Questions from the Street: “What Must I Do to Be Saved?”

Mark Wheeler

May 11, 2014

Lidgerwood Presbyterian Church

Romans 10:9

Questions from the Street: “What Must I Do to Be Saved?”

God of strength and peace, sometimes the enemies who surround us threaten everything we know and love. But You are closer than any evil and more powerful than any threat. Help us live today in that joy, and rest tonight in that peace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.

On my way into church this morning I got a flat tire, on Nevada St. where there is no shoulder to pull over to – so I got out of my car and got the jack and started to change the flat tire when I accidentally stepped back into the lane of traffic, and that’s when I heard the horn of a Mac truck barreling toward me – at 45 mph – I froze in place and the truck smacked right into me at full speed; that hurt; so I got up, and shook myself off and finished changing my tire.

OK, obviously that whole story is a lie. How did you know right off the bat that it wasn’t true? Because I’m not Captain America and I’m still standing here, looking “good”, telling it to you! Usually when people are run over by a speeding Mac truck, they look different than they did before they were hit!

I told you that story (“lie”) for two reasons: 1) to convey a truth; and 2) to point out another truth.

In reverse order: the truth I want to point out is, we never know when we will take our last breath! Never! No one! Accidents, violence, disease, old-age; we never know! “My story” would have been way less funny if it had been true, because someone else would have been telling it! But it certainly could have been a possible news event.

We’ll hang on to the first “truth conveyed” for a few more minutes.

Today is the second message in a series addressing questions people off the street might ask. This particular question actually came from a neighbor of one of our members – so I want to thank this “neighbor” and our anonymous member who invited her to ask it. The question asked was “What do we need to do to be saved?”And that was coupled with, “How can we be sure of our salvation?” If any of you are run over by a Mac truck this afternoon, I want you to know if you have salvation!

When I was given this question, my first thought was, “Yes! An easy one!” And then the more I started preparing, and reading Scripture, and asking it, I realized how big a question this is! And one we should probably all be asking ourselves daily! Show of hands: Who here today has ever asked if you know for a fact that you are saved? Good! Even after you “know the answer”, keep on asking it!

For a lot of people, their favorite words of Jesus are in the Sermon on the Mount; this 3-chapter teaching from Jesus begins with the beatitudes (blessed are the poor in spirit, blessed are those who mourn, blessed are the meek, and so on) and holds some great promises (seek ye first the kingdom of God, and all these things will be added unto you); and in the middle are some powerful teachings about the ten commandments (you have heard that it was said, but I say unto you). But we often overlook the climax of that sermon, where Jesus says, in Matthew 7:21-23 …. —-

Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’

What is particularly poignant about this terrifying warning is that He begins by saying, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.” Then He repeats that by saying, “On that day [the day of judgment] many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord.’

I am forced to ask, what if that’s ME? Do you ever wonder if Jesus is talking about YOU?

Lord, Lord, did I not help serve coffee every week? Did I not attend every Bible study offered? Did I not pay a full 10% tithe to the church? Did I not pray every day? Did I not feed the hungry, clothe the naked, visit the imprisoned?” And, even so, Jesus might say, “I don’t know you. I never knew you! Go away from me.

Isn’t that the scariest passage in the whole Bible? How can I know – for sure – that I’m a sheep and not a goat?

The Roman Catholic Church, at the Council of Trent in the 16th century, said that it is impossible for the average church member to have assurance of salvation except in rare circumstances. And there are some Protestants who believe that we can have assurance of salvation for today but no assurance for tomorrow, because they accept the possibility that people who have faith at one time can fall away into faithlessness and lose their salvation. So, not all Christians agree on how firmly we can answer this question.

Then there is the family of Reformed theology, in which the Presbyterian denomination is rooted, which teaches that we not only can know today that we are in a state of grace, but that we can have full assurance that we still will be in a state of grace at the times of our deaths.

With deep respect for Jesus’ words in Matthew 7, we also hear Him address the question of who is and who is not genuinely saved in His parable of the sower in Matthew 13:1-9 …. —-

That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea. And great crowds gathered about him, so that he got into a boat and sat down. And the whole crowd stood on the beach. And he told them many things in parables, saying: “A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them. Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away. Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. He who has ears, let him hear.”

A little later in the book of Matthew, Jesus gives an explanation of His parable of the sower. It is one of the rare times in the Gospel accounts where we are given an explanation of a parable. That explanation is most helpful because this parable differs from normal parabolic instruction. Most parables have just one point. It is generally dangerous, therefore, to turn parables into allegories, which tend to have symbolic meanings sprinkled throughout the story. But the parable of the sower approaches the level of an allegory as Jesus makes several points of application.

