How to get past those pearly gates

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When I’m talking to people about the Christianity, I seem to get a ton of different answers related to how one goes about being saved.  If our great commission is to go out and “baptize them in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Ghost” than I think we may need to get a cohesive answer as to what that means, and if we can’t all get a cohesive answer than one might assume it’s not as important as we say.

To demonstrate the absurdity of this lack of knowledge concerning how to get eternal life, I’ve asked several different Christians the following questions and below are their replies.

How does one obtain eternal life? 

“You must confess with your mouth that Jesus Christ is Lord and believing in your heart that He rose from the dead.”

“You must confess you’re a sinner, and tell God that you believe you are dependant on Him.”

“You must tell God that you’re a sinner, and believe in your heart that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, God himself, conceived of a virgin birth and you want him as your Savior so you can be clean again”

“Ask God to enter into your heart, cling to Jesus, repent of your sins by turning from them continually and through faith, walk in the ways of the Lord.”

“They must be dependant on Jesus”

“You must give your entire life to God and say It’s yours to do as you wish”

“You must admit to believing that a man named Jesus came to earth, was God himself, and was resurrected so that you may live because you can’t get to heaven without it because you sin too much, or at all actually”

“Repent of your sins and be baptized.”

How much or little can we know about Jesus to be saved?

“We must be in intimate relationship with him.”

“We can be saved just by knowing Him through nature”

“We just have to believe He was God.  That’s it.”

“We have to know the basics.  He died, resurrected, born a virgin, and is God and His Son at the same time”

“We have to be Baptized, and have a general knowledge of His Word”

“I don’t really think really at all.  As long as we know He’s God.  That’s the point”

Does eternal life happen in an instance or is it an ongoing process until glorification?

“In an instant”

“An instant”

“Immediately”

“When you die”

“Throughout your life”

“Ongoing”

Are good works necessary for eternal life? 

“Not for salvation”

“Yes because they are a bi-product of faith.”

“No, not if you believe in God, no one is good.”

“No”

“Of course.  But how good of works, that I don’t know”

"Yes, according to the book of James, otherwise our faith is dead."

Can you believe in the doctrine of Christ but reject His deity and still be saved?

“Yes, I think so.”

“Absolutely Not.”

“No Way.  Christ is Christianity”

“Of course not.”

“I don't think that a person can repudiate the Jesus was God and call themselves a Christian”

 “Probably.”

Are people of other faiths able to get eternal life if they believe Jesus was God but accept other doctrines?  For example:  Mormons, Bahai’s, many Buddhists?

“No.”

“I don’t know”

“Yes.”

“They don’t worship the same Jesus as I do.”

“But one needs to have an accurate belief in Jesus based on the Bible”

After receiving all these different answers, it made me wonder why us Christians don’t seem to know the answer to what we call our most fundamental doctrine.

Can we believe that there are many paths to heaven outside of Jesus Christ and still call ourselves true Christian?

"No, he's the only way."

"Yes"

"I believe there are many paths, I just choose Jesus."

"I don't see why not"

John 17:3  Now this is eternal life: that they may know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent.

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19 Comments

  • JamesBrett

    JamesBrett September 20, 2010

    and you didn’t even ask what it means to be saved.  we disagree and diverge greatly when it comes to how to be saved, and all the ins and outs of what is necessary for salvation and how it works, etc…

    but i think it’d be really interesting, also, to hear what we believe salvation is.  what is it that we’re saved from?

  • Jessica

    Jessica September 20, 2010

    You’re right.  I didn’t even think of asking what we’re saved from.  Probably because I THOUGHT it was obvious, but I suspect I’d get the same random tap dance now that you mention it.

    It really baffles me how different our answers are.  One would think this would be obvious.  I guess I hoped it would be since we’re dealing with eternal life but when trying to answer it, I actually had some problems myself. 

    There are a lot of details that need to be nailed down.  To just say “believe” surely isn’t enough unless you give a solid definition of what belief actually means (ie, transformation of self, abiding in the vine, obedience, etc.) and what about the people who “believe” but tack on other stuff. 

