What must I do to go to Heaven when I die? Please, no opinions. Please use the Bible, it is all we have that is the truth.
I really appreciate your desire for a biblical answer to your question. Far too many only want confirmation that they are right and so they search for people who will tell them what they want to hear. "Preach the word! Be ready in season and out of season. Convince, rebuke, exhort, with all longsuffering and teaching. For the time will come when they will not endure sound doctrine, but according to their own desires, because they have itching ears, they will heap up for themselves teachers; and they will turn their ears away from the truth, and be turned aside to fables" (II Timothy 4:2-4).
As a child of God, I am restricted to only giving biblical answers to questions. Peter said, "If anyone speaks, let him speak as the oracles of God" (I Peter 4:11). So even if you had not asked for a biblical answer, it would have been the same response. The Bible affirms that man is unable to save himself. We just don't have the capacity to do so. "O LORD, I know the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man who walks to direct his own steps" (Jeremiah 10:23). There are several reasons why this is so. First, the ways we might consider good are not. "There is a way that seems right to a man, But its end is the way of death" (Proverbs 14:12). Have you read about people who wander into the wilderness and lose their way? How is it that they can get lost when they are at their current position by their own choice and effort? You see, when they were ready to leave, the path they thought would take them back was not the right one. Instead of returning they more hopelessly lost. They were too close to the problem to see the proper solution. It required someone who wasn't lost to find them and show them the way back. Every man is lost in sin (Romans 3:23), so we are unable to find the way out of sin for ourselves. Being all lost, we are unable to show others the way out.
A young man once asked Jesus a question similar to your question. "Now behold, one came and said to Him, "Good Teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" So He said to him, "Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." He said to Him, "Which ones?" Jesus said, "'You shall not murder,' 'You shall not commit adultery,' 'You shall not steal,' 'You shall not bear false witness,' 'Honor your father and your mother,' and, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'" The young man said to Him, "All these things I have kept from my youth. What do I still lack?" Jesus said to him, "If you want to be perfect, go, sell what you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me." But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions" (Matthew 19:16-22). The man sincerely wanted to reach heaven, but he left in sorrow because what was asked of him was more than what he was willing to give. If you truly desire heaven, then you must ask yourself how valuable is it to you. What are you willing to give to possess it? Because what God wants of you is your all.
"And behold, a certain lawyer stood up and tested Him, saying, "Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" He said to him, "What is written in the law? What is your reading of it?" So he answered and said," 'You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind,' and 'your neighbor as yourself.'" And He said to him, "You have answered rightly; do this and you will live"" (Luke 10:25-28). As you continue reading in Luke, you will find that the lawyer wasn't happy with the answer he gave to Jesus' question. He wanted an answer that made him feel justified. Instead, the answer made him feel inadequate. Jesus told us, "So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, 'We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.'" (Luke 17:10).
Many are willing to go to heaven if it is convenient. But if it is not on their way, well, ... In reality, the difficult part of salvation, obtaining forgiveness for our sins, the part that we are unable to handle, was accomplished by the Son of God. God has stated, "without shedding of blood there is no remission" (Hebrews 9:22). It could not be the blood of just anything or anyone. "For it is not possible that the blood of bulls and goats could take away sins" (Hebrews 10:4). We have been made holy (sanctified) by the sacrifice of God's own Son. "By that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once for all. And every priest stands ministering daily and offering repeatedly the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But this Man, after He had offered one sacrifice for sins forever, ..." (Hebrews 10:10-13). Jesus died on our behalf, even though none of us deserved the favor. "For when we were still without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet perhaps for a good man someone would even dare to die. But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from wrath through Him. For if when we were enemies we were reconciled to God through the death of His Son, much more, having been reconciled, we shall be saved by His life. And not only that, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received the reconciliation" (Romans 5:6-11).
Even more wondrous is that the gift was offered to everyone. "He died for all, that those who live should live no longer for themselves, but for Him who died for them and rose again" (II Corinthians 5:15). You see God doesn't place one person above another. God wants everyone to be saved. "The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some count slackness, but is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance" (II Peter 3:9).
Yet, even though salvation is offered to everyone, Jesus still warns that few will actually be saved. "Then one said to Him, "Lord, are there few who are saved?" And He said to them, Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (Luke 13:23-24). People can desire the salvation that God wants them to have and yet still be unable to receive it. "Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it" (Matthew 7:13-14). The problem lies with men and not with God. God wants men to be saved and He expects men to receive His gift. Many people want God's gift, but they want it on their own terms. Somehow, man has decided that if God, the giver of Life, sets the terms, then it is no longer a freely given gift.
