There is no inquiry that can rival the importance of the question, “How do I get to heaven?” Mankind has been asking this question from the beginning of time. Fortunately for us, God is not silent on this issue. He has explained to us, in very simple and lucid language, His “Plan of Salvation.” But not so fortunate is the abundance of people that want to change God’s plan. They seek to glorify themselves, and in the process of attempting to turn your attention towards them, they dilute, confuse, and convolute the simplicity of God’s plan. Most world religions and cultic groups have one main thing in common. They teach you the way to “earn” your salvation. To them, salvation is a “merit” system. They will often tell you, “If you do all the good deeds on this list, and never any of the bad deeds on this list, God will accept you and you can go to Heaven when you die.” The problem with this perspective is that God has plainly told us that Heaven is a gift, given to us out of His love for you and me. The price paid was the life of His own Son, Jesus Christ. So when we offer up our good deeds as payment, it is seen by God as the ultimate insult. If we could be saved by our good works, then Jesus died in vain. There would be no need for Him to die in our stead. But God teaches us in His Word (the Bible) that no one can earn salvation (eternal life). So come let us reason together. Let’s take a down-to-earth, straightforward and simple look at what God requires of us.
The Plan of Salvation
The Bible is God’s written Word to mankind. Its 66 books were written by 39 authors over a period of 1500 years. The accuracy of the history and archeology contained in its pages are unrivaled by any other religious or historical document. We have over 5000 manuscripts to verify the translation. In contrast, the manuscripts of Plato or The Iliad can practically be counted on one hand. The Hebrews, who were responsible for all of the Old Testament and most of the New Testament, were very meticulous record keepers. The Dead Sea Scrolls testify of the incredible consistency of the copying process. Some people have trouble taking the Bible in a wooden literal sense. Some feel that the poetic descriptions of Creation, or Adam and Eve, or the Flood are symbolic. And granted, maybe some aspects of the Bible are symbolic, but the context will usually convey whether it is literal or symbolic. The best rule of thumb is to take it literally, unless the context indicates otherwise. Was there a real Adam? The Apostle Paul said there was (Romans 15:45). Was there a real Jonah? Jesus said there was (Luke 11:30). Usually the questions that arise concerning the validity of the Bible center on the Old Testament. They usually focus on the feats of strength or valor of certain individuals, such as Samson or Daniel. But remember, if there is a God, and He is the Creator of the Universe… there isn’t a whole lot that He cannot do… either personally, or through His creation. But for the sake of this discussion we will be centering our attention on the New Testament.
In Romans 3:23 the Holy Spirit taught (through the Apostle Paul) that we have "all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God." The problem then is that Romans 6:23 says, "The wages of sin is death." So in other words, we have all sinned, and we all deserve eternal death. But the second part of Romans 6:23 says "but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ." So God offers us clemency, but how? Through faith in His Son. Romans 10:9 says, “That if you will confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord, and shall believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you shall be saved.”
In John 3:16-17, Jesus said:
16 "For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17 For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved."
The Lord also clarifies the plan of salvation in Ephesians 2:8-9. The Apostle Paul said:
8 "For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: 9 Not of works, lest any man should boast."
So God’s plan of salvation is simple. But unprincipled men want to make it complicated so they can gain the world’s admiration for “explaining the deep things of God.” In reality, they are attempting to establish a following of people who will worship and financially support them. II Timothy 3: 1-5 refers to such men:
1 "This know also, that in the last days perilous times shall come. 2 For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, 3 Without natural affection, trucebreakers, false accusers, inconsistent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, 4 Traitors, heady, highminded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; 5 Having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof: from such turn away."
Therefore, since we know that there are those that might attempt to lead us astray, we will study God’s Word alone, and not go to any so-called religious “experts.” Not that they cannot occasionally give some keen spiritual insights, but on a topic of this magnitude, we will just stick with the Bible.
Grace versus Works
There is only one instance in the Bible where someone asks this exact question: “What Must I Do To Be Saved?” It is found in Acts 16:30. The question was asked of the Apostle Paul and Silas, by the keeper of the prison, sometimes referred to as the Philippian jailer. Their response was simple and to the point. “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you shall be saved, and your family.” What? No list of do’s and don’ts? No good deeds to earn my way? No. Salvation is a gift. A priceless gift, that no one can be good enough to merit.
