(Confessions of a failed witness)
Recently, I was in a bookstore owned
by a friend. We have had many conversations over the years, and this past week,
we happened upon the topic of people who get to go to Heaven. When she vigorously
asserted that some people were very good people—people who, in her estimation,
were surely good enough to make it to Heaven, I was a bit surprised. My friend
insisted that anyone (Mormon, Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical) who was “good”
would go to Heaven because God would not turn away “good” people.
She further proclaimed that any religion that claimed to be the only one to
go to Heaven was “full of nonsense”.
Even though I thought certain people were very good, I realized that I wasn’t confident of my theology enough to help my friend understand that good people don’t go to Heaven, just because they are good. So, I opted not to offer an opposing point of view. However, the next several days were painful for me. I even lost sleep over my failing to witness to my friend. I began to ponder: “How do I set this straight? How do I help her to see who REALLY gets to go to Heaven?” Even though I thought my friend was a Christian, I realized that the message of the cross had not pierced her heart. I could see that if she did not know the truth, that she could easily be persuaded by the “good works” belief. Many religions teach that it IS POSSIBLE to be good enough to go to Heaven. The people who gravitate toward these religions, do indeed, seem to be very moral, good people. Who would want to criticize them? They are the kind of folks whom you want as neighbors, babysitters, and co-workers—but they are missing the point.
I wanted to be prepared the next time someone I cared about thought that being “good enough” was acceptable for Heavenly citizenship. I began reading the New Testament, digging into the Scriptures and asking lots of questions. Each of the Gospels makes the Plan of Salvation abundantly clear…some of the more haunting verses include situations like the people who died and appeared before the Lord. These people claimed to have done all kinds of good things for the Lord, but He disowned them, saying, “Depart from Me, for I never knew you.”
How/When did people get the idea that “being good” was what was meant by KNOWING HIM? The Bible repeats over and over that the only thing that is acceptable to God is: 1) belief that Jesus Christ is, indeed, God come in the flesh (the concept of the Trinity—Jesus and the Father are One); 2) understanding that, as sinners, we could never attain to the glory of God on our own, or through anything we can do; 3) being “born again” by accepting through faith that Jesus died for my sins (paid the price I could not pay to get into Heaven); 4) living a life after being “born again” by honoring the Lord in all that we do.
“Good works” do indeed count—but only AFTER a salvation experience. The good deeds CANNOT EARN one’s way to Heaven, but are a reflection of a “new birth” into Christ. I couldn’t help but notice that my friend’s theology was more humanistic rather than theistic. After reading the Gospels, I was drawn to Romans, Galatians and Ephesians. These writings cemented forevermore my theology regarding the matter, and I felt that they gave me a firm foundation. Some of the Scriptures that jumped out at me were Romans 3:23, “For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” and Romans 3:10, “As it is written, ‘There is none righteous, no, not one.’”
Being “good” or “right” (righteous) as a qualification to get into Heaven was an argument that the Apostle Paul faced in his day. Galatians 2:21, “I do not nullify the grace of God; for if righteousness comes through the law [being good enough], then Christ died needlessly.” Actually, the entire book of Galatians, specifically Chapters 5 & 6, are an argument against the “good works” angle for Heavenly citizenship. Ephesians Chapter 2 also nails the coffin closed on any argument that is “works based” to get into Heaven.
While searching the Scriptures, I also asked Jesus for clarity. He answered me in two ways. One day while looking for a movie to watch over the weekend, my husband walked to the DVD stand and began to peruse the available disks. He picked up one called “Hell’s Best Kept Secret” by Kirk Cameron and Ray Comfort. We took it home and watched it, and I realized that the Lord had directed my husband to choose a piece to the puzzle that would answer my prayer. One of the main topics of the movie was “good people” who don’t go to Heaven. After watching the video, I could clearly see how the argument of being “good enough” simply falls apart in the light of Scripture. I asked the Lord to keep showing me. The Lord answered me in a most amazing way. He dropped a parable directly into my head.
In the parable, a dormitory at a college campus was on fire. The students were rushing to and fro, but the smoke was billowing to such a degree that visibility was severely limited. The students were in danger of perishing. If they didn’t find the door, they would die. What those students had done to help others, to volunteer, to be kind, to show respect, study hard, etc. did not matter if they did not find the door to the building and get out. One young man stood in the back, and he could clearly see the door. What a pathetic individual he would have been, if he had known the way out and refused to direct others to safety. On the other hand, if the young man could clearly see the way out and hollered for others to follow him, and attempted to get them to come with him, how grateful would be those who heeded him. Imagine how bizarre it would seem for some of the endangered students to say, “I know that guy. He doesn’t make good grades; he drives a beat-up car; he hangs out with weird people. I don’t think he knows what he is talking about. I will not listen to what he is saying.” How foolish to have a personal prejudice at a time when your life is in danger! Would not most people be glad to have found the door, regardless of who told them about it?
The parable was so clear. A person can clearly and rationally see what it takes to escape the burning building—go through the door! This is the same concept as salvation: no matter how good you are, if you don’t go through the door, you will not make it to Heaven, and you will burn in hell. There is no other way out—there is only one door, and you must go through it in order to be saved. Jesus is that door. In John 10, Jesus reminded us: “I am the door: by me if any man enter in, he shall be saved…” In John 14, Jesus said: “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father but by me.”
I realize that because of pride, the response some people have to these statements is bizarre. Some people actually become offended that Jesus is the only way. Some don’t believe that He is the only way, and they keep searching for another. Some pretend that they don’t need a door to Heaven but believe that they will be saved by themselves. Let’s compare this to the burning dormitory: the door to safety is simply that—the way to safety. How foolish for some to become offended at the door, to curse it and kick it and say, “How arrogant of you to think that you can offer safe passage to me.” How foolish for those in the burning building to say, “I don’t like that door…I will continue to search for another.” How ignorant for some to say, “I don’t believe that I need a door…I will be saved because I have been a good person. The fire will respect me and not burn me.” Others would be considered “mad” if they refused to acknowledge that there was a fire at all and were in such denial that they perished.
Jesus is simply that: He is the door. He cannot help it…that is what He is. He offers all who will find the door an escape from the wrath to come. The way to eternal life is “through Jesus Christ our Lord”—you must go through Him, just as you would go through a door to escape a fire. Having been a good person simply won’t save you if you are in a burning building….
The children’s song, “One Door and Only One” kept coming to mind, so I added it here.
One Door, and only one; And yet,
its sides are two—
Inside and outside, On which side are you?
By Sarah Barbee
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