Sometimes people have a moment, a day, or a season in their life in which they awaken to the fact that they are distant from God. A tragic event like the death of a loved one may produce such a realization, or it may just occur through a conversation with a friend or even be the result of listening to one’s conscience. Whenever and however it occurs, many people want to know how to get right with God.
If a person isn’t a Christian, getting right with God means responding to the gospel of Jesus Christ. A person responds to the gospel by confessing that they are a sinner in need of a Savior and then following Christ in their life. If a person is a Christian, then, like the Prodigal Son, they can return to God.
What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ and how do you respond to it? Why do people have to confess their sin to get right with God? Why is faith so important to salvation? How do prodigals return to God? Keep reading to learn the answers to these questions and others.
Also see Is There Anything Too Hard for God? to learn more.
What is the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
The simple definition of the word “gospel” is “good news.” The good news is the proclamation that Christ has made a way for sinners, who are distant from God, to get right with him, be saved, and go to heaven when they die. The death and resurrection of Christ make up the heart of the gospel message.
Why did Christ have to die? The Bible teaches that Christ was sinless (2 Cor. 5:21; John 1:29), which enabled him to be the perfect sacrifice for sinners. The consequence of sin is death (Rom. 6:23; Gen. 2:17) and when Christ died on the cross, he paid the price for sinners and took their place. As a result, those who accept Christ, though they will die physically, will live eternally with God and other believers.
Why does a person need to confess that they are a sinner? In refusing to acknowledge one’s sin, a person lies because all people miss the mark of God’s moral standards (Rom 3:23; 1 Kings 8:46). Not acknowledging sin also reflects a lack of understanding of why Chris died. A person cannot be saved without acknowledging and confessing that they are a sinner in need of God’s grace in Christ.
Why do people need to acknowledge Christ as Savior? The Bible emphatically states that Christ is the only way to the Father, eternal life, and heaven (Acts 4:12; 1 Tim. 2:5). Getting right with God requires confessing that one is a sinner and putting one’s faith in Christ (Eph. 2:8; Rom. 10:9-10).
Acts 4:12 reads, “And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” (ESV)
Why is faith so important to salvation? Faith, as the Bible describes it, is an expression of personal trust. Faith isn’t merely knowing about Christ’s life and his sacrifice on the cross. While responding to the gospel involves some understanding of history and theology, it’s more than intellectual knowledge.
Biblical faith involves personally trusting Christ, the fruit of which is having a relationship with God comprised of prayer, Bible study, and obedience.
Who can respond to the gospel? Anyone. The Bible teaches that any man, woman, or child can respond to the gospel and be saved and go to heaven when they die. Christ invites people of any race, gender, or social class to respond to the gospel.
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, ‘The righteous shall live by faith.'” – Romans 1:16-17, emphasis added
Also see How Do You Ask God for Help? to learn more.
How can a person return to God and get right with him?
God’s grace through Christ is so great that he allows those who once believed in him and lived for him — yet left him — to return to him. The Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32) is a well-known example of a backslider who came to his senses and returned to his father with repentance in his heart.
“And he arose and came to his father. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and felt compassion, and ran and embraced him and kissed him. And the son said to him, ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and before you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son.'” – Luke 15:20-21
Long before Christ told the parable of the Prodigal Son, God pleaded with Israel several times in the Old Testament to abandon their wayward ways and return to him.
- Jeremiah 4:1, “If you, Israel, will return, then return to me,” declares the Lord. “If you put your detestable idols out of my sight and no longer go astray.”
- Malachi 3:7, “Ever since the time of your ancestors you have turned away from my decrees and have not kept them. Return to me, and I will return to you,” says the Lord Almighty.”
- Zechariah 1:3, “Therefore tell the people: This is what the Lord Almighty says: Return to me, declares the Lord Almighty, and I will return to you, says the Lord Almighty.”
- Joel 2:12, “Even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart, with fasting and weeping and mourning.”
Also see Where Is God When I’m Scared? to learn more.
How can a person be sure that they are saved?
Any person who responds to the gospel, repents of sin, and genuinely puts their trust in Christ alone for salvation will be saved. Author Jerry Bridges, in his book The Gospel for Real Life, articulates three means by which God assures people that they have eternal life:
- The promises of His Word. The Bible teaches that people who respond to the gospel are saved and will go to heaven when they die. People can fully trust God’s promises.
- The witness of the Spirit in our hearts. The Holy Spirit indwells every Christian. He gives them assurance within their hearts that they are God’s son or daughter, and that God will not abandon those who belong to him.
- The transforming work of the Spirit in our lives. Even after a person responds to the gospel, sin still tempts them and sometimes they fall short. However, Christians should strive to grow in their faith, continuously overcome sin in their life, and live out their identity in Christ whose righteousness has been transferred to them.
“The gospel is so simple that small children can understand it, and it is so profound that studies by the wisest theologians will never exhaust its riches.” – Charles Hodge
7 Bible verses about getting right with God
- Jeremiah 33:3, “Call to me and I will answer you, and will tell you great and hidden things that you have not known.”
- Luke 15:24, “For this my son was dead, and is alive again; he was lost, and is found. And they began to celebrate.”
- Deuteronomy 4:29, “But from there you will seek the Lord your God and you will find him, if you search after him with all your heart and with all your soul.”
- Matthew 7:7-8, “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who seeks finds, and to the one who knocks it will be opened.”
- Ephesians 5:8, “For at one time you were darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Walk as children of light.”
- John 3:16, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.”
- Matthew 6:33, “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you.”
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