This week, Pastor J.D. continues our Ask Me Anything series based on his new book, “Essential Christianity.” The fourth question is, “Can anyone actually know they will go to heaven?”
I’ve talked about this before, but if there were a Guinness World Record for the amount of times someone asked Jesus to save them, I’m pretty sure I’d hold it.
By the time I was 19, I’d “become a Christian” about 5,000 times. Every time my church gave an invitation to pray a prayer to “accept Jesus,” I did it right away. One year my church had a goal of 300 conversions and I think I fulfilled that goal all by myself.
I know that sounds neurotic, but I just wanted to be sure that I was saved. I was plagued with questions like “Last time I prayed that, did I feel sorry enough about my sins?” and “Since praying the prayer, have I followed Jesus closely enough?”
I knew the Bible said that we were “saved [by] faith,” (Ephesians 2:8) but I wanted to know: what was the faith that saves, and how could I be sure I had it?
I’ve since found that a lot of Christians have these same questions. Ask 20 different people what “faith” is, and you’ll likely get as many different answers. Some think of it as a general sense that God is real. Others think it means sincerity in religion. They say, “I’m getting more serious about my faith.” Some think having faith just means adopting a positive, hopeful outlook on life. Others think it just means that at some point you prayed the infamous “sinner’s prayer,” asking Jesus into your heart.
So here’s the question we want to consider: what is the faith that saves, and how can we know that we have it?
- In the book, I used the example of Abraham. How was Abraham saved? He was saved by faith. And his faith was credited to him as righteousness.
- The faith that saves is believing God’s promise and resting on it. The only difference between our faith and Abraham’s is that Abraham looked forward, believing God’s promise to send salvation; you and I look backward, believing he has sent it.
- Christians trust God to keep his promise to them just as Abraham trusted God to keep his promise to him. If we believe that God has forgiven our sins in Jesus, just as he promised (v 25), then, like Abraham, our faith is credited to us as righteousness. That’s the faith that saves.
- We know that faith doesn’t exclude effort, but it does exclude earning. In other words, we’ll never earn our salvation – but saving faith shows evidence (fruit) in the life of the believer.
- As Martin Luther said, “The law says, ‘Do this,’ and it is never done. Grace says, ‘Believe in this,’ and everything is already done.”
You know, preachers often ask people the question: “If you died tonight and God were to say, ‘Why should I let you into heaven?’ what would you say?” The question has become a cliché, but it’s actually a good one to consider. What would you say?
- Many say, “Well, because I was a good person.” Or “Because I tried my best.” “Because I was a sincere Christian and always tried to live out what I believed.”
- But faith that saves always starts its answer with “Because Jesus…” It would never start with “Because I…” Why? Because any answer that starts with me is going to reveal faith in my work, not faith in his. The faith that saves is the faith that leans all its hope for heaven, and for life, on Jesus Christ.
How you answer that question, then, is how you can know whether you have the faith that saves. This is how the younger, sinner’s-prayer-praying, baptism-junkie J.D. could have stopped worrying about whether he’d prayed some prayer well enough or felt sorry deeply enough or gotten committed to Jesus strongly enough to be saved. I could have rested in the fact that he did what he said he did. This is how you can live with a confidence undiminished by unchosen circumstances or unsuccessful Christian living, free of anxiety about how this life will go and what will happen to you in the next one.
Why should God let you into heaven?
“Because Jesus died and rose to take my sins and give me his righteousness.”
This is my answer. What’s yours?
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