I realized at a fairly young age that I had fallen short of what it took to get into Heaven, and needed Jesus’ death on a cross to pay for my sins. (I remember building a cross out of Legos while I was talking with the pastor at our house.) So, I accepted Jesus as my Savior, and asked to be baptized, but still had a long way to go to figure out what that choice meant.
The following couple of passages from the Bible illustrate both of these points. First, the problem and the solution that God provided:
This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.
Romans 3:22-24 NIV
…and, the actions we are expected to take:
When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?” Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.
Acts 2:37-38 NIV
Continually reminding of my shortcomings and sins, though, it took a lot longer to accept that my being in God’s family was complete, and was not subject to whether or not I kept doing a good enough job to “keep” my salvation.
I spent a lot of years – as a child and as a young adult – scared that I had failed too significantly to be accepted by God, despite my acceptance of Jesus payment for me. I lived in fear that I would do the wrong thing, no matter how small, and lose my chance at Heaven (I’m still not sure where I got this idea. My family and pastors preached the truth from the Bible, and I don’t think that they caused this situation. I was probably just too susceptible to the lies of the devil.) Many days and nights were spent confessing my sins, asking for forgiveness, and then following the same routine over and over again, when I did something else (even if it wasn’t a sin, I wanted to be sure that I hadn’t accidentally sinned, had a wrong thought, or just missed something).
Over time, though, a number of good friends (including pastors and family) helped me learn to understand and appreciate the magnitude of God’s gift and his grace – the fact that He saved me through his own doing, and not as a function of what I did on a day-to-day basis.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.
Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
My eternal destiny was under His control, once I signed up to be back in His family. No one – person or demon – could take that away, because I don’t own my own life any more; my life belongs to Jesus, after He paid for it.
Verses like this one became something I could focus on, rather than the lies and temptations that tried to encroach on my consciousness:
Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death.
Romans 8:1-2 NIV
…and this one, too:
For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Romans 8:38-39 NIV
Learning that I am safe in God’s care now allows me to live as a free person. I can try to follow God’s instructions (His direction for my life), succeed some of the time (with His help), fail some of the time (when I slip up), and then try again without fear.
Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand. And we boast in the hope of the glory of God.
Romans 5:1-2 NIV
If you are concerned that you’re not good enough for God, remember that you – like me – were paid for before you ever tried to be “good enough”.
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from Godʼs wrath through him!
Romans 5:8-9 NIV