According to the Bible, it is the “grace of God that brings salvation” (Titus 2:11) so, to understand what the Bible teaches about salvation we must know what is meant by ‘grace’.
What Grace is
Grace is unmerited favour; it is kindness shown to the undeserving. The gospel is the good news that God shows kindness to people who do not deserve it.
What do we deserve from God?
People who believe in heaven often assume that they will one day be there. When asked why they suppose this to be the case, the most common response is: “Because I’m a good person”. If pressed about how good they would need to be to earn a place in heaven, they often reply, “As long as I do the best I can, I’ll get in”. The implication is that it would be unfair of God to turn them away – no-one can do better than their best.
A major problem, however, is that no-one has ever done their best. To have done ‘the best I can’ means that I could never have been better than I have been. What a standard! It means that I have always been as kind, caring, compassionate, honest, upright, faithful, and pure as it was possible for me to be. I, for one, could not say that this accurately depicts my life. What about you? Have you done the best you can?
If God used this standard as the means of determining who gets into heaven none of us would make it. Judged by our own standards, we would all fail miserably. However, the standard by which God judges is far higher. In a conversation with Jesus, one religious leader summarised God’s requirements like this: “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,’ and ‘your neighbor as yourself.’” (Luke 10:27). The Lord’s response was to say, “do this and you will live.” (10:28).
Here is God’s standard for earning eternal life: love God with all of your being all of the time, and never prioritise yourself over others. None of us have reached this standard – it’s far too high. In fact, there has never been one second of our lives in which we have loved God with all of our being – never mind doing so every moment of every day. This is why the Bible sums up the status of human beings:
“But,” you might say, “while I may not be good enough for heaven, that doesn’t mean I’m bad enough for hell.” However, God’s standard is His law – a revelation of His own character. If a law is broken, a crime has been committed; and if a crime has been committed, a punishment is deserved. A good judge ensures that a criminal is punished, and God is a good judge. “Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?” (Genesis 18:25).
Each of us has been examined by God, and the evidence has led Him to give His verdict – we are all guilty before Him. As the righteous Judge, He cannot turn a blind eye to our crimes or pretend that they have not happened. Each sin has a punishment it deserves and, in the eyes of an infinitely holy and inflexibly righteous God, every sin is a hell-deserving sin.
A lady once said to me that if God would just look at her works, and examine the life she had lived, she would be all right — she’d make it into heaven. She had never learned that her life is not the answer – it’s the problem. The Bible predicts a day of judgment in which people who have not received God’s grace will stand before God, and be judged according to their works (Revelation 20:12). The result of this judgment is certain – these people will be “cast into the lake of fire” which is the “second death” (Revelation 20:14-15).
So, if we get what we deserve we will not be in heaven but in hell – forever.
"God’s grace is kindness shown, not merely to the undeserving, but to the hell-deserving"