Jesus begins His explanation by saying: “Hear then the parable of the sower: When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path” (13:18–19). The first group He is talking about is represented by the seed that fell on the path. In antiquity, at planting time, a farmer sowed his seed first, then plowed the ground. But any seed that fell on a roadway or pathway was not plowed under. Lying on the hardened path, it had no way to take root, and was devoured by birds. Jesus likens the birds to Satan. Many people are like this seed. They hear the preaching of the gospel, but it makes no impact on them. It does not take root in their lives.

Jesus continues, “As for what was sown on rocky ground, this is the one who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy, yet he has no root in himself, but endures for a while, and when tribulation or persecution arises on account of the word, immediately he falls away” (13:20–21). If you go to an evangelistic meeting or watch one on TV, you may see huge crowds thronging to the front of the church in response to the call of the gospel. I always wonder how many of those decisions for Christ were true conversions and how many of them were spurious. People like what they hear at these events and can be emotionally moved to make a decision to follow Christ. Some of us in this room may be people who walked forward at a Billy Graham Crusade or a Luis Palau event. However, it is an established fact that many of those who come forward at evangelistic meetings soon abandon their commitments altogether. Their spur-of-the-moment responses are often groundless. I am not saying these events are bad, only that not every new convert proves to be genuine.

Explaining the third type of seed, Jesus says, “As for what was sown among thorns, this is the one who hears the word, but the cares of the world and the deceitfulness of riches choke the word, and it proves unfruitful” (13:22). This seed represents a category of people who also hear and receive the Word, but who are overwhelmed by the cares of this world. Like thorns, worldly cares “choke the word.”

Lastly, Jesus says: “As for what was sown on good soil, this is the one who hears the word and understands it. He indeed bears fruit” (13:23a).

Clearly, then, there are many who respond to the message of the gospel with joy but ultimately do not continue in the faith. Not everyone who hears the Word of God is saved, and the same is true for many who respond to it initially. Those who are genuinely saved are those who prove themselves to be doers of the Word. When the seed takes root and grows, there is fruit.

 Remember my opening story about being hit by a Mac truck this morning? If it were true, you could tell simply by watching me – I would look different today from the last time you saw me. The same is true for when we are “saved”. We will look different. We are likely to talk different. We certainly might act different. We will probably have new/different hopes and dreams for ourselves and our families.

I started my college days as a Sociology major. I love the study of people, and groups of people, and how different people respond to the same situations. That’s always a fascinating study for me.

When we talk about things like the theme of salvation, we will run into four different kinds of people. And each of these four types requires a different approach to help them communicate with each other.

1)   The first type are those people who are saved and KNOW it. These people have full assurance that they are in a state of grace. It is a settled matter for them.

You probably have been in discussions where you asked someone a question, he gave some affirmation or assertion, and you replied, “Are you sure?” He said, “Yes, I’m sure.” Your next question was, “Are you sure you’re sure?” When we talk about absolute certainty, we’re talking not simply about philosophical categories; we are describing, in a sense, our emotional state with respect to various assertions.

R.C. Sproul says that “assurance of truth claims operates on a broad continuum. For example, someone could say to you, ‘Do you believe that God exists?’ There is a range of answers you could give to that question. You could say, ‘No, I don’t,’ ‘I don’t think so,’ ‘I don’t know, but I hope so,’ ‘Maybe,’ ‘Yes, I believe in God,’ or ‘Of course I believe in God.’ Each of those answers describes a different level of intensity of confidence that attends a proposition or an assertion.

So when we speak of assurance of salvation, we’re not talking about mathematical certitude, such as belief in the idea that two plus two equals four. We’re talking about assurance of a personal state, and the intensity of that assurance vacillates from day to day. There are days when someone might say to me, “R. C., are you sure you’re saved?” and I would say, “Absolutely.” The next day, if I’m under the burden of guilt, I might say, “You know, I think so.” There are ups and downs in the Christian life.”

Yet, true assurance survives the doubts, for as we will see, it is based on more than feelings. The person in this category has a foundation from which he can say, “I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day” (II Tim. 1:12, NKJV).

2)   The second type are those people who are saved but do NOT know it. I know that some of you are seriously questioning my intelligence right now, so let me explain. We already mentioned that there are some Christians who think we cannot know for sure if we are saved (the whole Roman Catholic doctrine on salvation is based on hope, but not assurance). There are others who insist that if you are saved you would know it because you can name the date and time of your conversion.

Part of the problem has to do with a popular view of Christianity that insists on a dramatic conversion. Some people do come to Christ that way. Billy Graham, for example, can tell the day and the hour when he became a Christian. He points back to a particular day when he went to an evangelistic meeting after playing in a baseball game. An itinerate evangelist named Mordecai Ham was preaching, and Graham went forward and had a sudden conversion that turned his life upside down.

