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The Watering Hole - Conversations on 21st. Century religion.

Who, Then, Can Be Saved?

For God, All Things Are Possible


 
Abstract

It isn't for me to judge, nor you. But the Bible gives some good guidelines, and it has to do with purity of heart. Purity most often comes from forgiveness. Outside of forgiveness, it depends on the balance of good versus bad actions. But those who are evil do not enter the Kingdom.


This is a bit uncomfortable to write, as none of us can judge others without being judged ourselves. There is a huge body of literature and popular belief outside of the Bible that condemns everyone who is not in Christ. This puts atheists, non-believers, entire nations, and many others in a spot. Who can be, or is, saved? This is one of the most vexing questions in Christianity. The Pope recently said, "‘But I don’t believe, Father, I am an atheist!’ [Pope replied] But do good: we will meet one another there. It seems much of Catholocism, and much of Christianity wants to undo what he said by reinterpretion and religious speak. It's kind of like when Christ on the Cross said to the thief, "Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

The word "Pardes" appears in the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament), and means a park or garden. It has an idyllic image, such as the Garden of Eden, or a place where there are no cares. It doesn't refer to Sheol/Hades, the place where all were thought to go in a gray place in the earth where there was no happiness, and may have been thought to have been divided into a place for most dead people, and a place for the condemned. Yet many would like to think, "Ah, the thief didn't get off free - he followed Christ to Hades and will still be judged." Nope. This is just rewording to fit someone's interpretation. Jesus said what he said.

I will focus on the words of Christ, before considering what the Apostles had to say.

A little history is revealing. In the early years of Christianity, believers struggled with a host of competing beliefs, including the Roman belief that its emperors became gods, just like the Egyptians. There were so many competing beliefs in the Roman Empire around the year 300, and it was causing so much chaos, that Emperor Constantine ended the problem when he converted to Christianity and named it the religion of the Empire. And in true, "There can be only one" fashion, it was deemed by the church to be exclusive. The first order of any bureaucracy is to perpetuate its own existence by making itself exclusive. The next is to establish the membership rules for the bureaucracy. So there might have been some influence there on interpretation. Not Christ's words, but interpretation.

The thing that is most uncomfortable for many, if not most, Christians, is the sense that there are nations in the world in which most of the population is not Christian. By some interpretations, these people are all condemned to Hell. Many say they just don't know what happens. This doesn't fit with the compassionate, merciful God that we know, who tells us that all things are possible with God and he wants everyone to be saved. Others believe that what God was doing with Abraham, the Jews, and the Christians, was something special, a light to others, but in no way condemns others or excludes them from the Kingdom, who have their own religions, and often exceed many Christians in their faith fidelity and actions toward others.

The more evangelical strains of Christianity believe the Great Commission (Matthew 28:16-20) was not limited to the eleven Apostles to whom he was very pointedly speaking, but to all. Certainly there are people who are called to spread the Good News, identified by the Apostles as evangelists, and none us should hide our light under a basket. Our peace should attract others, not repell them.

But we also have many who are in tears because they think they fail in that mission of spreading the Good News. Some even spread animosity among non-believers and even other Christians, by telling others how they should live, that they are condemned, and using fear, try to push them into Christianity. They are certainly credited for trying, whether they are correct or not, but maybe since this is so divisive in the world and drives people away, they should look more deeply into what is asked of us, and their methods. Guilt is very destructive, and the evidence is plain (to those who work in fields where this is seen) that people turn their backs on "The Bad News." I can tell you from watching that they do turn away from bad news and guilt.

We need to keep firmly in mind that "we" don't convert anyone to Christianity. It is the work of the Spirit of God in their lives that helps them understand what are not good actions, and their need, and all we do is spread the Good News.

Opinions vary widely about who is saved. A few think that only 144,000 will be selected. Many think that just saying the magic words, "I accept Christ" is all that is ever required, even if you race Death at the finish line. And that's kind of true, but we shouldn't overlook, "By their fruits you will know them." The death bed is not exactly the time to demonstrate what is in your heart by doing good things, especially if all your life you have done what you want, regardless of who it hurt. And you had better win the race when the Grim Reaper sneaks up behind you. Others think everyone is eventually in the Kingdom.

