No one will ever be able to boast that he or she has earned or deserves the gift of eternal life. But does God set conditions for us to receive this gift? According to the Bible, yes, He does!
If we must do something to receive God’s gift of salvation, how can it be a gift?
To use an analogy, if someone offered to send you a $100 bill if you would send him a self-addressed stamped envelope, he would be offering you a gift. Simply believing that he would send you the money would not actually get you the money. And if you failed to send the envelope, you likewise would not receive the money. You might complain, but you still would not receive the gift because you would not have met the conditions.
On the other hand, if you sent the required envelope and received the $100 bill, this does not mean you earned the gift. You simply met the necessary conditions. Without the offer of the undeserved gift, you could’ve sent hundreds of envelopes and received nothing, as you would have been entitled to nothing. The fact that conditions are attached to receiving a gift makes it no less a gift. Millions of people fail to understand this simple fact, and as a result have a very distorted view of what God requires of those who would follow Him.
Note this statement from Hebrews 5:9: “And having been perfected, He became the author of eternal salvation to all who obey Him.”
Since salvation is God’s gift, what does this passage mean when it speaks of “eternal salvation to all who obey Him”? Salvation is clearly a gift. Yet if we must do something to receive it, then it is a gift that comes with conditions.
What must we do?
Let’s examine a few of Jesus Christ’s own statements that tell us what we must do to receive that gift of salvation.
In Matthew 7:21 Jesus says, “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven.” Jesus made it clear that merely acknowledging Him as Lord and Master—saying “Lord, Lord”—is not sufficient. To inherit the Kingdom of God, we must do the will of the Father, as He clearly stated.
Jesus wants us to understand that there is more to receiving eternal life than just belief or mental acceptance. Our conviction that He is our Savior must be more than just a warm, comforting thought or intellectual concept. Jesus warns that simply calling on His name or recognizing Him as “Lord” is not enough.
Obedience to God’s commandments
At one point a wealthy young man asked Jesus how he could receive eternal life. “Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16). Christ’s reply might shock some who think obedience to God’s law is unnecessary—that He has done that for us so we don’t have to do anything. Jesus responded, “If you want to enter into life, keep the commandments” (Matthew 19:17).
Jesus didn’t answer that nothing is required other than believing in God or in Him. He told the young man he must obey the commandments of God to receive the gift of eternal life. How plain!
As the apostle James points out, belief is pointless unless it is backed up by action and obedience: “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble” (James 2:19). If we think that belief is all we need for salvation, we are sorely mistaken. As James tells us, the demonic spirits fully believe in God and know that Jesus is the Son of God raised from the dead. But that doesn’t mean they are saved!
James goes on to explain that faith and obedience go hand in hand, using the example of Abraham, whom God told to sacrifice his son Isaac before stopping him from going through with it: “But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead? Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered Isaac his son on the altar? Do you see that faith was working together with his works, and by works faith was made perfect?” (James 2:20-22).
James thus explained that works of obedience as a result of our faith maintain our relationship with God and lead to greater faith and obedience, as God requires. Without works as evidence and the living out of our faith, that faith is “dead”—worthless and useless.
Baptism and laying on of hands
Jesus gave another condition for God’s gift of eternal life in Mark 16:16: “He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.” Water baptism—by full immersion—is a symbolic act representing the death and washing away of our old sinful self and the beginning of a new life of serving God and striving to avoid sin (Romans 6:1-23). Through this act we symbolically put to death and bury the old person and rise from that watery grave to a new life as a new person.
Baptism is to be followed by the laying on of hands by a true minister of Jesus Christ, which allows us to receive God’s Holy Spirit and truly belong to Him (Acts 8:17; Romans 8:9). Unless we surrender our lives to God through baptism and the laying on of hands to receive His Spirit as instructed, we fail to meet His prerequisites for receiving His gift of salvation.
The apostle Peter affirmed these conditions for receiving God’s Spirit, declaring, “Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission [forgiveness] of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit” (Acts 2:38). Repentance means to turn from disobedience to God to obeying Him. So again, committed obedience and baptism are shown as requirements in the salvation process.
To those who would brush aside these and other plain biblical instructions Jesus replies, “But why do you call Me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do the things which I say?’” (Luke 6:46).
In Matthew 10:22 and Matthew 24:13 Jesus gave another condition we must meet to receive God’s gift of salvation: “He who endures to the end will be saved.” As Jesus plainly and directly implied here, we can lose out on salvation if we fail to endure to the end (see also “Can Those God Has Forgiven Reject His Grace?” on pages 24-25).
Once we have committed ourselves to obeying God and surrendering ourselves to Him, we must stay the course to the end and not look back (Luke 9:62).
Salvation is free, but not cheap
You may have heard the expression, “Salvation is free, but not cheap”—in contrast to the “cheap grace” so many seem to effectively believe in. God’s gift of life to us cost Jesus Christ His life. He, the very Son of God, willingly surrendered His life so that we might receive God’s wonderful gift of eternal life. And it cost the Father, who “gave His only begotten Son” (John 3:16).
But God expects us to surrender our lives in return, as Jesus states in Luke 14:33 (NLT 1996): “So no one can become my disciple without giving up everything for me.”
Accepting God’s gift of eternal life comes at the highest cost we can imagine. As Jesus Christ gave His life for us, we must be willing to give our lives to follow Him!
So returning to the question at the beginning, does God place conditions on His gift of salvation? Clearly the answer is yes. His Word spells out the conditions. Let us be sure, as Hebrews 2:3 exhorts us, that we not “neglect so great a salvation”! (To learn more about the obligations we have toward God as recipients of His grace, be sure to read “What Did ‘Grace’ Mean in the First-Century World?”.)