In the Book of Acts, Chapter 10, we see the first non-Jewish people receive eternal life. The Apostle Peter was actually quite amazed when God asked him to share the Gospel with the Gentiles (God even had to first show Peter a vision to prepare him for the task). Let’s read about this monumental event… (the Apostle Peter speaking)
38 "How God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Ghost and with power: who went about doing good, and healing all that were oppressed of the devil; for God was with him. 39 And we are witnesses of all things which he did both in the land of the Jews, and in Jerusalem; whom they slew and hanged on a tree: 40 Him God raised up the third day, and showed him openly; 41 Not to all the people, but unto witnesses chosen before of God, even to us, who did eat and drink with him after he rose from the dead. 42 And he commanded us to preach unto the people, and to testify that it is he which was ordained of God to be the Judge of the living and the dead. 43 To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whosoever believes in him shall receive remission of sins.' 44 While Peter spoke these words, the Holy Ghost fell on all them which heard the word. 45 And they of the circumcision (the Jews) which believed were astonished, as many as came with Peter, because that on the Gentiles also was poured out the gift of the Holy Ghost. 46 For they heard them speak with tongues, and magnify God. Then answered Peter, 47 'Can any man forbid water, that these should not be baptized, which have received the Holy Ghost as well as we?' 48 And he commanded them to be baptized in the name of the Lord. Then they asked him to stay for a few days."
So here in Acts 10, we see the gospel being shared with the non-Jews for the first time. Peter teaches them the elementary principles of the gospel. He tells them that through faith in Jesus Christ, they may receive forgiveness. And God acknowledges their faith by baptizing them in the Holy Spirit (Holy Ghost). They are then baptized in water as a seal of their faith. Water baptism symbolizes a burial of the old life, and a rising up unto a new life. All true believers seek to fulfill all that God asks of them. Jesus said in John 14:15 that if we love Him, we will do as He asks. That is what we expect of our own children, and God is no different. He wants what is best for us, and in order to achieve that outcome, He graciously gives us guidance. So when God asks us to do something, whether that is baptism, attending church, feeding the poor or whatever… it is for our own good. But the question is, “Do these good deeds save us?” No. In Titus 3:5-8, the Apostle Paul stated:
5 "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; 6 Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour; 7 That being justified by His grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life. 8 This is a faithful saying, and these things I want you to affirm constantly, that they which have believed in God might be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men."
Paul says to Titus that we are NOT saved by our good works, but since we ARE saved (by faith) already... we should seek to do those good works. We do the good deeds out of gratitude for the gift we have received. Not in order to earn the gift.
The Apostle Paul goes into great detail on this subject in the book of Galatians. He writes to them rather sternly, because they had begun to fall back into the worldly perspective of attempting to “earn” their salvation.
In Galatians 2:16, the Apostle Paul warned:
16 "Knowing that a man is not justified by the works of the law, but by the faith of Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Jesus Christ, that we might be justified by the faith of Christ, and not by the works of the law: for by the works of the law shall no one be justified."
In Galatians 3:1-3, Paul asked:
1 "O foolish Galatians, who has bewitched you, that you should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ has been evidently set forth, crucified among you? 2 This only would I learn of you, ‘Have you received the Holy Spirit by the works of the law, or by faith?’ 3 Are you so foolish? Having begun in the Spirit, are you now made perfect by the flesh?"
In Galatians 5:1-4, Paul added:
1 "Stand fast therefore in the liberty wherewith Christ has made us free, and be not entangled again with the yoke of bondage…
4 Christ is become of no effect unto you, whosoever of you are justified by the law; you are fallen from grace."
The word “grace” literally means “unmerited favor” or “undeserved love.” Paul is obviously very adamant about the issue of grace versus works. He stresses over and over that no one is saved, or forgiven, or justified by their good deeds. He could not make it more clear. God offers you eternal life as a gift. There is but one stipulation: that you allow His Son, Jesus Christ, to bring you to Heaven. There is only one door. In Acts 4:12 the Apostle Peter (speaking about Jesus) tells the rulers of Israel, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is no other name under heaven, given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.”
Jesus even said in John 14:6, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes to the Father, but by me.”
