What is the minimum requirement to be saved?

Brian LePort ask When is heresy salvific?

The basic question being whether one can have eternal life while believing heresy.

I hold that we can be heretical in almost all things so long as we believe this:

John 3:16

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish, but have eternal life.

Now, the details and implications of that statement could fill books.

But I think to be saved, we need to believe that. If we don’t know the Bible, but believe that, we are saved. If we DO know the Bible but are wrong about that, we are NOT saved. If we believe that and know the Bible but have most doctrines wrong, we are still saved.

Someone else said the minimum requirement was Romans 10:9

9That 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.

But all this begs the question, does our understanding of Christ affect whether we are saved? Or another way of understanding this is: does a correct Christology affect whether we are saved.

I understand the desire to put a right Christology as part of the requirement for salvation, but I have to bring it back to what Christ said. If we believe what Christ said we need to believe, then we are saved. Once we have faith, other things occur. But trusting that God sent His Son (Christ) is the requirement. But what does that mean?

Well, its obvious that we have to understand God sent His Son so we may have eternal life. But Christ did not say we have to understand everything about who Christ is. He did not say we have to understand everything about who God is. But even if Christ did not say that, were there certain preconceptions implicit in what He said? I think so. Obviously one preconception is that we have to understand God exists and that God rewards people who earnestly seek Him (Hebrews 11:6). Since Christ was speaking to Jews, then I think there would be a need to understand that “Son of God” would make one equal to God (John 5:18).

None of us have a complete and accurate understanding of John 3:16. We cannot truly understand God. We can not truly understand the idea of a being who is 100% God and 100% man. We can not understand the details of a virgin birth – only what Scripture tells us. We can not understand the details of the resurrection – only what Scripture tells us.

It is important we understand the Jesus who saves is the one sent by God, appointed to judge, and was resurrected. Which Jesus we believe in matters. But how much do we have to get right to be saved?

I mean, I know that there was some guy sent by God and appointed to judge us who was born of a virgin and was killed and was resurrected in Israel about 2000 years ago. If it were possible to see a photo or people in a line-up from 2000 years ago, I couldn’t point him out to you. I might point to the wrong one, would I then not be saved?

What details do I have to have right, and which ones don’t really matter for salvation? What are the preconceptions inherent in John 3:16, or Romans 10:9? What can be learned later?

If we believe (have faith, trust) in Christ as having been sent by God (John 3:16), what else (if anything) needs to be believed to be saved? What are the preconceptions?

I bring it back to what Christ said, because what is more important, our understanding of He who saves, or He who saves? If we place our faith in Christ, but do not understand everything about Him, then are we saved? If we put out faith in the wrong Christ, are we saved?

I think we need to put our faith in the right object, the right Christ. If someone claimed to be the Christ but was not sent from God and did not have a virgin birth and was not killed for our sins and was not resurrected on the third day, then that entity would not be the true Christ. So, the object in which we trust is important. But how much do we have to know and understand and embrace to be saved?

Luke wrote in Acts 17:16-34 of Paul evangelizing Gentiles in Athens. I specified that they were Gentiles, because these people did not have the same preconceptions that Jews would have had – so Paul had to lay out what was needed to believe for people to come to faith. Let’s take a look at what Paul did and said:

16While Paul was waiting for them in Athens, he was greatly distressed to see that the city was full of idols. 17So he reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks, as well as in the marketplace day by day with those who happened to be there. 18A group of Epicurean and Stoic philosophers began to dispute with him. Some of them asked, “What is this babbler trying to say?” Others remarked, “He seems to be advocating foreign gods.” They said this because Paul was preaching the good news about Jesus and the resurrection. 19Then they took him and brought him to a meeting of the Areopagus, where they said to him, “May we know what this new teaching is that you are presenting? 20You are bringing some strange ideas to our ears, and we want to know what they mean.” 21(All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.)

