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How Much Does One Need To Know To Be Saved?

by Robert H. Boll

The question how much one needs to know in order to be saved has at one time and another troubled many hearts. I have known of sinners who desired to become Christians but felt that they didn’t know enough, and they must study a lot before they could intelligently come to Christ. There are also Christians who have grown in grace and knowledge, but fear that they had never come in aright because they knew so little when they came. Possibly some confessed the Lord in tender childhood days or in early youth, and looking back upon their ignorance at that time of what it really meant they are inclined to discount it all and to doubt the validity of their first step. It is well therefore that we should look carefully into the matter. That there must be some preceding knowledge before we can come to the Lord aright is certain. The “Great Commission” demands first of all that men should be taught (“Go ye therefore and teach all nations, baptizing them . . . ,”); and that the gospel should be preached to men (“Go ye into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature”); and that “he that believeth and is baptized shall be saved.” How much preliminary teaching then does the sinner need before he can properly be baptized? How much of the gospel does he need to know and believe before he can come in? Clearly not all there is to know. There are lengths and breadths, and heights and depths to that gospel which may occupy our minds a lifetime, yea, and for all eternity. Every now and then the growing Christian learns some new truth, or gets a new and better view of God’s salvation than he has ever had before. With every great step forward (and upward) he may feel that his eyes had never before been opened, and he may even wonder and doubt whether he had ever really been a Christian and a child of God, or whether he shouldn’t go back and start all over again. The great question, therefore, how much one needs to know before he can be saved, is a very important and pertinent one, for both saint and sinner.

Instead of laying down what in human judgment we might consider needful, let us instead take such examples of salvation as are found in the word of God; and from the book of Acts, where the original preaching of the gospel to sinners by inspired messengers of Christ, is most specifically set forth; and from those instances we shall be able to see how much men knew and needed to know in order to be saved.

THE THREE THOUSAND ON PENTECOST

The first example is that of Pentecost. After the risen Lord had given the Great Commission to His apostles He [30] charged them not to depart from Jerusalem, nor to attempt to preach His gospel until the Holy Spirit had been given them. This preaching had to be true and perfect, without error or mistake so that it might for ever serve as the standard of the truth of the gospel; and only the Spirit who brought all things to their remembrance and guided them into all the truth could enable the apostles to set forth the doctrine of Christ perfectly and inerrantly. On the day of Pentecost this promise was fulfilled; the Spirit came upon the apostles; they spake “as the Spirit gave them utterance,” and the first preacher under the new order–the man who had the keys and whose privilege it was to open the door–was Peter. His sermon, as given in Acts 2, was brief. First, by a quotation from the Old Testament, he explained the strange things that had taken place on that day. After this introduction he took up his theme, which runs through fifteen verses (22 to 36). But though short, his speech pierced the hearts of his hearers, and in deep distress of soul they asked Peter and the rest of the apostles what they should do. Then Peter gave them the following clean-cut answer: “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus for the remission of sins, and ye shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.” “Then they that gladly received his word were baptized: and the same day there were added unto them about three thousand souls.” (Acts 2:37-41.)
In this case then three thousand came in. They had heard only this one sermon. What did they now know that they had not known before they heard this sermon? How much had they learned and what was it that they now believed? The heart of Peter’s sermon was all concerning Jesus Christ: (1) Jesus as a man approved of God in the midst of them; (2) Jesus crucified and slain; (3) Jesus raised from the dead, as foretold in the scriptures and as witnessed to by the apostles; (4) Jesus exalted to God’s right hand, as foreshown in Ps. 110; and (5) the final statement and appeal: “Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made that same Jesus, whom ye crucified, both Lord and Christ.” Clearly what they learned and needed to know and believe was that this Jesus who had been among them and whom they had cast out and crucified, was raised from the dead, exalted to the right hand of God in heaven, and was made both Lord and Christ. It was enough to crush their hearts when, believing the truth concerning Jesus Christ they saw their awful wickedness and guilt in thus rejecting and crucifying the Lord’s Christ. And now they needed to know only this thing more–namely how to find forgiveness and salvation. Peter’s words were perfectly plain: they must repent and in the name of this Jesus, [31] the Christ, be baptized; and the remission of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit would be freely granted them. That was enough. Upon this they came in. They certainly learned much afterward, for they “continued stedfastly in the apostles’ teaching,” no doubt all the rest of their lives.

If people could be saved then upon the knowledge and acceptance of these few fundamental truths, learned by hearing one brief sermon (a sermon which is recorded and preserved for us, so that we too can hear and believe it)–would we have to know more today?

THE ETHIOPIAN EUNUCH

It may be objected, however, that these hearers had a great background of knowledge from the Old Testament scriptures (for they were Jews) and besides some, perhaps, most of them had seen and heard Jesus personally. What of those who have no such background? So let us take up another example. This is the case of the Eunuch to whom Philip, the evangelist, preached (Acts 8:26-39). This man was an Ethiopian–originally a Gentile, but now a Jewish proselyte, for he had been to Jerusalem to worship. He was a Bible reader, and had been pondering and wondering about the great Messianic prophecy in Isa. 53–“He was led as a sheep to the slaughter, and as a lamb before his shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth.” “I pray thee, of whom speaketh the prophet this? of himself or of some other?” he said to Philip. And Philip, taking this scripture for his text, “preached unto him Jesus.” The sermon is not recorded; but it certainly must have included all the facts and testimony concerning Jesus which Peter gave on Pentecost–the fundamental truth of the gospel, namely “that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures; that he was buried; and that he hath been raised on the third day according to the scriptures” (1 Cor. 15:1-4). It also included baptism for when they came to a certain water the Eunuch said, “See, here is water, what doth hinder me to be baptized?” So they went down into the water, both Philip and the Eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they came up out of the water, the Eunuch went on his way rejoicing. For a very little while–perhaps not more than an hour all told–these two lives had been brought into contact, and through this brief interval this man was saved. The evangelist’s work is done when Christ is preached and the convert is baptized.

