How does a person get to heaven and what does it really mean to be a Christian? There’s no more important question in life to ask than this: “What must I do to be saved from hell and death and completely secure for heaven and eternal life?” To ponder this is to enter into “soteriology”—the study of eternal salvation.
Let me first give you some statistics. There are about 7.3 billion people on this planet right now. The largest religion is Christianity, with 2.28 billion of us claiming to be followings of Christ. Of that number, about half are Roman Catholic and 844,000,000 are Protestants, the rest are Orthodox Christians. But what draws Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants together, into one religion called “Christianity" is this:
We are all, Catholics, Orthodox and Protestants, first and foremost, are men and women who believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. By and large, we share the same beliefs and observations with each other , but foundational to our beliefs is that the Bible is the inspired, error-free, and revealed word of God. It’s the interpretation of what the Word says that divides us. This summer we care for Orthodox, Roman Catholic and Protestant believers at our camp—an all that profess that Jesus is Lord worship the risen Christ.
But today, with the Bible as the ultimate authority, combined with the reasoning minds that God has bestowed on each of us, consider first what God Himself, has said through the Son:
“Jesus replied, ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born from above.’ ‘How can someone be born when they are old?’ Nicodemus asked. 'Surely they cannot enter a second time into their mother’s womb to be born!’ Jesus answered, “Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit. Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at my saying, ‘You must be born from above.’ (John 3:3-7, NIV)
Jesus did not say, “born again”, He said, “born from above”. That means born from God. We are born from our parents to enter into mortal life—-and with that birth comes all the inherited DNA, characteristics, skin color, IQ, and even some proclivities. Most profoundly, when we are born we inherited our parents corruption in regard to sin. We are born with a hankering, or disposition to rebel against rules and authority. Our parents could not have prevented this even if they wanted to. Some very poor examples of parents focused more on their own pleasure and selfishness than the baby in their womb, and they added more suffering onto a baby by polluting the minds and bodies of the baby, in the womb, with alcohol, drugs, or general lack of care for that helpless infant in their wombs—-God have mercy on such parents.
But for a moment, put aside what preachers have said, and consider only what the Bible says about us being changed from how we were born… into what we must become if we want eternal life. Imagine that you have no idea about how to get to heaven or how to become a Christian. But envision that you do believe that the Bible is a very special, sacred book, that is, in the fact, the infallible Word of God. That’s our starting point—-it’s something that all Christians hold to be true.
With that in mind consider these words and let the Holy Spirit breathe into your soul truth:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16 ESV)This is perhaps the most cited verse in the world. Clearly, you must believe that Jesus—-who He is and what He came to do, to be saved.
“Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6 ESV). So it’s clear that Jesus came to give us eternal life with God— He is the only means to God and eternal life. All true Christians hold this to be true. There is no other means of pleasing God than to accept what His Son has done on our behalf.
"Because, if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9 ESV) Believing that Jesus came here, as God’s beloved, is essential, as well as understanding that Jesus exclusively has provided the only path to eternal life. But you can believe this and still not be a Christian. We must acknowledge this truth and believe that God raised Him from the dead. This is an essential part of becoming a Christian. How can you read the Bible and believe any different?
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV.) Paul wrote this to be sure that no one got it wrong. It is not by obeying the 10 commandments, or any other laws, that we “earn” salvation. All the good things we do have nothing to do with our salvation——they are evidence and fruit of salvation… and an indication that we are, as Christians, spiritually healthy. But an apple tree does not produce apples by having a desire to bear apples any more than grass produces grass seed because it’s a good grass. Apple trees bear apples naturally and uncontrollably because that’s it is their created purpose to make apples. Provided they have good soil, the right climate and enough water and sunlight, they’re going to make apples. Now, am I producing spiritual fruit—-goodness, kindness, patience, brotherly love, etc? If I am not it’s because one of two things: I am not a true follower of Jesus Christ, or I am not in the right place, getting the right “son-light”, and drawing up the proper nutrients from the environment around me.
But here are some things that Jesus also said, which also must be true as well. But the following things Christ and the apostles taught has divided Christians. It’s not that we don’t believe them to be true, it is the ultimate meaning that separates us.
So once again: for a moment to forget that you are an Orthodox, Baptist, Catholic or Methodist, etc. How would you respond to these verses if you just read them for the first time today?
