What are the first steps in a Christian’s life? Well, before you can be a Christian you must become a Christian. How do you do that?
What are the requirements for becoming a Christian? Some people say a person becomes a Christian by being good. How good is good enough? Jesus set an impossibly high standard during the Sermon on the Mount. He said in Matthew 5: 20, “For I say to you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter the kingdom of heaven.”
In the Bible the words “kingdom of heaven” and “kingdom of God” refer to a place where God’s people live together forever.
What does it take to get into heaven? Do you have to be perfect? Yes. That’s what Jesus says in Matthew 5: 48, “Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Is anyone good enough to get into heaven? Not according to Romans 3: 10-12 which says,
There is none righteous, not even one;
There is none who understands,
There is none who seeks for God;
All have turned aside,
together they have become useless;
There is none who does good,
There is not even one. (NAS)
Only Jesus Christ, the sinless One, is good enough to get into heaven. And of course He will be there. He owns the place!
What hope is there for any of us? Do we even have any hope? Yes! Jesus provided another way for us to become sinless citizens of heaven. He introduced this new way to heaven in John 3: 1-5:
Now there was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews; this man came to Jesus by night and said to Him, “Rabbi, we know that You have come from God as a teacher; for no one can do these signs that You do unless God is with him.” Jesus answered and said to him, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” Nicodemus said to Him, “How can a man be born when he is old? He cannot enter a second time into his mother’s womb and be born, can he?” Jesus answered, “Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (NAS)
Wait a minute. What does “born again” mean? Is this another mystery? How does anyone get born again? Well, being born again is all wrapped up in this requirement to be perfect. So once again we ask, “How can a person become perfect?” But let’s ask a better question, one that goes right to the root of the problem. How did we become sinners in the first place?
The answer to that question starts a long, long time ago. According to the Bible, God created man in His own image. The Bible says in Genesis 1: 27, “God created man in His own image, in the image of God He created him; male and female He created them.”
God wanted to have fellowship with man so He placed the man and the woman in the beautiful Garden of Eden. God and man walked together in the Garden.
God gave only one commandment to man. Man was not allowed to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. If he did so, he would die. Man was unable to keep that one commandment. He ate some of the fruit from the tree. He disobeyed God. He sinned.
This is how sin entered the world. The Bible says in Romans 5: 12, “Therefore, just as through one man sin entered into the world, and death through sin, and so death spread to all men, because all sinned.” (NAS)
Man was ejected from the garden due to his own foolishness. Fellowship with God was broken. Man was physically and spiritually separated from God.
You may be asking “What does Adam’s sin have to do with me? I didn’t sin. Why should I be separated from God because of something Adam did?”
You’re right. How could God be so unfair? Well, He isn’t. The Bible says each one of us has sinned. Each one of us has disobeyed God. Look back to Romans 3: 10-12 (quoted at the beginning of this essay). All of us have sinned. Romans 3: 23 reports it this way: “All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (NAS)
Let me share my personal example. When I started as a freshman at the University of Oklahoma, I was sinful and separated from God. I didn’t feel sinful and separated. I felt quite good about myself. I was a good kid. My family and I went to church every Sunday. I was even a Boy Scout who earned the Eagle Badge. I knew a whole bunch of Bible stories. I was as good as most people but, of course, I wasn’t perfect.
But I felt empty inside. I knew something was missing. I did not even know what it was. The French mathematician Blaise Pascal understood. There was a time in his life when he experienced this gnawing lack—this sense that something important was missing from his life. He wrote about it in his book Pensees:
What is it, then, that this desire and this inability proclaim to us, but that there was once in man a true happiness of which there now remain to him only the mark and empty trace, which he in vain tries to fill from all his surroundings, . . .? But these are all inadequate, because the infinite abyss can only be filled by an infinite and immutable object, that is to say, only by God Himself.
Pascal spoke of an “infinite abyss.” That’s what separates us from God—a wide, unending chasm caused by our sins. That was the emptiness I felt in my heart.
One day during the spring semester of my freshman year, a guy named Max Barnett started leading a Bible discussion group in my dormitory. Max was the director of the Baptist Student Center near the OU campus. During the first meeting of the group, Max talked about knowing Jesus Christ as his personal Savior.
He told us first about man’s problem. We are separated from God because of sin. He used the example of the chasm to illustrate our separation from God.
Believe it or not, I never heard of this at my home church. Most Christians would consider my home church as rather liberal. The pastor believed Jesus was a good, moral man and nothing else. He also believed the Bible was a good book but not the inspired word of God.
Max told me the truth. Jesus Christ is the Son of God. He came to earth, lived a sinless life, and died a sinner’s death. But He was raised from the dead. His Resurrection proves that what He said is truth. Jesus Christ is the source of eternal life and perfect righteousness for all who trust Him as their Savior and live with Him as Lord of their life.
These promises are not automatic. You must receive Jesus Christ as your own Savior. To do this you must confess to God that you are a sinner. Ask God to forgive you. Ask Jesus to come into your heart. The Bible says in Romans 10: 9-10,
“if you confess with your mouth Jesus as Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved; for with the heart a person believes, resulting in righteousness, and with the mouth he confesses, resulting in salvation.” (NAS)
This is what I did on that sunny morning in March. I received Jesus Christ as my Savior. Remember that huge chasm that separated me from God? Max told me when Jesus died and rose from the dead He became a kind of bridge that crossed that chasm. Fellowship between me and God was restored, thanks to Jesus Christ.
And guess what. That emptiness is gone! It was replaced by a new feeling of light and warmth. As I continued to follow Jesus I learned that this feeling is from the presence of a person in my life. I was in a new and living relationship with God. That’s what happens when you are born again.
The great theologian Augustine said it well: “You have made us for yourself, and our hearts are restless till they find their rest in you.”