Nearly all religions require their adherents to earn their way into heaven: reciting a prayer, performing a religious ritual, meditating daily, practicing good works, paying alms, adhering to a strict set of rules, or some combination thereof. While these actions may appear noble and earn the approval of religious peers, they do not bring you closer to God and His everlasting Kingdom.
The reality is that God demands none of these actions from those who seek eternal life. None of us can do anything to earn his or her way into heaven. No amount of hard work, devotion to God, obedience to religious requirements, or spiritual piety will bring us any closer to eternal life. What hope do we have, then? How can anyone enter heaven?
Jesus answers that question in this way. “I tell you the truth, unless you are born again, you cannot see the Kingdom of God” (John 3:3). He is not talking about a physical rebirth, obviously. Instead, we must be born again spiritually. Again, Jesus explains how this happens. “No one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit. Humans can reproduce only human life, but the Holy Spirit gives birth to spiritual life” (John 3:5-6). Without spiritual rebirth there is no eternal life, and without the Holy Spirit there is no spiritual rebirth.
But how can one be born again by the Holy Spirit? The Bible tells us. “To all who believe Jesus and accept him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn” (John 1:12-13). Could the answer be anymore straightforward and clear? The Holy Spirit comes upon everyone who believes in Jesus and accepts him as the Lord of their life. No matter your race, ethnicity, economic status, or background, if you place your trust in Jesus and surrender your life to him, you will be filled with the Holy Spirit, who will give you spiritual life.
While those born again in Christ will spend eternity in heaven, those who reject Jesus will experience everlasting torment. The Bible expressly makes this distinction. “Whoever believes in Jesus is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already” (John 3:18). And again, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord” (Romans 6:23).
So you see, Jesus offers (eternal) life whereas sin leads to death. This is what the Bible means when it says, “For you were dead (in sin), but now you have new life (in Christ)” (Romans 6:13). Those who place their faith in Jesus Christ have salvation because he died for their sins and bore the punishment for those sins. Those who do not believe in Christ have not been born again, do not have the Holy Spirit, and are condemned already. They will spend eternity in hell, suffering for their sins.
It is important to understand that the gifts of the Holy Spirit, salvation, and eternal life are just that, gifts. We cannot earn salvation. Nothing we do merits entry into the Kingdom of God. And nothing we do contributes to the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives. As Scripture proclaims, “All praise to God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is by His great mercy that we have been born again, because God raised Jesus Christ from the dead” (1 Peter 1:3).
The apostle Paul offers a beautiful summary of all these truths. “When God our Savior revealed His kindness and love, He saved us; not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of His mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of His grace He made us right in His sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life” (Titus 3:4-7).
In his epistle to the Ephesian church, Paul reinforces these points. ”God, who is rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in sin, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved), and raised us up together, and made us sit together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus, that in the ages to come He might show the exceeding riches of His grace in His kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For by grace you have been saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:4-9).
Now some may argue they are good enough to enter heaven on their own merit. But God makes it clear we do not meet His standard. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Even the holiest people are unrighteous in the eyes of God. “We are all infected and impure with sin. All our righteousness is like filthy rags”(Isaiah 64:6). Our only hope, then, is to believe in Jesus Christ.
But what does it mean to believe in Jesus? The Bible says, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised him from the dead, you will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Notice that an authentic belief in Christ must spring from the heart. An intellectual belief in Christ is insufficient. And a belief manifested only by a verbal profession of faith (such as saying the sinner’s prayer) is equally inadequate.
So how do we know if our faith in Jesus is authentic? The presence of the Holy Spirit, who is poured out on those who genuinely believe in Christ, confirms our faith. The Holy Spirit is God’s seal on us. The Bible says, “When you believe in Christ, God identifies you as His own by giving you the Holy Spirit” (Ephesians 1:13).
And we know the Holy Spirit resides in us when our lives bear ‘the fruit of the Spirit,’ which the Bible says is “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23). Our lives should also increasingly reflect the image of Christ, in holiness and obedience. The Holy Spirit will facilitate this transformation as we cultivate a relationship with Jesus and begin to “love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind, and with all our strength” (Mark 12:30).
It is critical to remember that this transformation is a product of being born again. Holiness, obedience, and a deepening love for the Lord are evidence of a genuine faith in Jesus. Any attempt to acquire those behaviors/attributes on your own strength, however, is as useless as it is futile. And realize that this transformation doesn’t happen overnight. It is a process called sanctification, and it is life-long.
Finally, it is important to understand that the call of Christ is not easy, as the vast majority of American pastors claim. Most of the commands Jesus gave for those who place their faith in him are quite difficult. Resist the temptation to ignore these commands, as many churchgoers do. Obedience to these commands will mature your faith, deepen your relationship with Christ, and provide assurance of your being born again.
Here are a few to familiarize yourself with.
“The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand. Repent and believe in the gospel” (Mark 1:15). This was Jesus’ first message and is also the first message we should respond to when we embrace Jesus as Lord. Ask God to forgive you for your sins, and ask the Holy Spirit for strength and discipline to stop practicing sin.
“If anyone desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it” (Matthew 16:24-25). When we receive and believe Jesus we become Christ-centered and cease to be self-centered. We prioritize God’s will and set aside our own agenda for every facet of our lives.
“So likewise, whoever of you does not forsake all that he has cannot be My disciple” (Luke 14:33). All who believe Jesus must surrender their lives to him. Not a portion of their lives. Everything. Their time, their income, their talents, their resources, their reputation, their future.
Do you believe in Jesus? Will you place your faith and trust in Him? Do you surrender your life to Him as Lord? If so, I encourage you to do three things now.
1) Get involved in a local, biblically sound church.
2) Read and study the Bible with regularity.
3) Pray daily. Ask the Lord to direct your steps and reveal His will.
And may God bless you with a steadfast and mature faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.