Who Goes to Heaven, Who Goes to Hell?

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Who Goes to Heaven, Who Goes to Hell?

James R. Aist

Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called the “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” in the flesh by human hands, were at that time apart from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. – Ephesians 2:11-12

Introduction

“Is it not frightfully unfair that this new life should be confined to people who have heard of Christ and been able to believe in Him? But the truth is God has not told us what His arrangements about the other people are. We do know that no man can be saved except through Christ; we do not know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him.” This quotation from C. S. Lewis is a good synopsis of what this article is about. Jesus Christ made it clear that He is the only way to God/heaven (John 14:6), and this claim is reiterated elsewhere in the New Testament. But, is this true only of those who actually hear or read about Jesus and believe in Him? Lewis, making use of a rhetorical question, declares that such a limited scope of salvation would be a “frightfully unfair” thing for God to do, clearly implying that He must not have done it. He then postulates that God must have made secret arrangements for the others, because to exclude them without giving them a chance to accept Christ’s offer of salvation would be unfair. Finally, to complete his hypothetical scenario, Lewis posits that people can be saved through Christ without even knowing of Him, by means of His presumed, secret “arrangements about the other people.”

To most evangelical Christians, such claims may seem like wishful thinking at best, but the fact is that some mainline Christian denominations and several popular TV preachers and evangelists agree with Lewis on these points. For this reason, I will attempt to break this teaching down into its component parts and then test each part against the biblical witness. Is Lewis’s view a sound, biblical teaching about salvation, or is it nothing more than a transparent attempt to explain away something sobering about God that he cannot bring himself to believe?

What Does the Bible Say?

In order to discover what the Bible says about these things, we must first understand that when the Bible speaks of “God” or “Lord”, it is speaking of the one true God, the one God who created the entire universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God and Father of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and Him alone. This is “the God of the Bible.” There is no other God, only false gods. And we must also understand that, although the New Testament books were becoming available to be read to the people, word of mouth was the only widely available method of communication in New Testament times. Nowadays, reading the Gospel and believing it is the functional equivalent of hearing the Gospel preached and believing it; both result in salvation.

That said, let’s take a look at a few New Testament Scriptures that speak most directly about this matter, beginning with John 3:16-18: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish, but have eternal life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned. But he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” Here, Jesus says that those who do not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God will go to hell, whereas those who do believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God will go to heaven. Jesus made it very clear that He was speaking specifically of the God of the Bible and of himself. This passage, then, sets the stage for the issue in question: Is it possible for a person to believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God without ever having heard of the God of the Bible and of His Son, Jesus Christ? Certainly, there is not even a hint in this passage to suggest such a thing; it’s about actually hearing and believing.

Next, let’s consider 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10: “It is a righteous matter with God to repay with tribulation those who trouble you, and to give you who are troubled rest with us when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with His mighty angels, in flaming fire taking vengeance on those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ. They shall be punished with eternal destruction, isolated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day, to be glorified in His saints and to be marveled at by all those who believe, because our testimony among you was believed.” Here, the Apostle Paul identifies two conditions of people who go to hell: 1) they do not know the God of the Bible; and 2) they do not believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. Note that these same two conditions of those who go to hell were implied in John 3:16-18, as discussed above. And Paul adds that those who believed did so precisely because of their spoken testimony directly to them. This brings us closer to the “proof passages”, which I consider next.

First, let’s take a look at Romans 2:12-16: “As many as have sinned without the law will also perish without the law, and as many as have sinned under the law will be judged by the law,  for the hearers of the law are not justified before God, but the doers of the law will be justified.  For when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these, not having the law, are a law unto themselves,  who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, while their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them,  in the day when, according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Jesus Christ.” Here, Paul is explaining that Gentiles will have no excuse on judgment day for their sinful ways, because, even without the Judaic Law, they show the work of that Law written in their hearts and are a law unto themselves, which law they do not obey.  Furthermore, such Gentiles are “…apart from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world (Ephesians 2:11-12).” They are “without hope” because they are “apart from Christ.” Therefore, it is only through faith in Jesus Christ that such men can be saved. Next, let’s consider how one may obtain this faith in Jesus Christ.