There is the Hokey Pokey Christian belief, that we lose our place in the Kingdom every time we turn around.

You put your right hand in,
You pull your right hand out,
You put your right hand in,
And you shake it all about,

You do the hokey pokey
and you turn yourself around
That what it's all about.

Well, turning yourself around is certainly part of it. The failure to turn may be an indication of insincerity, but it may also be, things that are very difficult to overcome, such as drug addiction, and may require try after try.

We should understand some things before looking at Jesus' teachings. The Kingdom of God is now and forever. Once you are in it, you are in it. One of my favorite verses is, 2 Timothy 1:12, "...I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that he is able to guard what I have entrusted to him until that day." Like the lost sheep, God will always come after us, even if we lose our faith. We are like children to God, not hardened criminals and yesterday's dead fish.

Jesus went to great lengths to show the Jews that reliance on following laws would not make them perfect before God. He drummed this into them with sayings like, Matthew (Mt). 19:24, "...it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." He continuously called the religious leaders, both Sadducees and Pharisees, vipers, because they failed to understand God's teachings in their heart and simply substituted following laws, even if doing so hurt others. The Law is here to condemn, make you see what is not right. It operates in your conscience.

Perfection means being without the blemish of wrong-doing and falling short. It isn't possible for any of us to be perfect. So forgiveness is the only way we stand perfect before God. Forgiveness is not earned in any way. Forgiveness is a free gift from God.

The teachings of Jesus

Ancient Judaism was obsessed with purity. Nothing impure could appear before God. When Jesus told his followers about the camel through the needle problem, "... they were greatly astonished and asked, 'Who then can be saved?' Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” (Mt. 19: 25, 26)

It is not possible for us to be perfect. But all, all, all things are possible with God, who the Bible tells us, loves to forgive, and wants all people to be saved - not one perish.

Was Jesus specific about anyone going to Hell? Jesus names the false prophets, who can only do evil and cannot do good, and serve only themselves, as those who will be thrown into the fire. Those who look for signs (a miracle showing proof), instead of having faith, get a similar fate. This also applies to those who ignore and refuse the Spirit (kind of like ignoring your conscience and not being true to yourself.)

He calls the religious leaders of the time, who constantly torment him and plot to get rid of him, and put the wrong burdens on people, blind leaders and a den of snakes. Mt. 23: 1-36 is devoted to criticizing them. He asks how they will escape "Gehenna," the place of, not the dead "Sheol/Hades," but formerly a place where other religions sacrificed children by fire, and with this reputation, then known in Jesus time as a place of the cursed and probably punished. A place of fire, often said where trash was burned.

The preceding are the only people that Jesus said would be destroyed. That's it.

Jesus set the stage for talking about different kinds of people, and different outcomes, with his Parable of the Good Seed and Bad Seed, in Mt.13: 24-30. A man planted his crop, but his enemy planted weeds in his crop. What should they do, risk pulling up the good plants while uprooting the weeds? No, just leave them alone, and during harvesting, the weeds (evil people who are akin to the devil) will be bundled and thrown into the fire.

Jesus meant by this that there are people who are basically good, and those who are basically bad. The bad are incapable of having pure hearts. They will not turn toward God and what is good. They are incapable of doing good. The bad, those who are purely evil, and can only do evil, are going to stay among us, and be thrown into the fire at the end. That is a very sharp dividing line.

In Mt. 13, Jesus talked about other kinds of people, in the Parable of the Sower, Mt. 13: 18-23. Some are like rocky soil in which his word won't take root. Others are like people who are fighting thorn bushes. The endless problems, cares, and concerns of this world quickly turn them away from his word. And then there are those who are like good soil, and the seeds grow to a crop that multiplies the number of the original seeds by a hundred.

Jesus didn't describe the rocks and thorns as evil and condemned people, like the weeds. They just hear, or there attention span is usurped by endless problems and confusion. Are they condemned like the evil? No, God loves everyone and doesn't want anyone to perish. Is there any proof of that?

John 5:22-29, Jesus explains that those who hear his words will skip the judgment. (They know the Truth, and know they are forgiven.) This implies that those who don't hear his word will be judged. Judgment is not an automatic death sentence. It's an evaluation of what people did.

