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He counted me faithful,
putting me into the ministry.
What Exactly Must I Do to Go to Heaven? (Sermon in a Letter)
What Exactly Must I Do to Go to Heaven?
(originally sent out as Bible Ntoes in four parts)
.. Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of the kingdom, And saying, 'The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel.' (Mark 1:14, 15)
"What exactly must I do to go to Heaven?" This was the question I was asked in a letter from a total stranger in the year 1994. This Bible Note will contain the response letter/sermon that I sent to this man. Some words will be presented here as links. The reader should be able to left-click (or double left-click) on the words to follow a link to a previous Bible Note dealing with a related subject. Now, let us read the letter.
I was glad to receive your letter. Perhaps you are aware that very few people bring this very important question to a minister. It should not be this way, but people act like they are going to spend eternity upon this temporary, material world. Few think much and seriously about the only two places to which they could go after this life is over: Heaven or Hell. I feel that this is so important that it is worth my time to write this response, while I ought to be sleeping.
As I answer your question, you could think it's too simple, or even too complicated. Again, you may think it's too demanding, or else too easy. However, if you were trapped in a burning building, I'm sure you would do your best to listen to and obey the instructions of a fireman attempting to save your life. Just think of me as a spiritual "fireman", who is giving you the Instructions (God's Word) for escaping the very jaws of an eternal Hell, where "the fire is not quenched" (Mark 9:44).
If indeed I give you God's instructions for escaping Hell, and for entering Heaven, how much more ought you to listen and obey? If you have a Bible, you ought to check all this out for yourself. If you don't have one, you ought to get one for this purpose. If you are inquiring of several different ministers concerning this question, you could become quite confused. This is a sad indictment against the ministry of our day, yet it is true. Many are not preaching the whole counsel of God.
If every person, who is not right with God, would be honest, they too would say that they are haunted by the prospect of what will happen after death. You see, "It is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment." (Hebrews 9:27). "For God will bring every work into judgment, .. whether it be good or whether it be evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). "For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that everyone may receive according to that which he hath done..." (II Corinthians 5:10).
Since we all must be judged by God, and He will not miss a thing, we are in trouble. You are in trouble. "For all have sinned and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 6:23); and "The soul that sinneth it shall die." (Ezekiel 18:20). God let the apostle, John, see an awful scene in the future: "And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works .. they were judged every man .. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire." (Revelation 20:12-15).
Obviously, some people will have their names written in the book of life, thereby escaping Hell and entering Heaven.
Having laid some negative groundwork for answering your question, let us consider some positive groundwork for the same purpose. As stated above, we have all earned a place in Hell, "For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord." (Romans 6:23). Stated in the simplest terms, in order to go to Heaven, one must receive this "gift" from God. There is much more involved in the reception of this gift, however, than many people are willing to accept. You see, God has stated some conditions which are necessary on the part of the recipient.
First of all, please understand this: no amount of good that you could do can make up for the bad that you have done, because "A man is not justified by the works of the law" (Galatians 2:16). "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: not of works,..." (Ephesians 2:8, 9).
There are some things you must do to go to Heaven, but those things won't save you from your sins or earn you an entrance into Heaven upon their own merit. What you need is a Savior, Who can do for you what you cannot do for yourself. You cannot erase your past sins, but He has promised to forgive you and to blot them out. You cannot make yourself acceptable to God, but He can, if you will let Him. You are caught in a trap of sin, and bound by its chains, but He wants to set you free.
Since you cannot do anything to make up for your sins and to earn your way into Heaven, God Himself has decided to become you Savior. If you will let Him, He will save you. "God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16). "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent His Son into the world, that we might live through Him." (I John 4:9). How did this help? Well, "God commendeth His love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ" (His Son) "died for us." (Romans 5:8). But, not only did He die for us, He also arose from the dead on the third day thereafter. (see Acts 1:1-3; Matthew 28:1-10; I Corinthians 15:3-8). What could a dead savior do for us? He is alive today, and we shall see Him at the Judgment.