In Romans 10:13-15, Paul wrote:  “For, ‘Everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.’”  How then shall they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how shall they believe in Him of whom they have not heard? And how shall they hear without a preacher? And how shall they preach unless they are sent?” Now, to fully grasp the impact of what Paul is saying here, it is necessary to recognize that this passage is a series of rhetorical questions, designed to make a series of corresponding statements, as follows: They cannot call on Him in whom they have not believed; and they cannot believe in Him of whom they have not heard; and they cannot hear without a preacher; and they cannot preach unless they are sent. In other words, the only way that a person can believe in the God of the Bible and in His Son, Jesus Christ, is by hearing the Gospel preached to them. And so Paul concludes, in Romans 10:17, “So then faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.” Think about it for a moment. These are exclusionary conclusions, not leaving any “wiggle room” for any other means by which saving faith in Jesus Christ may be obtained. It comes only by actually and literally hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached.

Paul again addresses this issue directly and, here, in considerable detail. In Ephesians 1:13 with 2:11-13, Paul writes “In Him you also, after hearing the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and after believing in Him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit…Therefore remember that formerly you, the Gentiles in the flesh, who are called the “uncircumcision” by the so-called “circumcision” in the flesh by human hands, were at that time apart from Christ, alienated from the citizenship of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, without hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who were formerly far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.” In other words, Gentiles (everyone except Jews) are without the God of the Bible, without Jesus Christ, and, when taken in context, without hope of any means of escaping hell unless and until someone tells them about God and His salvation through Jesus Christ, as Paul did for the (Gentile) Ephesians. Again, this leaves no “wiggle room” for any other means by which saving faith in Jesus Christ may be obtained. It comes only by actually and literally hearing the Gospel of Jesus Christ preached. Thus, Ephesians 1:13 with 2:11-13 is the key passage proving, biblically, that the only way for anyone to be saved is to literally hear the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believe it; all others are “without hope.” Now, we do “know that only those who know Him can be saved through Him”, and that God did not make any special “arrangements about the other people.”

In John 5:24, Jesus said, “Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears My word and believes in Him who sent Me has eternal life and shall not come into condemnation, but has passed from death into life.” Jesus could have simply said “Whoever believes in Him who sent me…”, as in John 3:16. But here, Jesus adds more detail to the process by adding “…whoever hears my words and believes in Him who sent me…” Clearly, then, Jesus Himself taught that one must hear (or read) the Gospel in order to believe in Him  and have eternal life; there is no other way for anyone to be saved, no special accommodation for the “others” who never hear of or believe in the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus. How do we know for sure? Both Paul and Jesus said so.

But wait, there’s even more powerful biblical confirmation of this conclusion, as follows. “That servant who knew his master’s will, but did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he who unknowingly committed acts worthy of punishment shall be beaten with few stripes.” (Luke 12:47-48a).  Notice that both were punished, but the one who unknowingly committed acts worthy of punishment was beaten with fewer stripes. If one were to apply this principal to the present context, the ones who did hear (or read) the Gospel, but refused to believe it, would receive a more severe punishment than the ones who never even heard (or read) it, but both would end up in hell. This same principal can be seen in Matthew 11:20-24, “Then He began to reprimand the cities where most of His mighty works were done, because they did not repent: “Woe to you, Chorazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I say to you, it will be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon on the Day of Judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, who is exalted toward heaven, will be brought down to Hades. For if the mighty works which have been done in you had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say to you that it shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom on the Day of Judgment than for you.

To summarize, the Bible clearly teaches us that only those who actually and literally hear (or read) the Gospel of Jesus Christ and believe it, will spend their eternity in heaven with God. More specifically, the Bible teaches that there is no other way for Jesus to save anyone, including any and all – past, present and future – who never even hear of the God of the Bible and of His Son, Jesus Christ. And where will all of these “other people” spend their eternity? According to the Bible, they are “without hope” of salvation by any other means and “They shall be punished with eternal destruction, isolated from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power, when He comes, in that Day…” (2 Thessalonians 1:9-10).

But What about the Old Testament Saints?