He said to the Jews on the Sermon On The Mount, "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

He talks basically about hard hearts in Mt. 12:31, 32, who won't listen to the Spirit. He says that every sin can be forgiven except one. Those who will not listen to the Spirit of God (kind of like your conscience), can't be forgiven. In other words, if you know what is right in your heart and mind, but uncaring, ignore it and willfully go ahead and continually do wrong anyway because that's the kind of evil person you are, there is no forgiveness. Not now, and not ever.

But that also means that false prophets, those who won't listen to the Spirit, and those who teach us false things, might at some point change, and be forgiven. There is hope for everyone except those who die without following the beckoning of the Spirit toward good.

He asks in 34 - 37, "...how can you who are evil say anything good? For the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. A good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and an evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned."

Everyone who does not stand before God in forgiveness, is subject to judgment. They will account for their actions. Those who are evil, will be cast out. But those with a pure heart will be kept. It is their actions that separate them. Evil people can't do good things.

The entire time that Jesus was here, he never condemned a single individual. Even to the religious leaders he put it this way, "How can you escape Gehenna?" Mt. 9:13 "...go and learn what this means: 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice.' For I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners." He ate with those that others despised. He reached out to heal those who were suffering, even if they were considered impure or despised. When others judged a prostitute, he prevented her stoning, and asked those who would throw the stones, how many of them were perfect. They all knew the answer, not one. Now is the time of acceptance of others and suspension of judgment.

One day, the good who are forgiven will avoid judgment. Those without faith or belief in God's way, as shown by Christ, those are the people in the rocks and thorns, and will be judged for their actions. Those who are evil, will have shown their evilness, because they can't do good, and they will be consumed by the fire.

There are those who can't have faith, but they can know good from evil. They will be judged for the balance. The viper, out of his evil heart, brings about only evil. More of the passage describes how evil attracts more evil, especially when good is not present.

The Apostles

The Apostle Paul worked extensively with those who were not Jewish. He saw that most were not bad people, and were not much different from the Jews he came from. He tells us in Romans 2: 12 - 16 (NIV): "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. They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares."

In this Paul echoed from Jeremiah 31:33 (NIV): This is the covenant [agreement] I will make with the people of Israel [Jews and Christians] after that time,” declares the Lord. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts. I will be their God, and they will be my people." This is mentioned again in Hebrews 8: 8-12, and Hebrews 10: 15 (NIV), The Holy Spirit also testifies to us about this. First he says: “This is the covenant I will make with them after that time, says the Lord. I will put my laws in their hearts, and I will write them on their minds." Then he adds: “Their sins and lawless acts I will remember no more.”

To decode this, "All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law." Those who don't know the law will not be judged or condemned by it. "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." Those who have never had the Jewish Law, often have the law in their hearts, and obey it.

"...those who obey the law who will be declared righteous." It is actions, not words, that show a pure heart before God. "They show that the requirements of the law are written on their hearts, their consciences also bearing witness, and their thoughts sometimes accusing them and at other times even defending them. This will take place on the day when God judges people’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel [Good News] declares." On the day of judgment, their thoughts about their actions will both accuse and defend them. Their fate hangs in the balance between good and bad actions.

Purity of heart, demonstrated by good actions, is what God looks for, according to Christ, the Bible, the Apostles, and Disciples. He has shown the way.

Micah 6:8 (NIV), "He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Would we be like the religious leaders of Jesus time, and put extra burdens on people? Would we tell them that God requires all of these other things, and make their burden larger? Would we be blind to what Christ and the Bible are about, and confused, and lead people into our confusion? Would we be like the leaders and go around spouting religious laws at people, with no understanding what the law was for?

Mt. 22: 36-40, “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”

If we act like Jesus acted, which is what we are supposed to do, because as Jesus said, a student is not greater than his master, there is not one single person that we can say is going to Hell, or is condemned, nor can we look at a sin and say that is taking people to Hell. We can look at the verses that tell us certain people are going to Hell: The False Prophets, those who look for signs, and those who refuse the Spirit of God. After that, we have no ground to stand on. But as Christians, we can feel glad that we will not be judged.

- Dorian

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