Some people believe they will go to heaven (i.e., have eternal salvation) because they were born into a Christian family, they were baptized as an infant, and/or they are a church member.
In this regard, Billy Graham says on page 169 of his book entitled Peace with God, “We cannot inherit Christianity . . . God has no grandchildren.” And, on page 111 of his book entitled The Holy Spirit, Graham states, “[Multitudes] have never been born again. They will go into eternity lost – while thinking they are saved because they belong to the church, or were baptized.” Furthermore, the Bible supports Graham’s beliefs.
The Bible indicates that the only way for a person to be assured of having eternal salvation is to contritely (i.e., with an attitude of repentance) confess their sins to God and personally trust in Jesus Christ as their Savior. Jesus Christ declares in John 14:6, “I am the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” And, Peter asserts in Acts 4:12, with regard to Jesus, “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” [Note: When we quote Scripture in this article, we use the wording in the New King James Version of the Bible, except when we quote a non-biblical source that is using Scripture from a different version of the Bible.]
Norman Geisler, Ph.D., and Thomas Howe, M.A., in their book entitled When Critics Ask, state on page 431, “[A]ll truth is exclusive. The truth that ‘two plus three equals five’ is very exclusive too. It does not allow for any other conclusion. . . . [I]f Jesus is the only way to God, then there are no other ways.”
Let’s consider the following questions that help to answer the primary question of what must a person do to be assured of eternal salvation:
- Is there a difference between believing and trusting?
- Is there a difference between being sorry and repenting?
- Is it necessary to suppress intellect to become a Christian?
Is There a Difference between Believing and Trusting?
Is everyone who believes in Jesus Christ assured of having eternal salvation? Several scripture verses seem to indicate that simply believing in Jesus Christ is all that is necessary to be assured of eternal salvation. Among these verses are John 3:15-18, 36; 6:40, 47; and Romans 10:9.
And, in John 5:24, Jesus declares, “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has everlasting life, and shall not come into judgment, but has passed from death into life.” This scripture passage implies that even just believing in God the Father is sufficient for eternal salvation. If so, this seems to indicate that even demons are going to enjoy eternal salvation, since James 2:19 says, “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe – and tremble!”
However, Geisler and Howe assert on page 527 of their book,
The demons are not saved because they do not exercise a saving kind of faith. . . . [N]ot any kind of faith can save a person. Only the kind of faith that produces good works can save (James 2:17). While we are saved by faith alone, nevertheless, the faith that saves is not alone. It is always accompanied by good works (Eph. 2:8-9), but we are saved for works (Eph. 2:10).
The difference between saving faith and non-saving faith is that the former is only belief that God exists. The latter is faith in God. No one can be saved by believing that God exists and that Christ died for their sins and rose again. They must believe in Him (i.e., trust Him). . . . The demons do not believe in (trust God) for their salvation – they simply believe that God exists, but they continue in their rebellion against Him. . . .
Strong’s Concordance of the Bible supports this perspective. Strong’s states that the Greek word pisteuo that is translated as believe or believes in John 3:15-18, 36; 5:24; 6:40, 47; and Romans 10:9 “means not just to believe, but also to be persuaded of; and hence, to place confidence in, to trust, and signifies, in this sense of the word, reliance upon, not mere credence, hence it is translated ‘commit unto,’ ‘commit to one’s trust,’ ‘to be committed unto,’ etc.”
Similarly, Graham states on page 152 of his book entitled World Aflame, “We must understand what the word believe implies. It means ‘commit’ and ‘surrender.’”
And, on page 135 of his book entitled Peace with God, Graham declares,
There are thousands of people who have had some form of emotional experience that they refer to as conversion but who have never been truly converted to Christ. Christ demands a change in the way you live – and if your life does not conform to your experience, then you have every reason to doubt your experience.
Dietrich Bonhoeffer states in his book entitled The Cost of Discipleship,
Cheap grace means grace as a doctrine, a principle, a system. It means forgiveness of sins proclaimed as a general truth, the love of God taught as the Christian ‘conception’ of God. An intellectual assent to that idea is held to be of itself sufficient to secure remission of sins. . . . In such a Church the world finds a cheap covering for its sins; no contrition is required, still less any real desire to be delivered from sin.
Cheap grace is the preaching of forgiveness without requiring repentance, baptism without church discipline. . . . Cheap grace is grace without discipleship, grace without the cross, grace without Jesus Christ. . . .
Is There a Difference between Being Sorry and Repenting?
Genuinely trusting in Jesus Christ as Savior begins with sincere repentance. In a publication entitled “Decision,” Graham says, “What does repentance mean? It means to change – to change your mind, change the way that you’re living – and to determine that with God’s help you will live for Christ.”
Unger’s Bible Dictionary provides the following more detailed explanation of repentance:
Repentance in the theological and ethical sense [is] a fundamental and thorough change in the hearts of men from sin and toward God. Although faith alone is the condition for salvation . . ., repentance is bound up with faith and inseparable from it, since without some measure of faith no one can truly repent. . . . On the other hand there can be no saving faith without true repentance. Repentance contains as essential elements (1) a genuine sorrow toward God on account of sin . . . . (2) An inward repugnance to sin necessarily followed by the actual forsaking of it. . . . (3) Humble self-surrender to the will and service of God. . . .
Graham states on page 46 of his book entitled Till Armageddon, “There is one thing God’s love cannot do. It cannot forgive the unrepentant sinner.”
And, in his book entitled The Secret of Happiness, Graham states on pages 32-33,
It is entirely possible to be deeply sorry because of the devastation which sin has wrought in our lives – and yet not repent.
True repentance is a turning from sin – a conscious, deliberate decision to leave sin behind – and a conscious turning to God with a commitment to follow His will for our lives. It is a change of direction, an alteration of attitudes, and a yielding of the will.
