Jesus the same question, but got a very different response. To this wealthy man, Jesus said, “Go and sell everything you have and give the money to the poor.” Luke tells us the man went away sad because he had great wealth.
Luke continues to provide insight to this question as he writes the book of Acts. Just after Jesus’ death and resurrection, Acts 2 tells us the Holy Spirit was poured out to the believers gathered in Jerusalem for Pentecost. Peter addressed the amazed and confused Jewish onlookers and boldly states, “God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.” His audience is cut to the heart and asks, “What shall we do?” That’s when Peter gives them yet another answer to the question, “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.”
Later in chapter 16, Paul and Silas have been beaten and are in jail for upsetting the Roman government’s law-and-order apple cart. Though wounded, they continued to pray and sing through the night as the other prisoners listened to their faithful praise. A violent earthquake threw open the jail gates and loosened everyone’s chains. The jailer, thinking all the prisoners surely escaped, drew his sword to kill himself in an act of desperation. Paul stopped him by shouting, “Stop! We’re all here!” The powerful witness of Paul and Silas caused the jailer to fall before them and ask that all-important question, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” The trembling soldier hears, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved – you and your household.”
That’s four seemingly different responses to the same question. But, are they really that different? The law expert needed to humble himself enough to realize he needed mercy. The rich man needed to get a grip on his materialism and look to Jesus for true riches. The Jews whom Peter addressed were part of the generation that was held responsible for the blood of all the prophets from Abel to Zechariah (Luke 11:50-51). They desperately needed to repent and publicly proclaim their faith in Jesus by reenacting His death, burial and resurrection through baptism. The Philippian jailer lacked faith and stood at a life or death crossroads. He simply needed to believe. Each one was given an individual starting place. Each one was provided instruction from the Scriptures and, most importantly for those who chose total surrender, each one placed their own footprints into those of Jesus.
So, maybe answering “What must I do to be saved?” should begin with another question: “What is it that is keeping you from totally surrendering to Jesus?” Is it pride, selfishness, worldly pleasures, or the fact that you think you’ve done too many bad things to ever be forgiven?
The matter of first importance is believing without a doubt that Jesus paid for your sins by becoming the final, perfect sacrifice. (1 Corinthians 15) His blood washes away your sin making you worthy to be called His child. (1 John 1:7) There is no sin that can’t be forgiven, no wrong that can’t be righted, no insecurity or fear that can’t be conquered. Jesus paid your admission into the kingdom. Believe it, and cry out to Jesus. The Spirit convicting you right now of your specific sin is the same Spirit who gives you the power to overcome it. God will not ask you to do anything without giving you the power you need to accomplish it! God loves you and wants you to experience the joy of living a life free from the condemnation of sin. Nothing can separate you from the love of God – you are MORE than a conqueror! (Romans 8)
Repenting of your unbelief in the healing power of the cross causes you to make a radical life change. It’s not just praying a rote prayer, raising your hand, or going through the motion of being baptized – it’s a RADICAL life change. Repentance allows you to accept God’s marvelous grace while breathing freely knowing that the newfound love you have for Jesus creates a flood of mercy and grace washing away your past, present, and future sins. (Acts 3:19; 5:31-32) It’s a passion growing hotter with each new recognition of God’s hand at work in your life. It’s a passion that’s thankful for the forgiveness you’ve received. It’s a passion that keeps you in His Word and on your knees. This kind of passion can’t be contained! It turns self-centered thoughts into acts of love and kindness. Grace humbly received creates contagious generosity.
Becoming a child of God centers around the gospel (the death, burial, and resurrection of Jesus). Jesus himself instituted two sacraments that also place the gospel at their core – baptism and the Lord’s Supper.
Baptism shouts to the world your choice to let your old, sinful self die and be buried beneath the water so that your new, Spirit-filled self can rise up with a thirst that will never be quenched this side of heaven. (Romans 6)
The Lord’s Supper gives you a chance to remember your choice and what Jesus did for you and fellow believers. To remember means just that – to re-member. To connect. To join. This sacrament not only helps us stay connected to Jesus, but it also connects us to each other. God knew we would need each other for in-the-flesh love and support reminding us of His never-ending love. (1 Corinthians 11)
Now that I’m finally learning to live under God’s shower of amazing grace, I am free from my self so that I can joyfully follow those two commandments Jesus said were most important – to love Him and love others. (Matthew 22:36-40) With God all things are possible. (Luke 18:27)
This Sunday is Easter. What better time to begin or renew your passion for the gospel of Jesus and declare, “I am free!”