A friend who lives some distance away is trying to come to grips with Christianity, especially salvation. Recently he asked me some questions via email, which I attempted to answer. Below is my response to him, which I hope will help you in understanding the uniqueness of Christianity and its views of salvation:
The question you asked gets to the heart of the Christian faith. What differentiates Christianity from other religions is Jesus Christ: that he was the divine Son of God, and that those who put their faith and trust in him go to heaven, guaranteed. No other religion makes such claims. As it says about Jesus in John 3:16-18:
For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life. Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. (NRSV)
It also says in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God —not the result of works, so that no one may boast. (NRSV)
Again regarding going to heaven if you put your faith in Jesus, it says in Acts 4:12:
“There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” (NRSV)
Jesus himself said in John 14:6-7 that he and the Father are one (meaning Jesus is divine, not just a human being) and that salvation (going to heaven) comes through him:
“I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me. If you know me, you will know my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen him.” (NRSV)
So we are saved by faith, not by works. We can’t earn our way to heaven. We receive rewards in heaven for our works, but we don’t get to heaven by our works. A very important distinction. Put another way, our works are manifestations or outworkings of our faith. I believe those who consciously reject Christ can’t earn their way to heaven by their works either. “I’m a good person” isn’t a ticket to heaven.
This answer to my friend’s question continues in Part II.