Sinners can put this question in various ways:
- How can my sins be forgiven?
- How can I escape going to hell?
- How can I get right with God?
- How can I become a Christian?
- What is it to believe in Jesus Christ?
We have examples in Scripture of people asking questions like these. The Bible is full of souls troubled with spiritual concerns. When the Holy Spirit works to “reprove . . . of sin, and of righteousness, and of judgment” (John 16:8), conviction of sin produces many anxious cries:
- “What have I done?” (Jer. 8:6)
- “Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God?” (1 Sam. 6:20)
- “If thou, Lord, shouldest mark iniquities, O Lord, who shall stand?” (Ps. 130:3)
Scripture gives the clearest answers to these concerns.
- On the day of Pentecost, thousands were listening to the apostle Peter’s sermon in Jerusalem. As Peter preached the gospel of Jesus Christ, who seven weeks before had died and risen again, his hearers were convicted of their sin. This made them cry out to Peter and to the rest of the apostles, “Men and brethren, what shall we do?” (Acts 2:37). Peter’s answer was clear: “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins” (Acts 2:38). To be forgiven their sins, they would have to repent of them. Click here for more on repentance. (Peter did not mention baptism because it is necessary for salvation, but because it is God’s appointed sign of how salvation is applied.)
- A few years later, in Philippi, the jailor who had imprisoned the apostle Paul and his companion Silas was awakened by an earthquake that broke open every door of the prison. He was about to kill himself, but Paul urged him not to harm himself, at which point he came under great conviction of sin. Trembling, he said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30). Their answer was clear: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts 16:31). To be saved from his sins, he would have to put his trust in Christ, the only Saviour of sinners. For more on faith in Jesus Christ, click here.
To be saved, then, sinners must repent and believe. Both repentance and faith are necessary. The Lord Jesus Christ said so. “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish” (Luke 13:3,5). “If ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins” (John 8:24).
The whole of the Shorter Catechism is very helpful on salvation. It defines repentance and faith as follows:
- “Repentance unto life is a saving grace, whereby a sinner, out of a true sense of his sin, and apprehension of the mercy of God in Christ, doth, with grief and hatred of his sin, turn from it unto God, with full purpose of, and endeavour after, new obedience” (Q.87).
- “Faith in Jesus Christ is a saving grace, whereby we receive and rest upon him alone for salvation, as he is offered to us in the gospel” (Q.86).
The tendency in our day is to minimise salvation into a shallow process of a few “easy” steps. But this is the most momentous issue that anyone can face, with consequences that will last to all eternity. Anyone who is truly serious about the salvation of their never-dying soul will already know that a “quick-fix” solution is not the right one.
One of the clearest and fullest answers to this great question is in a book by a minister who laboured during the 19th century in Birmingham, England, called John Angell James, with the title The Anxious Inquirer. If you click on the link you will be able to read the whole of this book, in a slightly edited form, chapter by chapter. Or you can purchase a copy from our Bookshop.
Two eminent ministers of the Second Reformation in Scotland during the 17th century, David Dickson and James Durham, combined to produce the document called The Sum of Saving Knowledge. It is usually bound with the Westminster Confession of Faith and its Catechisms, the way of salvation set forth in it being so much in harmony with those confessional standards. It can be read online at the link, or downloaded. Robert Murray M’Cheyne, the saintly minister of Dundee in the 19th century, traced his conversion to God blessing his study of this great document.