WHAT MUST I DO TO BE SAVED?
Dr. W. A. Criswell
7-09-78 8:15 a.m.
And once again welcome to the thousands of you who listen to this morning service over radio. There are so many of you who tell me that you listen as you are driving to church; you are listening as you dress for Sunday school; you are listening as you prepare for your own Sunday school lesson. In how many ways, at this earlier hour, are there thousands of you who listen to this broadcast.
And it is an infinite joy for us in the First Baptist Church in Dallas to share the moment with you. This is the pastor bringing the message entitled life’s greatest question: What Shall I Do To Be Saved? How can I know that I am saved? "What would it profit a man if he gained the whole world," said our Lord Jesus, "and then lose his own soul?" [Matthew 16:26]. What would it profit a man if he gave his life to the fullest fun, and frolic, and entertainment, and then died and fell into hell? What would it be for a man, if he achieved every worldly purpose in heart or imagination, then spend an eternity in darkness, and condemnation, and damnation? There could be no question comparable to it: What Must I Do To Be Saved?
Acts 16:30, "What must I do to be saved?" And then the incomparable revelation of God’s grace and mercy toward us: It isn’t in you, it is in the Lord. "Believe upon the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved" [Acts 16:31].
First, the concept of our being lost: the secular world, which is the vast world as we see it in the modern panoramic scene, the secular world denies that it is lost. And secularists themselves deny that they are lost. Do you remember the campaign carried through so many of the great cities of America: "I have found it?" They were placards so oft seen on the bumpers of cars, "I have found it." Well, a man made a placard and put it on his car, "I never lost it."
"I’m not lost, I have no need of salvation. I don’t face any judgment for my sins. I will walk into God’s presence with my head lifted high, make my own defense and apology, and stand in my own righteousness. And when the hour of my death comes, I will be sufficient to deliver myself. I have never lost it; I am not lost."
That was the crux of the preaching of John the Baptist. In the third chapter of the Book of Matthew, when the ministry of the great Baptist is presented to the world, he says to those who came to hear him preach from the highest echelons of Jerusalem, "Do not begin to say in your hearts ‘We are the children of Abraham’: For I say unto you, that God is able of these stones to raise up children unto Abraham" [Matthew 3:9]. What John the Baptist was doing was throwing the whole world outside of the covenant of God because of their sins. "You generation of vipers," talking to the leaders in Jerusalem, "you house of snakes and serpents, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? [Matthew 3:7]. You who say, ‘We are the children of Abraham; we are not lost.’"
That is the response of the whole secular world, "We don’t need to be saved; we are already right with ourselves, right with the world, right with God, and we shall face eternity, death, and judgment in our own strength." Wonderful! Fine! Excellent! Congratulations! However, the starkest tragedy I know in human life and in human history is this: that humanity mankind is lost without God. We are fallen in all of our faculties. We are fallen in all of our emotions. There is no part of human life in which we do not see the wreckage, and the falleness, and the lostness of our souls.
I see it in every area of human life; I see it in the movie industry, our fallen nature. The picture show, the movie house is increasingly salacious, increasingly iniquitous – sinful. It is not increasingly exalting, it is increasingly debasing. I see it in our television programs; the language used and the stories portrayed are increasingly violence and immorality. I see it in our literature; the language, and the stories, and the pictures are increasingly evil. I see it in the political life of nations: there is terrorism, and violence, and finally an increasingly degree of hopelessness and helplessness.
I see it in the academic world. In our schools, increasingly there is humanism and secularism; that is, leaving God out of it. And not only leaving God out of it by maybe the presentation of other factual material, but leaving God out of it by law and by constitutional judgment from the judiciary. The whole world is lost. And however you wish to say it – socially, or psychologically, or philosophically, or theologically – the world of humanity is lost without God. And of course, we all individually face the judgment upon our own sins and our inevitable death [Romans 3:23, 6:23; Hebrews 9:27].
So who can save us? To me – to someone like me at least – it seems so self-evident that mankind is lost and needs saving. Can we save ourselves? Would to God that we could. Would to God there was a political system that could deliver us. Would to God there is an academic system that could save us. Would to God there was some great philosophical proposition that could be delivered to us, thereby obviating the consequences of our fallen minds, and fallen natures, and our inevitable death. But our helplessness before it is seen in a description of us in the Word of God. The first verse of the second chapter of Ephesians says that we are dead in trespasses and in sins; dead [Ephesians 2:1]. And what can a dead cadaver do to save himself? What can a dead corpse do to save himself? Dead, dead, dead! When I am dead what can I do to save myself? Dead?
"My mother will save me. My mother loved me and watched over me. And every maternal care that could be poured out on a boy, my mother poured out upon me. My mother can save me!" My mother is dead, over her tomb have we wept tears; my mother is dead.
"My father will save me. He can save me; my father was a fine good humble man – honest, hardworking. He can save me!" My father is dead, and they are buried together, my father and my mother.
