Is Belief All That's Required for God's Gift of Salvation?
You’ve probably seen the religious tracts quoting Romans 10:9: “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.” Or maybe they quoted Acts 16:31: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved.”
Do this, the tracts assure us, and we have the promise of eternal life. But is this all there is to it? Is belief all that God requires of us for salvation? Some assume these two passages are the final word on the subject. But is that true?
If you’ve studied your Bible much at all, you probably realize that we must look at a number of verses scattered throughout the Bible to get the whole picture. We must look at all the Bible says on the subject to come to a proper understanding. And few things could be more important than understanding what we must do—or not do—if we are to receive God’s gift of eternal life.
Belief is a clear requirement—but is there more?
Certainly belief in God the Father and Jesus Christ the Son, as They are described in Scripture, is crucial. As Hebrews 11:6 tells us, “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.” So belief in God and having living faith in Him is vital to pleasing God and receiving His gift of salvation.
And salvation, eternal life, is God’s gift by grace—His loving disposition of favor and acceptance toward us—as Ephesians 2:8-9 explains: “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” Salvation is God’s gift, unearned and undeserved on our part. No one will ever be able to boast that he or she has earned or deserves the gift of eternal life.
But it doesn’t stop at simple belief and grace. Can we do things—or not do things —that disqualify us from receiving that wonderful gift from God? The answer is crucial to your relationship with God and to your future!
The fact is, the Bible shows that God sets certain conditions for receiving salvation. Meeting these conditions will enable us to receive that gift, while disregarding and failing to meet them will disqualify us from receiving it. What are these conditions?
If there is an authority on receiving eternal life, it has to be Jesus Christ. After all, He is the One through whom we receive it!
In Hebrews 5:8-9, Jesus is called the author of our salvation: “Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered. And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him” (emphasis added throughout).
Can gifts have conditions?
Since salvation is God’s gift, what does this passage mean when it speaks of “eternal salvation to all who obey Him”? If we must do something to receive God’s gift of salvation, how can it be a gift?
To use an analogy, if someone offered to send you a $100 bill if you would send him a self-addressed stamped envelope, he would be offering you a gift. Simply believing that he would send you the money would not actually get you the money. And if you failed to send the envelope, you likewise would not receive the money. You might complain, but you still would not receive the gift because you had not met the conditions.
On the other hand, if you sent the required envelope and received the $100 bill, this does not mean you earned the gift. You simply met the necessary conditions. Without the offer of the undeserved gift, you could’ve sent hundreds of envelopes and received nothing, as you would have been entitled to nothing. The fact that conditions are attached to receiving a gift makes it no less a gift. Millions of people fail to understand this simple fact, and as a result don’t realize that they risk missing out on God’s priceless gift of salvation!
What must we do?
Since Jesus is the author of our salvation, let’s examine a few of His statements that tell us what we must do to receive that gift of salvation—eternal life with Him.
In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Jesus made it clear that merely acknowledging Him as Lord and Master—saying “Lord, Lord”—is not sufficient. To inherit the Kingdom of God, we must do something. We must do the will of the Father, as He clearly stated.
Jesus wants us to understand that there is more to receiving eternal life than just belief or mental acceptance. Our conviction that He is our Savior must be more than just a warm, comforting thought or intellectual concept. Jesus warns that simply calling on His name or recognizing Him as “Lord” is not enough.
At one point a wealthy young man asked Jesus how he could receive eternal life. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Christ’s reply, in Matthew 19:17, might shock some who think obedience to God’s law is unnecessary—that He has done that for us so we don’t have to do anything. Jesus responded, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments.”
Jesus didn’t answer that nothing is required other than believing in God or in Him. He told the young man he must obey the commandments of God to receive the gift of eternal life. How plain!
As the apostle James points out, belief is pointless unless it is backed up by action and obedience: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe —and tremble” (James 2:19). If we think that belief is all we need for salvation, we are sorely mistaken. As James tells us, the demonic spirits fully believe in the existence of the one true God. They further know that Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead. But the demons’ belief in this regard doesn’t mean they are saved!
James, the half-brother of Jesus Christ, goes on to explain that faith—belief and trust in God—and obedience go hand in hand: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:20-22).
James thus explained that works of obedience as a result of our faith maintain our relationship with God and lead to greater faith and obedience, as God requires. Without works as evidence of our faith, that faith is dead—worthless and useless.
Baptism and laying on of hands
Jesus gave another condition for God’s gift of eternal life in Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Water baptism—by full immersion—is a symbolic act representing the death and washing away of our old sinful self and the beginning of a new life of serving God and striving to avoid sin (Romans 6:1-23). Through this act we symbolically put to death and bury the old person with his or her sins and rise from that watery grave to a new life as a new person.
Baptism is to be followed by the laying on of hands by a true minister of Jesus Christ, which allows us to receive God’s Holy Spirit and truly belong to Him (Acts 8:17; Romans 8:9). Unless we surrender our lives to God through baptism and the laying on of hands to receive His Spirit as instructed, we fail to meet—whether knowingly or unknowingly—His prerequisites for receiving His gift of salvation.
The apostle Peter also affirmed these conditions for receiving God’s Spirit, declaring, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Repentance means to turn from disobedience to God to obeying Him. So again, committed obedience and baptism are shown as requirements in the salvation process.
To those who would brush aside these and other plain biblical instructions Jesus replies, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?’” (Luke 6:46).
In Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13 Jesus gave another condition we must meet to receive God’s gift of salvation: “He who endures to the end will be saved.” Some believe in the unbiblical teaching of “eternal security” or “once saved, always saved.” But as Jesus plainly and directly implied here, we can lose out on salvation if we fail to endure to the end .
Once we have committed ourselves to obeying God and surrendering ourselves to Him, we must stay the course to the end and not look back (Luke 9:62). Even the apostle Paul realized that he needed to discipline himself to be in total subjection to God—“lest, when I have preached to others,” he wrote, “I myself should become disqualified” (1 Corinthians 9:27). He clearly understood that through neglect he could lose out on God’s gift of salvation! (compare Hebrews 2:1-3).
Salvation is free, but not cheap
You may have heard the expression, “Salvation is free, but not cheap.” God’s gift of life to us cost Jesus Christ His life. He, the very Son of God, willingly surrendered His life so that we might receive God’s wonderful gift of eternal life. And it cost the Father, who “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
But God expects us to surrender our lives in return, as Jesus states in Luke 14:26-27: “If you want to be my follower you must love me more than your own father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, more than your own life. Otherwise, you cannot be my disciple. And you cannot be my disciple if you do not carry your own cross and follow me” (New Living Translation, 1996).
Our love for and commitment to Jesus Christ and God the Father must be more important to us than any other relationship. Each of us must be willing to bear his “cross,” to faithfully follow Jesus even through life’s most difficult challenges.
Luke 14:28-33 carry on that thought, warning us to consider carefully that accepting the gift of eternal life comes at the highest cost we can imagine. “So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me” (Luke 14:33, NLT, 1996). As Jesus Christ gave His life for us, we must be willing to give our lives to follow Him!
So returning to the title of this article, is belief all that’s required for God’s gift of salvation? Clearly the answer is no. His Word spells out certain conditions for us. Let us be sure, as Hebrews 2:3 exhorts us, that we not “neglect so great a salvation”!