There is a bit of a stir in the media’s religion beat over comments Pope Francis made in his Sunday sermon recently. He rightly said Jesus died on the Cross for all people, even atheists, but then added atheists who do good can get to heaven. I doubt a true atheist would even embrace the concept of heaven because that, by definition, includes an eternity with a God whose existence he denies. As much as I would like to believe that the precious and dear atheists I know and love are heaven bound, I cannot sustain that belief when I read scripture.
The Book of John in the New Testament stands out from those of Matthew, Mark and Luke because it centers on Jesus’ “I am” statements, that clarify He is the Son of God; He and only He is the Redeemer.
“I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.” John14:6.
The entire Old Testament, especially Isaiah and so beautifully the Psalms, point to a Redeemer who was to come and deliver us from God’s just wrath. Now why would that even be necessary if all that was needed was for a good guy to come along and teach us all to do good deeds? Why then did God raise up prophets telling of the coming of a savior? What was the big deal about Jesus’ life and death on the Cross if God would have been satisfied by good works and obeying rules?
No. We come to the Father only through believing and therefore belonging, embracing, and clinging to Jesus. Only when we are covered “by the blood of the Lamb” can a perfect God even look upon us with enough favor to allow us entry to heaven. What He sees are not sinners who cannot stand before Him, but rather the perfection of His Son covering us.
And let’s look at these good deeds that are supposed to save people who deny Christ. Perhaps it’s our survival instinct that tells mankind if there is chaos no one will survive, so we better help each other out. Perhaps it’s God’s law of right and wrong written on our hearts that drives good deeds.
Again Jesus, the Son of God, makes it clear in John 15:5-6: “I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without me you can do nothing (no “good” deeds that the Father will accept). If anyone does not abide in me, he is cast out as a branch and is withered; and they gather them and throw them into the fire, and they are burned.”
I can be the greatest humanitarian of all time and do tons of good in this world. But that doesn’t cut it in the eyes of God. Paul, in his letter to the Ephesians 2:6-9 writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works lest anyone should boast.”
In an effort to be inclusive we sometimes mix human inclination with Scripture and come up with a chicken soup of soul threatening theological error. In Him, with Him and through Him is the only way to heaven for all us pathetic sinners. Unless we stand on Scripture alone, we can be led to hell on a path strewn with ideas that are spiritual poison laced with lovely sentiments.