The Old Testament saints (e.g., Adam, Noah, Job, Abraham and David) lived and died before Jesus was even born, so did they, too, go to hell because they didn’t have an opportunity to hear the Gospel preached and believe in Jesus? No, not at all! God made special provision for them to know about Jesus during their lifetime, to hear Him preach to them after their death, to accept Him as their Savior and to be resurrected from their graves. They were saved in the same manner as we are. Let’s take a look at the biblical witness:

1) Because of the Old Testament biblical witness (Messianic prophecies), these saints looked ahead to the time when the Messiah would be revealed in the flesh, and so they already believed in the Coming Messiah, Jesus Christ, when they died (Hebrews 11:24-25 & 39; Galatians 3:8,16 & 29; John 8:56);

2) Jesus, himself, preached the Gospel to these dead saints in Paradise (also referred to as “Abraham’s Bosom”), between His death on the cross and His resurrection from the dead (1 Peter 1:10-12; 1 Peter 3:18-20; 1 Peter 4:5-6; Ephesians 4: 8-10; Hebrews 11:39; Luke 16:22; and Luke 23:43);

3) These dead saints believed Jesus’ preaching and were saved (1 Peter 1:10-12, 1 Peter 3:18-20, 1 Peter 4:5-6);

4) Apparently, these Jewish saints will be resurrected between the end of the battle of Armageddon and the beginning of the One Thousand Year Reign (Daniel 12:1-3 with 11).

Note that God made special provision for the salvation of only these Old Testament saints and not for their contemporaries who did not know of the God of the Bible and of His Son, Jesus Christ. Note also that this special provision involved the actual preaching of the Gospel directly to them and their believing in Jesus the Messiah as a result of it. However, this provision is for only Jews who actually believed, or now believe, that  Jesus is the promised Messiah, and we know that most Jews since Jesus’ time have not believed and were/are not saved. We may conclude, therefore, that the biblical witness indicates clearly  that God did not make any special provision for the “other people”, who were, therefore, without any hope of escaping hell, as Paul clearly taught (Ephesians 1:13 with 2:11-13).

Does this Mean that God is Unfair?

No, God is not being unfair (Romans 9:18-24)! If God were to treat everyone “fairly”, then all would go to hell, because all have sinned and are condemned already (Romans 3:23; John 3:18). This is the “law of sin and death” (Romans 6:23; Romans 8:2). Not having an opportunity to hear and believe the Gospel merely leaves people on the pathway to hell; it does not put them on the pathway to hell. Furthermore, God does not owe it to anybody to save them; it is only by the grace of God that any are saved. So, we don’t really want to be treated according to what we deserve (i.e., fairly), but according to the grace and mercy of God. In this regard, see also the discussion of Romans 2:12-16, above.

God’s Sovereign Right to Bless and Curse as He Sees Fit

Only God can determine whom He will save and whom he will not save; that’s His sovereign right, as revealed by the biblical witness:

Exodus 33:19.I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Note that the converse is clearly implied: God will not be gracious to and show mercy on whom He will not.); and

In Romans 9:18-24, Paul writes, “Therefore He has mercy on whom He wills, and He hardens whom He wills.”You will then say to me, “Why does He yet find fault? For who can resist His will?” Rather, O man, who are you to answer back to God? Shall the thing formed say to him who formed it, “Why have you made me like this?” Does the potter not have power over the clay to make from the same lump one vessel for honor and another for dishonor? What if God, willing to show His wrath and to make His power known, endured with much patience the vessels of wrath prepared for destruction, in order to make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He previously prepared for glory, even us, whom He has called, not from the Jews only, but also from the Gentiles?” (Note that this passage concludes with another rhetorical question, which, when written as the implied statement, goes something like this: God created, and predestined for hell, some to show His wrath and make known His power, in order to make known to all the extent of the riches of His glory and mercy on those He created and predestined for heaven.)

God blesses whom He chooses to bless, and He curses whom He chooses to curse. Therefore, it’s not ours to judge God because He chooses to let some people die in their sins and go to hell, while choosing others to be forgiven and inherit eternal life. God alone has that prerogative: “Salvation belongs to our Lord” (Psalm 3:8 and Revelation 7:10). In fact, God does not intend to save everyone; if He did, then everyone would be saved, because God does whatever He pleases (Psalms 115:3, Psalms 135:6, Isaiah 46:10, Daniel 4:35, Ephesians 1:11). We can see this fact illustrated by Jesus in the parable of the ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13): in verses 11-12, Jesus said, “Afterward, the other virgins came also, saying, ‘Lord, Lord, open the door for us.’ “But he answered, ‘Truly I say to you, I do not know you.’” The door to salvation/heaven had been shut, even though there were those begging and pleading at the door to be let in. But the door was not opened for them, because Jesus did not know them (i.e., they were not of His flock, as in John 10:14, 27 “I know my sheep/them”; cf. 2 Timothy 2:19 and Matthew 7:23). If this seems like a “hard saying” to us, then maybe we need to reassess our understanding of the full nature of the sovereignty of the God of the Bible. When we accuse God of being unfair in this matter, are we not setting ourselves up as God’s judges? That, my friends, is the height of arrogance (Job 40:2; Job 40:8; Romans 11:34), and God will not look kindly on it. God, and God alone, is responsible for how He deals with each individual; He has not delegated that responsibility to us. Ours is only to learn how God deals with sinners, believe it, accept it, and make sure that, insofar as it depends on us, we are not among those who reject the Gospel and die in our sins.

