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Many in our society don't know for sure they will go to heaven because historically the church has done a poor job of communicating the message of eternal life.


I am glad I know that I have eternal life because God has changed my life and given me real purpose and meaning which I never had before. My high school years were a particularly difficult time in my life as I saw my mother being debilitated by a serious illness. I remember thinking to myself many times, "I don't know where I am coming from, and I don't know where I'm going."


I was beginning to seek God as I started attending a church with my older sister, and one day after a church group softball game, a friend sat down with me and explained how I could know for sure I was going to heaven. That day I gained the assurance of eternal life, and God has given me a completely new outlook and meaning. It truly was the most significant decision of my life!


I am so glad I know for certain that I have eternal life and that I'm going to heaven when I die! May I ask you a question?


Have you come to the place in your spiritual life where you know for certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven, or is that something you would say you're still working on?


I did not know for sure myself for many years, but then I discovered this was the very reason the Bible was written. The Bible says, "I write these things...so that you may know that you have eternal life" (1 John 5:13, NIV).


May I share with you how I came to know for certain I have eternal life, and how you can know also?


Before I share with you, let me ask you another question. Suppose you were to die today and stand before God and He were to say to you, "Why should I let you into my heaven?" - what would you say?


Many people would answer, "I have tried to be a good person" or "I think the good in my life will outweigh the bad" or other similar answers. If that is how you answered, friend, I am extremely pleased to inform you that I have for you the greatest news you have ever heard!


And that is that heaven is a free gift. The Bible says, "For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23, NIV).


And because it is a free gift, it is not earned or deserved. The Bible says, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9, NIV).


So you see eternal life cannot be both a gift and something you earn at the same time.


Suppose your best friend were to surprise you with an expensive gift, and let's suppose your response would be to immediately dig into your wallet or purse for a couple of bills to help pay for the gift. What an insult that would be! If you tried to pay even one penny, it would no longer be a gift. It is the same with eternal life.


This can be seen more clearly when we see what the Bible says about man. Now the Bible is very clear in what it says, and that is that man is a sinner. The Bible says, "For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23, NIV).


We don't use the word "sin" in our culture very much any more. I'm wondering how you might define sin?


The simplest definition I know is that sin is any time I fall short of God's perfect standard. When we think of sin, many times we think only of robbery, murder, adultery, or other major wrongs. But the Bible tells us that sin is anything that does not please God or is a transgression of His law - anything we do that we shouldn't do, like losing our temper or stealing - these are sins of commission - or anything that we should do, but we fail to do, like failing to read the Bible or pray or truly love our neighbor - these are sins of omission. And there are sins not just in deed, but also in word and thought, like lying, cursing, lust, pride, and hatred.


I wonder how many times a day I do that? 25 times, 15 times, or 5 times? or suppose I was practically a walking angel and only had 3 sins a day - even if I was this good, I would still have over 1,000 transgressions in a year! If I lived to the age of 70, I would have 70,000 violations of the law of God on my record. Think of what would happen to a habitual offender in a criminal court with 70,000 transgressions on his record.


This illustrates that my sin is a very serious issue.


And because we are sinners, we cannot save ourselves.


Well, there really is one way we could save ourselves. Jesus told us, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48, NIV). Now that leaves me out! Does that leave you out?


Now a lot of people think, "The good in my life will outweigh the bad." But suppose I were to prepare an omelet with five good eggs and one rotten egg. I could not serve it to company and expect it to be acceptable, could I? Even less can we serve our lives up to God, which may have many things in them that men would call good, and yet are filled with deeds and thoughts that are rotten, and expect them to be acceptable to God.


Do you see now why it is impossible for anyone to get into heaven by their good works?


This comes into clearer focus when we see what the Bible says about God.


One of the most wonderful truths about God is that He is merciful and therefore does not want to punish us. The Bible says that "God is love" (1 John 4:8, NIV). But the same Bible that tells us that God is love also tells us that God is just, and therefore must punish sin. It says in another place, "He does not leave the guilty unpunished" (Exodus 34:7, NIV). So on the one hand, God loves us, but on the other hand, He must punish our sin.


God solved this problem in the Person of Jesus Christ.


Now Jesus is the most famous Person in history, but He is also one of the most misunderstood. I am wondering, who do you think Jesus is?


