Imagine that it's the morning of your birthday. Your mum surprises you with an expensive gift - the latest iPhone. "Wow! Thanks Mum!" you say. Then you reach into your pocket for some change to pay your mum. If you pay, would it be a gift? It wouldn't. Also, trying to pay your mum would be an insult.
Or let's say a dad wants to encourage his teenage daughter to work hard in school so he tells her, "If you get all A's this year I'll buy you a car for Christmas."
At the end of the year she gets all A's and, true to his word, he buys her a car. Is it a gift? No. It's actually a reward for performance.
A gift must be freely given and be freely received. If you have to pay, or do something in return - it's not a gift.
The Bible tells us that heaven (eternal life) is a completely free gift:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can't take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NLT
For the wages of sin is death but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 6:23 NLT
No one deserves a place in heaven. And no one can earn a place.
Suppose you were making an omelette that needed six eggs. One by one you crack open each egg and drop the yolk into a bowl. You get to the last one, crack it open and drop it in. Suddenly you turn your head away and pinch your nose. The last egg is rotten.
You have no choice but to throw it all away. Although there are five good eggs in the bowl, one bad egg spoils everything.
Just as you wouldn't serve your family an omelette contaminated by one bad egg, we can't bring to a holy God a life contaminated by even one sin and expect him to accept it.
God's standard is extreme. For him, anger is the same as murder; a lustful thought is the same as adultery. Sin is not just what we do - but anything we think, say, do or even don't do that fails to meet God's perfect standard.
For everyone has sinned;
we all fall short of God's glorious standard.
Romans 3:23 NLT
"But I'm a good person," you may be thinking. "I take care of my family. I volunteer in my community. I don't steal or hurt anyone. Surely I should be let into heaven?"
If you want to get into heaven by trying to live a good life, this is how good, Jesus said, you'll need to be:
But you are to be perfect,
even as your Father in heaven is perfect.
Matthew 5:48 NLT
The standard for getting into heaven is total perfection in thought and deed. In short, you'll have to be as good as God is. It's impossible for a human being to reach this standard.
Imagine that a desperate man decides to rob a bank. He walks up to the teller, points a gun at her and gruffly demands money.
The frightened teller hands it over.
He shoves the money into a garbage bag and rushes towards the exit. But on the way he trips on the carpet and falls heavily, dropping the gun. The bank security guards overpower him.
When in court, the judge asks the robber, "How do you plead?"
"Guilty," he responds softly. He has no other option. The evidence against him is overwhelming.
"Your honour," the robber continues, "this is my first offence. I didn't hurt anyone. The bank got all the money back. Can you please forget what I've done and let me go?"
Would the judge be just if he let the robber go? No he wouldn't. The judge has to uphold the law and the law requires that a man found guilty of robbery should be punished.
God is even more just than any human judge. He cannot and will not excuse our sin.
...God is love.
1 John 4:8 NLT
But I [God] do not excuse the guilty.
Exodus 34:7 NLT
This is the dilemma: God is love and he does not want to punish us. But God is also just and he must punish our sin.
Jesus is God in a human body. He's not just a good man,
a prophet or a teacher.
In the beginning the Word [Jesus] already existed; the Word was with God and the Word was God...The Word became a human being and, full of grace and truth, lived among us. We saw his glory, the glory which he received as the Father's only son.
John 1:1,14 TEV
God loves us but he hates our sin. He yearns to enjoy an intimate relationship with us. But our sin is the wall that separates him from us.
To solve this problem, God took all our sin - sins past, sins present and also all future sins - and placed them on Jesus. Then, he punished Jesus for our sins.
All of us were like sheep that were lost, each of us going his own way. But the Lord made the punishment fall on him [Jesus], the punishment all of us deserved.
Isaiah 53:6 TEV
Jesus was handed over to barbaric men who beat him and humiliated him. He was punched, slapped and spat on. His flesh was lacerated as he was scourged - the whip was tipped with pieces of metal.
As the men laughed at him, a crown of thorns was forced onto his head. Iron spikes were then hammered through his hands and feet - he was nailed to a cross.
Finally, when he had paid for the last sin Jesus said, "Tetelestai." An ancient business word that means: The price has been paid.
Jesus died. But three days later God raised him from the dead.
This means that your sins have already been punished. They just weren't punished in your body.
Jesus died on the cross and rose from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins and to purchase a place in heaven for us. A place he now offers to us as a free gift.
Just as soap exists but can only cleanse our bodies if we use it - the gift exists but it can only benefit us if we accept it.
To log in to my bank account I need to enter a password. I could try many passwords. But only the correct password will work. Saving faith is the only password that unlocks access to heaven.
What is saving faith?
A scientist may know many facts about water, but if she is crawling through the desert dying of thirst, head knowledge will not save her. She needs to drink water. Head knowledge that God exists is not saving faith.
Before going on a journey we might pray to God for protection or before writing an exam we might ask him for help. Turning to God only when we are in need or in a crisis is temporary faith.
Saving faith is not head knowledge that God exists, neither is it temporary faith. True saving faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.
Then he led them out and asked,
"Sirs, what must I do to be saved?"
"Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved—
you and your family."
Acts 16:30-31 TEV
Imagine you're out sailing. You are caught in a violent storm. Huge waves come crashing over your small boat. One of them sinks the boat and you end up in the icy water clinging desperately to a piece of wood.
A ship spots you and rushes over. The captain comes to the handrailing and shouts, "Hey! I'm throwing you a life preserver. Grab It! We'll pull you to safety."
In the same way, God sees us drowning in our sin. We are powerless to save ourselves. So he calls out to us, "I've already thrown you a life preserver. His name is Jesus. Let go of the piece of wood. Grab on to him and I will pull you to safety."
We must choose - either keep holding onto a piece of wood (trying to save ourselves) or let go and trust Jesus to save us.
Jesus is the only way to eternal life. He's God's only life preserver. In order to receive the gift of eternal life we must place our faith in
Jesus Christ alone.
You are not reading this by accident. God loves you. He would like to offer you forgiveness of sins and a place in his family.
Do you want to receive the gift of eternal life?
There's no complicated ritual to follow. The gift is received simply by asking for it.
If your answer is yes, please say the following prayer:
Dear Jesus. I am a sinner. I want to receive your free gift of eternal life. I believe that you are the son of God. I believe that you died for my sins. I believe that you rose from the dead. I choose to place my trust in you alone. Thank you Jesus for the free gift of eternal life. Amen.
This is what Jesus said about what you've just done:
I tell you the truth, anyone who believes has eternal life.
John 6:47 NLT
This means that we receive eternal life the instant we believe. Because you believed, you have received it.
But to all who believed him [Jesus] and accepted him, he gave the right to become children of God. They are reborn—not with a physical birth resulting from human passion or plan, but a birth that comes from God.
John 1:12-13 NLT
You are now part of God's family. Nothing you do can change that - once a baby is born, he or she cannot be unborn.
Your past, present and future sins have been forgiven. In God's eyes you are, and always will be, radiantly pure. Just like Jesus.