22Paul then stood up in the meeting of the Areopagus and said: “Men of Athens! I see that in every way you are very religious. 23For as I walked around and looked carefully at your objects of worship, I even found an altar with this inscription: TO AN UNKNOWN GOD. Now what you worship as something unknown I am going to proclaim to you.

24The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and does not live in temples built by hands.25And he is not served by human hands, as if he needed anything, because he himself gives all men life and breath and everything else. 26From one man he made every nation of men, that they should inhabit the whole earth; and he determined the times set for them and the exact places where they should live. 27God did this so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him, though he is not far from each one of us. 28‘For in him we live and move and have our being.’ As some of your own poets have said, ‘We are his offspring.’

29“Therefore since we are God’s offspring, we should not think that the divine being is like gold or silver or stone—an image made by man’s design and skill. 30In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.31For he has set a day when he will judge the world with justice by the man he has appointed. He has given proof of this to all men by raising him from the dead.”

32When they heard about the resurrection of the dead, some of them sneered, but others said, “We want to hear you again on this subject.” 33At that, Paul left the Council. 34A few men became followers of Paul and believed. Among them was Dionysius, a member of the Areopagus, also a woman named Damaris, and a number of others.

This is what I understand Paul told the Athenians:

  • something of who God is: There exists only one God who is spirit (does not live in temples), all powerful (created everything), self-sufficient (does not need anything), Lord of all, and not an idol, patient and kind (in the past God overlooked ignorance), loving (wants us to find Him).
  • something of what God has done: created and sustains everything (gives life and everything else), gives life, cares for us, determines where people live,
  • something of what God wants for us: for us to seek and find God,
  • something of what God wants from us:  to change (repent) from belief in idols to believe in the true God,
  • something of what God will do: judge the world by the MAN he has appointed, and resurrected as proof of said appointment (and by inference his DEITY).

Inherent in what Paul told the Athenians, though not as obvious, is that the man God appointed to judge the world is the savior, by whom we have forgiveness of sins if we believe, and the resurrection proved His deity (see John 3:16, Acts 13:16-52, Romans 1:4, 10:9 and 1 John 2:18-23 for further details).

But what is the Christology in Acts 17:16-34? God appointed a man (elsewhere called savior) to judge in the future and resurrected him to prove it. At first glance, what is there concerning Christ’s divinity is not obvious, and there does not appear to be anything about Christ being Lord, about correct behavior, or anything else. Now, with a careful reading, we can understand the resurrection to not only prove God appointed the man to judge, but also prove the deity of Christ – and this in turn tells us that Christ is Lord. But would the Gentiles who heard that have realized it?

Yet, we see in Acts 17:34 that some became followers and believed.

Some might want to think that Paul was cut short in his presentation, that what Paul laid out is an insufficient outline of salvation. But look at the results: in verse 32, we see some scoffed, and others said they wanted to know more. But in verse 34, we see others became followers and believed. These are the results of any attempt of evangelism I have seen: some scoff, some want more info, and some believe.

In fact, when I asked God what verses to use when I was preaching on evangelism, He gave me two different passages for two different sermons. One passage was Acts 17:14-34, and the other one was Acts 13:16-52. No, the passage in Acts 17:16-34 is a complete example of Paul evangelizing those who did not know anything about God.

So it seems we’re back to John 3:16 – we have to believe God sent His Son to have eternal life. If there are preconceptions in that statement (and I think there are), then those are laid out in Acts 17:14-34.

What do you think?

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43 Responses

  1. Wb, while I understand you point, I do think you are missing something about the Athenian discourse – namely the fact that before they become believers, they learned more from him than just that discourse. Further, they first followed Paul and then believed. It would seem to me that the Athenian discourse is not a complete discourse which led to salvation, but which led to the discourse that did.

    • While it may be that they heard more than what was presented, I disagree with you.

