Yes, there is something we must do to be saved
In his book, Two Things You Must Do To Be Saved, Sam Waldron writes, “There is … set before us in the Bible two kinds of doing. One kind we must utterly reject, but another we must carefully embrace.”
Allow me to explain.
As the title of his short book suggests, Waldron argues we must do something to be saved—namely, repent and believe. Acts 20:21 is the text he returns to in each chapter. The apostle Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that he testified both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. According to Waldron, this is one biblical passage among many that show the necessity of repentance and faith for salvation. They are a kind of doing we must “carefully embrace.”
Some Christians, however, are troubled by this teaching. They say, “Sinners cannot be saved by doing. If we could, salvation would be by works, not grace.” Salvation by works is what Waldron refers to as the kind of doing we must “utterly reject.” So how can he claim we must do anything to be saved?
In short, according to the Bible, repentance (a change of heart and turning away from sin) and faith (trusting in Christ alone for salvation) are not works. Consider the following passage:
Now to the one who works, his wages are not counted as a gift but as his due. And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness. (Romans 4:4, 5)
Waldron provides a helpful illustration:
What can [the prodigal son in Luke 15] do about [his] miserable condition? In one sense, of course, he can do nothing. He has no resources. He has squandered his inheritance. He is in a hopeless condition. Nothing he can do can recompense the father for squandering his wealth and bringing terrible shame on the family.
On the other hand, there is something that the young man must do to be saved. He must return to the father’s house. This will in no way repay the father for the wrongs the young man has done. If the father chooses to receive him back, it will be all of grace. Nevertheless, unless he actually gets up and returns to the father and the father’s house, that grace will never be experienced or enjoyed.
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8, 9).
We may have unrepentant unbelievers in our lives for whom we care deeply and would like to think they might be saved despite their lack of repentance and faith, but Scripture doesn’t permit us to make that assumption. The Bible doesn’t authorize us to preach assurance to unconverted sinners. As Christ and his apostles did, we must preach repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ (Ac 20:21). Repentance and faith are the way of salvation.