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 Hebrews 5:9And being made perfect, he became the author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him;
American King James Version×: “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 Matthew 7:21Not every one that said to me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that does the will of my Father which is in heaven.
American King James Version×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 Matthew 19:16And, behold, one came and said to him, Good Master, what good thing shall I do, that I may have eternal life?
American King James Version×). 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 Matthew 19:17And he said to him, Why call you me good? there is none good but one, that is, God: but if you will enter into life, keep the commandments.
American King James Version×).
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 James 2:19You believe that there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.
American King James Version×). 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 2:20-22  But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?
 Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son on the altar?
 See you how faith worked with his works, and by works was faith made perfect?
American King James Version×).
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 Mark 16:16He that believes and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believes not shall be damned.
American King James Version×: “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 Romans 6:1-23  What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?  God forbid. How shall we, that are dead to sin, live any longer therein?  Know you not, that so many of us as were baptized into Jesus Christ were baptized into his death?  Therefore we are buried with him by baptism into death: that like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life.  For if we have been planted together in the likeness of his death, we shall be also in the likeness of his resurrection:  Knowing this, that our old man is crucified with him, that the body of sin might be destroyed, that from now on we should not serve sin.  For he that is dead is freed from sin.  Now if we be dead with Christ, we believe that we shall also live with him:  Knowing that Christ being raised from the dead dies no more; death has no more dominion over him.  For in that he died, he died to sin once: but in that he lives, he lives to God.  Likewise reckon you also yourselves to be dead indeed to sin, but alive to God through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, that you should obey it in the lusts thereof.  Neither yield you your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin: but yield yourselves to God, as those that are alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you: for you are not under the law, but under grace.  What then? shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid.  Know you not, that to whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness?  But God be thanked, that you were the servants of sin, but you have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.  Being then made free from sin, you became the servants of righteousness.  I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as you have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity to iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness to holiness.  For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness.  What fruit had you then in those things whereof you are now ashamed? for the end of those things is death.  But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, you have your fruit to holiness, and the end everlasting life.  For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.
American King James Version×). 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 Acts 8:17Then laid they their hands on them, and they received the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×; Romans 8:9 Romans 8:9But you are not in the flesh, but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. Now if any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.
American King James Version×). 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 Acts 2:38Then Peter said to them, Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins, and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Ghost.
American King James Version×). 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 Luke 6:46And why call you me, Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?
American King James Version×).
In Matthew 10:22 Matthew 10:22And you shall be hated of all men for my name's sake: but he that endures to the end shall be saved.
American King James Version×and Matthew 24:13 Matthew 24:13But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved.
American King James Version×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 Luke 9:62And Jesus said to him, No man, having put his hand to the plough, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.
American King James Version×).
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 John 3:16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
American King James Version×).
But God expects us to surrender our lives in return, as Jesus states in Luke 14:33 Luke 14:33So likewise, whoever he be of you that forsakes not all that he has, he cannot be my disciple.
American King James Version×(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 Hebrews 2:3How shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation; which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed to us by them that heard him;
American King James Version×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?”.)