“Jesus said to them, “Very truly I tell you, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day. For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in them. Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your ancestors ate manna and died, but whoever feeds on this bread will live forever.” (John 6:53-58, NIV). Is this true? Did He really say this? Some of those following Jesus stopped following Him after he pronounced this condition to eternal life.
Yes, He said it and either He meant it literally——i.e. that somehow we have to become cannibals and eat His body and drink His blood——which He obviously could not have meant— or He meant something else—-i.e. it’s symbolic of His body and blood or somehow, when blessed, the elements of the bread and wine take on the substance of His body and blood. And somehow, we see that this makes us acceptable to God. This is why all Christians celebrate communion, aka the Lord’s Supper. Catholics believe that you must take communion, if you are physically able, if you want to be inherit eternal life. They believe that God will make an exception for you if you cannot receive it, but you must take it at each Mass if you are able. Evangelicals believe we have received His body and blood when we accept Him into our lives, and that the Lord’s Supper references this and reminds us of this each time we celebrate communion.
Next, there is the idea of doing “good works”. Protestant focus on faith alone for salvation, not on works, but Catholics and Orthodox Christians would say yes, faith alone, but, they would point out, faith is is shown through charity and good works. So if you have faith, you will do good works, and if you don’t, you don’t have faith. Protestants believe that faith alone, apart from works justifies the sinner, based on the blood of Christ completely.
I hope that you can see the difference, as well as why some folks come to difference conclusion, Frankly I wonder about the integrity of some that profess to be born from above but perform no acts of kindness or charity, and seemingly have no compassion on widows, the poor, orphans, human suffering, etc.
Similarly, if you are born from above, you understood when you made that decision to declare: “Jesus is Lord”, that you were also prepared to make Him Lord of your own life. Have you? It’s not a matter of getting saved to “bless God” and make heaven a more exciting place, that’s a backward means of seeing your salvation. There are requirements to being born again: first, to confess who Jesus is—the Lord God Almighty; next is to believe in Who sent Him and what He came to do; and the third is to yield to Him—-and we Protestants often leave off the last condition. Are you yielded to Him. Do you call Him Lord? If so, here are things recorded in God’s Holy Word that you should be doing:
Going to church on Sundays. Do you? It is essential for our growth and for us to complete the task He places upon us. It does not make you into a Christian, it’s confirmation that you were serious about your conversation and that His Holy Spirit is within you. You should be yearning for Christian fellowship and growth.
Submitting to church discipline. This is the greatest loss, in my opinion, that followed the Reformation. With the disillusion of one holy church came the removal of any means of effective discipline. Before the reformation, the sexually immoral, or a gossiper or liar could have himself or herself removed from fellowship until they repented and resolved to amend their ways. But now, no matter what I do, I can simply find another fellowship that’s quite happy to accept my tithe and my presence in their morning worship, should a fellowship have the courage to confront me about my errors.
Giving and tithing. There’s no doubt that Christ and the apostles expected all the redeemed to give. The tithe, 10% of my earnings, was the threshold—-the beginning—-the least expected. Do you tithe? If you are not what excuse do you offer to God? Giving does not get us to heaven—-it’s a symbol of our faith that God has blessed us and will bless us even more if we generous with others.
Communion. The Bible does not say how often, but it does say, “as often as you come together…” Neither the gospels nor the epistle to the Corinthians give us a command as to how often to celebrate communion. All we find is, “do this as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me.” Jesus never gave us a command as to how often we should celebrate the Lord’s Supper. However, we do find in the book of Acts the early church apparently celebrated the Lord’s Supper every Sunday.
“And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight.” (NASB) Acts 20:7
Baptism. All branches of the Christian faith maintain that a believer, who is physically able, should be baptized—-symbolic or putting to death the old life and being resurrected to the new life. It represents the natural man or woman being replaced with a brand new existence.
The common thinking is that good folks go to heaven and bad folks go to hell. But Jesus turned the tables on such thinking. Truly, heaven is bad people, like me, that know how bad they are and how desperate they are for a merciful Savior to do for us what we cannot do for our selves. Hell, on the other hand, may very well be filled with people that are, compared to me, quite “good”, but far removed from what is required for an eternity with God in heaven. Those people who are “good” in their own eyes probably don’t seek a Savior or think they could possibly end up in hell. Perhaps this is why pride has always been considered the most egregious of all sins.