Conclusions:

1. According to the Bible, anyone  (past, present or future) who does not hear or read the Gospel of Jesus Christ and accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior (believe in Him in their heart and confess Him with their mouth) will spend their eternity in hell, without exception (including those who have never had an opportunity to hear, understand and believe the Gospel).

2. According to the Bible, anyone (past, present or future) who does hear or read the Gospel of Jesus Christ and accept Him as their personal Lord and Savior (believe in Him in their heart and confess Him with their mouth) will spend their eternity with God in heaven;

3. According to the Bible, the Old Testament saints looked ahead to the day of Jesus the Messiah, whom they believed was to come, and therefore believed in Him before He actually came to earth bodily. Jesus himself preached directly to them in Paradise, they believed Him, and for this reason, they are saved. The Bible does not record or imply that any such special provision was made for anyone who did not know the God of the Bible and His Son, Jesus; and

4. According to the Bible, God blesses whom He chooses to bless, and He curses whom He chooses to curse. Therefore, it’s not ours to judge God because He chooses to let some people die in their sins and go to hell, while choosing others to be forgiven and inherit eternal life. God alone has that prerogative: “Salvation belongs to our Lord” (Psalm 3:8 and Revelation 7:10). Ours is only to accept Jesus Christ as our Lord and Savior and continually give Him thanks and praise for His abundant grace and mercy toward us.

(To read more of my biblical teachings, click HERE)

A Sinless Life and a Sacrificial Death: The Works of Jesus

Jesus H. ChristA Sinless Life and a Sacrificial Death: The Works of Jesus

 James R. Aist

“Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.” Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:27-29)

Introduction

Salvation is free to us, but it cost Jesus His life. Is there a special relationship of the life that Jesus lived to the death that He died? It seems to me that, in the Christian church, we put major and primary emphasis on the fact that Jesus suffered and then died on a cruel cross to pay the penalty for our sins. And, that’s as it should be, for, apart from that, none of us would have any valid hope of escaping an eternity in hell and spending our forever with God in heaven. But, lately, I have been pondering the fact that Jesus managed to live for 21 years as a morally responsible adult in a terribly fallen world – a world not all that different from ours today, where sin and evil abound – without even once committing a sin. So, one day an interesting question occurred to me: Which was the more difficult thing that Jesus did for us: being tempted in every way as we are for 21 years without sinning, or dying on the cross to pay for our sins? Let’s take a few moments to explore the two aspects of this question a little further and see where it leads us.

The Sinless Life of Jesus

The Bible says that Jesus was tempted in every way, just as we are, but was without sin (Hebrews 4:15). Now, I don’t know about you, but I’m not convinced that I have been able to live even one day without sinning! So, it’s hard for me to imagine how hard it must have been for Jesus, who was fully man (and fully God), to live 21 years (that’s 7,665 straight days) without sinning even once, when He was being tempted in every way as I have been. Add to that the facts that 1) Jesus was hated and hunted by His own people, and 2) as the Son of God, He was tempted in three ways that neither you nor I even could be tempted (Matthew 4:1-11), and it’s easy to see that His sin-free life was truly remarkable and extraordinary.