      I do not see them following Paul (or as young’s literal translation puts it, ‘cleaved’) and believing as distinct events, but a description of what happened at the same time.

  2. W,
    I don’t think there is a “minimum” actually. Salvation is always in three tenses in the Scripture: past, present and future. And as Joel says, and I too understand your point. But I think it is the wrong question in the lasting and full sense. For as St. Paul said, “For to me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” (Phil. 1:21) And as Paul also says, “work out your own salvation with fear and trembling; for God is a work in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure.” (Phil. 2:12-13) The Christian should have the assurance of salvation, but only as he follows and lives “In Christ.” “In Christ” is the only Christian position!

    • Fr. R.,

      This is not about what will happen later in life. This is about what needs to be believed to be saved.

      Obviously there is a minimum, or everyone would be saved without the need for belief.

      Not everyone can say to live is Christ and to die is gain – they have to be saved to be able to say that.

      Surely you are not saying everyone will be saved regardless of what they believe, are you?

      If not, what do you need to believe to be saved? I would assume you would have to believe there is a god, at least. What else is needed to believe to be saved?

      Nor will everyone have the opportunity to work out your salvation (regardless of what you think that particular passage means). Some will die immediately after coming to faith. If you are dying, and someone tells you you can believe and live eternally and you do believe, what is the minimum you must believe to see God in heaven?

  3. Wb, the conversation ended and then they followed Paul and then they believed.

    Their was a discourse later, I believe, which is supported by the biblical account.

    • Joel,

      Ok. I dont really want to argue the point, as that’s not the point of this post.

      My question is still, what is the minimum requirement to be saved?

  4. As I said then, the so-called “minimun” is always Christ! Repentance and faith: “repentance to God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Acts 20:21) But this must continue on for the Christian! Lordship is not perfection, but it is “the obedience of faith” (Rom. 1:5) / “to bring about the obedience of faith – to the only wise God be glory for evermore through Jesus Christ! Amen.” (Rom.16:26-27)

    • Fr. R.,

      I have to agree with you about faith bringing obedience.
      I agree with repent to God and faith in Lord Jesus Christ. But have you ever tried to break that down into its subcomponents?

      If we are dying and are told of what we need to believe to have eternal life, what do we have to understand to be saved? Obviously that there is a God. But what does it mean to have faith in Lord Jesus Christ?

  5. W,
    I have been there many times in the hospital when a person is dying, and I have found very few that have turned to Christ myself. But many that have had doubts about if they have done enough, believed enough, as Christians etc. The answer is always the same for me, that God is a lover and forgiver of them that see Christ, as the one given for their sins! (Rom. 3: 24-26)

    • Fr. R.,

      It seems you are often visiting and speaking with people in hospitals who are familiar with the Church, but think their salvation is dependent upon they themselves. Its sad to think we can’t teach people they can’t earn their way into heaven.

      I agree that we need to believe in God and that Christ was given for our sins.
      I think inherent in what you are saying is that we must believe Christ was both man and God as well, yes?

  6. W,
    Perhaps the best example of what God can do for the weakest sinner is the so-called good malefactor or criminal on the cross next to Christ, who was given by God both grace to see and believe, “Jesus (Savior), remember me when you come into your kingdom.” (Luk. 23: 42-43) In other words, remember me this “sinner”, when you come into your kingdom, as you are the King, but also the Savior!

  7. W,
    I have found that it is the nature of being human and sinful, that we doubt we have both done enough, or even have faith enough, when we are facing eternity, and death and dying. This comes from our guilt and nature, and being members of original sin. Our faith is truly tested in “the valley of the shadow of death”. This has been my experience anyway with so many.

    Indeed, to believe and know that Christ is both God and Man, the Savior of Sinners is also a gift of God! It is both biblical and creedal. But how we live is quite often how we die! If we have lived in faith, we will die in faith. If we have lived without faith in God and Christ, it is most often that one will die in that same place. Sadly, this has been my experience with so many. It is most often just too hard for the sinner to see and find Christ, thru death & dying. But thankfully it can and does happen sometimes.