"That great big pastor who baptized me he can save me!" That great, big pastor is dead. That wonderful man who stayed in our home and preached the revival meeting and talked to me every night after church in which revival I was saved and found the Lord, he will save me – he is dead! The whole generation – all of them that I knew in those days of my beginning are dead. How can they save me when they are dead? And how can I finally save myself when I am dead?
"The wages of sin is death" [Romans 6:23]. "And the soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4, 20]. And how can a cadaver, a corpse, save, deliver itself? Salvation lies in some area beyond me and beyond us. It is not achieved by something I am able to do. If I say "I will win for myself my deliverance. I shall save myself, you see. I shall follow a program of improvement and self-amelioration. I shall dress up my life. I shall reform. I shall rid myself of these things that drag me down. I shall purify my soul and my heart, and I will live righteously before God. And then someday I shall present myself, having made of me a beautiful and perfect life."
My problem is I don’t achieve perfection. And He demands holiness and perfection, without holiness no man shall see God [Hebrews 12:14]. My problem is that my righteousnesses is in His sight are as filthy rags [Isaiah 64:6]; He says in His holiness and in His presence I am unclean, dirty, lost, sinful [Romans 3:23]. I am helpless, I cannot make such amelioration. But maybe as some say, if I cultivate the divine spark that is in me, I can achieve salvation. You see, the image of God is on the inside of me; I am made like Him [Genesis 1:27]. The image of the Lord is stamped upon my soul! And if I will just cultivate that spark of divinity, then I can achieve perfection and salvation. But however I achieve any measure of the likeness of God, I still have sinned, and I still die [Romans 3:23, 6:23]; I face being a dead corpse.
But, ah! Maybe in some great sacrifice; maybe in some heroic laying down my life for a noble cause – maybe for my country – maybe if I can just give myself to great and holy aims; maybe if I follow a course of flagellation and beat my body as Martin Luther did; maybe I can be just and stand in the presence of God, self-delivered. But the more that I face any kind of heroic sacrifice, the more certainly am I conscious that I shall surely die. Death is written in all of my members. It’s written in the very color of my hair. It is written in the lines on my face. It is written in the aging of my physical frame. It is written in the years of my life I have already lived. I face a certain inevitable judgment of death; who can deliver me? How can I be saved?
My salvation lies over and beyond me. My salvation is achieved by One over and outside of me. I am saved by God and God alone. Salvation is a display of His grace, and of His mercy, and of His love [Ephesians 2:8]. It is He who does it, and He does all of it. When we arrive with the redeemed in glory and sing our song of praise and redemption, it will be to Him alone [Revelation 5:8-11].
"Worthy is the Lamb to receive . . . riches . . . and honor and glory" [Revelation 5:12]. "For He hath redeemed us from our sins by His own blood, and hath made us kings and priests unto God that we shall reign forever and ever" [Revelation 5:9-10]. All glory to Him. He did it. He did it [Revelation 1:5-6]. As a dead cadaver, as a dead corpse He quickened me [Ephesians 2:1-5]. He spoke me into life, He raised me up. In His mercy He washed me from my sins, He made me to stand in His presence; He did it. Our salvation is in Him; God does it [Revelation 4:9-11].
And there are two things that God does. First: He deals with the sin question in our lives: how do we stand in the presence of God, being sinners with the judgment of death in our physical frame and in our spiritual soul? Who can deliver us from so great a condemnation? God deals with the sin question. How can God forgive us and at the same time be true to His own nature in bringing judgment upon sin? How can God do that? [Romans 6:23].
As the Bible places the word, how can God be just? How can He be righteous and at the same time justify the unrighteous? [Romans 3:26]. How can God deal with sin and at the same time forgive us? [1 Peter 3:18]. If God overlooks it – just doesn’t pay any attention to it – then His whole moral universe collapses. God has to uphold His law and uphold His righteousness; God has to deal with the sin question in our life. How does God do that? In the most merciful way that mind could think for: God took all of our sins and placed them at the account of His only begotten Son He took all of our debts that we owe, the holiness and righteousness of God; and He laid them all at the feet of the Lord Jesus [Isaiah 53:6]. And He paid it all; He took our sins, He became sin for us [Hebrews 10:5-14], He suffered in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21]. He paid the full penalty of our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3].
When I look at Jesus on the cross, had you never been born and had there never been anyone else living in the world, He would have died just the same – for me. He took my sins and bore them in His own body on the tree [1 Peter 2:24]. And He died for me; He did it [1 Corinthians 15:3]. That’s the way God dealt with the sin question. Every sin brings its full measure of judgment and condemnation, and He paid the price – the death, the judgment, the suffering – on the tree. He did it [1 Peter 2:24]. That’s how God dealt with the sin question.
