One of the most important questions for a Christian is “how am I saved?” Obviously, Christians want to go to heaven and so it is vital for us to figure out how to get there. Yet to discern the answer to the question “what do I have to do to be saved?” people often turn to the question “what would person x have to do to be saved?”
When I was studying the Bible and the subject of baptism came up, I asked the obvious question: “What about a Christian in a desert where there’s no water? Would God really punish someone with eternal damnation because He put them in a situation in which baptism wasn’t possible?” When the subject of obeying God’s commands comes up, it is easy to ask, “Well, what about illiterate Christians in the Middle Ages who had to rely on others to relay the commands? What if a priest didn’t tell them about a certain command and so they sinned unknowingly?” When the subject of belief in Jesus Christ comes up, we always ask, “Well, what about natives living in the middle of the Amazon who have never heard of Jesus Christ and never been exposed to a Bible?” Most people do not want to believe in a God who is cruel enough to eternally damn these people.
Following the natural conclusion from these questions, it would seem that baptism isn’t necessary, repentance and obeying God’s commands isn’t necessary, and belief in Jesus Christ isn’t necessary for salvation. All of a sudden, we’ve gotten a “Get Out of Jail Free” card. If none of these things is required to go to heaven, then we can basically do whatever we want and still be saved! We’ve made a rule for ourselves based upon the exceptions for others.
This process is dangerous and deceptive; using questions and arguments to determine salvation forces us to rely too heavily upon human logic and reasoning. Colossians 2:8 warns us, “See to it that no one takes you captive through hollow and deceptive philosophy, which depends on human tradition and the basic principles of this world rather than on Christ.”
Instead, we are to rely on what the Bible tells us is true. In Mark 16:16, Jesus says, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned,” suggesting that baptism is an important part of salvation. In Luke 13:3, Jesus says, “unless you repent, you too will all perish.” Repentance is defined as “to turn from sin and dedicate oneself to the amendment of one’s life,” in other words, where we have sinned, we have to deliberately change our behavior to be in line with God’s commands to prevent ourselves from perishing. In Romans 10:9, Paul tells us, “if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved,” asserting that belief in Jesus is necessary to go to heaven. Clearly, baptism, repentance, and belief are all prerequisites for salvation. That is not to say that, in any way, these three things make us earn salvation, but that God’s grace is conditional upon our fulfilling these three things.
Of course, many people are unwilling to be devoted to a God who seems so unjust as to punish people for unfortunate circumstances that He allowed them to experience. It’s important to remember, however, everything that the Bible tells about God. Psalm 19:9 declares, “The ordinances of the LORD are sure and altogether righteous.” Deuteronomy 4:31 says, “For the LORD your God is a merciful God.” Psalm 103:8 tels us, “The LORD is compassionate and gracious, slow to anger, abounding in love.” We know that God is just, merciful, gracious, and loving.
Is it possible that God would allow exceptions for particular people? I believe that it is, for God knows everyone’s circumstances and would not judge people unjustly. However, the exceptions that God may provide in certain situations should not become the defining rule for salvation, particularly in our own circumstances. If we are willing to accept that God judges people based on their particular situation, then we should be willing to accept that he will judge us based on our situation.
The question is no longer, “what does person x have to do to be saved,” but “what must I do to be saved?” Based on the fact that we have access to water, access to all the commands of God in the Bible, and access to all the historical evidence necessary to believe in Jesus Christ, what does God command us to do? We are blessed with all of these things. We must remember: “To whom much is given, much will be required.”