CORNELIUS

It may be thought, however, that even this Eunuch, being a Bible reader and a Jewish proselyte, had more background of knowledge than the average man has today. So we will take up another case. This man is a plain Gentile–the first [32] Gentile ever to come into Christ’s fold–Cornelius by name. We cannot enter upon the wonderful story how God carefully cleared the way for this tremendous new step. We have space only to notice Peter’s sermon (for it was Peter again, who must open the door for the Gentile, as at first he had done for Jews). It is a very short sermon–only ten verses, and two of those are introductory. The remaining eight are wholly taken up with Christ–His life, His death, His resurrection, His exaltation, and the concluding word, “To him bear all the prophets witness that through his name every one that believeth on him shall receive remission of sins.” (Acts 10:36-43.) It was enough: God Himself by miraculous intervention testified to the acceptableness of these believers by a special outpouring of the Holy Spirit; and again, as in the other instances, Cornelius and his household and his Gentile friends who had heard Peter’s words, were promptly baptized.

THE PHILIPPIAN JAILOR

But even this may not wholly have answered the question of one who doubts whether he knew enough to become a Christian. For these Gentiles had long been in touch with Israel, and also had known the story of Christ’s work (See Acts 10:37f). So let us look for one more instance–this time the case of a man who had absolutely nothing to begin with; and let us see how much he had to learn and know in order to be saved. This was the jailor of Philippi. Most of us are familiar with the story of Paul’s experience in that Gentile city–how he and Silas, his companion, were publicly whipped, and why; and how by the strangely infuriated magistrates they were turned over to the jailor, who was specially cautioned to keep them safely; who therefore cast them into the inner prison and made their feet fast in the stocks; and how at midnight these two were heard praying and singing hymns; “and the prisoners were listening to them”; of the earthquake that shook the prison and threw the doors open and broke the prisoners’ chains; how then the jailor, aroused from his sleep, and seeing the prison-doors open, despairing of his life (for under Roman law a jailor who lost a prisoner must die) drew his sword and was about to kill himself. At this point begins the account of his salvation. Paul cried with a loud voice, “Do thyself no harm: for we are all here.” The jailor called for lights and sprang in, and trembling for fear, fell down before Paul and Silas, brought them out, and said, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?” Quickly came the apostle’s answer: “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, thou and thy house.” (Acts 16:30, 31.) But here we must note that it was altogether impossible for the jailor to “believe on the Lord Jesus Christ” at the time when he was [33] told to do so. For how can they believe on Him of whom they have not heard? So the very next verse goes on to tell that Paul and Silas “spake the word of the Lord to him and to all that were in his house.” Now he heard; now he could believe. And “he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes; and was baptized, he and all his, immediately. And he brought them up into his house and set food before them, and rejoiced greatly with all his house, having believed in God.” How much then did this heathen jailor need to learn in order to be saved? No more than he could learn between midnight and dawn; no more than enough to believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, to put his trust in that Savior, the Son of God, whom God sent into the world that through His death for us and His resurrection we might be saved; and enough to express his acceptance of this truth in the “obedience of faith by baptism, that same hour of the night. He could not have known much; but his faith in this first simple truth–as ours when first we believe–was like the grain of mustard seed which, though small indeed, is destined to grow into a great tree.

From all this we may see that no long course of study was required of those who wanted to be saved, nor a deep knowledge of the scriptures. Sufficient was it if they knew and believed that Jesus was the Christ the Son of God, the Lord and Savior; that He died for our sins and rose from the dead, and is in heaven, seated on God’s right hand, as Lord of all; and that such faith is to be avowed in confession of Him and by baptism in His name.
One word however remains to be added: in each of these instances the ones who were saved came sincerely, and of conviction. They “obeyed from the heart” the form of doctrine delivered to them. The Pentecostians realized to some degree their awful guilt and condemnation, and appealed for mercy and salvation. The Eunuch was an earnest man who from his soul sought and asked for light, and appreciated it greatly when he received it. Cornelius, upright and God-fearing though he was, must hear words whereby he and all his house must be saved; which words he received with deep seriousness and joy. The Jailor felt himself in the presence of God and he accepted Paul’s word not as the word of man, but, as truly it was, as the word of God, which also worketh in them that believe. (1 Thess. 2:13.) But when so received, the simplest elementary knowledge of the gospel of Christ is sufficient to bring the sinner into full salvation, And we rejoice that God has arranged it so.

From Soul-Stirring Sermons By R. H. Boll 1944




2 Responses to “How Much Does One Need To Know To Be Saved?”

  1. Don McGee says:

    Thank you for publishing this article. From his works that I have read and from what Stan Broussard used to say about him, this is classic Bollism.

    Years spent with teens and young adults has demonstrated to me that they are not familiar with the several points Bro. Boll presented here with many, unfortunately, having a laissez faire attitude regarding them. For example, what is commonly called “sinners prayer salvation” is uncontested by some who have (or should have) been taught these facts.

    Interestingly, some from among those denominations that teach and preach “sinners prayer salvation” are beginning to question it though, it seems, with cost. They are saying it is not scriptural. Imagine that.

  2. A.J.Istre says:

    How many of our churches have heard this message recently?

    Oh how needed it is today! Were I still preaching from the pulpit I would do so at the first opportunity. I preached it much many years ago.

    Brother Val was still preaching it in his old age before the Lord took him home.

    May Jesus come for His Bride soon!

    A. J.



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