The Sacrificial Death of Jesus

After Jesus was arrested, He was shamelessly and publicly mocked and brutally beaten before He was convicted of a capital crime and taken away to be put to death on a cross (John 19:1-3). Much has been said and written about the intense pain and agony inflicted by the beating and the cruel invention referred to as “crucifixion” (click HERE). Now, a literal lamb that was led to slaughter in those days had no idea what awaited him, and his demise was relatively quick and painless. But Jesus, the very human Lamb of God, would have been well aware of the kinds and intensity of pain and agony inflicted by crucifixion, as the Jews were given many opportunities by the Romans to witness this public display of punishment, as a means to dissuade other would-be law-breakers. Yet He willingly subjected Himself to this slow and unspeakably painful and undeserved death, in order to pay the price for our sins. The difficulty of actually bringing oneself to submit to such a cruel and painful death cannot be overstated.

So, His Life or His Death: Which Was the More Difficult Accomplishment?

By this time you may be thinking that, perhaps, I have posed a moot question, and you would be right. But I did so to make a couple of critical points. First, we should be quick to remember and appreciate the difficulty of the sinless life that Jesus lived, and not just the difficulty of His willfully enduring death on a cross for our sake. And second, let us remember that both His sinless life and His sacrificial death were necessary in order for Him be the Savior of the world. If Jesus had committed even one sin during those 21 years, then His death on a cross would have been payment for His own sin, not ours. That would have left us with no hope of escaping hell and qualifying for heaven. In other words, Jesus’ sinless life wasn’t just an amazing accomplishment that we all can and should admire from a distance; it was an absolute necessity in God’s one-and-only plan for our salvation that powerfully impacts our lives “up close and personal”, forever.

As the saying goes, “He lived the life we could not live to pay the ransom we could not pay.”

Addendum

Some would say that the most difficult thing that Jesus did for us was to allow the full  weight of the evil of all of our sins to fall upon His shoulders, and that’s why He said in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me” (Matthew 26:39). Still others suggest that it was the separation from His Father that was the worst part of it all, causing Him to cry out from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). In any case, we know that all of these things had to happen in order for His salvation to be complete and effective. And finally, what we can be absolutely sure of is this: in Jesus, we have a truly awesome Redeemer!

(For more articles on biblical teachings, click HERE)

A Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

Catechism ClipsA Note of Concern to Roman Catholics

 James R. Aist

I was a Roman Catholic for 20 years of my adult life. There are a number of things about the Roman Catholic Church with which I agree, and admire and appreciate. And I know several Roman Catholics who, by all indications, are born-again Christians, as I am. But I do have one concern in particular that I feel compelled to share with you.

To the best of my knowledge, the most important single doctrine of the Christian church is the doctrine of salvation, for it is what you believe (or, more precisely, in whom you believe!) about salvation that will ultimately determine your eternal destiny, whether it be heaven or hell. I developed the case (click HERE) for the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone (Ephesians 2:8-9), and not by either works alone or faith plus works. In the official Roman Catholic Catechism posted on the Vatican website, under the heading “Merit” (click HERE), the following paragraph speaks about the roles of “merit” (the particular term used in this Catechism to mean “good works” or “good deeds”) in the life and eternal destiny of the believer:

“2010 Since the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion. Moved by the Holy Spirit and by charity, we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces needed for our sanctification, for the increase of grace and charity, and for the attainment of eternal life.” (italics mine).

Here is the (italicized) excerpt to which I want to draw your attention: “…we can then merit for ourselves and for others the graces neededfor the attainment of eternal life.” Now, with the understanding that “merit” is taken to mean “good works” or “good deeds” in this Catechism, what this paragraph is saying is that, once we are saved, our good works will earn for us the grace needed for eternal life.  Thus, it appears that the Roman Catholic Church clearly teaches a salvation doctrine of faith (in Jesus Christ) plus good works (merit), rather than the biblical doctrine of salvation by grace through faith alone, and not by works.

Now, you may have the impression that this is probably a trivial and meaningless distinction, but let me bring to your attention the following words of the apostle Paul in this regard:

For we maintain that a person is justified by faith, apart from the works of the law.” (Romans 3:28);

I would like to learn just one thing from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh?” (Galatians 3:2-3);

and now, the clinchers…

You who are trying to be justified by the law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace.” (Galatians 5:4). In other words, if you are trying to justify yourself by your good works, then you are alienated from Christ and have fallen away from the very grace that is necessary to attain eternal life, rather than having earned that grace by your good works!

AND

For if those who depend on the law are heirs, faith means nothing and the promise is worthless…” (Romans 4:13-15). That is to say, if you depend on your good works to qualify you for heaven, then your faith (in Jesus) is nullified and the promise (of eternal life) through that faith is worthless.

