The Philippian Jailer, before the Apostles Paul and Silas
Question: "What is needed to attain salvation? Verses such as Matthew 7:21-23 concern me greatly, and to help me along the Path, and to put my mind at ease, it would be wonderful to have a concise teaching on the subject that I could study and teach to others."
In Acts 16:25-34, we have the story of the Philippian Jailer. After the Apostles Paul and Silas, who had been imprisoned and prayed all night, there was an earthquake, the doors of the jail were opened, and their chains were loosed. The Jailer, thinking that the prisoners had escaped, and knowing that he would be put to death if that were found to be the case, drew his own sword, and was about to kill himself, when St. Paul called out to him: "Do thyself no harm: for we are all here." Then we are told that "he called for a light, and sprang in, and came trembling, and fell down before Paul and Silas, and brought them out, and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" And they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house." So belief was the beginning, but it did not end there, because we are then told that the Apostles "spake unto him the word of the Lord, and to all that were in his house. And he took them the same hour of the night, and washed their stripes [the Apostles had been beaten, before being jailed]; and was baptized, he and all his, straightway." So he believed, and was baptized. At the beginning of Christ's preaching, immediately after He was baptized by St. John the Baptist, we are told "Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom of God, and saying, "The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1:14-15). And so while repentance is not explicitly mentioned in the case of the Philippian Jailer, it is certainly implied as well.
However, we cannot simply say that there is a three step process to salvation (repent, believe, be baptized). In the case of the thief on the Cross, he repented and believed, but was not baptized, and yet was most certainly saved. But the Church would also never say simply repent, believe, and be baptized, and that is all that we need to do. For one thing, true faith... works (Galatians 5:6; James 2:22-24). This is not to say that we earn our salvation, but working out our salvation does not end with baptism, that is merely the beginning. As St. Paul said, "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling" (Philippians 2:12). So we never come to a point at which we can say we are done, and can coast along from here on.
But this also does not mean that we have to be in terror that God may send us to hell because He catches us failing to perfectly meet His standards of holiness. This means we should not take our salvation lightly or for granted, but if we live a life of repentance, and are sincerely seeking to please God, we should believe that He will give us the grace and mercy to finish the race of salvation. God desires that all be saved, He is not looking for reasons to send us to hell, but rather is looking for reasons to not send us to hell.
The entire Gospel is summed up in the Jesus Prayer: "O Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." If we keep this on our lips, and constantly repent, we know that God will forgive us our sins, and so in this prayer we find great hope and consolation.
Stump the Priest: Imputed Righteousness