The most important thing in life is to be in relationship with our heavenly Father. But different faiths teach different paths to God. So how can we know how to be united with our creator? The Bible makes it simple.
It Begins with God
God existed before anything – before time or matter. God is eternal. There was never a time he wasn’t fully God (Psalm 90:2). God made everything else that exists (Genesis 1:1). He made it all out of nothing, and he made it perfect (Genesis 1:31). So all things depend on him for their being.
Our Creator is a God of love (1 John 4:8). It was out of his love that he decided to create human beings. He made us with the intention that we would know him and love him back.
Our Problem Is Sin
Sadly, God’s purpose for humanity was broken and thwarted by sin. Sin can be defined by breaking God’s commandments, as when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 2:16-17 and 3:6). This tragic rebellion resulted in our first parents being alienated from God. The rest of humanity has been separated from God ever since.
[Related: Eve’s Sin – What Really Happened]
Sin is not just breaking commandments or neglecting to do what’s right. Sin is also an inclination within every human being toward disobedience and evil (Romans 7:18-19). Sin is our nature (Titus 3:3). As a race, we are fallen from God. As individuals, we are born far from God.
Ephesians 2:1-3 Once you were dead because of your disobedience and your many sins. You used to live in sin, just like the rest of the world, obeying the devil—the commander of the powers in the unseen world. He is the spirit at work in the hearts of those who refuse to obey God. All of us used to live that way, following the passionate desires and inclinations of our sinful nature. By our very nature we were subject to God’s anger, just like everyone else.
[Related: What It Means That Sin Brings Death]
The Bible paints a grim picture of the human condition. This picture is confirmed when we look at the state of the world – full of violence, hatred, and exploitation. It is confirmed when we look honestly at our own hearts (Romans 3:9-18). Sin is not just a checklist of actions to avoid. It is an inner bent that taints everything about us – even our good deeds (Isaiah 64:6). None of us measure up to God’s holy standards (Romans 3:23). Humans are fundamentally at odds with God (Colossians 1:21). Even religious or morally upright people are filled with self-sufficiency and pride in their own good works and good character, rather than dependent on God (James 4:6).
[Related: Is My Sin Really a Problem?]
This is why, according to the Bible, we cannot be made right with God by our own efforts or merit (Romans 3:20). God desires relationship with us. That’s why he created us. But he is holy and righteous (Isaiah 6:3). We simply cannot come to him until our sin has been dealt with. Due to sin, we can never be worthy enough to escape God’s righteous condemnation or to stand in God’s approval.
[Related: Humanity Under Sin]
Our Solution Is Jesus
The good news is that we can be reconciled to God (Romans 5:10-11). God took the initiative to do what we cannot do for ourselves. He made a way for our broken condition to be reversed.
Ephesians 2:4-5 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!)
In the Old Testament (OT), sin had to be paid for by shedding the lifeblood of a sacrificial animal (Leviticus 14:19-20; Hebrews 9:22). This was the purpose of the OT temple. The entire sacrificial system looked forward in anticipation to the greater, perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. His death on the cross accomplished what the death of bulls and goats could not (Hebrews 10:11-14). Because Jesus had no sin of his own, he made the perfect sacrifice for our sins (1 Peter 2:22-24). This sacrifice secured the complete forgiveness of our sins (Colossians 2:13-14), allowed the righteousness of Christ to be applied to us (Romans 3:21-22; 2 Corinthians 5:21), and opened the way for us to come freely into relationship with our heavenly Father (Hebrews 10:19-22).
[Related: Understanding the Cross After Leaving Mormonism]
[Related: The Cross of Jesus and the Altar]
[Related: The Cross of Jesus and the Courtroom]
Jesus’ role was not mainly to be an example for us to follow, but to be our Savior in the fullest possible sense – our rescuer and deliverer from death and from sin. His sacrifice is all we need to be right with God.
Titus 3:4-7 When God our Savior revealed his kindness and love, he saved us, not because of the righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He washed away our sins, giving us a new birth and new life through the Holy Spirit. He generously poured out the Spirit upon us through Jesus Christ our Savior. Because of his grace he made us right in his sight and gave us confidence that we will inherit eternal life.
Our Response Is Faith
Even though Jesus did everything anyone needs to be right with God, a relationship with him is not automatic. It takes a personal response. In the Bible, that response is two-fold: repentance and faith (Acts 20:21).
Repentance and faith are two sides of the same coin. Faith (or belief) is not just knowing the facts, although that is an important first step. Faith is trust. The results of Jesus’ sacrifice are offered to us as a free gift (Romans 6:23). A true gift is always offered unconditionally. Faith is simply the act of receiving the gift. It is a mindset of entrusting our life and our eternity entirely to Jesus and Jesus alone (2 Timothy 3:15) – as opposed to our own good works.
Ephesians 2:8-9 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
[Related: Understanding Grace and Faith After Mormonism]
Repentance is a 180-degree change of heart, where we turn from self to God. It is the flip side of faith because to trust in Jesus alone, we must turn from trusting in ourselves, our religious good works, or our worthiness.
Romans 9:31-32 But the people of Israel, who pursued the law as the way of righteousness, have not attained their goal. Why not? Because they pursued it not by faith but as if it were by works.
We must stop trusting in church or religion or anything else, in order to rely only on Jesus and what he has done. While true repentance and faith will eventually result in life-change (Acts 26:20), repentance itself is not about particular sins. It the more fundamental attitude of surrender that places our lives on a different pathway.
[Related: What Is True Repentance?]
It’s hard for many people to grasp the idea that we are saved entirely by grace, not by our good works. Some envision salvation as being partly by God’s grace and partly by our good works. But the Bible teaches that grace and works are mutually exclusive approaches (Romans 11:6). It’s not a matter of doing our best, and expecting Jesus to make up the rest. Rather, Jesus does it all. We can’t add anything to improve on what he has already done. Our part is simply to trust in his finished work.
But this doesn’t mean good works have no place for Christians. A changed life is the natural result of faith. When we trust in Jesus, we become new people (2 Corinthians 5:17; Galatians 2:20-21). We supernaturally receive a new life (Ephesians 2:4-5) and new nature (Ephesians 4:22-24). Good works flow out of our relationship with God.
Ephesians 2:10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Good works are not the cause of salvation, but the result. They reflect our new identity in Christ (Ephesians 5:8-10). Out of our love for him, in gratitude for his grace, we want to follow him and serve him.
[Related: What Does It Mean to Be a Child of God?]
[Related: How to Know Where You Stand with God]
Be sure to discuss the questions below to explore these concepts and to evaluate where you stand with God.