Some, reading Acts 16:31 and Romans 10:9, think that's the final word on the subject. But we must look at all the Bible says on the subject to come to a proper understanding.
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 is God's gift by grace, as Ephesians 2:8-9 explains. It is His 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. We can do things—or not do things—that disqualify us from receiving that wonderful gift from God.
The fact is, the Bible shows that God sets certain conditions for receiving salvation. Some conditions enable us to receive that gift, and other conditions disqualify us from receiving it.
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 it. 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, you did not earn the gift. You simply met the necessary conditions. The fact that conditions are attached makes it no less a gift.
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.
What must we do?
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, 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?" the man asked (Matthew 19:16). Christ's reply, in Matthew 19:17, might shock some who think obedience to God's law is unnecessary. 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 that he must obey the commandments of God to receive the gift of eternal life.
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).
He 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.
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 of our old self and the beginning of a new life of serving God and striving to avoid sin (Romans 6:1-23).
Baptism is also followed by the laying on of hands by Christ's ministry, 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. 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 Jesus listed another condition we must meet to receive God's gift of salvation: "He who endures to the end will be saved." 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; 1 Corinthians 9:27).
Free, but not cheap
You may have heard the expression, "Salvation is free, but it isn't 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.
But He expects us to surrender our lives in return: "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" (Luke 14:26-27, 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 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" (verse 33, NLT, 1996).
As Jesus Christ gave His life for us, we must be willing to give our lives to follow Him!
To better understand this commitment, and the wonderful rewards it brings, read the free Bible study guide booklet Transforming Your Life: The Process of Conversion.