I picked up the phone and immediately recognized the voice. “Hey Wayne, can I ask you a question?” It was my friend Jim.
“Sure”, I replied. “Fire away.”
“I’m making a list of all the things you must do to get to heaven. Can you help me? I don’t want to miss anything. For example, how about giving to the poor? Do you think that should be on the list?”
I was shocked. I didn’t know what to say. My mind started racing as I quickly shifted into thinking mode.
It was Thursday morning. Just seven days earlier, Jim had double bypass heart surgery. The past year had been one of tremendous spiritual growth for Jim. He was earnestly seeking the answers to life’s most important questions. Prior to the surgery, we had spent six months meeting every week to study the Bible. We talked about the meaning of salvation and eternal life; we spent hours talking about spiritual things and what Christianity was all about. We studied the book of James verse by verse.
I had explained the gospel to Jim numerous times. Sometimes he seemed to understand, sometimes he didn’t. Like the farmer in Mark 4, I knew my job was just to plant the seed and let God do the rest. But I still wasn’t sure what kind of soil was present in his heart.
Even though I was caught off guard, once I heard Jim’s question, I knew that today could be a breakthrough day, a day when the light would finally dawn on his spiritual journey.
So I responded by asking Jim if he remembered the conversation we had two days prior to the surgery. We had talked about the surgery on a superficial level before, but now it was time to probe deeper. So I asked Jim, “What did the doctor say were the prospects for full recovery?” He said they were good. He also said the doctor was upfront with him regarding the possibility of death. He could die right there on the operating table.
“Are you ready to die, Jim?”
“I think so. I hope I’m good enough to make it.”
My heart sank. He still didn’t get it. So I explained the gospel to him again. “Salvation is not about being good enough. Nobody is good enough. It doesn’t matter how good you are or how bad you are — God does not give eternal life to people based on whether they are good enough. Salvation is given freely to those who do not trust in their own goodness; God only gives salvation to those who rely on the death of Jesus Christ to pay the penalty for sin that we deserve to pay. Salvation is received by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. It cannot be earned now matter how many good things you do.”
Jim nodded in agreement. Once again, he seemed to understand. I asked him again, “Are you ready to die?” He said he was.
Later that day I sent Jim an email to follow up on our lunch conversation. In this email I explained God’s way of salvation again, and referred him to one of the Bible’s clearest passages on the subject: Ephesians 2:8-10. We had discussed this passage in our weekly Bible study, and I figured it was time to expose him again to the direct teaching of Scripture.
There are many Bible verses that address Jim’s question, but this is one of the best:
“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. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”