Sunday, July 06, 2008

Is There More Than One Way to Get to Heaven?

Ok. Who hasn’t heard this question? The easy answer for Christians who trust in the only known revelation of Christ (the Bible) is to quote Christ Himself:

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

Case closed.

I don’t understand how anyone can call himself a Christian without trusting the Bible. If you say you believe in Christ and don’t trust the Bible, then on what basis can you say you believe in Christ and call yourself a Christian?

But the question is a poor one. It is theologically flawed and often asked of those who lack theological clarity of thought. It’s like asking a toddler if there is more than one way to get rich without doing anything. The correct answer for the toddler is, “No: inheritance is the only way,” as though a toddler knows what inheritance is. Not to mention that you haven’t discussed what “rich” means or that inheritance is a birthright of sorts so an heir was never without his inheritance.

Likewise, the question of ways to get to heaven bears certain clarification.

1. Is the question aimed at Christians? (i.e. Is there absolute truth?)

Non-Christians of different religions will have different ideas regarding this question. Considering that all the religions of the world teach what people must do to secure a favorable status either in this world or the next, it is true Christianity that teaches what God has done for us that we have not done for ourselves. (See clarification #4.)

Some non-Christians believe that their religion is true and Christianity is false. Many people are more willing to hold that what they want to believe is true but that what other people believe could be true too. They are afraid to be seen as judgmental and solve the dilemma by also believing that truth is not absolute. That is to say that what they want to believe is true isn’t necessarily true for everyone. They fail to realize that this is an utterly incoherent assertion because so many people are deluded enough to believe it. Ignorance loves company.

Of course truth is absolute. So the question is: what is true? If we believe there is a heaven to get to, then there must be a belief in the One whose throne resides therein. (See clarifications #2 and #5) Given this, can we ascertain that if we are to get to heaven, then the One who sits on the throne therein must have a communication to us that is discernibly unique in its writing, scope and capacity for authoritative self-reference. Only one such exists: the Christian Canon.

2. What is heaven? (i.e. What is the nature of infinite time?)

Different religions have different ideas of what the “afterlife” looks like. Muslim men get 2 rooms: one with 72 virgins and the other with trophies and riches. Muslim women get to be one of the 72 virgins. Mormon men look to being the heavenly Father of their own planet and have all kinds of wives to give them spirit babies to populate the planet. Mormon women look forward to being these wives. Hindus hope to be reincarnated until they achieve “nirvana” or union with god (Which god, I’m not sure. They have so many.) where they get to live in Ioka (heaven) for all time. Who god is and what heaven is really isn’t very certain in Hinduism. Buddhists don’t look forward to much except an enlightenment that has them believing about anything and everything, especially if it contradicts itself.

Christ told the thief on the cross that he would be with Him that day in paradise. Heaven is described in Revelation a huge cube, kinda like a Borg ship. (The imagery is highly symbolic given that much of Revelation is apocalyptic literature.) Christ made more than a few references to the “kingdom of God” or the “kingdom of heaven”. When He left, He went to “prepare a place”.

There is a sense in which orthodox Christianity holds to an existence in infinite time. A place where we know we will always be welcome and alive the day after tomorrow – no uncertainty, no pain, all of our needs met.

But eternity is only manifest in infinite time. Eternity is all that is absolute. We have eternal life available to us now. Therefore…

3. Is getting to heaven the goal of the Christian?

…the goal of the Christian is not simply getting to heaven. That’s a self-centered goal. It focuses on what we get out of the deal. But our focus must be on our Lord. Our goal is to be with Him wherever He goes. Wherever He goes, there is our paradise; there is our purpose.

4. Does “way” refer to justification or sanctification? (i.e. What is your soteriology?)

Many often think of “way” in terms of “how to” accomplish something. That is often the sense this question is understood. This is because most religions and people think in terms of what we need to do in order to secure our status with God.

Even many orthodox Christians can’t seem to get this idea out of their heads. The pat answer is that Christ is the only way to get to heaven. Well, what does that mean? That means that if we want to get to heaven we need to trust Christ. Well, what does trusting in Christ amount to? That’s the kicker.

Many start listing good things we need to do. We need to believe really, really hard – don’t pop a vessel in your head on account of the strain! We need to be nice to other people – except those sinners. Don’t have anything to do with them lest they lead you astray. Give them a tract and get back to the church before you get contaminated. Don’t cuss. Don’t drink. Don’t dance. Don’t wear that skirt that’s too short or that blouse that’s too low. Don’t get a tattoo. Don’t smoke. Don’t speed. Learn to pray out loud. Don’t marry people of the same sex and don’t even kiss until you’re married. Don’t pick your nose in public. Don’t burp. Don’t wear too much makeup. Don’t make your hair look funny colors unless you’re a little old lady and the color is blue. Don’t listen to rock music. Don’t stay up too late. Don’t stay out too late. I could go on and on. And if you don’t do these things you can’t say you have enough faith in Christ to get into heaven.

That’s the sad way most people think. Now many of these things are rather wise and godly things to pursue. Some of these things are just silly rules or that some churches have imposed on themselves. The fact is that these things do not result in trust. Faith in Christ is the result of the quickening of the Holy Spirit. Once we have this trust, we are more inclined to pursue those behaviors that honor and glorify God.

Faith in Christ is unto justification. It’s where our sins are forgiven. It’s an absolute fact. There is only one way (means) for justification: Jesus Christ, the logos / messiah / incarnation of God.

Those so justified are to grow in Christ. That means that we are to improve in our capacity to glorify Him. This is when good behavior becomes desirous. It’s not that I have to give up drinking, but that I WANT to give it up. It’s not that I have to give up gossip, but that I WANT to give it up. I may fail, but the desires of me heart increasingly grow toward God and the result is that I behave in ways that make the rest of the world wonder at what unseen Spirit is giving me power. That’s the glory of God.

This is called sanctification. Sanctification is different for everyone. It speaks to our unique circumstances as the Holy Spirit guides us moment by moment. There are no two paths alike. Did you read that?

So, there is only one way to heaven if you are talking about justification. There are no two ways to heaven if you are talking about sanctification. Here’s where deception can trickle in. The Deceiver may use the false idea that most of us have that we do good things to get to heaven, point to differences in sanctification between believers and use this to falsely argue that this amounts to different means of justification. That conclusion couldn’t be more wrong.

5. Who is God?

I could write books on who God is. The issue with asking if there is more than one way to get to heaven is that you are asking something about the nature of God, whether He is concerned about His creation. If He redeems us indiscriminately allowing us entrance without discipline, then we enter heaven not knowing our Creator. If we believe whatever we want to believe without learning who God really is, then how can we expect to have a good relationship with Him.

Rather, His method of redemption tells us a lot about Him so that we know Him well enough. He cares enough about us to educate us. To believe in any other way is to ignore His education and discipline. Nevertheless, we know that his children will desire to understand as much as they can.


I hope that clears things up a little.

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2 Comments:

Anonymous Ike said...

The "evangelical" church in America has done well preaching that Christ is the only way, but for the most part, they have forgotten that the way is narrow. I'm not talking about a "works" salvation, but when the Lord truely does a work of regeneration........that person WILL walk the narrow path and when they step off that path the Lord will discipline them and bring them back.

Sun Jul 20, 07:30:00 PM GMT-5  
Blogger Jim Pemberton said...

Ike,
I agree completely. It once happened to me in a big way. Inasmuch as temptation pursues me, sin laps at my feet like fire from hot coals. I welcome God's continuing correction even in small things.

Sun Jul 20, 08:33:00 PM GMT-5  

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