What Must I Do To Be Saved? Get In the Wheelbarrow With Jesus!

April 11, 2013 — 6 Comments


Logo Transparent jpeg without wordsOne of the foundational difficulties in discussing Christian discipleship is the diversity of opinion regarding the requirements for “salvation.”  The question is, “What must I do to be saved?” 


Of course, this is the question the jailer at Philippi put to Paul and Silas in Acts 16:30. Many Christians have memorized their simple  answer, “Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved–you and your entire household.” This is frequently quoted by Christians. Just yesterday I passed a truck on an interstate highway with a sign on the tailgate that boldly quoted the King James Version: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved.”

The problem with this simple verse is simply this. Many, if not most, Christians don’t understand what it means? I will seek here to explain why I think this is one of the most quoted but often misunderstood verses in the Bible.

Believing on or in  Jesus is much more than believing certain facts about Jesus. Believing in or on Jesus means trusting Jesus with your life. It means making every effort to live by His laws and seeking to do His will day in and day out. The Greek word here translated “believe” is pisteuō. This means “to have faith in, to trust.” The word connotes trust that leads to obedient action. It is the word Paul used in Romans 1:5, “This was to bring all Gentiles to faithful obedience for  his name’s sake.”

A few months ago I wrote an article for the Fall 2012 edition of Adult Bible Studies Teacher, published by Cokesbury, a publishing arm of The United Methodist Church. In that article I explained what Paul and Silas actually meant by this simple statement.

Since we normally define the word “believe” as “accepting something as true” many people assume that Paul and Silas simply meant the jailer had to believe certain facts about Jesus. However, the word used here is a form of the Greek word pistis. . . (which) means much more than an intellectual belief that something is true. It conveys the ideas of trust, conviction, and confidence.

   This brings us to the understanding of faith that the apostle Paul taught and that we find in the other epistles of the New Testament. When Paul and others talked about believing they almost always meant  believing “in” or “on” Jesus and/or God, not believing “about.” 

   For our best understanding we might read Acts 16:31 as, “Trust in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” Put your life in God’s hands. Make Jesus your “lord” (master). The Common English Bible actually makes this correction in another very important passage. Romans 10:9-11 in the NIV reads, “That 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. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved. As the Scripture says, ‘Anyone who trusts in him will never be put to shame.'” 

The Common English Bible more clearly renders this passage, “Because if you confess with your mouth ‘Jesus is Lord’ and in your heart you have faith that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Trusting with the heart leads to righteousness, and confessing with the mouth leads to salvation. The scripture says, All who have faith in him won’t be put to shame.”

The author of Hebrews lists numerous people from the Old Testament who demonstrated their faith by their actions. “By faith Abraham obeyed” God (11:8). By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice (vs. 4) and Moses led the people out of Egypt (vs. 27). But perhaps no book explains it more clearly than the little epistle of James:

“Someone might claim, ‘You have faith and I have action.’ But how can I see your faith apart from your actions? Instead, I’ll show you my faith by putting it into practice in faithful action It’s good that you believe that God is one. Ha! Even the demons believe this, and they tremble with fear. Are you so slow? Do you need to be shown that a faith without actions has no value at all? What about Abraham, our father? Wasn’t he shown to be righteous through his actions when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? See, his faith was at work along with his actions. In fact, his faith was made complete by his faithful actions” (James 2:18-22 CEB).

A story is told about a man who performed a high wire act. After many amazing feats he brought out a wheelbarrow and asked, “How many of you believe I could take a person in this wheelbarrow from one end of my high wire to the other end. The crowd began to shout, “We believe you. We believe you.” “O.K.,” the man replied, “who will volunteer.” There were no takers!

Believing in or on Jesus is more than “believing Jesus can do it.” Believing in Jesus means trusting Him enough to get in his wheelbarrow and letting Him take us wherever He wishes.