This Savior, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, gave us a straight-forward answer to your question: "The kingdom of heaven is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel." (Mark 1:15). Heaven is near at hand; it is within your reach; it is available for the asking. Jesus told how to reach out and take it for ourselves. He gave us two conditions primarily by which we may receive His gift of salivation and be ready for Heaven when we die. One is to "repent" (see Repentance), the other is to "believe the gospel" (see What Must I Do to Be Saved?). However, these conditions have been greatly misrepresented and misunderstood in our time. I will do my best to explain the biblical principles found in the true meaning of these terms.
Last time we left off with the idea that Jesus taught two conditions for entering the kingdom of God: "Repent" and "Believe the Gospel". Now, I will continue to quote from the letter I had written to answer the question, "What exactly must I do to go to Heaven?"
Repent means to "think differently" or to "think afterwards", to "reconsider"; literally to "change one's mind". This involves a change of attitude concerning something. In God's Word, when this word is used in relation to man, it exclusively refers to the idea of a man's sin(s), and it carries with it the idea of a change in behavior. Please notice different aspects, or particulars, that we find in the Bible, which are necessary to a true concept and proper participation in this condition of salvation. Note: These are not necessarily in chronological order.
A. Sorrow for Sin
Repentance involves a "godly sorrow" for sin (2 Corinthians 7:9, 11). You must be sorry that you have sinned against God, that you have broken His commandments. Joel 2:12 states, "Therefore, .. saith the Lord, turn ye even unto me with all your heart, .. with weeping, and with mourning." YOU must come to God in prayer, with a heart that is truly broken over your own sinfulness.
All the way through, on the way to Heaven, prayer is necessary. You may say, "I don't know how to pray!" I don't think I know how to pray either. Really, you just talk to God like you would to your best friend. Only remember that you are talking to the Almighty God, and not to a mere man.
Tell Him how sorry you are. If you don't feel as sorry as you think you should, ask Him to make you sorry. This sorrow, remember, is a "godly" sorrow. This means that you begin to feel about your sins as God feels about them. HE hates them. HE utterly detests your sins. This is the way you need to feel about them. Also, you should be sorry that you have disobeyed Him, not that you have gotten caught or have been caused trouble because of them. You should be sorry that you have so dishonored God. (See the following Bible Notes for more about "godly sorrow": Repentance (Part 2) and Repentance, A Broken and Contrite Spirit)
B. Confession of Sin
While you are telling God how sorry you are for your sins, tell Him exactly what they are. Yes, tell on yourself to God. Tell Him what kind of sinner you are. "Only acknowledge thine iniquity, that thou hast transgressed against the Lord thy God" (Jeremiah 3:13). Confess to Him every sin you've done that comes to your mind. Don't be dishonest or deceitful about any of your sins; don't hide them. You can't hide them from God; He sees them all anyway. "He that covereth his sins shall not prosper." (Proverbs 28:13). You won't get anything much accomplished, in talking to the Lord, unless you are totally honest.
God has promised to forgive (and thus save), if you confess. In this confession you are to say the same thing about your sins as God does. In other words, you must say that God is right about all that HE has to say in His Word (the Bible) about your sins, and that you have been wrong in committing these sins. Here is the promise: "If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." (1 John 1:9) (For more on confession of sin see Bible Note: Repentance (Part 4), Confession of Sin.)
C. Turning from Sin
IF you are truly as sorry for your sins as you ought to be, and tell on yourself to God as you should, you will naturally come to the reality that you must get out of the sin business. This is an aspect of repentance much overlooked in our day. "Let the wicked forsake his way and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7). "Whoso confesseth and forsaketh them" (sins) "shall have mercy" (Proverbs 28:13).
Jesus told a woman, who had been caught in adultery, "Neither do I condemn thee: go and sin no more." (John 8:11). Even so, for you to get to Heaven, you must quit sinning. With the Lord's help you can do it -- "I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me." (Philippians 4:13). For more about turning from sin see Repentance (Part 5), Forsaking All Sin.)
