To ask, “What must a person believe to be saved?”, is at the same time to ask, “What is the message of the gospel?” If the content of what we preach is not sufficient, when believed, to result in conversion, then we are not preaching the gospel. What are the essential facts that one must be convinced of to be saved?
The only place where we see an actual presentation of the gospel (though some would argue that it is an abridged version of what was actually said), is the book of Acts. A comparison of Acts 2, 3, 10, and 13 (typical gospel presentations) reveals the following common elements:
1. A declaration of Jesus as the Christ, that is, the promised redeemer of Israel.
2. A reference to Jesus’ uniqueness, that is, He is Lord, God’s Servant, the Holy One, the Prince of Life, the only name under heaven by which people are saved, Lord of all, and Savior.
3. Forgiveness of sins is available through Jesus on the basis of repentance and/or faith.
What is fascinating about these gospel-preaching accounts is not only what is emphasized, but what is not emphasized. Missing from each is any attempt to explain the sacrificial and substitutionary nature of Jesus’ death. Rather, His death is mentioned in order to emphasize His resurrection. Also missing is any attempt to explain the deity of Christ. Rather, what is emphasized is that only through this unique individual is there forgiveness of sins.
Forgiveness of sins is represented as the basic need for entering into a relationship of faith in Jesus, rather than the need for purpose in life, real happiness, or success. And above all, faith is the only means of acquiring forgiveness. In fact, Paul emphasizes in Acts 13:38-39 that faith frees one from sin and its consequences whereas obeying the Law cannot. We don’t have it in us to meet God’s standards. That’s why forgiveness must be a gift.
So, what must a person believe in order to be saved, rescued from the penalty of one’s own sin, which is separation from God forever? One must be persuaded of and rely upon the fact that only in Jesus the Christ, whom God raised from the dead, is there forgiveness of sins. “All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name” (Acts 10:43).
Is this what you are trusting in for eternal life? If not, tell the Lord right now that you want to give up trusting in your own means of getting to heaven. You want to accept His provision in Jesus for forgiveness. Ask Him to forgive you all your sins based on what Jesus sacrificed for you, and then thank Him for answering your request.