Let's break it down.
We start with how a person might go about finding eternal salvation, in Heaven, with God. It's not as complicated as it might seem. There are two basic belief systems that claim to offer an eternity in Heaven. The first is a "works based" system. The second is a "free gift" system. Most of the world's large religious belief systems fall into the first category. Christianity is the only one that falls into the second. I'll explain.
A works-based system prescribes rules and requirements that its adherents must follow. The more closely they are followed, the more likely the adherent will go to Heaven. Examples would include Judaism, Hinduism, Budhaism; pretty much all of the "ism" religions.
A "gift" system means that instead of earning our way into Heaven, God gifts it to us. We don't do anything to earn it. Instead, way that we claim it is to believe it. Christianity is the only world religion that claims that God has given us a free, undeserved opportunity to go to Heaven.
Both systems assume the same thing. That is, mankind is sinful and needs salvation. Obviously, if this weren't the case, then the discussion is over before it begins. Everyone gets to go to Heaven. But intuitively, we know that this can't be the case. If it were, then Heaven and our earthly lives would be no different. We would all just move from this world, filled with violence, sickness, pain and suffering; into a Heaven filled with the same thing. This goes against the way that everyone, even athiests define Heaven.
Now let's look at the two systems and try to decide which makes the most logical sense.
A works-based system assumes that we can do enough "good" things to earn our way into Heaven. By anyone's math, it would seem logical that these systems require that, at the end of our lives, we have accrued a spiritual balance sheet, which contains more good than bad acts. This is because, like the "Heaven is the same as Earth" discussion above, a Heaven populated with people whose spiritual balance sheets don't balance would be perhaps somewhat better than Earth, but only incrementally so.
There is another fallacy in the works-based perspective. It assumes that it is even possible to have a positive balance. The problem, however, is that if God gave your your life (a view which is generally held by both belief systems), then it is simply impossible to ever accrue more spiritual "points" than what you started life with.
Here's what I mean. Suppose you had never sinned. Now suppose that you give your life up, in order to accomplish God's will; you die rescuing an innocent baby from a burning building. At that moment, you have returned to God something that He gave you to begin with (your life); but nothing more. Of course, no one lives a sinless life. So, everyone is going to go through life with a deficit balance. And even if they dedicate their lives to serving God at some point, they still have all of those self-serving years to account for.
The "gift" system says that the only way a person can get to Heaven is if God makes provision for it. God gives us a free and undeserved ticket to Heaven. You might ask: "Can't God just give everyone a free ticket?" We are right back to where we started. Heaven would be no different than Earth. Further, If He did that, it would be an unjust act by a just God. It just doesn't compute.
Christianity takes the idea of a free gift one step further. Christianity teaches us that a man named Jesus was, in reality, God in human form. Jesus claimed to be God. God allowed Himself to be crucified, in order to compensate for all of the sins of mankind. It's only after we recieve the free gift that we begin to do things that might
appear to be an effort to earn our way. The truth is, however, that these acts
are done out of gratitude rather than fear. We obey Him because we are so thankful, not because we are trying to earn anything.
It's important to understand that the Old Testament describes a works-based system that obviously didn't work. God's chosen people, the nation of Israel would follow God for a while, and then wander in the wilderness for a few more decades. You might conclude that God made a mistake. But the truth is that the nation of Israel never quite got it. Many of them never fully understood the two core principles of a relationship with the Creator of the Universe.
The first principle is that God loves His Creation. He loves every single one of us. No matter who we are or what we've done, He loves us. It's difficult to fathom this through a works-based lens. How can God love me when I've acted so badly? I don't know. But the Old Testament describes a God who relentlessly pursues His people. But He never, ever forces them into anything. Instead, He always allows them to choose.
The second principle is that God wants only one thing from His Creation. He wants simple faith. It starts with Moses, but we learn through the examples of human lives what it means. Abraham was prepared to sacrifice the only son he had, and for whom he had waited so many years. David was willing to go on the offensive against all odds, and into battle with Goliath. God finds favor with people who have faith in Him.
Which brings us back to the Christian gift. We accept it by believing it. We accept it by faith that Jesus was God, and that because he never sinned, he was the perfect sacrifice for the sins of mankind. One drop of God's blood is enough to eradicate every sin that a human could commit and will ever commit.
So, a works-based system is illusory. It's impossible to pay your life back to God, unless you've lived a sinless life. You might think that it is equally impossible to believe that God came to this earth and allowed Himself to be crucified (clearly, the worst imagineable death), and was resurrected. I agree that the concept is pretty incredible. Although it is difficult to accept, it's not impossible.
Consider the evidence. Today, of course, only circumstantial evidence remains. According to the New Testament accounts, Jesus was crucified (which, if you read the Old Testament carefully, appears to have been foretold with incredible detail, e.g. read Psalms, Isaiah, and numerous other portions), and resurrected a few days later. His followers found his tomb empty and later, he appeared to them, in human form (he ate food, for example). These accounts tell us that hundreds of people saw him.
My view of the evidence is pretty simple. First, the circumstantial evidence is persuasive. Today, over two thousand years after he was killed a criminal's death, we still celebrate his birth and death. Curiously, even people who don't believe in him celebrate his birth. Our calendar begins with his life. There are churches everywhere dedicated to him. A man who was apparently a working-class commoner, without a lot of degrees or credentials, followed by a small ragtag band of very flawed people, has had a greater impact on modern civilization than anyone else.
It's pretty amazing to think about. Have billions of Jesus followers been wrong? Was it all a hoax. Perhaps, but it seems more logical that there is some force out there that would very much prefer that we think of Jesus as a myth. We think of that force as a funny little guy in a red suit with a pitchfork. But he's not really funny and is destined to spend eternity in a very bad place. And presumably, he wants company.
Second, if he was a phony, a martyr who died without a real cause (think of modern-day cults), it's impossible to believe that he would have had the effect that he has had. Cult leaders who die while at the helm of their cults make headlines for a few days and, a few months later we can't even remember their platforms.
It is simply not that way with Jesus.
And there's more evidence. The problem, however, is that the evidence is ex post, or after-the-fact. I know what my life was like before I accepted the free gift. I know what my life is like now. I see hundreds of examples of answered prayers, in my life and those of other Christians. The answer may not always manifest itself in the way that Christians expect. But, over the timeline of eternity, they are always answered.
When I add up all of this evidence, I come to one unmistakeable conclusion. Jesus is who he said that he was. He died to pay for my sins. By accepting this gift, I am going to Heaven forever. And, if I walk in faith while on Earth, through prayer, Bible study (reading His words), and obedience, my life here will be incredibly rich.
It's the only reasonable explanation.
If you want to learn more, read "The Reasonable Person- Due Process of Law, Logic, and Faith (Createspace, June 2012)," or simply reach out to me through the contact form on this website. Oh, and you can read all about it in the Bible. Just pull it off that shelf, dust it off, and start reading. You might be surprised at what you find.