This page deals with the most important issue in the world. If we don’t get this one right, nothing else really matters. Our eternal destiny is just that—eternal—forever and ever. This is not horseshoes. Close doesn’t count. We’ve got to get it right. To start off, I’m going to ask you two penetrating questions that do a great job of revealing our true spiritual condition:
- On a scale of 0 to 10, how certain are you that if you died today, you’d go to heaven (0= certain you won’t, 10= certain you will). Write that number down.
- If you died and found yourself standing at heaven’s gate and God asked you why He should let you in, what would you say? Take a minute to write your answer. We’ll come back to your answers in a few minutes.
As we begin, understand that I’ll be using some terms interchangeably. What we’re talking about here is how a person
- Can know that he is a Christian (Acts 11:26).
- Can know that he has eternal life (Matthew 19:29).
- Can be born again (John 3:3).
- Can receive Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior (John 1:12).
- Can become a member of God’s family (1 Peter 4:17).
- Can be saved (from an eternity in hell) (Titus 3:5).
The Bible uses all six of these terms, which all essentially, mean the same thing. They all speak of a transformation that takes a person from spiritual death to spiritual life. With this understanding, let’s begin.
Let’s face it. We’re all a bunch of screw-ups down here. We’re constantly getting ourselves in trouble in one way or another. There’s a good reason Jesus compares us to sheep (See John 10). If there’s a tiny little opportunity to wander off, we’ll find it. Considering our Lord’s consistent faithfulness to us, it’s amazing how we can come up with reasons not to trust Him. We may not verbalize them, but our actions speak louder than our words ever could. They send the clear message that we think Jesus needs our help in getting us into heaven.
Some think that going to church makes them a Christian. Others think they’re a Christian because their parents were, or because they were born in America. Many think that God weighs the good and the bad in our lives to determine our eternal destiny. These same people are also convinced that they’re “a good person” and the good in their lives far outweighs the bad. This, they believe, will get them into heaven. These are all illustrations of Proverbs 14:12:
There is a way which seems right to a man, but its end is the way of death.
Heaven is a Free Gift
The Bible blows holes in all these notions. It says that we’re not nearly as good as we think we are. Romans 12:3 tells us not to think more highly of ourselves than we should, while Romans 3:10 says that there is none righteous, not even one. In fact, when God compares all the “good” things we’ve done to His holy standards, He sees them as filthy rags (Isaiah 64:6).
From the moment we’re born, we show the world just how bad we can be. We may be cute, but we want what we want and we want it right now. When we get a little older, it doesn’t get any better. Put two of us in a playpen with only one toy and see what happens. We don’t need to be taught to be bad. It comes naturally. We have to be taught to be good. So much for getting into heaven by being good.
The Bible also says that the legitimately good things we do have absolutely nothing to do with our eternal destiny and standing before God. Contrary to what we may have been taught, we can never earn heaven, and we can never become good enough to deserve it. Look at what the Bible says:
- “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” (Titus 3:5).
- “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not a result of works that no one should boast” (Eph 2:8-9).
- “For by one offering He has perfected for all time those who are sanctified” (Heb. 10:14)
These verses tell us Jesus saves us and offers heaven to us as a free gift. If you worked for it or felt you deserved it, it would cease to be either free or a gift. In addition, they tell us that anyone whom Jesus saves is saved forever. Salvation, once gained, can never be lost. When Jesus gives salvation as a gift, He doesn’t ask for it back. Our disobedience will certainly disrupt our fellowship with God until we confess it, but our salvation remains intact.
Man is a Sinner and Can’t Save Himself
Now that we understand that heaven (salvation) is a free gift, we must understand that we’re all sinners, and because we’re sinners, we can’t save ourselves. In addition to the verses above, consider Romans 3:23:
All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.
That pretty much says it all. We sin because we’re born as a sinner, and as long as we remain in this condition, we can never please God. To keep things simple, I’m defining sin as anything that is contrary to the will of God—things we do or fail to do. In case you’re thinking that you really don’t sin all that much, imagine that you only sinned three times a day. That’s about a thousand sins a year. By age 70, you’d have accumulated 70,000 sins. Can you imagine standing before a holy God with 70,000 sins and expecting Him to look the other way? It’s not going to happen.
