I have so many thoughts regarding this question that it is difficult for me to pick a place to start. Having grown up in Evangelical circles, I know the correct response to that question - "Accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior".
Over the years however, I started to notice that that concept is rarely used in the Bible. There are a few scriptures here and there throughout the epistles where you could be led to believe that was it, but to maintain that belief I think you need to ignore or trivialize a fair amount of scripture.
I'll start here. John the Baptist said in Luke:
8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
9 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
10"What should we do then?" the crowd asked.
11 John answered, "The man with two tunics should share with him who has none, and the one who has food should do the same."
12 Tax collectors also came to be baptized. "Teacher," they asked, "what should we do?"
13"Don't collect any more than you are required to," he told
14 Then some soldiers asked him, "And what should we do?" He replied, "Don't extort money and don't accuse people falsely, be content with your pay."
First, John said EVERY tree that did not bear good fruit would be cut down. He did not say that a tree could bear bad fruit just so long as it had made sure to accept Jesus Christ as its personal Lord and Savior.
When the people asked, "What should we do?" he essentially replied, "Be generous, be honest, be content".
Was he lying? Did he forget to add "That is, do all that stuff until Jesus comes. After that, accept him as your personal Lord and Savior and then don't worry about anything beyond that".
I know some folks are reading this and mumbling as they leave the page, "I knew it, he's all works righteousness. Works, works, works, works, works!! We are saved by Grace!"
Try not to think either/or...... stay with me.
History repeats itself. The Jews had become very reliant on their ancestry to show that they had an in with God. So John was quick to squash that idea, telling them that God could raise up from stones children of Abraham.
I think John would say to us today : Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have accepted Jesus as our personal Lord and Savior.' For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up people who have accepted Jesus Christ as their personal Lord and Savior. The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire."
I think, when it is glanced over quickly, people believe that John is advocating good works as a solution to being saved. However, I think it goes much deeper than that.
If I give to him who has none, if I take no more than what I need, if I tell the truth even when it does me ill, if I am to do all these things; what needs to happen to me?
I have to live outward, not inward. I have to think of the needs of others. I have to change my thinking and behavior and do that which does not always come natural.
Think about fruit bearing trees. Left to their own, they rarely bear good fruit. The best trees are fertilized, trimmed, pruned, picked, cultivated. They are not left to their own devices.
Isn't that what many Christians are aiming for with their annunciations of accepting Jesus? - Leave me alone! Save me from Hell, but leave me alone. I want to live for myself-keep those pruning shears away. Save me and bless me, but I will take care of the rest.
I think Jesus is offering us better than salvation from Hell. I think he offers salvation from ourselves. As Walter Brueggemann said at a conference, "I need salvation from being a $h!T"
I think one of the primary reasons the evangelical movement has so little effect outside of its own circles is that we have turned the cross of Christ into salvation from Hell rather than salvation from ourselves, our narcissism, our sin.
I run into so many people who know, deep down, that there is something afoul inside, but they don't know what to do about it. All the church has offered is,"Don't worry about the blackness in your soul, just accept Jesus and you can go to heaven!" And then we smugly shake our heads when they go looking for relief somewhere else.
I think our defining salvation in this way has led us astray from what God wants. I do believe in Grace. Like Eustace at the pool, only HE can dig deep enough. However, he will not do it without our consent. We have to truly desire to be free of the dragon skin.
Lewis said that, in the end, there will only be two kinds of people. Those who say to God, "Thy will be done" and those to whom God says, "Thy will be done".