    • It seems to me that if we think we need to have “enough” faith or works, then we’re not teaching our people that God can be trusted and our salvation is dependent upon Him. I’ve known a number of people who had trusted in Christ and who had no fear of facing God and were quite prepared to die. On the other hand, I’ve also know many who did not have any such assurance that their faith and salvation was dependent upon God.

      I’ve only known a few who were on death’s door and accepted Christ. Some of those miraculously recovered and lived many years for God.

  8. But I can count perhaps on one hand, this number. The loss or inability is not really from God, but from the feebleness of sin at such times. One needs a clear heart and mind, which is rare at such times. Moral? don’t wait to the last hour or minutes to seek Christ! (2 Cor. 6:1-2) See now one’s brokeness and sinful nature, and repent and seek the Lord’s mercy! The Church is also part of this mercy…’Word & Sacrament’!

  9. Acts 2.36-40 and Acts 16:30.

  10. Joel,

    Do you mean Acts 16:31?
    Do are you saying that baptism is a requirement for salvation?

  11. I am saying that when the question was asked for Peter and Paul, respectively, at different times, even after doctrine would have been more reveal, the answer was the same.

  12. Which was pretty simply. They repented, they confessed that Jesus Christ was Lord and they were baptized.

    Doctrine? Knowledge? The only thing they knew was that they needed Christ.

  13. We need to see that Baptism was never an added extra in the life of the Church. This is easily seen in the Book of Acts. And Baptism in 1 Peter 3:21, is connected to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, but also to a “clear conscience” within the same. We can debate the idea of baptismal regeneration, but not the act and need of Baptism in the Church. Thus the Christian is always in need of the Church, and in someway the Church the Christian.

    • Joel,

      I do not see them confessing anything in Acts 2:36-40 or in Acts 16:30-31. And while the jailer’s and his family were baptized, I don’t see that Paul and Silas said they had to be baptized to be saved.

      Was baptism required for salvation?

    • Fr. R.,

      I’m trying to ascertain what people think is the minimum requirement to be saved and what do they use to support that idea. Does it include baptism? Must one be baptized in (or with) water to be saved?

      I think it includes the belief there is One God who will judge us by His Son whom He sent to die for us (to pay for our sins) and resurrected Him to prove it.
      But is baptism and/or confession required to be saved (if one dies immediately after being saved, what did they have to do to be saved before death)?

  14. If Romans 6 is talking about water baptism? We can see that baptism was a least a sign and a seal of salvation. But Baptism also points to the whole of the NT theology, and the doctrine of God.

  15. Wb, you and I have been over this time and time before. No need to rehash where each of us stands on the need for baptism.

    You may not see where confession was made in Acts 2.38, but it was there in baptism. Further, in Acts 8, with the Eunuch, and with the jailer. It all matches Romans 10.9.

    The idea is first that one has to realize that he or she is helpless and a slave to sins, and that only Christ can rescue them from it and then must be cleansed of that same. Baptism is indeed a picture of the Gospel of Jesus Christ because it represents His death (our dying out to sin), burial (burying the old man) and resurrection (our being raised in the newness of life.

  16. W,
    The doctrine of NT Baptism is certainly important. And I think in the early Church Baptism was part of the whole of the teaching of discipleship. But, as we can see with the first Gentiles (Acts 10: 44- 48), that those Gentiles that believed the word of preaching were regenerate before they were baptised. But baptised they were. Your question really is not an easy one to my mind. As there is the question of the whole further doctrine of Baptism, does it include “the household”, and thus a believers family? I would myself believe and hold to infant baptism, but for the Christian family. Here is the reality of the Covenant (Acts 2: 39), etc. So in the full “theological” sense Baptism is central in the Church, certainly “sacramental”. And can be salvific. But, it always needs too the apostolic didactic. We always need the instruction and help of the Church.

