Everyone lives out their life, whether consistently or inconsistently, on the basis of some foundational beliefs, upon some set of presuppositions that they consider to be true. These beliefs may be well thought out or they may be more or less held without ever having given them serious thought. Whatever your current beliefs are, you need to take the time to give them serious thought because there may be more at stake in your beliefs than you realize.
In any discussion of foundational beliefs one issue that must be considered is death. If death is sidestepped or ignored, we are ignoring a blatant reality of life. The truth is, we cannot hope to find meaning in life if we cannot find meaning in death. We need to ask ourselves, "After death, what then?" Our answer to this question rests upon some foundation. Whether our answer is true depends upon the truth of our foundation, upon how sure it is.
In order to bring this discussion into sharper focus, consider the following questions:
1) If you were to die today, are you confident that you would go to heaven (if you believe that such a place exists)?
2) Assume you did die today, and you found yourself standing in the presence of God. If God reviewed your life and asked you for a reason why you should be permitted to enter heaven and live with him throughout all eternity, what would your answer be?
The Bible has much to say about issues and questions such as these.
First of all, the Bible clearly teaches the reality of both a heaven and a hell. When a person dies, he or she will exist in one of these two places. Where you spend eternity depends upon your response to the call of God as given in the Bible. If you suffer the punishment of hell it will not be because God unjustly sent you there, but it will be punishment, entirely justified, because you chose to rebel against your very Creator. And failure to respond to the call of God is rebellion against him.
The Bible tells us that heaven, or eternal life and fellowship with God, is a gift given freely by God.
For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 6:23
We are told that this gift is completely undeserved, and furthermore, that we cannot possibly do anything to earn it.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast. Ephesians 2:8-9
(We) are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. Romans 3:24
Although this gift is freely given, not everyone has possession of it. Many people die without ever receiving it. The Bible tells us plainly how we can have possession of this priceless gift. The receiving of this gift is referred to in the Bible as salvation, and those who have received it are referred to as saved. The question is, "Have you been reconciled to God and received the gift of eternal life?"
A person is saved by the grace of God. Grace in this context means the undeserved, unmerited favor of God. It is God's power working on our behalf. Saved means salvation from the sentence of death and from eternal separation from God which God rightly charges against us due to our sin. Many people have a problem acknowledging, or accepting the fact, that they are sinners. Sin is not just committing some harmful act, such as murder or robbery, which society considers to be wrong. The Bible teaches that sin is anything that is contrary to the nature and character of God, whether it is our actions, our words, or even our thoughts. Man's failure to acknowledge sin is primarily due to his pride and because he tends to rate himself by society's prevailing standards. But as the Bible says:
When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise. For it is not the one who commends himself who is approved, but the one whom the Lord commends. 2 Corinthians 10:12,18
When someone thinks they are basically a good person they are comparing themselves with someone they consider to be worse than themselves. In essence, this is making an assumption that God "grades on a curve." The Bible, however, tells us something entirely different. In fact, Jesus himself tells us:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect. Matthew 5:48.
In saying that, Jesus clearly set forth the standard of God: perfection. For a person to be acceptable to God, his life, his thoughts, and his conduct must be perfect continually. If you are trusting in your "goodness" to get you to heaven, there is absolutely no room for error; you must be perfect. However, the Bible teaches that this is completely impossible.
For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. Romans 3:23
There is no one righteous, not even one. There is no one who does good, not even one. Romans 3:10,12
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it. James 2:10
The Bible clearly teaches that no one can possibly live a perfect life, keeping all of the commandments and ways of God continually. As such, the Bible says that no one will be accepted by God on the basis of "good works."
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in his (God's) sight by observing the law. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law. Romans 3:20,28
Clearly no one is justified before God by the law, because, "The righteous will live by faith." Galatians 3:11