Humanly speaking, [true repentance] is our small part in the plan of salvation. Our part is repenting. God will do the converting, the transforming, and the forgiving.
In other words, sincere repentance involves more than merely admitting our sins and feeling sorry about our wrongdoing. Sincere repentance also involves having a genuine desire to please God in the future. If we really desire to please God, we will want to be obedient to His teachings, although we will fail frequently, because of our human weaknesses. The extent to which we strive to be obedient to the teachings of Christ reflects the degree of our maturity as a Christian. [See the Appendix at the end of this article for a list of scriptures which indicate that genuine repentance is necessary for salvation.]
Is it Necessary to Suppress Intellect to Become a Christian?
For those who find it difficult to accept any religion without adequate proof, it should be encouraging to know that Christians are not expected to have blind faith (i.e., faith that is not based upon reasonable evidence). A person cannot be certain that they have found religious truth unless they have built their faith on a solid foundation of evidence. Geisler and Howe contend on pages 531-532 of their book,
A person should not believe in something without first inquiring whether it is a worthy object of belief. For example, few people would undergo a serious medical operation by a totally unknown person whom they had no reason to believe was anything but a quack. Likewise, God does not call on us to exercise blind faith.
The devil believes that God exists, but He does not believe in God. Beliefthat is a matter of the mind knowing something based on the evidence human reason can see. Belief in God (or Christ), however, is a choice of the human will under the persuasion of the Holy Spirit. So belief that will never save anyone (cf. James 2:14-20) – only belief in Christ can do that. However, no rational person should ever believe in something, unless he first has evidence to believe that it is true.
The Bible encourages people to use their mind. In Matthew 22:37, Jesus says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.” Acts 17:17 states that Paul “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and with the Gentile worshipers, and in the marketplace daily with those who happened to be there.” And, in 1 Peter 3:15, those who have trusted in Jesus Christ are instructed to “always be ready to give a defense to everyone who asks you a reason for the hope that is in you. . . .”
So, a trustworthy faith involves more than our emotions – it includes our intellect. And, there is substantial evidence that Jesus Christ is indeed the only begotten Son of God and the Messiah promised by God in the Old Testament. [See our articles entitled “Was Jesus Christ More Than a Prophet?” and “Was the Coming of Jesus Christ Prophesied?”]
How a Person Can Be Certain that They Have Eternal Salvation
Let’s consider a couple of biblical passages which teach that a person can be certain about their eternal salvation. One such passage is 1 John 5:12-13, which indicates that a person who genuinely trusts in Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord can know that he (or she) has eternal salvation. The scripture passage says, “He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life. These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, that you may know that you have eternal life. . . .”
If it is possible for a person who has genuinely trusted in Jesus Christ as their Savior and Lord to lose their salvation, that person could not know that they have eternal salvation. If a person could lose their salvation by sinning, how many sins would cause a person to lose His (or her) salvation? Would some types of sins count more against a person than other types of sins? Without a clear line of demarcation, no one could know if they still have eternal salvation. Furthermore, ultimately each person’s eternal destiny would be determined by that person’s ability to do what is right (i.e., good deeds) – rather than on the sacrificial death of Jesus Christ – a doctrine that we believe is not taught by the Bible. [See our article entitled “Are Works Necessary for Eternal Salvation?”]
Another scripture passage which teaches that Christians can be certain they have eternal salvation is Ephesians 1:13-14. This passage states, “In Him [Jesus Christ] you also trusted, after you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation; in whom also, having believed, you were sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise, who is the guarantee of our inheritance. . . .”
With regard to this passage, The Wycliffe Bible Commentary says, “The sealing ministry of the Holy Spirit is mentioned several times in the NT (cf. II Cor 1:22; Eph 4:30). A seal indicates possession and security. The Holy Spirit himself is the seal. His presence guarantees our salvation.” And, because Christians are guaranteed eternal salvation, it is assured – there is no uncertainty.
With regard to both the question as to whether or not there is a difference between believing and trusting and the question as to whether or not there a difference between being sorry and repenting, the Bible indicates that the answer is “yes.” In contrast, the Bible indicates that the answer to the question as to whether or not it necessary to suppress intellect to become a Christian, the answer is “no.”
It is important to add that, although a person can be assured of their eternal salvation, they can lose this assurance if they commit the sin of apostasy (i.e., the complete abandoning of their faith with regard to Christianity), as explained in our article entitled “Can Christians Lose Their Eternal Salvation?”
The Importance of Genuine Repentance
As previously stated, true repentance means to “sincerely desire to turn from sin and to live in accordance with God’s will.” And one of the distinguishing features of an authentic profession of trust in Jesus Christ is a sincere desire to turn from sin and live in accordance with God’s will.
The following scriptures provide support for the belief that true repentance is necessary for salvation:
Matthew 4:17: From that time on Jesus began to preach, “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”
Mark 1:14-15: . . . Jesus went into Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God. “The kingdom of God is near. Repent and believe the good news.”
Mark 6:12: [The 12 Apostles] went out and preached that people should repent.
Luke 5:32: [Jesus said] “I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.”
Luke 13:3 (likewise, verse 5): [Jesus said] “. . . unless you repent, you too will all perish.”
Luke 24:46-47: [Jesus said] “This is what is written: The Christ will suffer and rise from the dead on the third day, and repentance and forgiveness of sins will be preached in his name to all nations. . . .”
Acts 2:38: Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins.”
Acts 3:19: [Peter said] “Repent, then, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out. . . .”
Acts 17:30: [Paul said] “He [God] commands all people everywhere to repent. . . .”
Acts 26:20: [Paul said] “. . . I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.”