There comes a time in everyone’s life when you have to go through your phone and clean out your pictures, because saving selfies, pages from books, dank memes, beautiful landscapes, and text message threads eventually eats up the storage on your phone. For this reason i looked through more than 1,000 photos last night trying to decide if i needed to keep them or not. One of the pictures reminded me of the following story:
Once there was a man who was a scumbag if ever there was a scumbag. He held himself aloof from everyone in his life, because the last time he had held someone close he had accidentally strangled her. So instead, he lived in his basement living off canned goods, trying to avoid the prying eyes of the police. The only thing that even proved anyone lived in his house was the wifi signals that could be seen with the right technology. This man kept up with the outside world via internet—whether watching news or feeling loved. The only websites he visited were news sites and porn sites. He hadn’t experienced physical intimacy since before he’d accidentally killed her. And before her it had been a game for him: how many women could he bed before he messed up? When his last one had been strangled, he realized that he had messed up, so he retreated to his basement, fleeing/ignoring the police and settling for porn.
After a while, the police decided to break in. In the confusion, the man was stabbed and left for dead. (These cops were dirty, and were not the average police.) Throughout his time browsing the internet, he had several times stumbled over ads for Bible sites and positive news articles about people who were called Christians.
As he lays in his basement bleeding out, screaming for help, you hear it from the street. You rush in and find him laying on the ground coughing up blood. As you glance around, you realize what this guy spent his time doing. He speaks, “I’ve lived a terrible life. I’ve done more evil than I’d care to name: murder, rape. . . I don’t have more than three minutes to live. What must I do to be saved?”
This story is hypothetical, as i hope that you can tell from being included in the ending. But the question remains: what does he have to do to be saved? The picture i found, while cleaning out my phone, was an unfortunate text conversation about this very situation.
I say unfortunate because even some people studying to be pastors and leaders in the church in this day and age don’t understand the basic message of the gospel.
I’m sure when i pose that question to you, two thoughts instantly come to mind. First, “I am supposed to always be ready to defend my beliefs to those who ask like it says in 1 Peter 3.” Second, “Jesus told the dying thief on the cross that he would be in paradise that day.” And you would be right on both counts.
But you can’t just tell a dying man that he will be with Jesus in paradise. There is something that must come first. Acts 16:31 says, “Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved.” This is what you must tell the dying man. He has to believe in Jesus to be saved, not that Jesus was just a good teacher, but that He was Lord Almighty. This is the message that must be believed for God to grant salvation.
But what if instead of the cops being crooked, the story went like this,
After a while, the police decided to break in. They slapped cuffs on him, saying, “You are under arrest for the murder of Eliza Smith. You have the right to remain silent.” They took him to their car and threw him in prison for ten years.
After ten years, since he lived in a state that doesn’t hold to the death penalty, his release date is coming up (since he convinced the judge that it was an accident). Two days before his release, you just happened to be visiting the prison doing ministry.
You run into him, and he recognizes your Bible and says, “I’ve lived a terrible life. I’ve lied, stolen, slept around, committed rape, watched porn, and am actually in here because I accidentally murdered a woman. I am being released in the near future, and I’ve heard about your God. What must I do to be saved?”
What do you say? This is not a trick question. The answer is very simple. And if you’re focusing on the stupidity of the justice system in this story, you’re missing the point.
Any answer besides, “Acts 16:31 says, ‘Believe on the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved,’” is the wrong answer. The gospel is contained in believing. Just because this man is not about to die does not mean that the gospel message changes. If we add anything to, “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ,” or “Repent and believe in the good news” (Mark 1:15), then we are adding to the Gospel and subtracting from God’s glory.
According to Ephesians 2:1, “You were dead in your trespasses and sins.” If this was your state before the Lord saved you by grace, then there is nothing in the world that you can possibly do to make yourself more alive than you were the day that you believed in the Lord Jesus Christ. To claim anything else is to not believe in several of the main pillars of the Reformation, and it is to attempt to plunge the world back into the darkness of works-based salvation.
Our answer to the question, “What must I do to be saved?” should never change based on how long a person has to live. If it did, then no one would ever be saved, because any one of us could die five minutes—or even five seconds—from reading this. We are not Jehovah’s Witnesses who, “hope and pray that God makes the right choice about us after we have done all the Bible reading and praying we possibly can.” Jesus paid the price for our sins.
Do you believe that? If not, please believe it today! If you do believe it, i thank you that you’re part of God’s family.
Let’s proclaim the gospel faithfully for all of the days that God gives us, and refuse to add any semblance of works-righteousness to that presentation.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Repentance can’t happen without belief, and belief can’t happen without repentance.
 Summary of a conversation with a Jehovah’s Witness I had in December 2015.