I have found it nearly impossible, and that is probably an understatement, to engage anyone today in a discussion on the teachings of the Bible without being asked, sooner rather than later, what I believe it takes to get to heaven. Most simply ask straightforwardly, “What must a person do to get to heaven?”
Not much has changed in the past thirty-five to forty years. I remember trying to raise support for my ministry in Portland, Oregon. I was following through with a contact that had been given to me from another Christian who had decided to support my ministry. He felt that this friend of his would respond also. So I entered this man’s business and told him of my ministry with college students and of my need for monthly support. At the end of my presentation, he turned around and grabbed a note pad and pen off his supply shelf and wrote a question for me to answer. He said, “Before I’d consider helping you, you have to answer this question: ‘What must a person do to go to heaven?’”
He was looking for the answer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and be baptized, and you will be saved.” In those days I gave a very different answer than I do today since I had been fully indoctrinated in a theology that said it was by grace through faith alone that a person is saved (and thereby goes to heaven when he dies). The other options that are offered back then and today as well fits works either on the front end of the process or on the back end of it. But all the options insinuated that works ought to be involved or they must be involved.
So some teach that water baptism or spirit baptism or repentance involving a turning from all the sins that are currently being performed must accompany faith in Jesus for salvation to be received and heaven obtained. Others teach that it is by grace alone through faith alone that is required for salvation, but if good works don’t naturally flow afterwards and persist until the person dies, then he never really had the faith that saves. Without the works eventually being performed his would be a spurious and not a genuine faith. The first group places the works on the front end accompanying initial faith in Jesus and requires more good works after that or the salvation that has been gained can be just as easily lost forever. The second group adamantly rejects all works as part of the “saving response.” But it just as adamantly requires works to follow that initial trust in Jesus or the conclusion is reached that his faith was never genuine to begin with.
Very, very few believe that no works are required at all at any time to go to heaven. I use to be in that group. Now I believe, based upon my own study of the Bible, that all three options are equally wrong. All three have missed the teaching of the Bible because they have made both faith and the works that might or might not follow that initial faith in Jesus the conditions for going to heaven. All three paths to heaven miss the mark entirely because they all have misunderstood the meaning and object of salvation. Salvation in the Bible is not about going to heaven when you die. What will you do with that fact?
I recently had a two hour discussion with a very sharp college student. This student kept returning, by default, to the question of a person’s eternal destiny. I say the student kept returning to the subject of nailing down the conditions for a heavenly, eternal destiny by default because that is the focus of all Christian theology today. The focus is upon heaven and hell because that is what has been considered the message of the Bible by orthodox Christian theology. To the question, “what is the point of this life?” traditional, orthodox Christian theology would say that it is finding the path, the Biblical route, the God ordained highway to heaven. Once that is discovered and obtained, the heart can finally have peace and assurance (and, of course, eternal security is also usually thrown into this pile of benefits that everyone needs to obtain).
I was disappointed to find out later after that the student had completely misunderstood what I had tried to say about the message of the Bible and how that message did not in any way address the question of identifying the conditions that must be met to obtain a heavenly destiny. In this student’s confusion, the conclusion was drawn that I was saying that I am to be lumped together with all those who believe in a “works salvation.” (i.e., works get a person to heaven). Not only is that the complete opposite view that I was giving, but this student seemed to be unaware that the college group liked the most actually believes the view that the student found so repulsive and had attributed to me. (All Reformed views hold to the necessity of good works in order to get to heaven.)
For example, John Piper said, “Nevertheless, we must also own up to the fact that our final salvation is made contingent upon the subsequent obedience which comes from faith.” (taken from John Piper’s website, October 2007).
John Gerstner said in his book Wrongly Dividing the Word of Truth, a critique of Dispensationalism:
“. . . good works may be said to be a condition for obtaining salvation in that they inevitably accompany genuine faith. . . .The question is not whether good works are necessary to salvation, but in what way are they necessary.” (p. 210)
So, let me be clear on this heaven and hell matter.
There is absolutely nothing a person can do to obtain heaven!
There is also absolutely nothing a person can believe that obtains heaven for him either!
This life is not about finding the true path to heaven because there isn’t one given in the Bible.
It doesn’t matter what a person does or how much he does! Nothing that he does will obtain heaven.
It doesn’t matter in whom a person believes or what other doctrines he believes! Nothing that he believes will get him to heaven.
All this talk about heaven is crazy! It isn’t even our final destination! The New Jerusalem is our final destination! And while the New Jerusalem is located in the present heaven today, that heaven will be destroyed, and a new one will be created by God (2Pet. 3; Rev. 21-22). At that time the New Jerusalem will come down and be relocated on the new earth. So, all this obsession with heaven is far from Biblical.
At this point, after making it clear that the Bible does not explain how to get to heaven nor does Jesus’ work on the cross have anything to do with that wrongly ingrained desire, I usually hear the response, “Then what does it matter if Jesus is preached or believed upon by anyone?” That question demonstrates just how far our Orthodox theology has taken us from the actual message of the Bible.
I wonder what answer you would give to that question?
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