Wednesday, January 11, 2012

The People You’ll Meet in Heaven: Is Believing in Jesus the Only Way to Be Saved?

Is believing in Jesus really the only way to be saved?

Who can be saved? Even without considering the temporary nature of Hell, you might be surprised at who will be in Heaven.

At the time of the final judgment, Revelation 20:11-15, tells us, Then I saw a great white throne and Him who was seated on it. Earth and sky fled from His presence, and there was no place for them. And I saw the dead, great and small, standing before the throne, and books were opened. Another book was opened, which is the Book of Life. The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books. The sea gave up the dead that were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead that were in them, and each person was judged according to what he had done. Then death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the Book of Life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

This passage is telling us that at the end of this world, everyone – both alive and dead – will be brought before Christ. And He will open a book and He will read whether your name and whether my name is written in that book, the Lamb’s Book of Life.

So the question is, how do you get your name in that book? How can we be saved? What do we have to do?

Many people throughout history, and especially today, have believed that all we have to do to be saved is to be a generally good person. After all, the reasoning goes, why would God send a good person to Hell? Hell is reserved for the truly evil people, like Adolph Hitler. Someone may have made a few mistakes or had a few character flaws, but it’s not as if they were as bad as he was.

And yet we know that being a pretty good person is not enough to save us. As Jesus said in Matthew 7:22-23, “Many will say to Me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in Your name and in Your name drive out demons and in Your name perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from Me, you evildoers!’”

Even though the people in this passage were doing good things, that wasn’t enough to save them. So, if our actions alone, or being a good person, isn’t what gets us into Heaven, what is it? How do we get our name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? What do we have to do to be saved?

Many Christians would say that all we have to do to be saved is to believe in Jesus. And I would agree with that statement. Romans 8:9-10, says, That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.

If we believe in Jesus – truly believe – we will be saved.

But is that the only way we can be saved? Can someone who doesn’t believe in Jesus ever be saved?

What about a young child who dies before they’re old enough believe in Jesus or to even understand who Jesus is? What about a baby who is aborted? Will those children be saved, even though they don’t believe in Jesus? I think most Christians would say yes.

What about an adult who lives in a place where the Gospel of Jesus has not yet been preached? Missionaries have not yet come to his village, and he dies without ever hearing about Jesus. Does he get to go to Heaven? Has his name been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life? This one’s a little harder, but I think a fair number of Christians would again say yes.

The reason is found in Romans 2: 12-16. All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law. For it is not those who hear the law who are righteous in God's sight, but it is those who obey the law who will be declared righteous. (Indeed, when Gentiles, who do not have the law, do by nature things required by the law, they are a law for themselves, even though they do not have the law, since they show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts now accusing, now even defending them.) This will take place on the day when God will judge men's secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.

The Apostle Paul is telling us that when people have not heard about Christ, when they don’t have the Scriptures in front of them, then God will judge them not on whether they’ve believed the right thing, but on whether they’ve obeyed their conscience.

Our conscience is from God. It is His law, His moral and ethical law, written our hearts. We can believe this because throughout the world, every society adheres to the same basic laws. Everyone knows that there is a difference between right and wrong. Everyone knows that you can’t just kill someone in cold blood. You can’t steal. You can’t sleep with someone else’s spouse. You shouldn’t lie to other people. Everyone in the world understands these things in their most basic meanings.

It’s because we all have a conscience, and that conscience has been given to each of us by God Himself. That basic understanding of right and wrong is part of the image of God that remains in us.

So, if people have not heard of Christ, they are judged by their conscience. An unborn child’s conscience is clean. A young child’s conscience is clean, more or less. Someone living in their own society and living according to their own society’s rules and beliefs has a clean conscience. They are saved. Their name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

Christians and those who have heard of Christ will also be judged by their conscience. As Matthew 11:20-24 says, Then Jesus began to denounce the cities in which most of His miracles had been performed, because they did not repent. Woe to you, Korazin! Woe to you, Bethsaida! If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. But I tell you, it will be more bearable for Tyre and Sidon on the day of judgment than for you. And you, Capernaum, will you be lifted up to the skies? No, you will go down to the depths. If the miracles that were performed in you had been performed in Sodom, it would have remained to this day. But I tell you that it will be more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgment than for you.”

Why is Korazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum going to be judged more harshly than such sinful and worldly cities as Sodom and Tyre? Because the people of Korazin and Bethsaida and Capernaum had seen Christ. Jesus was right there. He was telling them the truth. He was proving who He was by His miracles. Their consciences were pushing them to believe in Him, but they wouldn’t do it. They wouldn’t place their trust in Him. They were rejecting that inner nudge from their conscience.

In Luke 12:47-48, Jesus said, "That servant who knows his Master's will and does not get ready or does not do what his Master wants will be beaten with many blows. But the one who does not know and does things deserving punishment will be beaten with few blows. From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked."

We have been given much. We have been given the Scriptures and so, we will be judged based on what we know. If we know that we should believe in Jesus and do not believe in Him, then we have disobeyed our conscience and will be judged accordingly. If we do not know that we should believe in Jesus, like the unborn baby or the young child or the native villager does not know, then Christ will understand that and will not punish us because there will be nothing in our conscience telling us that we should have believed.

If we do believe in Jesus and understand what He wants us to do, and if we understand what the Scripture says and know how He wants us to live our lives but don’t do it, we will be judged for that.

So, the question is, are you obeying your conscience? Your conscience has been given to you by God. If you are obeying your conscience, you can rest assured that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

1. All who believe in Jesus

2. All who do not believe in Jesus but are following their conscience. That includes all who never had a chance to believe in Him:
  • unborn children
  • children who die before they can make the choice
  • and people who never hear the truth adequately

3. All those who accepted Christ’s forgiveness when He preached in Sheol

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