This is God’s only stipulation; you must come to Him through His Son, Jesus Christ. But even though God offers you salvation as a free gift… it will cost you everything! You exchange your old life… for His new life. You give Him your heart… and He gives you His heart. That is the Great Exchange. Your sin… for His righteousness! Many people make the mistake of trying to get their life straightened out before they come to God. That is like taking a shower before you take a bath! The problem with that approach is that you can never get clean enough to come before God. That is why we come to God as we are! We let Him cleanse us from all of our sin.
I John 1:7-9 says:
7 But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship one with another, and the blood of Jesus Christ, His Son, cleanses us from all sin. 8 If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness."
God is saying, first of all, don’t deny that you have sinned. We have all sinned. But do not despair, for if we will simply come to God and ask for forgiveness, He will graciously cleanse us from all sin! That is the problem with addressing this type of issue in print. There will always be those that think they are not “sinners” and that they are “good enough” to get to heaven on their own, but then at the opposite end of the spectrum you have people that think they are too bad to be forgiven. The reality is that none are good enough to make it on their own, and none that are beyond hope. The first step for either category, is to go to God in prayer. But some may say that they don’t know how to pray. Don’t worry about that. God doesn’t care as much about the words as he does the condition of your heart! Jesus once told a parable (a story) about two men that sought to know God. In Luke 18:10-14, Jesus said:
10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. 11 The Pharisee stood and prayed, ‘God, I thank you, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. 12 I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess.’ 13 And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, ‘God be merciful to me a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, the publican went down to his house justified rather than the Pharisee: for every one that exalts himself shall be abased; and he that humbles himself shall be exalted.”
Jesus says in these verses that God is not impressed with flowery prayers. God heard the simple prayer of the repentant publican. So if you have never accepted Jesus Christ as your personal Savior, He beckons to you now. Revelation 3:20, says that Jesus is waiting at the door of your heart. Waiting for you to ask Him in. I admonish you to call on His name in prayer. He will answer you. But the offer is also extended to those who may have misunderstood God’s plan of salvation. Maybe you find that you have spent a portion of your life in an organization that has taught you to try to earn your way to God. God’s offer is to you, too. Just pray from your heart: “God… please forgive me of my sins. Come into my heart and cleanse me. I accept your Son, Jesus, as my Lord, and as my Savior. Please walk with me and give me your peace and your strength.” God will hear… and answer your prayer.
So what do you do after you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior? There are three basic guidelines to follow if you want to grow in your faith. Some people never grow past the initial stage of salvation. They are saved and that’s all they care to pursue. This is not a wise road to travel. If you are truly sincere, you will want to grow to your highest potential. Your life can now really mean something. You can make a difference! But you cannot do it on your own. Fortunately, God has given us many effective tools for spiritual growth! So let’s get back to the basics:
The first is prayer. Continue to pray to God everyday. Greet Him as you wake. Talk to Him when you shower. While you are in the car. When you go to bed. Thank Him for all that He has done. Thank Him for your food, clothing, clean water, pure air, your family… thank Him for everything! But also ask for your daily needs. Pray for Him to fill you with His Holy Spirit. Pray that He will use you to reach out and share His Love with others. Pray for protection and provision. But especially pray for others. Your parents, your spouse, your children, your siblings, your co-workers, your boss, your neighbors! Pray that God will touch their heart as He has yours. Pray for them in the same way that you pray for yourself. But don’t forget to listen as you pray. Prayer is communication with God… two-way communication. Listen for His still small voice, as He seeks to impart His guidance, wisdom, and strength.
The second tool that God has given us is His Word, the Bible. Start reading your Bible every day! How much? That’s up to you. I personally would recommend a chapter per day, to start out. Always start with the New Testament. We no longer live under the Old Testament. You will eventually study the Old Testament, because it is rich in wisdom and prophecy. But the Law was fulfilled by Jesus, as He nailed the Old Testament to the cross. You should get a good Bible translation. The New Testament was written mostly in Greek, and has been translated into English for centuries. The King James Version is the most popular, but it was translated in 1611, and the phraseology is quite dated, though very poetic. The most popular modern translation is called the NIV, or New International Version. It is written in very plain language that anyone can understand. If you get a Study Bible (available in any version) it will also give you study notes along with the actual translation. You should also invest in a concordance. This is an alphabetical listing of every word in the Bible. This will help you to study specific topics.