The Bible teaches us that Jesus is the Son of God. But it not only teaches us that He is the Son of God - He is God the Son. He is the infinite God-Man. What this means is that He is 100% God and 100% man. The Bible says at the beginning of the book of John, "In the beginning was the Word" - now the phrase "the Word" is capitalized, meaning it is one of the titles for Jesus. It goes on to say, "and the Word (that is, Jesus) was with God, and the Word (again, Jesus) was God. The Word became flesh and made His dwelling among us. We have seen His glory, the glory of the One and Only, Who came from the Father, full of grace and truth" (John 1:1, 14, NIV).


This is what we celebrate in the Christmas story: Jesus came to earth as a baby.


And the main reason He came was to die on the cross and rise from the dead to pay the penalty for our sins and purchase a place in heaven for us.


One of the best ways to help visualize this is to imagine I have a book in my left hand that represents a record book. It has in minute detail a record of everything in my life - good, bad, or indifferent. Here then is the problem - my sin. God loves me, but He hates my sin and must punish it. To solve this problem, He sent His Son into the world. The Scripture says, "We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all" (Isaiah 53:6, NIV). Now imagine me transferring the record book from my left hand (me) and laying it on my right hand (representing Christ). All of my sin which God hates has been laid on Jesus Christ.


Finally when the last sin had been paid for, Jesus said, "It is finished!" This is an interesting word in the original text. It is TETELESTAI, a commercial word which means, "It is paid; the debt is paid." When He died, He was buried in a grave for three days, but He rose from the dead and went to heaven to prepare a place for you and me. Now He offers heaven - eternal life - as a free gift.


And this gift is received by faith.


Now faith is a word that is used in a lot of different ways in our day, both in and out of the church. So I want to take a couple of minutes to define just what faith is and what it is not.


It is sort of like a key ring. There are many keys on it. Some even look somewhat alike. Yet when I go to my house to unlock my front door, I could try all of these keys except the right one, and none would unlock the door. It does not matter how sincere I am in believing that a different key will open the door - the fact is that only the right key will open the door.


The right key that opens the door to heaven is saving faith. But before we talk about saving faith, I want to talk about a couple of other things that people often mistake for saving faith.


The first is what we might call mere head knowledge - knowing facts about Jesus. Many people know certain historical facts about Jesus. They believe in Jesus the same way they believe in Napoleon or George Washington. They believe He actually existed, that He was a real person in history, but they are not trusting in Him to do anything for them now. The Bible says that the devil believes in God. The book of James says, "You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that - and shudder" (James 2:19, NIV). So believing in God's existence is not what the Bible means by saving faith.


Another thing that people often mistake for saving faith is temporal, or temporary, faith. A person might trust in the Lord for finances - we could call that "financial faith." He might pray and trust in the Lord to take care of his family - we could call that "family faith." Many people have prayed for a safe trip - we could call that "traveling faith." All these things are good, but there is one thing they all have in common - they are all temporary. For instance, once you reach your destination, you do not need to trust the Lord for traveling faith. So temporal faith is not the key that opens the door to heaven.


The Bible is very clear what that key is. Someone once asked the great missionary and apostle Paul this very question. He asked Paul, "What must I do to be saved?" and the response was, "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved" (Acts 16:31, NIV). The word "believe" means "to trust." So saving faith is trusting in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.


Now I have shared a lot with you. Maybe I can bring it all together by using the illustration of two chairs. Suppose I am sitting in a chair and I point to another, empty chair across the room. Suppose I were to ask you, "Do you believe that chair would support me if I were to sit in it?" You would answer, "Yes." Then I would reply, "But it is not holding me up for one simple reason: I am not sitting in it."


For the sake of illustration, let the chair I am sitting in now represent me, and let the empty chair represent Christ. For a long time I believed Jesus existed, that He could help me, but I did not have eternal life because I was trusting in my own good works. You might say I was sitting in the "Norm" chair. Then I repented of my sins and transferred my trust from myself to Jesus Christ - from trusting in my own works to what Jesus did for me on the cross. You might say that I moved to the "Jesus" chair.


And when I received eternal life, I was like a beggar reaching out an unworthy hand to accept the gift of a king. I did not deserve it then, and I do not deserve it now, but I have it by grace!


So why then should I try to live a good life? The answer is out of gratitude. I am not trying to gain something I could never earn - rather, I simply want to say by my life, "Thank You, Lord, for what You have done for me!"


Dear friend, does this make sense to you?