    It’s not as easy a question as I thought.

  • Tony York

    Tony York September 20, 2010

    Ah.. and now we see through a glass darkly..

    “Believe” is the key.  But belief requires action in order to be proven. 

    Don’t we have to come as little children?  At once impacted by the prevenient grace of Christ and then forever after pursuing Him because we believe?  Is a child’s opinions exact and perfect or do they grow as he or she matures?

    Our faith is actionable belief.  Our works are acts of obedience according to that faith.

    Should we ignore that Christ has already said that many will call him lord but He will send them away because He knew them not? 

    Yes, Jess, there is a Jesus.  And He has said that He is the only way.  All of the banter otherwise is just children squabbling on the playground.

    Paul has warned us in Philippians to work out our salvation with fear and trembling.  This is not about terror but a right regard to the importance of our continuing growth in righteousness.

    Salvation is the act of a moment but sanctification is the moment-by-moment obedience to Christ through the Holy Spirit’s guidance and the Word’s teaching.  It is our pursuit of God following His election of us as His child.

    Hopefully I have confused you some more.. smile

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT September 21, 2010

    Question: Why does there have to be one magic formula?  One silver bulllet?

    An islander living w a small tribe in the middle of the pacific that never hears the name of Jesus, but lives a good life and follows “the law written on his heart”.  Is he saved?  I’d say Yes.

    A life long criminal who comes to true repentence on his death bed but is never bapized and shows no outward sign of conversion.  Is he saved?  Nothing is beyond the power of God who will know this man’s heart perfectly.

    A muslim, taught that Jesus is just one of God’s many profits, with no real chance to ever join a church, that leads an exemplary life of charity and kindness?  Is he saved? Probably.

    Why then must we go down the Christian path?  B/c Jesus said, “b/c I have spoken to them they are bound, had I not spoken to them they would not be bound”.  Just like with my children, the older, wiser and more responsbile they get the higher standard they must meet.  As you grow in faith and knowledge your level of responsiblity grows.  In this manner, Christian faith is little different from common sense.

    A suburban modern sophisticated American women with internet access and all the books, MP3’s and videos she could possibly listen to in a lifetime will have to meet a high standard indeed.  Fortunately, for you and for us all, God give each of us sufficient Grace to meet the standard he will ultimately hold us to.

  • Tony York

    Tony York September 21, 2010

    Dave,

    Well I think based on your response that we actually do a disservice to all those tribes and peoples who would never hear of Christ unless we send missionaries.  I mean, really, let us just keep them to a lower accountability so they can make it into heaven without raising the bar.

    For you to diminish the sacrifice of Christ and to deny Christ’s own words is the basest denial of the gospel that can be made.

    “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

    “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men by which we must be saved.”

    You can play theological games all you want but you have already created God in your image when you said “In this manner, Christian faith is little different from common sense.”

    You also said this, “Fortunately, for you and for us all, God give each of us sufficient Grace to meet the standard he will ultimately hold us to. “

    He has set the standard - perfection.  And the only way to meet that standard is through Christ.  No matter how ‘good’ a life someone lives, their righteousness is still as filthy rags (used tampons) before God. 

    If you feel that I am being less than cordial in my response, you discern correctly because you sir have denied the very gospel that Christ sent His followers to witness to.  You are a false teacher.

    You have missed a major point of theology and that is God would be just to destroy us all and send us to hell for eternity.  It is only by His mercy that some are saved.  You play dangerous games when you try to make God’s mercy and justice into your common sense.

    I am both saddened and angered.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT September 21, 2010

    Tony - nonsense.

    I didn’t say we shouldn’t send missionaires and leave people in darkness. 

    It is Paul who writes in Romans 2:14 - 15 “For when the Gentiles, who have not the law, do by nature those things that are of the law; these, having not the law, are a law to themselves. 15 Who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience bearing witness to them: and their thoughts between themselves accusing or also defending one another, 16 in the day when God shall judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.”