QUESTION: Are you an obedient disciple riding in the wheelbarrow with Jesus on the high wires of life or are you among the crowd who only “believes” in Jesus? Please respond in the Comments section below.




Dr. Gary Thompson


I am a retired United Methodist pastor. I write adult curriculum for the United Methodist Church and have been doing so for over 10 years. My passion is helping the Christian Church more effectively fulfill its mission of making disciples of Jesus Christ and to help individuals identify and fulfill their God-given personal mission.

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  • tony kiar

    Good post – making sure we know the nuances of the word ‘believe’ clears up a lot of confusion. Sometimes I wonder if there are many people in the church that feel they don’t need to be saved – they are pretty good and Jesus just makes them better!

    ” The church needs more fornicators, drinkers, addicts, thugs and thieves! The church needs more people who know (and confess) they are sinners and are sold out for Jesus because their very lives depend on HIM! Jesus said; “They that are whole have no need of the physician, but they that are sick: I came not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Mark 2:17)”


  • http://twitter.com/DrGaryT Gary Thompson

    You make a very interesting point, Tony. People don’t seek healing until they realize they are sick. The church needs to do a lot more “fishing” among people who know they are sick. Most church plants, especially by major denominations, are among middle class, suburbans who feel like they are already, as you say, “pretty good.” I’ve observed much more “life transformation” in poor neighborhoods and among folks with addictions.

  • http://abnormalanabaptist.wordpress.com/ Robert Martin

    It was during my apologetics course in seminary in the winter of 2011 that I came to the same understanding of “pistis”. Thanks for confirming it.

    You can read my own reflection on my blog (link is in my Disqus profile) if you wish. It has become how I teach faith, salvation, etc… not a “believe these facts and be saved” but a “turn your entire life to focus on the single point that is Jesus and head that direction”…

  • Ron Furgerson
  • Brian4jc

    Repentance and faith as indicated in the post…by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. Blessings…

  • Gary

    Salvation is actually a much simpler event that what many evangelicals
    make it out to be. Lutherans believe
    that salvation occurs solely due to the will and work of God. The sinner is a passive participant in his
    salvation. The sinner DOES nothing.

    The Lutheran
    interpretation of Scripture on the Doctrine of Justification/Salvation is often
    confusing to evangelicals. Why? Understanding what the Bible really says depends
    upon your world view.

    Most Christian evangelicals, and all other world religions, come
    from the viewpoint that: “I must do SOMETHING for God to
    love me and want to save me! I can’t
    believe that God would just give me his love, his grace, his mercy, his peace,
    his forgiveness AND eternal life…based on absolutely nothing that I do. Can it really be true that God gives me all
    that, in addition to the fact that he gave his only Son to die for
    me…not based on any good quality, trait, or deed that I can provide to earn
    his good favor, and not even based on me making a decision that I want
    his gift??

    That is INCOMPREHENSIBLE, illogical, unreasonable, and makes no sense!

    But that is what the Bible says that God does: He gives us the free gift of
    salvation based on his love for us …alone.

    “But God shows his love for us in that while we were still
    sinners, Christ died for us.”

    So if you are able to remove YOU from the act of
    salvation, here is how the Bible says that GOD does it:

    occurs by only one means: the power of God’s declaration of righteousness/the
    power of his Word.

    In the New Testament, God says that he uses his Word to
    save and forgive sins in two situations: when the Word is preached, and when
    the Word is spoken with the application of water…Baptism.

    It’s that simple.

    Who do Lutherans baptize? Answer: We baptize anyone who comes to us, or is
    brought to us, seeking God’s free gift of salvation and the forgiveness of
    sins. Do you have to be baptized to be saved? No. But why
    would you refuse this beautiful act of God? Why would you refuse God’s
    gift of the forgiveness of your sins? Do you really have true faith?

    As Christ says in Mark 16:16, it
    is not the lack of baptism that damns, it is the lack of belief/the lack of
    true faith that damns.