Please remember that this mini-series of Bible Notes is basically the reproduction of a letter written to answer a stranger's question, "What exactly must I do to go to Heaven?". Last time, I covered three points dealing with the concept of repentance: A. Sorrow for Sin, B. Confession of Sin, and C. Turning from Sin.
Now, we will continue with three more points dealing with repentance: Correcting Past Sins, Forgiving Other's Sins, and Committing One's Life. Then we will begin to deal with the second very important instruction Jesus gave, "Believe the gospel". (One brief note I insert here: Whether the earnest seeker after God understands all these aspects of repentance is not nearly as important as the fact that he or she actually obeys God in everything as He speaks to their heart. God will lead the earnest, honest seeker step by step with great patience and mercy and will not hold a lack of understanding against them; but, understanding more about repentance and faith will most certainly help the seeker to make progress in getting closer to God and in finding God's grace and peace to satisfy their heart's desire.)
A. Correcting Past Sins
While it is true that sin is primarily against God (Psalm 51:4), sin is of such a nature that it injures others around us. Therefore, in order for your repentance to be thorough, you must make things right with your fellow man, as far as it is possible to do so (see Luke 19:1-10). This is called "restitution". This is a much neglected subject, but it is every bit as necessary as telling God how sorry you are. Would you believe that someone was really sorry for stealing your belongings, if he did not return those which he still possessed? Of course not! Neither will God, Who sees your heart, believe for a moment that you are really sorry for the wrongs you may have done to others while you are not willing and ready to make right any such thing when you remember it.
Here are some of the things you should do as God speaks to your heart about them: Any stolen items must be returned or paid for as soon as possible; any lies will have to be confessed to and the truth told as it should have been done the first time; any troubles you caused others must be rectified to the best of your ability; and, sincere apologies must be given, whether or not the offended parties are willing to forgive. In order to be at peace with God, you will have to do everything within your power to be at peace with your fellow man.
You are responsible to make these things right as soon as possible. Yet, you may not remember many of them until even after God forgives you and saves your soul. Or, you may not be able to straighten out some things until a later time. If you intend to do so, and say that you will from your heart, God will take you at your word. Of course, you wouldn't dare try to fool Him Who knows all things. Also, some things may be impossible to repair, such as in the case of murder (We cannot bring back the dead, only God can do that, but rarely does.). But, God will still forgive, if you are truly sorry.
(See also, Repentance (Part 7), RESTITUTION)
B. Forgiving Other's Sins
You must also forgive everyone who has done you wrong. Imagine asking God to forgive you for all you have done against Him, while you will not forgive the wrongs others have done against you, though they are so little in comparison to the sum total of your sins against God. In Matthew 6:14, 15, we read the words of Jesus, "If ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses."
(For more about forgiving others see, Repentance (Part 6), A FORGIVING SPIRIT)
C. Committing One's Life
Jesus said, "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me." (Mark 8:34). Tell the Lord, while praying with an attitude of deep repentance, that whatever is left of your life belongs to Him. Promise Him that you will serve Him from now on. Surrender your self and your life into His hands and ask Him to make you a brand new person inside and out, so that you can live right and please Him.
"If any man be in Christ, he is a new creature; old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new." (2 Corinthians 5:17)
While you are thus praying and doing your very best to repent of all your sins and to turn your life and heart over to the Savior, you will come to the next very necessary condition, upon which the gift of eternal life will be granted to you.
Believe the Gospel
In the last three Bible Notes, we have been looking at the two instructions Jesus gave for people interested in making it into Heaven, "repent" and "believe the gospel". We have been especially looking into the meaning and application of true repentance. Now we will look at the meaning and application of saving faith or of believing the gospel.
II. Believe the Gospel
Now that we have thoroughly dealt with what it means to repent, we need to deal with the subject of faith. I want you to understand what the "gospel" is, and how you are to believe it in order to be saved from sin and Hell, and thus become ready to go to Heaven.