To illustrate how foolish this idea is, let us turn to the record of Israel's conquering of the city of Jericho. God told Israel that Jericho was theirs. "See! I have given Jericho into your hand, its king, and the mighty men of valor" (Joshua 6:2). At the time of this statement, Israel had done nothing. God was freely giving them the city as a gift. But as you continue reading, you find that God required the Israelites to do several things, such as marching around the city many times, being quiet and shouting at the appropriate time. Did this mean that Israel earned Jericho? Of course not! Marching and shouting did nothing toward conquering Jericho, but it did show their faith and willingness to obey God's commands.
It is no different in our own salvation. God has already given us salvation before we even start, but He has asked us to demonstrate our faith and willingness to obey His commands. As Jesus said, "If you love Me, keep My commandments" (John 14:15). God doesn't want partial obedience. He expects us to obey all of His commands. "Teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you" (Matthew 28:20). As we mentioned, God requires man to believe. "But without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him" (Hebrews 11:6).
Yet such faith doesn't just happen, it is developed from an understanding of God's book. "So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God" (Romans 10:17). This is why the New Testament is referred to as the gospel (good news) of salvation. "For I am not ashamed of the gospel of Christ, for it is the power of God to salvation for everyone who believes" (Romans 1:16). Hence, when we read of a jailer asking Paul a question similar to yours, he was told to believe and then he was taught so that he might have something in which to believe. "Then he called for a light, ran in, and fell down trembling before Paul and Silas. And he brought them out and said, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" So they said, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved, you and your household." Then they spoke the word of the Lord to him and to all who were in his house" (Acts 16:29-31).
Faith is not just an outward statement, but it is a sincere conviction. "But God be thanked that though you were slaves of sin, yet you obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine to which you were delivered. And having been set free from sin, you became slaves of righteousness" (Romans 6:17-18). The sincerity of belief leads to action, as James discusses at length. "What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works? Can faith save him? If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, "Depart in peace, be warmed and filled," but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit? Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, "You have faith, and I have works." Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works. You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe--and tremble! 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? And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, "Abraham believed God, and it was accounted to him for righteousness." And he was called the friend of God. You see then that a man is justified by works, and not by faith only" (James 2:14-24).
But keep in mind that though God requires faith and effort on our part, it is not our faith or our effort that saves us, but the death of Jesus. "For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast. For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand that we should walk in them" (Ephesians 2:8-10).
Saving faith cannot remain personal. It must be a conviction that leads to telling others about your belief. "But what does it say? "The word is near you, in your mouth and in your heart" (that is, the word of faith which we preach): that if you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation" (Romans 10:8-10). If we do not trust God enough to stand up before men and state our belief in Jesus, if we are too ashamed of our Lord, we will not reach heaven. "Therefore whoever confesses Me before men, him I will also confess before My Father who is in heaven. But whoever denies Me before men, him I will also deny before My Father who is in heaven" (Matthew 10:32-33).
The Psalmist once said, "The sum of Your word is truth" (Psalm 119:160). In other words, truth is found by taking everything God has said on a matter. Too often men find a portion of an answer to their question and they stop without checking to see if there is anything more on the matter.
In regard to salvation, Peter told one audience, "Repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord" (Acts 3:19). Repentance is the turning away from sin and turning your life toward God. If you think a moment about this, it makes sense that God requires men to repent (Acts 17:30). It is our sins which have gotten us into trouble with God. "Behold, the LORD'S hand is not shortened, That it cannot save; Nor His ear heavy, That it cannot hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; And your sins have hidden His face from you, So that He will not hear" (Isaiah 59:1-2). It makes no sense to ask the Lord to forgive our sins while simultaneously continuing to practice them. "What shall we say then? Shall we continue in sin that grace may abound? Certainly not! How shall we who died to sin live any longer in it?" (Romans 6:1-2). Instead, Jesus warns that either we repent of our sins or we will perish in them (Luke 13:3).
