If you are looking for a Bible passage that explains what it takes to get to heaven, Ephesians 2:8-10 is a good place to start. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from ourselves, 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.”
The focus of this article is the words “by grace” and “through faith”, which is the way Paul explains “the how” of salvation. These two prepositional phrases teach us how a person is saved. Let’s examine both of them.
Salvation is received by grace.
“Grace” is such a commonly used word among Christians, I fear it has lost its significance. And it should be used often – in the New Testament it is found over 100 times. But when I hear someone say before a meal, “Let’s say grace,” I get concerned because the word means so much more than a short prayer of thanksgiving for food.
Grace means “the unmerited favor of God toward man.” Grace means that God loves us and cares for us even though we don’t deserve it and we certainly didn’t do anything to earn it. We deserve to be punished for our sins. But because Jesus died for us, God offers salvation instead of damnation. So we don’t get what we really deserve because God is a merciful God and does not want anyone to go to hell — “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish” (1 Peter 3:9). Our God is truly “full of compassion and mercy.” (James 5:11).
Salvation is received through faith.
God’s grace makes salvation possible. God’s grace results in His offer of salvation to anyone and everyone. But for salvation to be received, a human response is required. In the New Testament, the most commonly used word to describe what a person must do to appropriate God’s salvation is the noun “faith” (or belief) or it’s closely related verb, “believe”.
This is the plain teaching of Scripture: faith in Jesus Christ is the only means by which a person can be saved and receive eternal life instead of eternal damnation. Beginning with the Bible’s most well known verse, we find Jesus Himself telling Nicodemus what it takes to be saved:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:16-18).
I’m always grateful when God presents a truth by repeating a particular word. Repetition is a great teacher, is it not? In just those three verses, the word “believe” appears four times. Obviously, Jesus was trying to get the point across that faith is the human response that God requires for salvation to be received.
I encourage you to do a word study on “faith” and “believe”. Get a concordance (or use a website like www.BibleGateway.com) and look up every verse in the New Testament that contains either of those words. You’ll be amazed at how often it appears.
In the book of Acts, for example, Luke chronicles the growth of the early church through the preaching of the apostles. The following verses record the response of converts to Christianity with the same word – “believe”. In Jerusalem (4:4, 5:14, 6:7), Samaria (8:12-13), Lydda (9:42), Antioch (11:21), Cyprus (13:12), Pisidian Antioch (13:48), Iconium (14:1), Philippi (16:34), Berea (17:12), Athens (17:34), Corinth (18:8), and Ephesus (19:18) – in every city where the gospel was preached, people heard the message of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ and believed in the Lord.
God’s methodology hasn’t changed in 2,000 years. As the gospel is preached throughout the world today, we too must respond in faith to the grace of God in order to receive the salvation that only Jesus can provide.