And if by grace, then [is it] no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if [it be] of works, then is it no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. (Rom 11:6)
Confused??? I was too, until I re-read it a few times (and read some commentaries on it). Paul always manages to get his point across without room for argument and with the deepest meanings. What we need to remember first, was that Paul is using this particular verse to dispel the misconception that we are justified by obedience under the law. He reminds us that it was by God's design that the Jews were spared before the coming of Christ. If it were by works, it would constitute debt rather than favor in God's eyes. "The idea of being saved by merit contradicts the very idea of grace (Barnes' Notes on the Bible)."
We did not earn the cleansing blood of Jesus. We do not earn our way into the Kingdom. It is by grace, and the acceptance of that gift that we are made clean and become worthy to enter Heaven. We could never pay the debt, so it was paid for us. Yes, we are still obligated to live a life that exemplifies God, but we cannot master that life simply because we are human and we are sinners. Our "good deeds" count for something, but they are not what gets us in the door. Jesus gets us in - belief and faith in Him, and Him alone - acceptance of the sacrifice He made on our behalf. Those "good deeds" or "works" we do, are the crowns we lay at His feet. They are what we offer to Him as the smallest token of our gratitude for what He has done for us - His death freed us from the gates of hell, from a hold on our soul by the enemy. His resurrection guarantees us, through the grace granted us by God, a place in His mighty Kingdom. There's no other way in!
Once you understand and believe that it is by grace alone that you can enter, the desire to "outdo" the Christian next to you fades into the sunset. Your jealousies and delusions of "being better than" the next guy become a fleeting chapter in your book of life. The only person you need to be better than is the person you were yesterday. You cannot "impress" God with your works - He knows you better than you know yourself and if your motives are, in fact, to impress Him - you just blew it! Do what He calls you to do, live how He asks you to live - offer Him your everything and your nothingness and your gift will be accepted. Do it for HIS glory, not yours. Accept His gift (grace) and you will be saved from the torment of hell.
So, how do you get to heaven? Your journey starts at the foot of the cross.