Second: how does God deal with the question of free moral agency? That is, how does God not violate my own personality? God made me free. God gave me choice. And He cannot coerce me, and He cannot force me, and He cannot make me, and at the same time I be free. God violates me if He makes me, if He forces me, if He coerces me. How does God face the question of my free moral creation [Deuteronomy 30:11-15] – me and not violate my freedom of choice and my personality? How does God face that? This is the way God faces the question of my free moral agency. He lays, in His goodness and grace, the plan of salvation before me [John 3:16; Romans 10:9-10; Ephesians 2:8]. And then He gives me an ultimate choice; I can look or not look, I can believe or not believe [Acts 16:30-31]; I can accept or not accept; I can trust or not trust. I can come to Him or refuse, and the choice is up to me. God honors my personality, and my freedom, and the way He made me. And God’s appeal is always one of wooing, of inviting, of pleading, of opening the door, of welcoming, that is His choice for you [Ezekiel 33:11].
Now may I illustrate that the best I can? And then we are going to sing our hymn of appeal. Let us say there is a great sovereign king – all powerful, in the day when the king rules with absolute omnipotence. And in his realm, in his kingdom, there are men who are recalcitrants; they are seditionists and revolutionists. And they say, "We will not have this man to reign over us," and they rebel, and they take up arms, and war against him. But their revolution is futile, and they are lost in the cause; they are lost. And they face inevitable execution; the king is powerful. And they are guilty of rebellion, and sedition, and revolution, and bearing arms against him. Then the king, in his great mercy and goodness, the king says, "Universal amnesty: if anyone who has rebelled will just come and receive forgiveness and pardon, he is forgiven. And he is pardoned." And the king publishes the decree throughout the realm; the whole realm, and the whole kingdom heard it. And the revolutionaries talk; and one says to another, "Don’t you believe that. Don’t you trust him. That’s a ruse. You lay down your arms and surrender and ask pardon from his hands, and he’ll seize you, and he’ll execute you. You can’t trust his word. You can’t believe in him. You can’t!"
But another revolutionary says, "I believe in him. I believe he’ll keep his word. I’m going to trust him. I’m going to lay down my arms of revolution and rebellion, and I’m going to surrender to him. And I’m going to ask him for pardon. And I believe he’ll keep his promise of amnesty." That’s one.
There’s another revolutionary who says, "Maybe – maybe I can’t trust him. Maybe I can’t believe him. Maybe I can’t accept him for what he said, but I’m going just the same. I’m going to see if he keeps his word and if he’ll forgive me and pardon me. I’m just going to see. I’m going to try."
And there’s a third revolutionary, and he says "These years of my rebellion have brought me nothing but misery in my life. I’m so unhappy in the way I have been I don’t know what to do. I am miserable. I am lost. I’m going and see if he will help me, if there can be a change in my life from this of rebellion, and escape, and fleeing, and fear, and failure. My whole life is one that is broken apart. I’m going to see if he will help me."
And there’s a fourth revolutionary. And he says, "I am stricken unto death, and I am dying. I am going to see if he will raise me up."
All four of them come before the great king. First there is the revolutionary who has laid down his arms and surrenders, and he says, "My liege lord, I believe your word. When you say there is amnesty, and pardon, and forgiveness, I believe you will keep your promise, and I am before you lord, trusting in your mercy and goodness."
And the second revolutionary comes before the great king, and he says, "Lord, I just don’t know whether you will keep your word or not, but I’m going to try. And here I am; I’m asking for forgiveness and pardon, and we will just see if you keep your word."
And the third one stands, "Lord, my life is so incomplete and broken. I want your help, and your strength, your wisdom, and your direction." And the fourth, "Lord, just strength enough to lift up my face, I’m dying. Lord is there life in thee?"
You tell me; do you think the great king will be merciful? You tell me; do you think he’ll keep his word? "He that cometh unto Me I will in no wise cast out [John 6:37]. Come all ye who are weary and heavy laden" [Matthew 11:28].
I will arise and go to Jesus,
He will embrace me in His arms;
In the arms of my dear Savior,
Oh, there are ten-thousand charms.
["Come Ye Sinners, Poor and Needy"; Joseph Hart 1759]
I heard the voice of Jesus say,
"Come unto Me and rest;
Lay down thou weary one, lay down
Thy head upon My breast."
I came to Jesus as I was,
Weary, and worn, and sad;
I found in Him a resting place,
And He hath made me glad.
["I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say"; Horatio Bonar, 1846]
And all four of those men stand in the presence of the great King, justified forgiven, pardoned. Why? Because God will keep His Word, "Whosoever believeth in Him shall should not perish, but have everlasting life" [John 3:16]. He does it. If I can find it in my heart just to believe in His unchanging promise, I am saved. I am saved; I am saved, and forever.
And that is our appeal, and the Spirit of God’s appeal, and the Holy Scripture’s appeal to your heart this morning. "I trust Him. He would not deceive me. He would not slay me; I look in faith and I’m coming Lord. I stand before You a condemned sinner facing death. Lord, remember me, forgive me, save me. I lay down my arms of rebellion, I trust in Your forgiveness. Here I am Lord, now." Bringing the family or just one somebody you, make it now. Down one of these stairways, down one of these aisles, "Here I am, pastor, I am on the way," while we stand and while we sing.