    It is our standard to go out to the world and bring Chist to them.  Which is EXACTLY what I said, we who know Christ are bound to the higher standard to bring the Gospel to all people.  However, it we don’t happen to make it so some small pacific island are those sould lost for eternity?  I say no, not b/c those islanders get off easy but b/c Christs sacrifice IS perfect.  So perfect it saves everyone who lives the Christian life in the circumstances they are given.  Notice Romans says that those people are still judged in relation to the Gospel.

    I don’t make “God’s mercy and justice into common sense”.  What is said was - the fact that the standard we must meet INCREASES as OUR knowledge increases is common sense. I am paying infinite respect to God’s perfect judgement b/c only can perfectly judge the soul of inslander that never hears the gospel, a criminal that repents on his death bed, and a Muslim who hears of Jesus but has no practical chance to convert.  What i show with these examples is OUTWARDLY these people might look lost but inwardly a JUST and MERCIFUL God can fairly judge them.

    I’m am careful and specific with my words.

  • Scott

    Scott September 21, 2010

    I know this may cause Tony to faint, but I agree with Tony on both of his posts. smile

    People are saved by grace (Eph 2:8-10).
    People are saved to an eternity with Jesus Christ (John 3:16).
    People are saved from the wrath of God (John 3:36; John 3:17, 18).
    People are saved by the Love of God (John 3:16).

    Obviously, there is much more to be said, but I have to get to work.

  • Tony York

    Tony York September 21, 2010

    Yes, you were very careful with your words:

    “A muslim, taught that Jesus is just one of God’s many profits, with no real chance to ever join a church, that leads an exemplary life of charity and kindness?  Is he saved? Probably.”

    Where in that statement did you highlight that the Muslim believed and repented?  You did not.  You stated that this example was taught “JUST ONE OF”.

    There are millions of people walking around the United States today who believe that Christ was ‘just’ something.

    Matthew 7 is a clear warning of people who ‘believe’ and depend on works who ultimately go to hell.

    Furthermore, you make it appear that it is this Muslim’s works that probably save him (exemplary life of charity and kindness).  And you say, “with no real chance to ever join a church” like this is an additional necessary work that will be overlooked because of this person’s circumstances. There is no prerequisite for a person to belong to a church in order to be saved.  You may not have meant that but your carefully chosen words allude to that point.

    Now, give me ANY biblical shred of evidence that the person in the following scenario can be saved beyond your common sense:

    “An islander living w a small tribe in the middle of the pacific that never hears the name of Jesus, but lives a good life and follows “the law written on his heart”.  Is he saved?  I’d say Yes.”

    It would have been safer to say that we don’t know how God chooses to work in those individual lives beyond what we know from scripture.  Psalms 19 and Acts 17 and some passages in Romans give us evidence that God works in every individual’s lives.  How He chooses to work in the islander’s lives we don’t know and it is not ours to conjecture and create false theology on our common sense.

    Your ‘well-worded’ response began with this question:

    “Question: Why does there have to be one magic formula?  One silver bulllet?”

    The fact that you began your response with that question highlighted your stance that you believe that there is not a ‘magic formula’ or ‘silver bullet’.  I would not have used that wording when referring to the saving grace that is found in Christ alone, but regardless, the bible is clear that there is but one way and that is Christ.

    Again, your response is a message of false salvation.

    Here are some scripture that might be of interest to you:

    “Beloved, while I was making every effort to write you about our common salvation, I felt the necessity to write to you appealing that you contend earnestly for the faith which was once for all handed down to the saints.

      For certain persons have crept in unnoticed, those who were long beforehand marked out for this condemnation, ungodly persons who turn the grace of our God into licentiousness and deny our only Master and Lord, Jesus Christ.”

    You may have the last word as this will be my final response on the matter.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT September 21, 2010

    Explain to me the meaning of Romans 2: 14 - 16.

    You are comparing apples and oranges.  A person in the U.S. with religious freedom and the access to books and internet who believes Jesus is “just something” is vastly different from a person in Saudi Arabia with religious intolerance.  That was the point of the “no real chance to join a church” statement, it’s really not that difficult an analogy.

