If Christ died, then, as an atonement for sin, and His death is of infinite value, does that mean, then, that everyone is automatically saved? While that may seem like a logical conclusion, it is not what the Bible says. There is a condition which must be met. “He who believes in the Son; and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him” (John 3:36; NKJV). “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We are justified (made righteous in the sight of God) by faith. We must believe on Christ in order to be saved and have our sins forgiven. We are save by faith in Christ.
But what does it mean to “believe on” Christ? The Bible defines faith as “the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen” (Heb. 11:1; NASV, ESV). Faith is the firm conviction that what God has said is true and will come to pass. His word can be relied upon. People demonstrated their faith by acting upon God’s promises. “But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Heb. 11:6; NKJV). Hebrews 11 goes on to give us a long catalog of those who acted in faith. “These all died in faith, not having received the promise, but having seen them afar off, were assured of them, embraced them and confessed that they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth” (v. 13). In salvation faith means to put one’s faith and confidence in Christ, to rely actively on Him and trust Him only for your salvation.
Faith is more than mere assent to a religious dogma. “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!” (James 2:19). The demons, obviously, are not saved. It is one thing to believe something about Christ; it is something different actively to put your trust in Him. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved . . . “ (Acts 16:31).
True faith is accompanied by true repentance. You cannot ask God to forgive your sins unless you genuinely acknowledge that they are sins and you desire to turn from them. There must be a genuine sorrow over sin.
“’Now, therefore,’ says the Lord,
‘Turn to Me with all your heart,
With fasting, with weeping, and with mourning.’
So rend your heart, and not your garments;
Return to the Lord your God,
For He is gracious and merciful,
Slow to anger, and of great kindness;
And He relents from doing harm.”
And a genuine sorrow over sin will include a desire to be free from it and live a life that is pleasing to God. “Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance” (Matt. 3:8). These are not works that you perform in order to earn your salvation or to merit anything from God, but rather evidence that your repentance is real and genuine. God will save you from your sin; it is all a work of His unmerited favor. But the question is, do you really want to be saved? And if so, form what?
But then our faith in Christ should express itself by publicly identifying ourselves with Him, and this is done in baptism. Peter could conclude his sermon on Pentecost by saying, “Repent, and let everyone of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Jesus said, “Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him will I also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven” (Matt. 10:32,33; cf. Lu. 12:8,9). Some evangelists have used this as a justification for the altar call, but there is no evidence from Scripture that such a practice existed in the early church. Rather, baptism was the means of publicly identifying oneself with Christ.
Several things should be noted here. First of all the assumption throughout the New Testament is that the person being baptized is a professing believer. “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. You are all one in Christ Jesus” (Gal. 3:27,28; cf. Rom. 6:3), the implication being that everyone who has been baptized has actually been incorporated into the universal church, the body of Christ. Moreover, there is no direct command nor any clear example in the New Testament to warrant the practice of infant baptism.
Secondly, baptism is not a good work that somehow merits salvation, nor is a sacrament that somehow works automatically to impart salvation. Rather, “. . .baptism now saves you – not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience – through the resurrection of Jesus Christ . . .” (I Pet. 3:21; NASV; cf. ESV). Baptism is the formal, outward means by which we declare our faith and allegiance to Christ, and as such formally begins the relationship with Him. It is the faith itself, however, which makes us righteous in the sight of God. Baptism is the outward expression of the inward reality, the sign and seal of our faith.
This, then, is how we are saved: we must repent of our sins, put our trust in Christ as our Savior, and publicly identify ourselves with Him in baptism. “. . .if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Rom. 10:9,10).