We must also understand that it is because we’re sinners that we can never save ourselves. As we shall see, that requires a perfect, sinless sacrifice acceptable to God. I hope you can see why we can’t get to heaven on our own.
God is both Merciful and Just
The same Bible that says God is loving and merciful also says He is just and righteous. It’s like the two sides of a coin. When you get the coin, you get both sides. Many times throughout the Bible, it says that God will by no means leave the guilty unpunished (Exodus 34:7). Just as a judge shouldn’t let a murderer go free just because he said he was sorry, God can’t look the other way when confronted with our sins. Because He is merciful, He doesn’t want to punish us, but because He is just, He must punish our sin. This seems like an impossible situation. How can He be both merciful and just at the same time when dealing with us and our sin? This is where Jesus comes into the picture.
Jesus Christ: Who He is and What He Did
We could call Jesus the “infinite, eternal, God-man.” He has always existed. He was 100% God and 100% man (Colossians 1:15-17). As God, He was, by nature, sinless. He couldn’t sin, and as we shall see, He is the only possible solution to God’s apparent dilemma. It all goes back to Hebrews 9:22 which says that without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness of sins. All the animal sacrifices in the Old Testament (unblemished males) were mere pictures of the ultimate sacrifice by the one perfect sacrifice that was to come. Just as the Old Testament animal sacrifices had to be unblemished males, Jesus qualified by being unblemished (sinless). While we were the ones deserving death, Jesus became our substitute. He became our lamb. This is why John the Baptist referred to Jesus as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). Thanks to Jesus’ willingness to take our sins upon Himself on the cross, God could show mercy to us while punishing our sin.
Let me illustrate with a true story. In the late 1800s there was a young man who worked for the railroad. His job was to lower the drawbridge when he heard a train coming, and raise it when it passed to allow the ships in the river below to pass under the bridge. One day he had his little boy and girl with him to show them what Daddy did when he went to work each morning. He was showing his daughter part of the bridge when he heard the whistle of the oncoming passenger train. He had only seconds in which to climb the tower, flip the switch, and lower the bridge. As he turned, he was horrified to see that his young son had climbed down into gears to retrieve his Teddy Bear. It was decision time. If he climbed down to pull his son out, he would never make it to the tower in time. If he climbed the tower, his son would surely be crushed in the gears. He climbed the tower, pulled the lever, and watched his son be crushed to death. Moments later, he was eyeball to eyeball with the passengers in the train. They were smoking their cigarettes, sipping their tea, and enjoying the view, oblivious to what had happened, unable to hear the agonizing cries of the young man as he screamed. “Don’t you know I just killed my son for you?”
We are just like the people on that train. We can be saved from an eternity in hell only because a Father had sacrificed his son so that we could pass over death to life. That son’s name is Jesus. Just before he died on the cross, he uttered the words, “It is finished.” In the Greek, it is translated “Tetelestai.” Its literal meaning is “paid in full.” It was a banking term that was used when a debt had been paid. He was saying that our sin debt had been paid in full. Everything that needed to be done to “purchase” heaven for us had been done. He was now offering it as a free gift to anyone who would accept it.
Receiving the Gift by Faith
Just as when any gift is given, it must be received or it means nothing. If I hold out a priceless vase, it does you no good if you just stand there and admire it. You must reach out and take it. So it is with salvation. This raises the question of how exactly do we receive something as unique and precious as heaven (eternal life). According to the Bible, we receive it by faith.
“But as many as received Him, to them He gave the right to become children of God, even [that is] to those who believe in His name” (John 1:12).
“For by grace you have been saved through faith…” (Eph 2:8).