The New Testament is divided into four major parts:
1) The Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John)
2) The History (The Book of Acts)
3) The Teaching Letters (Romans – Jude)
4) Prophecy (The Revelation)
The four gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) are simply biographies of the life of Jesus Christ. The Book of Acts is the recorded history of the early Christian church. The Teaching Letters are educational and inspirational letters intended to teach us about God and to show us how to live a victorious Christian life. And finally, The Revelation is a book of prophecy that foretells the future of mankind.
You will want to eventually read all of the New Testament, but as a new believer I would save the book of Romans and the book of Hebrews until last. They are very deep and somewhat complicated at times. After you have read all the other Teaching Letters, you can then go back and tackle these two “heavyweights.”
Such is not the case with the Book of the Revelation. I would wait a year or two before you attempt to study it. Prophecy is very symbolic and can also be rather difficult to follow. Once you have a good grasp on the rest of the New Testament, the Book of the Revelation will be a great blessing to you. This is the one New Testament book that we definitely recommend that you study along with an established commentary. My personal favorite books of the New Testament are: Galatians, Ephesians, Philippians and Colossians. All four books are very simple, and yet profound. They are also short and sweet, and get right to the point. They are found near the middle of the New Testament, and also happen to be grouped together in order. If you get a Study Bible, be sure to read the introduction to each book. It can give some valuable background information and historical context. This will be a great asset in helping you to apply these timeless principles to your every day life. You should also consider getting a Daily Devotional. This is a very simple guide to help you in your daily bible study and prayer life. A very excellent one is called “Our Daily Bread.”
And God’s third tool for your spiritual growth is His Church. It is very important for you to find a solid bible-based church to attend. In His Church you will be fed the Living Word of God, the Bible. Here you will also have the opportunity to worship God with the rest of your spiritual brothers and sisters in Christ. You will also be given an opportunity to share any of your God-given talents, such as singing, administrative duties, or just to be there to hold someone’s hand. Your spiritual progress will be greatly affected by which church you choose. Some churches claim to be Christian churches but deny the Bible. Some don’t even believe in Jesus! Some questions you might ask the pastor are:
1) Do you completely believe in and trust the Bible? (YES)
2) Do you have any books that you believe are equal or superior to the Bible? (NO)
3) Do you believe in only one God? (YES)
4) Do you believe that Jesus is the only way to Heaven? (YES)
Most Evangelical churches are pretty solid. The Assemblies of God and Southern Baptists are two good choices. They differ somewhat theologically, and in their form of worship, but they are doctrinally sound in the “essentials.” Try visiting one of these churches in your area. Pray for guidance. God will hear and answer your prayers, but be patient. God’s church is made up of forgiven sinners, not angels. Some are brand new believers, just like you. Don’t expect more from them than you would from yourself. You may be on a higher plane than they are. You may be destined to walk closer to God than they ever will. So be patient with them, and you will hopefully reap what you sow. Follow the Golden Rule: “Treat others as you would want to be treated.”
Another instrument of spiritual growth is Christian music. Go to your local Christian bookstore and let them know that you are a new believer. Tell them the type of music that you like (contemporary; country; traditional; classical, etc.) and they will be able to recommend something appropriate. You should also check your local radio stations and see if you have a good Christian station in your area. The reason that I emphasize "good" is because there is a lot of fluff on some Christian radio stations. A few examples of some of the better programs are: “Renewing Your Mind” with R.C Sproul; “A New Beginning” with Greg Laurie; and “Insight for Living” with Chuck Swindoll. As a rule though, Christian Radio is much better than Christian Television. Unfortunately, many Christian TV programs are more interested in looks than they are in content. The 700 Club is one of the better programs. It has Bible studies, news, and testimonials from believers like you.
Start developing new friends... people that are strong in the Lord. Worldly friends may try to pull you back into your old life. Resist their temptations. Someday soon, you will be able to share your faith with them. And the family of God will grow, reproducing itself by the power of His Holy Spirit, working through YOU! If you cannot find someone locally to help you in your new life of faith, please feel free to contact us here at Freedom Quest Ministries. We will do anything we can to help you to grow in your relationship with God. Just having a friend to talk to, can make a big difference. But remember, your walk is with God… not man. Eventually every human will fail you somehow. God will not. He said He will never leave you nor forsake you!
We will be praying for God’s best for you. Congratulations! You have just made the best decision of your life! It will not always be easy, but it will always be rewarding. Enjoy the journey!