America has become a nation of entitlements. Americans are entitled to Social Security, welfare checks, food stamps, health care, Medicare, Medicaid, and, of course, Heaven. Religion in America must offer entitlements or the congregation will shrink. Religion must offer an entitlement to Heaven. All you have to do is believe in God and Jesus, who died for your sins, and you get a free pass to Heaven. It does not matter what you do after you receive Jesus as your savior; it is a gift from God not requiring any works on your part.
This is called justification, meaning that we are justified through our faith and we are reconciled with Jesus when we receive this gift of grace from God. It cost Jesus everything, but cost us nothing other than believing in Him. So what happens after justification? Many ministers stop at this point because this is where Americans want to stop. Christians receive a free ticket to Heaven without having to do anything other than saying they believe in God.
However, there is much more to the story of faith. If you truly believe in God and Jesus, you will follow the path of Jesus and avoid sinning. This is called sanctification, which is rarely mentioned by ministers. Sanctification is hard work. It requires us to act on our belief in God by going out and doing good works. And it requires us to fight our sinful nature constantly.
The majority of Christians are happy with justification. They console each other on Sunday that they can reach Heaven by just believing. Since they do not reach Heaven through works or deeds, they can attend church one hour on Sunday and then sin from Sunday afternoon through next Sunday morning. These Christians go back to church each Sunday, repent, and then start sinning all over again. But they ignore the most important evidence of truly believing in God and that is avoiding sin and being like Jesus.
In Romans 6:5-7, when we believe in God, we are united with Jesus/God, leaving our bodies of sin behind so that we no longer are slaves to sin. The Holy Spirit enters us and we become one with God. It seems very clear that true believers do not believe in God only one hour per week and then repent their actions taken over the last six days and 23 hours. True believers fight their sinful nature every second of every day with the power that the Spirit provides in a moral and ethical code that is embedded in our conscience. When we unite with God, the Holy Spirit enters us and guides us. If we do not follow that guidance, then we are not united with God and are not true believers.
Our actions to please God are the best evidence of our true belief in God. Those Christians who seek a church for self-serving reasons and use it to wash away their weekly sins without making any effort towards self-discipline are no better than atheists. They do not believe in God since they do not fight their demons on a daily basis.
Belief in God is your key to enter Heaven, but you are not entitled to the key. You have to work to earn it. Your works are the true justification of your belief. There can be no justification without sanctification. They are entwined so that you cannot have one without the other.