I grew up thinking that in order to go to heaven and get right with God, a person must turn from their sin, ask for forgiveness of past sin, and if I committed a sin, then I would have had to go through the salvation experience again and rededicate myself to God.
In addition, I assumed the burden was on me to make restitution for the wrong I did. For example, if I stole something, I would have to go to every person I stole from and make it right.
So to sum it all up, it was all on the individual to not only precipitate salvation and qualify for God's grace, but it would be up to the individual to do the work that kept them in the grace of God. So basically you justified and "sanctified" yourself.
This belief in effect drove me from "Christendom" and into "the world" when I was in my teens. I figured that I could never be the person I needed to be to please God and qualify for heaven.
The truth that changed my life was this... I can't qualify for God's grace either to save myself or to keep me saved. I can't fix myself up enough so that God will let me into heaven. I'm a sinner (naturally speaking) and there's nothing I can DO to stop being a sinner. I can't undo my sin. All my good works won't undo my sin.
Therefore I need something (or SOMEONE) outside of myself to do what I can never do for myself... namely make me acceptable (and righteous) in God's sight.
The truth was that Jesus became all that we are so that we could become all that He is. God MADE Him to be sin for us so in the same way, we could be made His righteousness. He took our sin on Himself and died on the cross, so that we could take His righteousness on us and have His resurrected life. The Judge of all counted Jesus as all the sinners in the world so that He could count us as righteous as Jesus is... and do it as a free gift. Jesus didn't earn our sin (He never sinned) and in the same way we can't earn His righteousness. Jesus went to our hell so that we could go to His heaven. All by His grace!
This truth about Jesus changed my life. It changed my entire perspective on life. It allowed me to give up on myself and forget myself. It gave me a new identity that isn't founded on what I do, but rather on what Christ did for me. It allowed me to let go of who I use to be, and cling to who I am in Christ. A brand new man. Now I'm FREE.