AND

“Now to the one who works, wages are not credited as a gift but as an obligation. However, to the one who does not work but trusts God who justifies the ungodly, their faith is credited as righteousness.” (Romans 4:4-5). In other words, if your salvation is wages for your good works, then it is not by grace (a free gift) that you are saved. But if your salvation is a result of your faith in Jesus, then you are saved by grace, not by works.

AND, in Jesus’ own words…

Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?” Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.” (John 6:28-29). No “works” at all are required, in the usual sense of the word, for one to be saved; only faith is required (belief).

How, then can we understand James 2:14-26, which seems to imply that works play a necessary role in our salvation? When one takes this passage in its entirety, it becomes evident that James is talking about two kinds of “faith” here. One kind is the same as the demons have, is dead, does not lead to salvation and does not produce good works. It is merely “mental ascent” to certain facts about the things of God.  The other kind of faith is alive, leads to salvation (i.e., it is “saving faith”) and produces good works. The good works are a result of, and evidence of, the kind of faith that saves, but they are not what brings about salvation; only saving faith does that.

One might reasonably summarize the teachings of Jesus, Paul and James on faith and works as they relate to salvation with this paraphrase: “A special kind of faith is required for salvation. It is a faith that leads to good works. The good works are evidence that one has “saving faith”, but they do not help one earn a place in heaven. God requires only that we have saving faith in Jesus Christ to qualify for heaven; the good works will follow naturally after one is saved.”

It would seem to me that the distinction I am making here is neither trivial nor meaningless; rather, it is vital and necessary for the attainment of eternal life, according the Bible, that is. For this reason, I sincerely hope that you will weigh my concern carefully, and then make any necessary adjustments, if any, to your professed doctrinal belief regarding salvation. After all, this is the doctrinal belief upon which your very eternal destiny hinges!

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)

Am I Good Enough for Heaven?

One Good DeedAm I Good Enough for Heaven?

 James R. Aist

“I will not work my soul to save, for that my Lord alone has done; but I will work like any slave, because I’m loved by God’s dear Son!”

— William Henry Griffith Thomas

Introduction

I suppose that if we could live a sinless life, then no one would need a savior; we could, in effect, save ourselves. But the sad truth is, we have all sinned (Romans 3:23). So, is it even possible to somehow qualify for heaven, and if so, how can we do that? There is a popular belief in today’s world that, in order to qualify for heaven when you die, you must live a sufficiently “good” life here on earth. To be clear, let me state this commonly held belief in a different way: we will spend our eternity in heaven only if our “good deeds” sufficiently outweigh our “bad deeds.” According to this way of thinking, heaven is a reward, or payment, that we earn for ourselves by doing good works. All major world religions, with one exception, teach this doctrine of “salvation by works” in one form or another. The exception is Christianity. But, unfortunately, many people even in Christian churches believe in salvation by works. Because what we believe about “salvation” will determine where we will spend our eternity – whether in heaven with God or in hell with the devil and his angels — let’s take a good look at why “salvation by works” is a false doctrine and how it is that you can, nevertheless, become “good enough for heaven.”

I Want to Be Judged by My Works; It’s Only Fair, Isn’t It?

Oh, really? Are you sure about that? Do you realize that God, who is himself perfect, requires you to be righteous (i.e., morally perfect) in order to qualify for heaven (Matthew 7:21)? Therefore, if God were to judge you by your works, then you would be found unqualified, because He would be judging you by both your good and your bad deeds, not just your good deeds; your bad deeds would disqualify you from heaven (1 Corinthians 6:9-10). That would be fair alright, but you would not spend your eternity in heaven! This is what we often refer to as “the sin problem.” Maybe “fair” is not what you want after all. But if not “fair”, what then?

God Has Made a Way

Jesus doesn’t love us because we are good enough; He makes us good enough because He loves us.”