Repentance is more than being sorry for committing wrongs in the past. Instead, sorrow is the spur which causes people to change their ways. "For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death. For observe this very thing, that you sorrowed in a godly manner: What diligence it produced in you, what clearing of yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what vehement desire, what zeal, what vindication! In all things you proved yourselves to be clear in this matter" (II Corinthians 7:10-11). Repentance is changing the course of your life and working to right past wrongs. Paul "declared ... that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance" (Acts 26:20). Of course, all sins are not repairable, but an honest attempt should be made to right errors of the past. As an example, if money was stolen, it should be returned. Or, if lies were told, the truth should be revealed.
In Peter's first gospel sermon, a question similar to yours is asked by Peter's audience. "'Therefore let all the house of Israel know assuredly that God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Christ.' Now when they heard this, they were cut to the heart, and said to Peter and the rest of the apostles, 'Men and brethren, what shall we do?' Then Peter said to them, 'Repent, and let every one of you be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children, and to all who are afar off, as many as the Lord our God will call.' And with many other words he testified and exhorted them, saying, 'Be saved from this perverse generation.' Then those who gladly received his word were baptized; and that day about three thousand souls were added to them" (Acts 2:36-41). Peter's answer to the question "What must we do?" contained two requirements of God: repent and be baptized.
The requirement to be baptized is nothing new; Jesus told his disciples much the same. "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned" (Mark 16:16). In a parallel account, Jesus tells the disciples to make additional disciples through baptism. "And Jesus came and spoke to them, saying, "All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you; and lo, I am with you always, even to the end of the age" (Matthew 28:18-20).
Perhaps you wonder why baptism, being immersed in water, is so important to salvation. Paul addresses this question in Romans 6:3-7. "Or do you not know that as many of us as were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into His death? Therefore we were buried with Him through baptism into death, that just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life. For if we have been united together in the likeness of His death, certainly we also shall be in the likeness of His resurrection, knowing this, that our old man was crucified with Him, that the body of sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves of sin. For he who has died has been freed from sin" (Romans 6:3-7). Baptism's importance comes from what it represents. Entering the water represents Christ's death on the cross. Being underwater remembers Jesus' burial in the tomb. Rising from the water memorializes Jesus' resurrection from the grave. In addition, baptism represents ideas on a more personal level. To the believer, entering the water represents the believer's death to sin. Being in the water symbolizes the washing away of sins (Acts 22:16). Arising from the water represents the taking on of a new life. Finally, baptism also represents, to the believer, his hope of being raised like Christ to eternal life. How can such powerful symbolism be dismissed?
In essence, baptism gives the believer contact with the blood of Christ. Remember that it is Christ's death which saves mankind and it is in baptism that we join ourselves with Christ. "For you are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ" (Galatians 3:26-27). Since baptism brings us into contact with the saving blood of Christ, baptism saves. "Corresponding to that, baptism now saves you--not the removal of dirt from the flesh, but an appeal to God for a good conscience--through the resurrection of Jesus Christ" (I Peter 3:21). It isn't the water that saves, but the sincere obedience of the believer to the demands of God which gives him access to God's gift of salvation. When Paul wanted to know what he must do, he was told, "Arise and go into Damascus, and there you will be told all things which are appointed for you to do" (Acts 22:10). Three days later, Ananias came with the answer, "And now why are you waiting? Arise and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord" (Acts 22:16).
While being taught about Jesus, the Ethiopian eunuch did not ask about getting to heaven. Instead, he wanted to know what prevented him from doing what needed to be done. "Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning at this Scripture, preached Jesus to him. Now as they went down the road, they came to some water. And the eunuch said, "See, here is water. What hinders me from being baptized?" Then Philip said, "If you believe with all your heart, you may." And he answered and said, "I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God." So he commanded the chariot to stand still. And both Philip and the eunuch went down into the water, and he baptized him. Now when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught Philip away, so that the eunuch saw him no more; and he went on his way rejoicing" (Acts 8:35-39). Notice from this one example, how much of what we discussed is illustrated. The eunuch heard the word of God explained to him by Philip. He desired to do what he had learned from Philip. The eunuch declared his belief in Jesus as God's Son, showing both belief and a willingness to confess his belief before others. And finally, he was baptized in water. The eunuch continued his journey with joy knowing he obeyed the Lord's commands.
I could ask the same question of you today: What is stopping you from being baptized? "For He says: 'In an acceptable time I have heard you, And in the day of salvation I have helped you." Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation'" (II Corinthians 6:2).