But just what kind of faith are we talking about? It certainly isn’t the faith that gets us through a temporary trial. That kind of faith disappears as soon as the trial is gone. What the Bible is talking about is a permanent, unshakable faith. It involves trusting in Jesus Christ and Him alone for your salvation. It involves trusting that what Jesus accomplished on the cross was sufficient. It involves realizing that we can add nothing to what Christ has done for us. To think we have anything whatsoever to offer would be like offering a dollar for a vase that is worth millions. What an insult!
The Confirmation of the Resurrection
When Jesus was resurrected on that Sunday morning, it confirmed that God accepted Jesus’ sacrifice. Jesus had completed the work He came to do on our behalf. His mission was the cross. He was the vehicle through which God would redeem mankind back to Himself. It was planned from the beginning of time and Jesus died with you in mind. What love!
It’s time to return to the two questions. They were designed to determine (1) if we actually have the gift Christ is offering and (2) what we are basing our hope of eternal life upon. Let’s look at question 1. There’s only one right answer to this one, and it’s “10.” If you’re among those who think that no one can know for certain (be a “10”), consider these verses:
- “These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, in order that you may know that you have eternal life” (1 John 5:13).
- “In Him you also after listening to the message of truth, the gospel of your salvation—having also believed, you were sealed in Him with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is given as a pledge of our inheritance…” (Eph 1:13-14). (The Spirit’s presence, after we believed, is God’s pledge, or promise, that our salvation is secure…forever.
We’re either saved or we’re not. Either Christ paid for my sins or He didn’t. If our salvation was based, even in part, on our performance, no one would be a “10,” but that’s not the way it works. As I have tried to show, Christ did it all, and my part is simply to accept it. If your answer was anything but a “10,” you were trusting in yourself instead of Christ to get to heaven.
There are several acceptable answers to the second question, but if your answer was about what you have done instead of what Christ has done, your answer is dead wrong. Here’s a list of possible right answers for why God should let you into His heaven:
- Jesus Christ paid the price for my sins.
- I have trusted in Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior.
- Jesus died for me.
If you came up short on question 1 but got question 2 right, you have an assurance issue. Hopefully, after reading this presentation, you are now a “10.” If your answers to both questions were wrong, you’re simply lost and in need of salvation. Likewise, if you wrote “10” for question 1, but missed question 2, you are lost. This combination shows that you have an over-inflated view of yourself. It reveals that you were certain that you could get to heaven without any input from Christ.
I hope you can see why “gospel” means “good news.” The good news is that God has done it all for us, even though we were guilty sinners. That’s G-R-A-C-E: God’s riches at Christ’s expense. The thing that separated us from God was our sin, which Christ removed by taking our sins upon Himself on the cross. That’s taking love to the highest level possible. All God is asking us to do is simply believe:
“He who believes has eternal life” (John 6:47).
If this makes sense, and you would like to receive the free gift of eternal life, express your heart to the Lord through this prayer:
Dear Lord Jesus, I believe You are the Son of God and that You died on the cross to pay the penalty for my sins. Please come into my life, forgive my sins and make me a member of Your family. I receive you now as my Lord and Savior. I now turn from going my own way. I want You to be the center of my life. Thank you for your gift of eternal life and for your Holy Spirit, who has now come to live in me. I ask this in your precious name. Amen.
If you prayed this prayer and meant it with all your heart, you are now a “10” …forever. Not only are you now a child of God, destined for heaven, but you have been transformed into a new creation. You are not the same person you were when you started reading.
Therefore, if any man [or woman] is in Christ, he is a new creation: the old things passed away; behold, new things have come (2 Corinthians 5:17).
Not only are you a new creation, but you have been given at least one spiritual gift (1 Corinthians 12 & 14, Ephesians 4:7-12, Romans 12:3-8, 1 Peter 4) for use in building up the Body of Christ (all true Christians). This is why it is important that you find a good, solid, Bible-believing church where you can grow and mature, and use your gift(s) to help those around you. I commend you for making the most important decision of your life, and I want to rejoice with you. I would be honored to pray for you, and, if you would like, to help you in any way I can.
Click here for an article explaining the magnificent transformation that takes place when we receive Christ and are born again. It’s more than most Christians have realized.
May God richly bless you.