Other people, however, cannot identify even the year when they became Christians. For example, Ruth Graham, Billy’s wife, did not know when she was converted. She was nurtured into a living faith in Christ as her living Lord and Savior.

The truth is that God brings different people to faith in different ways. What becomes key is that we define our faith not by how we feel or what we have experienced, but by what the Bible says and the fruit that is produced through our lives.

It is this category of people that is in view when Peter urges believers to diligence in making their calling and election sure (II Peter 1:3–11). It would be foolish to give such an admonition to people who are already sure. Peter’s teaching, then, signifies that people can be in a state of salvation without actually having the assurance of it.

3)   The third type are those people who are NOT saved and KNOW it. It may seem strange to us that there could be such people, especially since many today assume that everyone goes to heaven when they die. However, the apostle Paul speaks of this category of people at the end of Romans 1. After giving a list of all the various sins and vices that fallen humanity practices, he comes to the conclusion that fallen people not only do these things but encourage others to do them—despite knowing that those who do such things are deserving of death (1:32). You probably also know people who know they are not saved because they do not believe in such a thing as salvation.

You might have heard the story of W. C. Fields, who, when he was lying on his deathbed, he astonished those who knew him by leafing through a Bible. One friend said to him, “W. C., what are you doing?Fields replied, “Looking for loopholes.” Though his answer was couched in his typical humor, it is clear that Fields was aware that he was in a very precarious state as he was about to meet his Maker.

4)   The fourth type are those people who are NOT saved but do NOT know it. These, I am afraid, are the most common type of people. They think they are saved, but they are wrong. This seems to be the people Jesus is talking to in Matthew 7; those who say, “Lord, Lord”; and Jesus says, “I do not even know who you are.”

George Barna is a man who is known for his extensive research and statistical reports concerning things religious. About 15 years ago there was a random sample survey done in Spokane, confirmed by a follow-up survey of church attendance, that said that only 17% of Spokane attends a Christian religious worship service on any given weekend. 17%. That means that 83% of our families and neighbors, our classmates and colleagues, do not think that church-involvement has enough value to make sure it happens. That suggests that at least 8 out 10 of our friends and associates do not have a saving faith in Jesus Christ. Add to that George Barna’s research which says that 50% of those that do attend Christian Church services do not have a real/true faith in Jesus Christ; that means 90% or more of our friends are not saved – but many of them think they are! Including many who go to church every Sunday!

This is where it gets real personal for me. Am I one in that last category? How do I know?

Paul answers this for us with what I want to say is your memory verse. In your Sermon Notes Page, you’ll see Romans 10:9. Read it with me. “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.”

That is more than just words. It involves your heart, which means it requires your trust and your life!

On Judgment Day, when we face our Final Exam, I believe the questions will be something like what Jesus asked Peter in John 21:15-17. I believe the questions will be something like: Do you love Jesus perfectly? Well, Jesus tells us that perfect love casts out all fear – and I get afraid, so … no. Jesus also tells us that if we love Him we will obey Him – and I have certainly not obeyed Him with absolute perfection, so … nope; I do not love Jesus perfectly. And neither do you.

That will be followed with, Do you love Jesus as much as you ought to love Him? Whelp! Since we ought to love Him perfectly, the answer is still, no.

And the final question will be, Do you love Jesus at all? Well, to that I can say “Yes!” I do love Jesus, and I want to be able to love Him and serve Him and honor Him better. I declare with my mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and I do believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead – therefore, Scripture teaches me, I can be sure of my salvation.

We are saved by faith alone, not by our good works! Martin Luther once said, “We are justified by FAITH ALONE, but NOT by faith that is alone.” Our faith must be accompanied by our lives which reflect God’s glory. We must live like we believe what we say we believe! Like me after being hit by a Mac truck, we must look different than before.

Do you love Jesus at all? If you said YES – then you’re good – but don’t settle. Produce fruit that demonstrates that saving faith!

God of strength and peace, sometimes the enemies who surround us threaten everything we know and love. But You are closer than any evil and more powerful than any threat. Help us live today in that joy, and rest tonight in that peace. We pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.


Mohrlang, Roger; Paul and His Life-Transforming Theology; Wipf &Stock Pub.; Eugene, OR; 2013; Pp. 132-138.

Psalms for All Seasons: A Complete Psalter for Worship; Calvin Institute of Christian Worship; Grand Rapids, MI; 2012; P. 379.

Sproul, R.C.; Crucial Questions No. 7: Can I Be Sure I’m Saved?; Reformation Trust Pub.; Lake Mary, FL; 2010.


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