    Why is it “not ours to conjecture” how God works in the hypothetical islanders lives?  Are we not to seek?  Are we not to ask questions?  Don’t we deepen faith by discussing and exploring it?  Is it not Christian to be concerned for the souls of people who don’t have access to Gospel.  As rational people isn’t the conclusion obvious that we will not reach all of them in our lifetimes?  So then shouldn’t we ask ourselves how would a just god treat them?  When I ask these questions I don’t’ “create theology”, I find Romans 2.

    “I would not have used that wording when referring to the saving grace that is found in Christ alone, but regardless, the bible is clear that there is but one way and that is Christ.”  Would the Christ that so loved the world abandon those that did not hear his earthly message to hell?  Of course not.  In fact we see that after Christ was crucified he descended to the holding place and preached the Gospel to those that had died before he came into the world. 

    I don’t pretend to know the mechanism by which Christ comes to islanders, people who live in the steps of China or that live deep in the Amazon rain forest but I know that Christ loves them as much as he loves you and I.  Romans 2 tells us that he has written his Gospel on their hearts.  Jesus tells us they are bound by what they know.  I know that God’s knowledge of their lives and souls and his judgment is perfect.  I will not judge them.  I cannot judge them.  I cannot condemn them to hell b/c they have not been given the opportunity on earth to believe in Jesus Christ.  I trust in God’s judgment to judge them fairly in accordance with the graces he has given them.  For you and me, that is a different matter, b/c we are bound by what we know.

  • JamesBrett

    JamesBrett September 21, 2010

    for anyone willing to read it, here are some pretty good thoughts on what exactly salvation is—namely the author addresses why our understanding of salvation is small and cheap.

    http://onesimusonline.blogspot.com/2010/09/faith-works-and-salvation-in-western.html

  • Jessica

    Jessica September 21, 2010

    NOW we’re talkin’, James!  GREAT post.  Thank you so much for sharing.

    I am the first to admit that it was only 3 short months ago when I realized salvation is ALL ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP.  It’s not some legalistic acceptance prayer. There was no special moment where POOF I’m a Christian and now it’s all good as gold with no outward sign of conversion. It’s a continual life transforming walk with Christ.  Great, great post.

  • Dave VT

    Dave VT September 21, 2010

    Wow, that was great.  James - I’m really glad you posted that link.

    I don’t want to be a wet blanket but seeing how I was accused of being just short of a heretic I just want to point out that - it’s pretty close to what I said. 

    I worte, “As you grow in faith and knowledge your level of responsiblity grows.”  Doesn’t that fairly describe and ongoing depening relationship?  In fact, the linked to post ends, “Biblical salvation, on the other hand, is costly, requiring us to change directions, to sell all we have so we can purchase the field in which lies the Treasure, even mandating that we pick up a cross and follow Jesus to the place of crucifixion. It’s costly because it is in essence a relationship. And relationships by definition are hard WORK.” (my emphaisis)

    Now, I will be the first to admit, I tend to gravitate for the legalistic style this author decries, but I’m a lawyer, so i tend to do that.

    Anyway, I think that link was so well written nothing more needs to be said.  Tony gave me the last word and I think now is the time to use it.

  • JamesBrett

    JamesBrett September 21, 2010

    what stands out to me as being important is that we’ve made the whole idea of salvation about a legal problem—and there’s just a lot more to it than that.  yes, i am guilty of sin and should be punished for it.  and i can be saved from that punishment.

    but we can’t leave out that i can be saved from broken relationships, and evil desires, and a wasted life, etc, etc…

  • Scott

    Scott September 23, 2010

    Salvation is a legal problem. Salvation is also a relationship problem. But here in America, salvation is not being taught as a legal problem, instead it is taught as being as a man-centered relationship with God.
    The first problem is that people need to be saved in order to restore their relationship with God—Jesus Christ is that mediator between God and man.

    1Timothy 2:5-6 For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus;  (6)  Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.

    There is no need for a co-mediatrix or co-redeemer, Jesus Christ is sufficient and it is blasphemous to imply that anyone is part of it.