  17. W,
    There were no Christians in the early NT Church that were not baptised. (Acts 8: 36-38)

    • One of the reasons I go about examining the same thing from different angles is that it sometimes helps people think of these things from a different perspective.
      I agree people should be baptized. You and I have no argument there.

      I agree with you that baptism is a way of confessing Christ. But the confession and the baptism are nothing more than evidence of the faith one has (which is the requirement for salvation). If one comes to have faith in Christ and dies without speaking a word or being baptized, I think its clear from John 3:16 that one is saved.

      That is to say, I think scripture shows that if you give evidence of salvation (be baptized, confess Christ as Lord), then you are saved. But the faith is the requirement for salvation. Those who have that faith WILL give evidence of salvation, unless they die before being able to do so.

  18. W,
    We have no problem with perhaps a person dying who has confessed Christ before he/she can get to Baptism, but the language of “nothing more” is in question for me. Baptism is itself, a way to confess Christ as Lord & Savior and to manifest faith. Baptism is also oriented toward a complete profession of faith, and and a complete incorporation into the salvation Christ Himself has willed it to be, a beginning bond of sacramental unity, and finally also a complete participation in Eucharistic communion. But as noted, Baptism is a covenant act, and should be given to the whole Christian’s personal family, if they also see the desire to confess Christ in total fulness therein as a “household” of faith and family. Even if one of them has an “unbelieving” spouse, their children are considerd “holy” or set apart to God, (1 Cor. 7:14). As the text shows both are “consecrated” to God by the believing or Christian partner.

    • Let me be clear: I think the only requirement for salvation is belief in God and faith He sent His Son to suffer and die for us. I think that true faith will change us and cause us to do something which will give evidence of (manifest) the faith that saves us. This something will include saying/confessing Jesus is Lord, being baptized, attending church, and any number of changes in belief which are manifested in our lives.

      Where do you see baptism as a convenant act? Why do you think the whole family should be baptized, if you see it as a profession of faith? It seems inconsistent since you say it is to express/manifest faith, and infants have no such knowledge or faith.

      Do you think that the sanctification of an unbeliever gets them into heaven?

  19. Wb, if you read Acts 16 about the jailer, it does point to a sort of baptism for a believer’s family. I know Calvin used it as such, and it does fall into line with Old Testament examples.

    Beyond that, I will not answer questions on this subject about infant baptism, as for me, it would be diametrically opposed to what baptism is about.

    Of course, his household could have been converted as well, which may have been understood by the audience of Acts.

    • Joel,

      I am not unaware of the passage, and of the idea it is used similarly to circumcision. However, I was really wondering how the Anglicans, Fr. Robert in particular, taught concerning baptism of the family.

      Baptism can be used as a form of identification, in which case it would match circumcision.
      Baptism is thought by some to add grace and mercy of God to the person being baptized.
      Baptism has been thought by some as an integral required part of salvation.
      Baptism has been thought by some as a required duty of obedience which is an act of confessing Christ as Lord for the person who is saved already.

      I’m sure I could come up with other beliefs concerning baptism if I tried hard enough, but my brain seems to be shutting down… :)

      sleep calls….

  20. Baptism is a “sacrament”, but also we can see these kind of sacred acts in the covenant life of Israel in the OT. (1 Cor. 10: 1-4 ; 18, etc.) Circumcision was one, and in Col. 2: 11-12-13 we can see the spiritual connection of cirumcision with baptism. And once again we can see the connection in both Christ’s death and resurrection. The whole of the Scripture is a Covenant relation, and thus all the People of God, i.e. the Family was always central in Jewish life and Israel. (Acts 2: 39)

    The santification or better “consecration” of the unbeliever (1 Cor. 7:14) within the belief of the other Christian partner in marriage does not save them, but it does bring them closer to the covenant blessings of God, and thus salvation if they come to faith themselves.

