Heaven is a Free Gift
Sooner or later during the course of one's consideration of Christianity and the advantages of accepting Jesus as the Lord, Master, and Savior of one's life, a most common question arises. This frequently asked question takes a variety of forms. One paraphrase goes something like this: "Are you telling me that the worst sinner, even a murderer, rapist or otherwise degenerate, for all his/her life, can simply accept Jesus seconds before death and gain entrance into Heaven?" Falling into the same generic category is another form: "Which is better, to live like a Christian but believe like a pagan OR believe like a Christian but live like a pagan?" The answer to both questions is the same; and is found in the Scripture. The other variety of the challenge states, "If Heaven is a free gift, and we need do no more than to choose to believe that Jesus loves us - well, is there no connection between our living "good lives" and finding a place in Heaven?" And finally, we often hear, "I'm a good person so I'm sure I'll be going to Heaven." Of course, there is no connection between living "good lives" or "being a good person" and thereby gaining entrance to Heaven. There is nothing in the Bible to support such a concept. In fact, the opposite is stated. However, if we are to understand the Christian teaching we must turn to the Scripture. So, let's look in the Book together.
First, we are obliged to acknowledge that no human can "see" what is in the heart of another human. Therefore, it follows logically that if one rejects the existence of the supernatural God, then no entity remains, human or otherwise, that can know for certain what is in the heart of a human being. Furthermore, the acceptance of the existence of a supernatural God, is by faith, supported by belief and knowledge. If one does not know anything about the historical Jesus (that is, without knowledge), then one cannot believe in Jesus. It defies logic to believe in something about which one knows nothing. Secondly, one can hardly claim faith in something in which he neither believes nor has knowledge.1 Now when the human arrives at faith in God, through knowledge and belief, such faith removes the blindness to the existence of God and allows God to reveal Himself to the human. Thus, when the human is open, through faith, to this revelation, it is perceived that God reveals Himself in three ways: first through Creation; second through Conscience; and third through Christ.2 The key to all of this is FAITH.
YES, Heaven (i.e. salvation/eternal life/entrance into the presence of the perfect God) is a FREE GIFT (i.e. "free" in that we cannot achieve it by our own "works" or "good living"). Thus we are saved by FAITH through the GRACE of a just, yet loving God. But the third form of the question stated above contains an error because, in fact, we do have to do more than just choose to believe that Jesus loves us. In fact, the Bible teaches that Jesus loves us whether we choose to believe it or not . . . while we were yet sinners He died for us.
The Bible teaches that the individual must:
acknowledge that he/she is a sinner, thereby requiring a Savior, since
save him/herself, i.e. achieve perfection,
(2) repent his/her sins, asking for divine forgiveness, and commit to live a new life, and
(3) accept Christ as the resurrected Son of God who died on the cross as the atonement for his/her sins and confess Him as the Lord of his/her life.
In Luke 12:8-9, Christ said, "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him shall the Son of man also confess before the angels of God: But he that denieth me before men shall be denied before the angels of God." It is a black-and-white proposition. There is no "happy-happy land" in between where one can straddle a pagan lifestyle while mouthing a "Christian" belief. One foot in Hell and one foot in Heaven doesn't cut it! Christ said, "He that is not with me is against me." (Matthew 12:30) Christ said, "I am the way, the truth and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me." (John 14:6) Like it or not, this is Christianity. Christianity is a personal relationship with Christ. It is not a Denomination, Church, Priest, Pastor, Pope, Religiosity, Statue, Building, Edifice, Visualization, Robe or Ritual. It is and always will be a personal relationship with the resurrected Jesus. Many will deny the Truth, but their denials will not change it. Christ said, "Heaven and earth shall pass away, but my words shall not pass away." (Matthew 24:35)
Now, the three actions described above must be taken with sincerity of the heart. Referring to the second paragraph, you will see immediately that whether the actions have been taken with sincerity of the heart is (and can only be) known to God. No father confessor, pastor, priest or fellow human being can know whether or not this sincerity is present . . . BUT GOD KNOWS; and therefore these three actions are not to be taken in jest, frivolity or mockery. You can see that the second question above (which suggests some kind of optional choices) provides a life of mockery and deceit in the case of either of the suggested choices. It is well for us to remember that in Galatians 6:7-8 we are warned, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting." However, when the actions are taken with sincerity of the heart, God accepts the individual taking such actions as one of His Son's chosen; and the born again condition (the new life in Christ) begins. We pledge to live this new life to the glory of our Lord, and become workers in His "vineyard." Remember the New Testament parable of the vineyard workers (Matthew 20:1-16). As with all the workers of this "vineyard," whether entering in the early hours or the late hours of the day, all receive the same FREE GIFT.