Being painfully aware of how our sinfulness disqualifies us for heaven, and determined to save us anyway because of His great love for us, God came up with a brilliant and clever way to qualify us for heaven, even though we cannot qualify ourselves by virtue of our works. He sent a Redeemer (His name is Jesus) to pay the penalty for our sins, which is death (Romans 6:23). This Redeemer was himself without sin (Hebrews 4:15), and, therefore, possessed, by virtue of his sinless nature, the righteousness (moral perfection) of God. And He made it easy for us to qualify for heaven along with Him. All we have to do is believe in Jesus; no works of any kind are required (John 6:29)! Our righteousness, then, is not self-righteousness, but it is the perfect righteousness of Jesus that is attributed to us when we receive Jesus as our Lord and Savior (2 Corinthians 5:21). Jesus doesn’t love us because we are good enough; He makes us good enough because He loves us. Now, from a purely human perspective, this plan may not seem to be fair, but it is merciful (i.e., we do not receive the condemnation that is our due because of our sins), it is gracious (we receive favor that we do not deserve) and it is effective (we have God’s word on it). And that is exactly what we do need to solve our “sin problem”!

The Gospel of Jesus Christ

We refer to this amazing plan of salvation as the Gospel (i.e., good news) of Jesus Christ. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is the power of God that brings salvation to all who will believe in Him (Romans 1:16; John 3:16), confess their sins and repent of them (I John 1:9; Matthew 4:17), and accept Him as their Lord and Savior (Acts 16:31), trusting in His finished work on the cross (1 Peter 2:24) to qualify them for heaven. This is God’s one and only plan to reconcile mankind to Himself — there is no other path to God (John 14:6; Acts 4:12) – and He is the only one who can establish the ground rules, because “Salvation belongs to our God…” (Revelation 7:10). You can find an excellent article that explains this Gospel in a different way by clicking HERE.

What Are You Waiting for?

God wants to save you (Matthew 18:14)! If you have not yet allowed God to save you, then right now would be a good time to do so. All you have to do is…

Repent (turn away from your sins): “The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9);

Believe and Trust in Jesus: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16);

Accept His Forgiveness: “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.” (Romans 8:1); and

Receive the Peace of Christ: “Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (Romans 5:1).

What Just Happened?

If you went through these steps with genuine sincerity and conviction, then you have just been born-again and have become a Christian, a follower of Jesus Christ. Congratulations! I recommend that you read through the following articles to help clarify some of the remaining questions that you may have. Just click on the links provided below:

Repentance: Confess, Turn, Persevere (click HERE)

What Does “Born Again” Mean? (click HERE)

What Now?

Becoming born-again is just the first step in your life in Christ. It is important that you begin now to actively live out your new life in at least the following ways:

1) Tell someone, perhaps a close friend or relative, that you have become a Christian, and share with them how it happened (Mark 5:19);

2) Get a Bible of your own and begin to read and study it daily. I prefer the New International Version. Begin with the Gospel of John, and then go to Hebrews and then to the Gospel of Matthew. Remember this: “All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work.” (2 Timothy 3:16-17);

3) Begin to pray to God daily. Now that you are a born-again Christian, you have every right to “… approach God’s throne of grace with confidence…” (Hebrews 4:16). Thank Him for how He is blessing you, praise Him for His awesome nature and tell Him your concerns and needs. Take your time; you just may begin to find that He is speaking into your mind and spirit as you pause and pay attention; and

4) Find and begin to attend a conservative, bible-believing Protestant (not Roman Catholic) church weekly (Hebrews 10:25). Here are some general guidelines for finding a good Protestant church:

  • Get your hands on a written statement of what the church believes. This may be called a “Statement of Faith”, “What We Believe”, “Our Doctrines” or the like;
  • In that statement of faith, look for declarations that a) the Bible alone is the inerrant, inspired word of God, b) that salvation is by grace through faith alone, not by works (referred to as “merit” in the official Roman Catholic Catechism), and c) that the finished work of Jesus Christ is the all-sufficient payment of the penalty for our sins;
  • Find out if the church is pro-life and considers the practice of homosexuality to be sin, as the Bible says it is. If these tests are not met, find another church, because that church does not really believe that the Bible is the inerrant word of God;
  • I recommend that you avoid liberal Christian denominations that no longer adhere fully to essential, historical biblical truth and practice, such as the United Church of Christ, the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America, the Presbyterian Church USA, the United Methodist Church, the American Baptist Church, the Anglican Church, Seventh Day Adventist and the Episcopal Church; and
  • By all means avoid cults that may appear to be Christian, such as the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints (Mormons), Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science, and Universalist Unitarian churches.

(For more articles on BIBLICAL TEACHINGS, click HERE)