Are Steps to Salvation Biblical?

We might follow one thousand steps, and it would not be enough. This is why Jesus died in our place for our sin so we wouldn’t have to do one thousand or more steps to earn our salvation.

Woman climbing a series of stairs

If you've ever attended a Vacation Bible School (VBS), you likely learned the ABCs of salvation.

A - Admit that you're a sinner and repent from your sin

B - Believe that Jesus is the Son of God

C - Confess him as your Savior and Lord

Although accurate to what turning to Jesus in repentance and accepting him as our Savior (Ephesians 2:8-9), it took me quite a while to unlearn the ABC steps and pursue a relationship with God of my own accord. I'd gotten so lost in the point A to point B to point C, and prayed the prayer so many times, that I forgot the Bible asks us to surrender to Jesus and believe in him.

Other churches may say: well first you gotta pray this prayer. Then you need to get baptized. Then you need to etc. etc. Although Scripture does command us to get baptized and confess Jesus as our Lord, a simple kingdom formula doesn't get us into Heaven. Faith alone in Jesus does, according to GotQuestions.

Today we'll explore the concept of Steps to Salvation and what salvation really looks like, according to the Bible. Let's dive in.

What Are Steps to Salvation and Are They Biblical?

As mentioned above, steps to salvation are a formula a Christian church, author, or missionary may give to an audience of unbelievers as a pathway to achieving salvation. Although the intentions may be pure, the implications certainly are not.

If steps to salvation exist, in which Christians follow in a certain succession, then Christianity does not differ at all from other religions. GotQuestions states it best in the article linked above when they say, "Many people are looking for “steps to salvation.” People like the idea of an instruction manual with five steps that, if followed, will result in salvation."

In other words, if we follow steps to salvation, we try to earn our way into heaven via works. We try to pray a certain way and "hope it sticks." 

Not to mention this discounts the diversity of conversions we witness happening throughout the church. This begs the question of why the original Apostles didn't follow the VBS ABCs when they received the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Why Paul's conversion (Acts 9) looks far different than the Ethiopian eunuch's (Acts 8). Steps to salvation put too much power into the hands of human beings. And we tend to like the idea of them because we don't like the idea that we can do nothing on our own to earn salvation. Not even follow a list of ABCs.

So since we've discovered that a set of guidelines for salvation is not really salvation itself, let's explore the concept of salvation and what it means for us.

What Is Salvation and How Do We Get It?

This Crosswalk article puts it best, "The simplest definition of salvation is to be delivered (or rescued) from peril."

In a rescue mission, we do not rescue ourselves. We need a rescuer.

"OK, Hope," you may say, "so obviously following the ABCs from VBS isn't necessarily going to grant salvation. So how do I attain salvation?" The Crosswalk article linked above states it best: through repentance and belief.

"Repentance and belief are really two sides of the same coin. Repentance means that we are changing our mind about God and about ourselves. We are laying down our own foolish efforts to save ourselves. We are turning away from self-sufficiency. At the same time we are turning towards Christ. We trust that He alone is the one who can save us. We are entrusting ourselves to him."

In other words, when God opens our eyes to the beauty of the Gospel, and we come to the realization of our desperate need for him, we surrender to him. Although I don't intend to get into a debate about Arminianism or Calvinism here, I do believe that the Holy Spirit needs to play a role in convicting us of our moral depravity. (In other words, we cannot come to this realization on our own). Human choice only appears in the process of salvation when—after we recognize our sin—if that means we'll surrender and accept God's gift of salvation, or we reject it. Some Calvinists may even argue that human choice doesn't really appear at all in the equation, but it does cause some issues for free well, were that the case.

In any case, we on our own cannot follow a list of steps and achieve salvation. That removes God from the equation. 

So how do we know we're saved?

If Steps to Salvation Aren't Biblical, How Do We Know We're Saved?

If you're a Christian and haven't been blessed with the spiritual gift of faith, you've likely wrestled with this question. I know I have.

First, I recommend checking out this article by David Jeremiah on this very subject.

But I believe this Crosswalk article summarizes the answer to this question best, "Your assurance of salvation is not by your works, because you can’t earn your salvation. Your assurance of salvation is not by your feelings, because feelings come and go. What is your assurance of salvation? The promise of God’s Word. If God says it, that settles it, because God cannot lie. You can trust the promise of God’s Word. You can rest in it."

If we believe in the Lord Jesus and surrender to him, as stated in Acts 16:11, he will do what he promised he will do. 

God isn't fickle. He won't decide to save you one day and not the next. He offers the gift freely. And once accepted, Satan can do nothing to take it away.

A Sinner's Prayer

I was tempted not to put this in the article because I don't want to counteract any of the points listed above. We do surrender ourselves to God, via prayer, but I want to be clear that the prayer below is not a magic formula. I remember a mentor had told me that when I had someone pray it on a field trip in seventh grade. The prayer itself doesn't save. Jesus does. 

But below I hope to convey a heart that yearns for God and acknowledges that we cannot atone for our sins on our own. These are my words, and my heart. So if the Holy Spirit convicts you to pray in this way, please don't feel as though you have to read the prayer word for word. God cares about your heart, not the specific words you use (Romans 8:26).

Dear Heavenly Father,

I come to you now so deeply ashamed of my sin and how long I've strayed away from you. I've realized how far I have fallen and how it is impossible for me to get back to you on my own, no matter how hard I've tried. Thank you for convicting me and helping me to realize how much I need you. I am ready to let you be Lord and Savior of my life, to take control, to sanctify me to be more like you. God, I repent of my sins, of my former self. I believe in you and your incredible love for us. That you would stop at nothing to offer us the gift of salvation. That you sent your only Son to die on the cross, and on the third day, he rose again. Defeating death and sin. I ask that you come into my heart now, and the Holy Spirit may dwell within me. Thank you so much, Jesus, for your sacrifice and that you never stopped loving me. And you never will stop. Amen.

For other examples of prayers such as the one above, check out this article here.

For further reading:

What Is the Difference Between Religion and Spirituality?

Is There a Path to Salvation?

Does Salvation Affect More Than Just Eternity?

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/peshkov


headshot of author Hope BolingerHope Bolinger is an editor at Salem, a multi-published novelist, and a graduate of Taylor University's professional writing program. More than 1,100 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer's Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her modern-day Daniel trilogy released its first two installments with IlluminateYA, and the final one, Vision, releases in August of 2021. She is also the co-author of the Dear Hero duology, which was published by INtense Publications. And her inspirational adult romance Picture Imperfect releases in November of 2021. Find out more about her at her website.