If a stranger walked up to you and asked you the question, "Who will go to Heaven?" Would you be able to give him an answer for the hope that lies within you? Would you know how to share the gospel? Do you know on what basis we are saved? The answer is something every Christian should know.
According to Barna Research from 2007, here are some interesting statistics regarding what people believe about how a person gets to heaven:
• More than half of all adults (53%) believe that if a person is generally good, or does enough good things for others during their life, they will earn a place in Heaven.
• 37% of born again Christians believe that if a person is good enough they can earn a place in Heaven.
• 26% of born again Christians agree that "while he lived on earth, Jesus committed sins, like other people," compared to 41% of all adults.
Note that the first group listed covers Americans in general, and the results are not surprising. The last two statistics cover Americans who have identified themselves as a born again Christian. (By the way, as R.C. Sproul has pointed out, to call oneself a "born again" Christian is redundant - that's the only kind of Christian there is!) The results for this group are disturbing. Given that over one third of American Christians think good works get you to heaven, I thought it would be good to review what Scripture says about how one gets to heaven. While it's likely that for the readers of this newsletter this amounts to a review, it certainly never hurts for us to be reminded of this truth.
The simple answer to this question is given in Acts 16:31, "Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved, you and your household." However, when sharing the gospel, it's useful to be able to tell people why they need to believe in Jesus, because most people (if any) will not walk up to you and ask you how to be saved. There are several ways this can be done, but one I've found very helpful involves first giving someone the Law, and then the gospel. Ray Comfort and Kirk Cameron, in their ministry The Way of the Master, have been great proponents of this method. It's very simple and direct.
Getting the conversation started is usually the hardest part. One way to bring up the subject is to ask someone if they think they will go to heaven when they die. Most people will say they are good persons, and will likely go to heaven. This is where you take them to the Law, the Ten Commandments in particular. You only need to ask them if they've followed two to three of the commandments, which, if they're honest, they'll admit that they have broken these commandments.
It's helpful to say you, too, have broken these commandments so as not to appear self-righteous. Remind them that to go to heaven, God requires sinlessness. Once they have convicted themselves, ask if they think whether God will send them to heaven or hell. Many times they will bring up God's forgiveness, but without a full understanding on what His forgiveness is based. Make sure they understand that God is a just judge, and that it is His nature that He must punish sin.
Now that they know the bad news, tell them the good news. This is where you give them the gospel. Tell them God will indeed forgive them, but only if they place their faith in Jesus Christ. Let them know that Jesus did two things for them. First, on the cross, He took the punishment for their and your sin. Thus, God remains a just judge in that He punished our sin. Second, Jesus' perfect righteousness is imputed (or credited), by faith, to us. Therefore, God's requirement of perfection is met in us by Christ's sinless life. In that sense, we are saved by good works, but not our own. We are saved by Christ's good works, His perfect, sinless life. In this sense, we rejoice with Jeremiah, proclaiming "The LORD our righteousness."