    The problem when preachers focus on the relationship side, they preach about having “your best life now” or a fancy car in every garage or miraculous healings delivered by a man that doesn’t go to the hospital and do the same. We see disqualified pastors like Charles Stanley or Jack Hyles preaching sometimes strong messages, but their lifestyles do not reflect the same.  We see pastors with stylish, up to minute fashions and hair, with high-tech stages speaking about relationships with God, but they are really no more than a Tony Robbins acting as life coach.

    Salvation is a legal problem. We have sinned. Everyone has sinned, including Mary btw. Romans 3:23-24 For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God;  (24)  Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus:

    Sin incurs a debt: Romans 6:23 For the wages of sin is death; but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

    Look at the words Paul uses under Holy spirit inspiration throughout his epistles—he is showing that salvation is a legal problem. AND he shows that it is a relationship problem. But BOTH must be given and taught.

  • JamesBrett

    JamesBrett September 23, 2010

    scott, i agree with you that salvation does involve a legal problem and a relational one.  i didn’t mean to imply that there isn’t anything “legal” at stake here.

    i just think we’re reading the bible through a lens that sees everything related to salvation as being about punishment and forgiveness.  for instance, the romans 3 passage you quoted doesn’t (read objectively) conjure up necessarily legal imagery.  yet we read it that way.  the romans 6 text is the same.  neither of those passages are about a legal system with punishment.  i’m simply suggesting there are other ways that we should see, understand, and interpret salvation.

    and i don’t mean necessarily the relational ones you’ve suggested.  for instance, salvation is what makes it possible for us to return to the glory of God (of which we’ve all fallen short).  or salvation involves power over death, which is what sin earns each and every one of us.  there are non-legal ways to read those texts, and i think those interpretations are better as well.

  • Scott

    Scott September 24, 2010

    I think I agree with you, Brett, if I am correctly understanding you. Each of those things (returning to God’s Glory; power over death; broken relationships, etc)should be brought up in a discussion about salvation, but the Love of God should not and cannot be the sole focus. Only preaching about the Love of God is what makes people feel better about themselves and will draw people, but it does not tell the whole Gospel message.

    It has been through the study of the wrath of God and I better see the Love of God, because I have a better appreciation of the sacrifice that Jesus Christ made.

    John the Baptist said: Matthew 3:7-8 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees come to his baptism, he said unto them, O generation of vipers, who hath warned you to flee from the wrath to come?  (8)  Bring forth therefore fruits meet for repentance:
    And in John 3:36, he said: He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.

    Jesus Christ said: Luke 12:4-5 And I say unto you my friends, Be not afraid of them that kill the body, and after that have no more that they can do.  (5)  But I will forewarn you whom ye shall fear: Fear him, which after he hath killed hath power to cast into hell; yea, I say unto you, Fear him.

    Consider the parables in Matthew 22-25 about the wrath of God. We do the hearer a disservice if we do not teach about the wrath of God and the Love of God.

    Interestingly, I figured you were going to point out that the Epistle to the Romans was written to the saved in Rome (Romans 1:7), which casts a different perspective on the verses I quoted.

  • Scott

    Scott September 24, 2010

    Also, Brett and anyone else, think about the implications Proverb 17:15 has toward the Love of God and the Wrath of God and His relationship with believers.
    Proverb 17:15 He that justifieth the wicked, and he that condemneth the just, even they both are abomination to the LORD.

    Plus, it has been my personal conviction, (do with it what you will—I am sure there is a circular container next to your desk) that John 3:16 should not be quoted without John 3:17, 18.

    John 3:16-18 For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.  (17)  For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved.  (18)  He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.

  • Scott

    Scott September 24, 2010

    Here is a link that sums things up well. It is a worthwhile 19 minutes.

    http://www.sermonaudio.com/playpopup.asp?SID=8807131919

  • JamesBrett

    JamesBrett September 24, 2010

    scott, i think we’re on the same page.  i was just meaning to say that we focus too much on the legal ideas of sin, punishment, and acquittal—when there’s much more to it.

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