  21. W,
    I don’t think we have to answer every supposition in the theology of Baptism. And as to the whole baptismal theology of the Anglican Church, this differs somewhat whether one is High or Low Church, etc. I have been on both sides of this. But at present I am seeing again the place of the High Church positions. Again, we must look at the whole thematic of the Covenant in the Scripture. It is more here that I see Baptism myself, and not just the history of the High Church.

    But also Joel’s remarks about Baptism and Acts 16 and the “Household” fit closely with the aspect of the Covenant. Not to mention again, the Texts of 1 Cor. 10, and Col. 2: 11-14, etc.

    Finally, we are called to raise our children as Christians, if we are Christians ourselves. And not just ask them to make some decision as adults, alone or by themselves. This was also the Jewish model in the OT, and we can see this in the NT scripture also…”Clease out the old leaven that you may be a new lump, as you really are unleavened. For Christ, our paschal lamb, has been sacrificed. Let us, therefore, celebrate the festival, not with old leaven, the leaven of malice and evil, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” (1 Cor. 5: 7-8) This is again “covenant” blessings, and always related to the community – “faith, hope, and love”.

    * Note John the Baptist, “the babe leaped in her womb (Elizabeth)” when he heard the sound of Mary’s greeting and voice. (Lk, 1:41) Yes indeed our children are gifts of God even now in covenant grace. Outside of covenant grace our children would not be blessed, “Otherwise, your children would be unclean.” (1 Cor. 7: 14) Not to baptise our children, would run against the whole of Covenant theology and grace! Again, a progression of revelation.

    • Fr. Robert,

      Thanks for your response. That helps me understanding your thinking concerning baptism.

      High Church and Low Church seems to describe a lot of differences within the Anglican church. I guess you have to be exposed to it to understand it all without having to go look things up. :)

      I agree, we need to teach our children what it means to be Christians, who God is, what God has done, what God will do, etc.

      I can understand your reasoning for baptizing children who have no faith of their own, but as you know I disagree with baptizing children who have no faith of their own.

  22. W,
    Indeed the Anglican Church and history can be a bit different theologically. And I have some UK friends that are Baptist, English Baptists can be very different from Americans. Some use a bit of liturgy.

    I have to confess I have never seen the difference between baby dedication and at least “christening”, the latter use to mean naming the child at baptism also. And of course there is the subject of original sin, and the sacramental bond of “rebirth”. Sign or reality? Which we did not touch upon. The doctrine of Baptism has a long history. But, this subject has also had so much heat over the centuries. We won’t solve it certainly. It comes down to faith and conscience, I guess.

    • Fr. R.,

      No, we’re not likely to solve it for the entire Church today. :)

      But even so, we must discuss and teach this as we think the Bible says.

      Unlike some, even though I think its extremely important for us to “get it all right”, somehow I think God will be patient with us in our ignorance if we get some of it wrong (other than God exists and sent His Son so we might have eternal life).

  23. Well, I reckon that leaves room for the both of you then, now don’t it.

    It’s tough being perfect, but I manage.

  24. Indeed!!! Even Barth was not so sure on the subject?

  25. […] is a lengthy, lengthy and I mean lengthy conversation there. Wb, answers here in a lengthy manner as well: But I think to be saved, we need to believe that. If we don’t know […]

  26. W,
    No it is very good to seek “to get it right”, but as you have said, none of us get it all right! I think that the scripture teaches that Baptism is “Sacramental”, and even salvific as done “faithfully”. But those that don’t baptise like the history of the Quakers, are saved by the grace of God, within what Rome used to call the “Baptism of Desire”. But in 1 Peter 3:21 the “saving” is toward the faith and reality of the Resurrection of Christ. And here we find our “good conscience”.

    But yes, God is the God of grace and forgiveness, always toward the sinner. And as Luther said, the Christian is both saint & sinner in this life.

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