Friend, this is the greatest story ever told, about the greatest Person Who ever lived, offering the greatest gift that could ever be offered. And so the greatest question that could ever be asked is this: Would you like to receive the gift of eternal life?


Now this is such an important matter that I want to clarify what this involves.


To receive eternal life means that you will transfer your trust from what you have been doing to Jesus Christ alone for your salvation.


Secondly it means to receive the resurrected and living Christ as Savior. Jesus says in the book of Revelation, "Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with him, and he with Me" (Revelation 3:20, NIV). Now the sharing of a meal back in that culture was the most intimate kind of friendship. And so as you acknowledge your sin and receive Christ as Savior, He comes into your life to forgive you and cleanse you of your sin and become your Savior.


Third, it means receiving Christ as Lord. One way to illustrate this is to think of your heart as a throne room. Up until now, you have been sitting on the throne of your life. What receiving Christ as Lord means is that you step down off the throne and let Jesus sit on the throne where He belongs. You are saying, in essence, "Lord Jesus, since You have made me, and I belong to You, You are the One Who should control my life."


Lastly, it means to repent. This can be illustrated by how we drive sometimes. If I am going south down the road and I realize my destination is north, what kind of turn do I need to make? A U-turn. So every time you see a U-turn sign, that is a "repent" sign. What this means is that we have a change of mind or attitude and say, "I was going the wrong way, but I am choosing to turn around and start going the right way" - it is a change of direction. Now that does not just happen once, it happens on an ongoing basis in our lives, as God shows us where we are going our own way, and we agree with Him, and make a U-turn, and decide to go His way.


My friend, if this is what you really want, my prayer for you is that God will grant you, in this very moment, faith and repentance to transfer your trust to Jesus Christ alone for eternal life.


Now you may pray and tell the Lord:


Heavenly Father, thank You that heaven is a free gift. I cannot earn it. I do not deserve it. I acknowledge that I am a sinner, and I cannot save myself. Thank You that You are a loving God Who does not want to punish me, but You are a just God Who must punish my sin. Thank You for sending Jesus Christ to die on the cross and rise from the dead to pay the penalty for my sins and purchase a place in heaven for me. I now transfer my trust from myself to Jesus Christ alone for my salvation. Forgive and cleanse me of my sin. Take Your rightful place on the throne of my life. Thank You for the wonderful gift of eternal life, which I now gladly receive. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.


If you have just prayed this prayer to receive Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, my prayer for you now is that God's Holy Spirit will give you the complete assurance that you have eternal life and a home in heaven. I pray that from this moment forward, God will begin to change your life from the inside out and show you how real and powerful He is.


Now I would like to show you something Jesus says about what you have just done. Jesus said, "I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life" (John 6:47, NIV). He says, "I tell you the truth." Do you believe Jesus tells the truth? He says, "He who believes..." - in the context that means he who believes on Christ - "has everlasting life." Just a moment ago, is that what you did, when you prayed, expressing your faith and trust in Jesus Christ alone for eternal life? So what does Jesus say that you have? Eternal life. It does not say that you might have or could have or will have, but you do have eternal life.


My friend, praise the Lord, and welcome to the family of God!


Today is your spiritual birthday, so I encourage you to write down a "spiritual birth certificate" for yourself so that you will always remember this day and the significance of it.


Now there are five means of growth that you will need to begin to develop as habits in order to grow in your Christian life.


The first is to read the Bible every day. If you have never read the Bible before, the book of John in the New Testament is an excellent place to begin.


The second is to pray every day. Prayer is simply talking to your heavenly Father. A useful acronym to use is A-C-T-S: Adoration (praising God for Who He is - holy, all-powerful, etc.); Confession of your sins; Thanksgiving - thanking God for His blessings; and Supplication - presenting requests to Him on your behalf or on the behalf of others.


The third is to worship regularly in a church that teaches you the Bible. Worship is vital to spiritual growth.


The fourth is to fellowship with other Christians regularly. Sunday School or small-group Bible studies are wonderful ways to begin to fellowship with other Christians.


The fifth is to witness. Witnessing is simply sharing the joy of your salvation with others - by your actions demonstrating to them the love of Christ, and by your words, sharing with them the greatest news they have ever heard, the Gospel.


If you have received Christ as your Savior, we would like to pray for you and send you some free materials that will help you in your Christian life. You may click on the "Email us" link on the left.


Adapted from Evangelism Explosion International.