Imagine being a homeless orphan living on the streets. One day, you hear about a wealthy family who wishes to adopt all homeless orphans. The family comes to your city, and you and your friends eagerly take up the generous offer. You now live in a beautiful home and have everything you need — shelter, an education, and a wonderful sense of being loved. You don’t know what you have done to deserve this. They remind you daily that you have really been adopted, and you are now a member of the family.
Yet, a niggling doubt tears at you. Even though the family did not leave you alone but provided counsellors to help you assimilate into this new life, old habits die hard, and the ones you picked up on the streets are difficult to shake. You still hide food away in case you don’t have enough later. You still feel that you need to step on others to get what you need. You are still violent and easily angered. When you look at the other adopted children, they all seem to be doing much better than you are in their new lifestyle. You fear that sooner or later, the family will realise that you don’t deserve to be there. And every day, the fear grows … If you can’t change and adjust, will the family send you away?
This story mirrors the question, “Can I go to heaven if I keep on sinning?” It hides deeper questions about how far God’s grace would go to save us, and our responsibility after He has saved us. To answer it, we need to rethink our understanding of salvation.
Saved By God’s Grace Alone?
Like the orphans in the story, Christians are adopted into God’s family because of His lavish grace alone (Eph 2:5–6), and not because we deserve it (Eph 2:8–9). Only God’s grace can save because everyone is trapped by sin (Rom 8:7–8). Therefore, salvation from sin is only possible when God reaches into humanity through Jesus (Col 1:13–14). The fact that we don’t need to earn salvation is good news — it is the gospel!
THE FACT THAT WE DON’T NEED TO EARN SALVATION IS GOOD NEWS — IT IS THE GOSPEL!
“But what if after being saved, I feel like I can’t stop sinning? Does that mean I am not truly saved?”
After being saved by God’s grace, we can sometimes be confused about what it means to be saved by grace alone. I also had this doubt during my university days. After praying for God to forgive my sin, I promised that I would live my life for Him. God’s forgiveness brought a sense of relief from guilt, so I wanted to do my best with this new life in Jesus (John 3:16). To me, this meant turning my life around and following God’s commands. However, this desire to obey God soon met with disappointment because it was a difficult task. I was plagued by doubts about whether I was doing enough to remain in God’s saving grace. All in all, I was confused by what it meant to be saved by God’s grace alone. Many of us are like the orphan in the story, doubting whether we deserve to stay in God’s family because we continue to sin, and wondering what would happen to our salvation if we don’t change!
On this issue, the famous sociologist Max Weber (1864–1920) observed that Protestant Christians, having been saved by God’s grace alone, ironically try to “remain saved” by obsessing about not doing anything wrong. It is as if any misstep would prove they are not actually saved! But is this the right understanding of salvation?
Saved Into A New Life
In Romans 6, Paul passionately describes salvation in terms of life and death — being dead to sin and alive in Christ. When we become Christians, our previous status as sinners dies on the cross with Jesus, and we are given new life in Him. Therefore, we have a new identity which is more than just a second chance. We are not starting from scratch such that we need to accumulate good works all over again. The old way of keeping an imaginary ledger of right and wrong has been replaced by a constant source of positive credit through Christ’s new life and righteousness. Once we are saved in Christ, we shouldn’t seek to keep our salvation by our own effort (Rom 4:7-8).
This certainty of salvation by God’s grace alone may lead some to ask if Christians are given a blank cheque to sin. The answer is no (Rom 6:1–2)! Rather, we should understand our new life in Christ as empowerment by the Holy Spirit that helps us overcome temptation (Rom 8:1–17). Like the orphan, we have not been left alone to change ourselves. For Christians, Jesus sent the Holy Spirit to be our counsellor and teacher (John 14:15–18), and the Holy Spirit can speak directly to us through the Word of God and other Christians. We cannot live a righteous life by our own effort, but are growing with God’s help.
HEAVEN IS NOT A FARAWAY PLACE BUT A NEAR AND PRESENT REALITY IN THIS LIFE.
Saved For A New Hope
So, our salvation is assured by Christ and our growth is sure in the Spirit. Now, what about getting to heaven? Many people think of it as a faraway place that Christians go when they die. However, the Bible’s idea of heaven is closer than we may think. Jesus repeatedly says, “The kingdom of heaven has come near” (Matt 4:17; 10:7). He also uses “kingdom of heaven” when He describes what it looks like to follow Him (Matt 5:1–12; 13:1–52). To Jesus and His disciples, heaven is not a faraway place but a near and present reality in this life. It is getting to see God’s grace intersect our daily lives, not only in the distant future, so that evil and sin no longer have ultimate power over us. As Christians, this is witnessing heaven in this life!