By now, most people have heard the gospel of Jesus Christ or they at least know where to look if they want to know more about it. But I'd like to try to explain it in a way that will hopefully make a little more sense to those who don't believe in it just yet.
An atheist once asked, "If you were God, what would be your criteria for someone getting into your heaven? Would it be for people to be kind and compassionate? Or would it be for people to blindly and completely submit to you?"
Most people would say that the answer should be kindness and compassion, and that SHOULD be the answer, but the thing that so many people don't consider is that a perfect God requires PERFECT kindness and compassion. God would never permit even one drop of wickedness into his kingdom (Psalm 5:4) because sin creates a domino effect that eventually ruins everything around it (James 1:15, 1st Corinthians 5:6).
The problem with the kindness and compassion answer, obviously, is that NO ONE is perfectly kind or compassionate. We can donate to charities, volunteer at soup kitchens, help our neighbor, and just be Mr. or Mrs. Wonderful, but we'll never be perfectly kind or compassionate. So that pretty much rules out that option. Of course, the only other option the atheist gave in this question makes God out to be a petty tyrant, which he isn't. God never expects anyone to "blindly" follow him. That's what Satan expects. Satan is the god that wants blind followers:
2nd Corinthians 4:3-4
3. But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost:
4. In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not, lest the light of the glorious gospel of Christ, who is the image of God, should shine unto them.
So, with the first option of expecting everyone to show perfect kindness and compassion ruled out, and with God not expecting anyone to blindly follow him, there obviously has to be another option, and there is:
God sent someone who DID show perfect kindness and compassion and lets him represent everyone that will trust on him. That person is Jesus. You might wonder how one man is allowed to represent all of mankind, but the Bible explains that since by one man's mistake (Adam) all of mankind was doomed, so by one man's perfection (Jesus) we can all be saved (Romans 5:18-19). That's only fair and God is fair.
(Just so you know, posing a question that only offers a few, limited responses when there is another, more credible option available is a logical fallacy called creating a 'False Dilemma,' and people often resort to this fallacy when trying to make their point.)
You've most likely heard how Jesus shed his blood on the cross and died for our sins. You might wonder why Jesus had to DIE to save us in such a way, but the answer is not that complicated. God is the one by whom all things consist (Colossians 1:16-17) and it's by the word of his power that all things are upheld (Hebrews 1:3). Outside of God's will is the dominion of death, where everything unravels, withers and dies. Satan was cast out into this dominion of death when he tried to overthrow God and failed (Isaiah 14:12-15), and his power became that of death (Hebrews 2:14). MAN followed Satan into the domain of death when Adam and Eve disobeyed God in the Garden of Eden and ate the forbidden fruit. God even told them that eating the forbidden fruit would make them die (Genesis 2:17). This broke God's covenant of ownership with man and Satan became the father to all mankind (John 8:44). (That's why we have to be spiritually born again, if you've ever wondered what that meant). Jesus had to enter the dominion of death to rescue us and THAT'S why he had to die for us in order to save us. But death could not hold him because he had no sin on his heart (Acts 2:24-27). Thus, when Jesus came back out of death he had snatched the authority over death away from Satan (Revelation 1:18, Romans 6:9). Jesus now has the power and authority over death. That's why he's able to save ANYONE from it, including you, no matter how bad your past is (Hebrews 7:25). Also, his death had to be by bloodshed because God put the life in the blood (Leviticus 17:11-14), and it's the blood that speaks to God (Hebrews 12:24). Also, man has shed plenty of blood during his time on earth, and God declared that only bloodshed could atone for bloodshed (Numbers 35:33). Jesus shed his blood in our place. Brutal? Barbaric? Yes, because that's all there is outside of the will of the God of life and peace, and that's where Jesus had to go to get us. Hopefully, that explains a little better why Jesus had to die for us the way he did.
Jesus can save your soul no matter how bad your past is, no matter how much wrong you've done. He can save you even if you're the worst sinner in the world:
Wherefore he is able to save them to the UTTERMOST that come unto God by him, seeing he ever liveth to make intercession for them.
It doesn't matter if you've never been to church, either. Going to church isn't what saves someone. The man on the cross beside Jesus had never gone to church and was a convicted criminal of the worst sort. But he was sorry for his sin, and all he said to Jesus was, "Remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom," and Jesus told him he would be with him in heaven that same day (Luke 23:2-43).
That's how easy salvation is! Jesus said his yoke is easy and his burden is light (Matthew 11:30). All you have to do to be saved is believe that Jesus died for your sins and was resurrected, confess to him that you're a sinner who needs to a redeemer, and then ask him to cleanse you of your sins with his precious, shed blood and save you. That's it! (Romans 10:9-10). Jesus did all the hard work it took to bring mankind back from guaranteed doom to having a simple choice once again.
You don't have to spend any time getting better or improving your life to be saved, either. If we had to act perfect before we could get saved, then we wouldn't need to be saved in the first place. Jesus wants you to come as you are, right now!
You might wonder why a loving God would allow so much sin and evil in the world in the first place. But we have to remember that in the beginning, in the Garden of Eden, man was only capable of ONE sin, which was eating the forbidden fruit. Eve ate it because she thought it would make her like a god (Genesis 3:1-6) and Adam ate it, afterwards, because he didn't want Eve to die alone and didn't trust God to be good enough to forgive her (please go read the article "Adam has been getting a bad rap"). They became susceptible to ALL kinds of sin after that. THAT'S why we have all the destructive desires we have today. Like we said before, it only takes one sin to blossom into a lot of sin (1st Corinthians 5:6 James 1:14-15)).
