It happens the same way every time. A conversation with someone I don’t know really well heads toward the topic of faith.
“So what do you think will happen to you when you die?” I ask.
“I’ll be going to Heaven,” the other person usually responds.
“Oh yeah, why do you think that?”
“Well, I’ve basically lead a good life. I haven’t killed anyone, and I try to do right things.” Then I get a laundry list of every good deed they’ve done over their lifetime.
The thing is, this type of thinking is completely skewed. Lots of people believe that the Bible says if you do good things, you go to Heaven. The Bible says nothing of the sort. In fact, it loudly proclaims the opposite! “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6) Nothing in there about being good little boys and girls is there?
Let me put this a different way.
In Romans 3:23 Paul says “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” This is the standard for reaching Heaven: you must be completely sinless. “But I’m a good person,” you might say. Perhaps that’s true, by the world’s standards. But it isn’t the world’s standards God is concerned with. He has his own set of standards.
The law of God is very strict and very thorough. A brief overview of the old testament is enough to make most people give up trying. There are all kinds of rules in there! Stealing and murder might be easy enough to avoid, but some of them are quite a bit trickier. No lying. This means ever. Even white lies count. No coveting. That means that if you’ve ever looked at something someone else has and wanted it, you’ve sinned.
“But those rules are impossible to keep!” Right you are. And God knows this. He knew we would need another way out if we were going to spend eternity with Him. That’s why Christ came and died.
Romans 5:8 says “But God demonstrated His own love for us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” That’s pretty good news if you ask me! That means that the penalty for all those rules I broke has already been paid!
“So, what do I have to do?” Well, that’s pretty simple. All you have to do is accept the gift of Jesus’ death by getting to know Him. You see, our justification (the way we are made right with God) is a free gift and it’s offered to anyone. That’s called grace.
You see, salvation depends on God, not on us. He has chosen us, called us, and died for us, and He alone can save us. That’s how we can be assured that we can’t “lose” our salvation, as some claim. You can’t lose by works what you gained by grace. If it was indeed works that saved us, we would constantly be trying to earn it. But since the “earning” has already been done on our behalf, all we have to do is accept it.
“Great, so that’s it. I accept this gift and can go about my life without worrying about sin, right?” Wrong. While it is true that sin will not cause us to lose our salvation, God still desires a relationship with us. We can’t accept this gift without getting to know the giver. And the more we get to know Him, the more we will become like Him. We won’t be able to help it!
So if you’re still in the “good works” camp, do yourself a favor. Go read the book of Romans. If you will only read one chapter, make it chapter 3. And know that God is waiting for you to accept his free gift.