A. What the Gospel Is
If you would review the earlier portion of this letter (part 1 of this series), you will find the Gospel in brief. It is the story of how God went about to make a way for you and I to be able to go to Heaven. Of course, His Son, Jesus Christ, played the major part here on earth, when He "offered" Himself as the Sacrifice for our sins.
By the which will we are sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest standeth daily ministering and offering oftentimes the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins: But this man, after he had offered one sacrifice for sins for ever, sat down on the right hand of God; (Hebrews 10:10-12).
He did this by dying a horrible death on a cross, one of the most torturous deaths that has ever been inflicted upon any man. Not only did He die for our sins, but He came back to life on the third day thereafter. If you will read 1 Corinthians chapter 15, you will see how the writer so aptly explains the wonderful fact that, since Jesus was resurrected, you and I can also have a wonderful resurrection in the end, and then live forever with the Lord.
This being the gospel (gospel means "good news"), we are to believe it. You are to believe it in order to receive the benefits of this great salvation, which God has provided at such great cost to Himself.
B. How We Are to Believe It
Now, you have heard the "Good News" of how God wants to save you through the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ. If you have truly repented (or when you have done so), you must believe that God hears your prayer. Believe with your heart, not just your head. Believing involves at least three things: the assent of the mind (head, or intellectual, faith), the consent of the will, and the reliance of the heart. Furthermore, you must believe with all your heart. "With the heart man believeth unto righteousness." (Romans 10).
Not only should you believe that God hears your prayer, but also, you should believe that He is going to answer. You believe mentally? That's good, but the "devils also believe and tremble" (James 2:19). Have you really repented completely? Then you believe with the consent, or choice, of your will. Still, you cannot be saved, forgiven of your sins, until you rely upon Christ, your Savior, with all of your heart.
To apply this in a more real way is my desire. Oh, that you would believe Him to keep His Word. If you mean it, He takes you at your word. You know He means to give this salvation to you. If you really have confessed and forsaken your sins with all your heart, He knows and will have mercy upon you.
I have no doubt but that God will save you now, if you will trust Him to do it now. "For He saith, I have heard thee in a time accepted, and in the day of salvation have I succoured" (or helped) "thee: behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation." (1 Corinthians 6:2). According to this verse, God says that He hears your prayer now, and He will help you (save you) now. Now is the time acceptable to Him to save you and make you ready for Heaven. Now is the only time that is acceptable. God is not happy with your putting this off any longer; and neither will you be truly happy, until you believe Him to save you now.
You must come to the place in your praying, that you take God's promises for face value. You must, on the bare say-so of God's Word, trust with all your heart that He does now do what He said He would do. Trust in Him, not in feelings, not in circumstances. Trust in your Savior!
If you really do believe in Jesus Christ as your Savior, He will send, not only salvation, but also the "witness of the Spirit" of God. This witness will cause you to know in the depths of your heart that God does indeed save you, that you are now His child, that your name is written in the book of life, and that you are ready to go to Heaven.
The Spirit itself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are the children of God: (Romans 8:16)
Once you are able to believe, and you become certain that you are saved, you need to confess your new-found Savior to others. "Whosoever shall confess me before men, him will I also confess before my Father which is in Heaven." (Matthew 10:32).
(See also, Repentance (Part 8), FAITH)
Few people do all that it takes to cooperate with God, and to receive His wonderful gift of salvation. So many just "accept Christ", supposedly; but, in reality they do not receive Him. You see, He must accept you in order for you to be saved. But, He cannot accept you, until you are in the right frame of mind and attitude of heart to accept His conditions for your salvation.
I trust I have told you "exactly" what you need to do to get ready for Heaven. This may seem to be a long letter, but I did not want to be misunderstood on a matter of such great importance as the salvation of your eternal soul.
Yours In Christ,
Sincerely Yours in Christ,
The Bible Note Writer
written to glorify God
and to help souls
on the way to Heaven.
17/Jan/2008, 9:45 am
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