Ephesians 2:8-9 says, "For by grace you are saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast." The Bible speaks so often about the awesome and wonderful grace of God. Paul said in Romans 3:23-24 that even though we have all sinned, we can be "justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus." Truly God's gift of salvation is a most wonderful thing. The Bible does indeed say we're saved by grace, but does it say we're saved by grace only? Or is there something we must do to inherit salvation?
God's Plan of Salvation
Not saved by grace only. If we were saved by grace only, then all would be saved because God's grace has been offered to all. Remember that John 3:16 says, "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son." Titus 2:11 says, "For the grace of God that brings salvation has appeared to all men." 1 John 2:2 says, "He is the propitiation for ours sins; and not for ours only, but also for those of the whole world.
But not all are saved; in fact, according to Matthew 7:13-14, most will not be saved. The Bible says that God is not willing that any should perish (2 Peter 2:9), but it says that He will indeed punish sinners for all eternity. So, grace is offered to all, but not all are saved. That means, therefore, we must do something in order to be saved, something to place us in a position to receive that gift of salvation.
We must believe to receive the gift of grace. One of the things we must do to receive God's grace is believe. In fact, belief in Jesus as the Son of God and our Savior is the very foundation of our salvation. The focus of the entire Bible is upon Jesus Christ, the Messiah. Acts 4:12 says that there is salvation in no other name.
Consider John 1:10-12: "He was in the world, and the world was made through Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and those who were His own did not receive Him. But as many as received him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even to those who believe in His name." So many did not and would not accept Jesus as the Son of God. But for those who would accept Him and believe in Him, they were given the right to become God's children. The passage does not say that belief made one a child of God, but it is the foundation of becoming a child of God. As the verse says, "To them He gave the right to become children of God." Faith is where it begins, for "Without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6)."
Several other verses in the NT speak about belief and salvation: Mark 16:16; John 20:30-31; Acts 16:31; Galations 2:16; 1 John 5:4-5, 13. We are saved by grace, but first of all, it is through faith. Believing in Jesus is something we must do if we are to receive the gift of grace and be saved.
Is faith all that is needed for salvation? No. It is the foundation of being saved, but it is not, in and of itself, a guarantee of a saved condition. The Bible speaks of many who believed in Jesus but were obviously not saved. In John 12:42, the Bible says, "Nevertheless many even of the rulers believed in Him, but because of the Pharisees they were not confessing Him, lest they should be put out of the synagogue." James 2:19 says "The demons also believe, and shudder," but surely they are not saved. James 2:20, 24 says, "But are you willing to recognize, you foolish fellow, that faith without works is useless? You see that a man is justified by works, and not by faith alone." James here speaks, not of meritorious works that would earn salvation, but rather of works of obedience. Faith, therefore, without further obedience, is not enough for a person to be saved.
The Bible also speaks of the necessity of repentance and confession. In Luke 13, Jesus spoke about many who had been killed, though not necessarily because of sin. But He then said in v3, "Unless you repent, you shall all likewise perish." The word repent is generally from the Greek metanoeo, which literally means "to perceive afterwards." It is somewhat the opposite of the word predestination (to determine beforehand). To repent is to look at your actions after the fact and then have a change of mind and then a change of action/direction. Repentance (and confession) are illustrated in several passages: Matthew 21:28-32; Luke 15:17-19; 10:13; 18:9-14; 1 Thessalonians 1:8-10.
In Acts 2, Peter declared that the Jews were responsible for crucifying the Messiah, the Son of God. They were "pierced to the heart" and asked, "What shall we do?" Peter told them in v38 that they needed to repent. He also said to those gathered at the temple: "Repent therefore and return, that your sins may be wiped away, in order that the times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). In Acts 17:30, Paul told those at Mars' Hill (in Athens), "Therefore having overlooked the times of ignorance, God is now declaring to men that all everywhere should repent."
The Bible also teaches that we must be born again in order to be saved. John 3:1 tells of Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews, coming to Jesus. He professed his belief in Jesus, acknowledging that "no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him (verse 2)." Jesus, apparently seeing his interest in the kingdom, told Nicodemus in verse 3, "Unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God." Nicodemus takes Jesus' statement literally as he apparently thought of how a fleshly birth introduces one into this fleshly world. But Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual one and is entered by means of a spiritual birth, as Jesus describes in verse 5: "Unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God."
Most scholars today believe that Jesus was speaking here of baptism. Perhaps Nicodemus was familiar with the practice of baptizing proselytes. Gentiles who wished to practice the Jewish religion were, in a sense, born again. Lightfoot, in Horae Hebraicae explains: "As soon as he grows whole of the wound of circumcision, they bring him to Baptism, and being placed in the water they again instruct him in some weightier and in some lighter commands of the Law. Which being heard, he plunges himself and comes up, and, behold, he is an Israelite in all things."
Nicodemus was perhaps also familiar with the baptism being administered by John the Baptist. Jesus certainly was and states that one must be born again, not only of water, as John had been doing, but also of the Spirit. On the day of Pentecost in Acts 2:38, Peter said they would receive not only forgiveness of sins when they were baptized, but also the gift of the Holy Spirit. Numerous passages in the NT speak of the Holy Spirit dwelling within a person after he/she has been born again (see 1 Corinthians 3:16; 6:19; 12:13).
A related passage is Titus 3:5, where Paul said, "He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit." The word "washing" is from the Greek word loutron, which refers to (according to Thayer's Lexigon) the act of bathing and is used here in the NT and in other writings to refer to baptism. The word "regeneration" is from the Greek word palingenesia, which is taken from two root words "born" and "again."
Paul's statements here indicate a strong connection between washing/water/baptism and being born again, just as Jesus seems to in John 3:5. Paul says that salvation and righteousness comes not by our own good deeds, but that God has ordained that it come, at least in part, through baptism. It is at that point, he says, that we are "renewed by the Holy Spirit."