Thus, Salvation and works become two separate considerations. Salvation is solely by Grace through faith and "Not of works, lest any man should boast." Furthermore, we are told, "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath ordained that we should walk in them." (Ephesians 2:8-10) When we are born again we serve the Lord with a broken and contrite heart BUT with peace and gladness to show our thanks for His awesome sacrifice on our behalf. Yet, if we are to live our lives to His glory, and work in His vineyard, according to His will, we are obliged to look to the Law for the guidelines for this life of service. Not to be confused with Salvation, Christ said, "For verily I say unto you, Till heaven and earth pass, one jot or tittle shall in no wise pass from the law, till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of heaven: but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven." (Matthew 5:18-19) Therefore, with regard to Salvation, Christ said from the Cross, "It is finished" (John 19:30); and with regard to the Law, He said, "Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfil." (Matthew 5:17)
So here we are: saved by accepting, in faith, the free gift of God, purchased by the atoning death of Christ on the Calvary Cross, and His finished work of fulfilling the law through His righteousness and perfection. Clearly, the Word teaches, without room for debate, that Christ has done it all.
The Apostle Paul states, "Do we then void the law through faith? God forbid: Yea, we establish the law." (Romans 3:31) "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound? God forbid." (Romans 6:1-2) Then works and "bearing fruit" do have significance, and while they do not qualify anyone for entrance into God's perfect Heaven, they do establish our rewards once we get there. In II Corinthians 5:10 we learn, "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad." Furthermore, I Corinthians 3:13-15 teaches that "Every man's work shall be made manifest, for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man's work of what sort it is. If any man's work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward. If any man's work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire." Here, once again the Word clearly separates works and salvation.
Well, where do we fit in? What is our role? Remember, we have become workers, servants in His vineyard. We are told that Christ's righteousness is imputed in us. We are saved, but our humanness remains, and we are still fallen, still sinful. As our Master, He may choose to use that which He has imputed to us, but it is He that accomplishes His will through us. It is never "of us." We do not achieve the Master's perfection until nothing of our humanness remains. When is that? When we leave this world and He welcomes us to His Eternal Kingdom. Yes, we study the guidelines for our strivings (found in Deuteronomy and elsewhere in the "Operators Manual for Life" . . . remember His words that he did not come to destroy the Law . . . the Law remains); but we are obliged to continue confessing our failures to Him, and keep on in peace and joy, knowing that He understands, sees what's in our hearts, and loves us without ceasing or hesitation. He bought us with a price . . . a price that only He could pay to satisfy an infinitely wise, just and merciful God. To be truly just, our perfect God requires perfection in His Heaven . . . a perfection that only Christ can provide for us. In exchange for this, we become His faithful and joyful followers. The Book lays out the path. Christ beckons us to follow.
John 10:27-30 provides that very comfortable assurance, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them and they follow me: And I give them eternal life; and they shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand. My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand. I and my Father are one."
Christ knows that His disciples (those who accept Christ are His disciples) would be distressed, frustrated, depressed, disappointed, and downright mad at themselves for continuing failures in trying "to be holy" and to "keep my statutes" (Leviticus 20:7-8). Is this not why Christ said, "But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things, and bring all things to your remembrance, whatsoever I have said unto you." Notice that this statement from John 15:27 is immediately followed by John 15:28, "Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid." We must pray with David, "Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer" (Psalm 19:14); and let us never forget His promise, "lo, I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world." (Matthew 28:20) Be assured that He will do the leading in our new life with Him. We are to remain close and available to Him.
"Let not your
heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid" . . . only open to Jesus.
1 ALL OF GRACE by Charles Haddon Spurgeon
2 THREE C'S OF REVELATION, a sermon by Dr. D. James Kennedy
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|PLEASE NOTE: These comments are intended to be based squarely on the Authorized King James Bible, which we believe is the exclusive translation inspired by God for the English-speaking people of the world. Therefore, we urge any reader to take these comments to the book to ascertain that there is no compromise with Scripture. All human endeavor should be so tested. Yes, we are not to judge, but we are to be discerning, and the "yardstick" of discernment is the Word.|
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