You might wonder why God would have allowed even a test that simple. You might wonder why he would give man the choice to obey or disobey AT ALL. We have to remember that choice is the only defining condition there is. Without the faculty of choice, we wouldn't even have the presence of mind to complain about it in the first place. We would move on to something else like a mindless robot, never aware of anything. God made us where we could reject him, but not where we HAVE to reject him. And if we choose to reject him, we're going to be left outside of his kingdom in darkness. God is allowing everyone an easy chance to accept him through accepting Jesus as their redeemer now, but that time is coming to an end very soon and judgment is coming to this world because it has become so callously wicked and steeped in evil (2nd Timothy 3:1-5).
An atheist once asked me why God - being all-powerful and all - didn't just snap his fingers and make us equal to himself: perfect, all-knowing, and unable to commit evil. I told him that God's got all kinds of creations around him that he made with a quick snap of his fingers. But he wanted something far better than that. He wanted something "fearfully and wonderfully made" (Psalm 139:14.) Something that even the angels were curious about and desired to look into (1st Peter 1:12). A masterpiece that would extoll blood, sweat and tears from even an all-powerful God. Jesus' sacrifice on the cross was the blood, sweat and tears that such a creation took. If atheists would read the Bible, they would see that Jesus asked the Father THREE times in the garden of Gethsemane if there was another way besides the cross for the work to be completed, but the answer was obviously no (Matthew 26:39-44). In Peter's first epistle we see that Jesus foresaw all that was coming even from before the world was made (1st Peter 1:19-20). Therefore, keeping his omniscience and fore-knowledge in mind, we know that if there had been another way to make this great company (mankind) that he wanted, he would have done it. But there wasn't. Jesus' work on the cross was the work it took to make us joint heirs with Christ (Romans 8:17), a title not to be taken lightly.
It won't be long until a terrible time comes upon this world (Daniel 12:1), and many will turn to God then, but it will come with such awful difficulty by that point! God doesn't want to hurt anyone (Ezekiel 33:11), but a righteous God has to be a just God, and a just God has to be a judge as well as a saviour. It is a fearful thing to contemplate the destruction of sinners, but it is more fearful to think of crime, filth, violence, and evil being tolerated forever.
Plus, we must remember that when God brings us to judgment, all he does is turn us over to our own delusions and craftiness when we finally reject him for too long (Proverbs 1:29-31, 1st Corinthians 3:19). The evil in the world isn't proof that God doesn't exist, or care; it's proof that we don't listen to him. He gives instructions over and over in the Bible as to how to avoid trouble, but everyone is so wise and right in their own eyes (Proverbs 21:2, Isaiah 5:20-21), and, as the Bible foretold, people can no longer endure sound doctrine and only listen to people who tell them what they want to hear (2nd Timothy 4:3-4). Tragically, so many people reject God's inerrant counsel, calling themselves wise the whole time (Romans 1:21-22), eventually reaping the destruction of their ways and then blaming that on God too (Galatians 6:7). It's sad that the same people who complain about the evil in the world will be the ones cursing God for judging the evil in the world when that times comes. What a time of self-contradiction we live in!
One last thing to think about: Some people declare that it's unfair that someone can live their whole life wickedly, but then get saved and go to heaven, while someone else lives a much better life and dies and goes to hell. But, again, we have to remember that none of us are perfectly good and can only be represented by Jesus, who is. God says that the best of our attempts to be righteous are as filthy rags in his eyes (Isaiah 64:6). And many times the Bible tells us that God is no respecter of persons (2nd Chronicles 9:17, Ephesians 6:9, 1st Peter 1:17). He doesn't hold any one person in higher esteem than another because we have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). And, as we've mentioned a couple times now, one sin is as bad as a million, as far as entrance to heaven goes (James 2:10). Atheists often pose the scenario of a brutal murderer killing a little child and then getting saved and going to heaven and complaining how unfair it is. But which belief system is really the unfair one here? Under Christianity, the murderer gets convicted of his sin, gets a second chance and can possibly help clear up the heart and mind of someone else who's on the evil path they were. Also, the child goes on to be with the Lord. Under atheism, the murderer gets away with it and the child is truly gone forever. See what I mean?
God doesn't enjoy the demise of those that reject him:
Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?
But if we reject the one who's holding us and everything else together, where else can we go? It's like a window rejecting glass, or a shirt rejecting cloth, and eventually a time of judgment HAS to come. Why put salvation off when so many things the Bible prophesied about the very last days are happening now and the time could be up at any moment? The Bible says that tomorrow isn't guaranteed (James 4:14). Jesus is the only one who has paid the full price of your sins. Buddha didn't, Mary didn't, Muhammed certainly didn't. Neither did Shiva, Confucius or anyone else. Only Jesus did. That is why he can be infinitely forgiving and infinitely judgmental at the same time: Forgiving if we accept his atonement for us, and judgmental if we don't. Only someone who has paid the debt for everyone can do that. Think about that. That is why Jesus is the only way to salvation (Acts 4:12). Come to Jesus in prayer today and simply say the following:
"Dear Jesus I believe in your finished work on the cross. I confess that I'm a sinner and that I need you as my redeemer. Please cleanse my sins with your precious blood and save my soul so I can be with you in heaven. Amen!"
God bless you!
Likewise, I say unto you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner that repenteth.