Here’s the short answer: YOU don’t. Even asking the question this way is a little backwards…though we’ve been taught to do just that in many of our churches.
Our salvation story centers around Jesus Christ dying on the cross for us and rising three days later. We’ll talk about the intricacies of that process another time, but for now ask yourself this: Why did Jesus have to die for our sins?
Dying on a cross doesn’t make most people’s bucket lists. One would assume that if there were any other way possible to save humanity, God would have chosen that way. The fact that he didn’t leave two possibilities. Either God completely wasted his time with that whole cross thing or there was no other way to get the job done.
Among the other doctrines of faith, I would assume that we hold that God is not a time-wasting fool. Therefore we must admit that the cross was the single path to redemption.
Nobody would make it into heaven unless Jesus died on the cross. If even one person was good enough to qualify for perfection and eternal life on their own, Jesus could have packed it in and gone home. He probably wouldn’t have been needed in the first place! God would have welcomed the Perfect People into paradise and they all would have lived happily ever after.
Jesus dying on the cross tells all of us that we could not make it without him. Unless our sins and imperfections are put to death, we’re doomed. Therefore WE do not make it into heaven. God forgives us and brings us into eternal life, not because we’re good but because God is good to us.
This realization changes everything. Thinking about how we get into heaven is inherently self-centered. As long as that question remains paramount, faith is about US and what WE get. We begin to judge ourselves and each other. We focus on how good we are and what we’ve earned. Even our best works end up being about ourselves!
Trusting that Jesus died for our sins and that whole “Getting Into Heaven” thing is in his hands (not our decision or something we earn) frees us from worrying about ourselves and allows us to care for others.
Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross was self-giving, not self-centered. Taking up our cross and following him means patterning our lives—including our faith questions—after his example.
Next time you’re tempted to ask how to get yourself into heaven (or are tempted by a church that appears to offer their particular answer to that: believe harder, give money, think like us, etc.) instead ask yourself this:
What if God has that handled already? He’s given me boundless forgiveness, endless grace, never-ending love and life to share. Now what am I going to do with those things from this point on?