I wish I had the time to go down on the street and interview people for some “live” answers to the question: “How does a person get to heaven?” or “How does a person know he or she is right with God?” I can only begin to imagine the answers:
- “You don’t. You just have to take your chances.”
- “I am in control of my own destiny. I don’t need God.”
- “Heaven is a state of mind” or “Heaven is here on earth” (like, “Hell is here on earth,” right?)
- “You have to learn what you need to know to get there. Can we visit your home to tell you more about it?”
- “Go to church, be good. Get job, go to school.”
- “God will save everybody because He is love and forgives.”
- “Admit we have broken God’s law and are helpless in sin. We need to receive His grace and mercy and forgiveness by faith because Jesus died on the cross and rose again to pay our penalty for us.”
I was working outside one day when a older neighbor of mine walked by (he does not have a car, so he walks everywhere). We greeted each other and I asked how he was doing (he was not smiling as his usual self). He told me he was upset because he was supposed to go to court. I asked what happened. He told me that he was arrested for trespassing. This was very upsetting to him because (as I’ve already said) he walks everywhere (and everyone knows that)—only this time a short-cut got him in trouble. He was being held responsible and was fearful of the consequences.
We crossed the line, trespassed God’s commands and that brings consequences: spiritual death. We are un-alive. Not living. If my neighbor breaks into my house, our relationship is ruined and when I turn them over to the law, our relationship is still ruined. That’s what we’ve done with God: we violated his perfect standard and pay the consequences. We live according to the lusts of our flesh, indulging the desires of the mind and deserve God’s wrath (Ephesians 1:3). Paul would later write to the Romans that “the body is dead because of sin” (8:10).
God is the judge and that means He must pass down justice, so here is what He did: while we were sin-dead, He paid our sin-fine. He took our punishment on Himself in Christ Jesus. He does not us to experience His wrath, so mercifully extended to us His loving grace in Christ that brings us life, the life that seats us together with Him in the heavenlies! (Ephesians 2:1-10) Note: Paul is not saying that every person receives this benefit, like it or not. This is what Universalists would have us believe. Reading carefully, one will see that Paul is writing to people who have already experienced this grace, not to those who have yet to receive it. Simply put, He took us from sin and death and darkness in order to send us back into it to rescue others who still there remain.
God’s gift of grace found in Christ Jesus is what saves us from death and wrath to come; but, that’s not all. God’s gift also includes the faith we need to acquire this reality. “But,” someone may say,”I don’t know that I have enough faith to believe.” Then you are in the perfect position to receive His gift of faith because this faith is not of ourselves in the same way that God’s gracious gift of salvation is not in ourselves. Grace is a gift of God. Faith is a gift of God. This way we can say “He has done this, ‘in order that in the ages to come He might show the surpassing riches of His grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus.’” (Ephesians 2:7)
This has nothing to do with being good or going to school or learning some secret knowledge. A corpse never gets into trouble because it is dead--and it can’t learn anything. We can't control our own destiny any more than we can control our body functions. We are dead in our sins until God makes us alive in Christ Jesus.