Foundational Christian beliefs:
Part 2 of two parts:
An overview of salvation in Christianity.
3. How does a person gain salvation?
There are two really clear and unambiguous passages on the single criterion used to judge people's eternal destination -- whether it be Heaven or Hell. Both passages quote the words of Jesus. Many Christians believe that they should thus be given emphasis over those other passages that were written by followers of Jesus -- many of whom never met Jesus and were relying on second or third-hand knowledge.
John 5:28-29: This passage quotes a statement by Jesus in which he refers to a time coming:
"... when all who are in their graves will hear his voice and come out. Those who have done what is good will rise to live, and those who have done what is evil will rise to be condemned." (NIV Translation).
This appears to imply that when a person dies, they are buried and have little or no awareness. But when Jesus calls them, they wake up and emerge from the grave to be judged.
This passage clearly specifies who will be sent to Heaven and who to Hell. Note that people will be judged solely on the basis of two criteria: their good and bad deeds while on Earth. That is, one's beliefs about God, Jesus, his resurrection, his humanity, and the rest of the universe are ignored. According to this passage, persons of all religious faiths, and none, will seem to have an equal chance with Christians on attaining heaven. It all depends on the presence and absence of good works in their life on Earth.
Unfortunately, every person does both good and bad deeds while alive on earth, and the passage does not explain the rating system used to evaluate these deeds. Thus, a person cannot know in advance what their eventual destination will be.
Also, it is worth noted that this passage is adjacent to John 5:24 which states:
"I say unto you, He that heareth my word, and believeth on him that sent me, hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation; but is passed from death unto life.
This passage seems to imply that two different criteria decides a person's faith: One must hear Jesus' words and one must and believe in Yahweh. That appears to contradict the longer passage that follows which seems to say that good works are the only criterion. It also gives no information on what would be the fate of the large majority of humans who have ever lived who had never heard of the Bible, Jesus, his words, Yahweh, or Christianity.
Matthew 25:32-46: This is commonly called "the sheep and the goats" section. It appears to refer to the Final Judgment when people who have lived in every era and culture and have followed any religion or no religion will be gathered before Jesus. In the King James Version, the passage says that Jesus:
Again, the sole criterion that is used to separate those who will attain Heaven from those who will be sent to Hell is whether they helped other people in need. That is, a person's salvation is based solely on their good deeds while they were alive on earth.
"... shall separate them one from another, as a shepherd divideth his sheep from the goats: And he shall set the sheep on his right hand, but the goats on the left. Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in: Naked, and ye clothed me: I was sick, and ye visited me: I was in prison, and ye came unto me.
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee? Or when saw we thee sick, or in prison, and came unto thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
Then shall he say also unto them on the left hand, Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire, prepared for the devil and his angels: For I was an hungred, and ye gave me no meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me no drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me not in: naked, and ye clothed me not: sick, and in prison, and ye visited me not.
Then shall they also answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, or athirst, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison, and did not minister unto thee?
Then shall he answer them, saying, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye did it not to one of the least of these, ye did it not to me.
And these shall go away into everlasting punishment: but the righteous into life eternal."
However, there are many more passages scattered throughout the Christian Scriptures (New Testament) which have been interpreted as stating that good and bad deeds have no impact on one's salvation. The attainment of Heaven is restricted to those who believe certain things about Jesus.
Perhaps the most popular passage is John 3:16-17. In the King James Version, this states:
"For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.
For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved."
Note the complete absence of any judgment based on good works. This passage would imply that some unspecified beliefs about Jesus is the sole criterion for Salvation.
The bulk of this section of this web site deals with numerous other passages that stress that salvation is based on beliefs or other factors, not good works.
In order to obtain a simple, internally consistent criterion for salvation, most religious leaders and denominations select certain passages and ignore the rest. Liberal denominations tend to lean towards good works; conservative denominations towards beliefs. A person might try to resolve this conflict by assessing the will of God through prayer. However, this appears to be unreliable, according to a pilot study conducted at this web site.
4. Can a person gain salvation and subsequently lose it?
Paul Gross, in a book review, discussed the fear that religious conservatives
feel about the possibility that they and/or their family members might not gain -- or might
gain and then lose -- their salvation. He writes:
"For nonliteralists and non-believers, such terror for the fate of self
and loved ones is almost impossible to imagine. But for true believers it is all
too genuine; the fear and pain are just as urgent as those ecstatic feelings of
release and righteousness that come with the conviction -- once it really is
conviction -- that one is among the saved." 1
Author Rob Bell (1970-) is an evangelical, an author, a Christian speaker, and the founder and former pastor of Mars Hill Bible Church -- a megachurch located in Grand Rapids, MI. He has written a number of books about salvation:
His 2011 book, "Love Wins" shook conservative Protestantism to its roots because of his opinion that God gives second chances -- that a person who is not saved during their life on Earth will be given a second opportunity. 2 This is the Universalist belief system, a belief condemned as a heresy by most Christians down through the centuries. However, Christianity was never quite able to completely suppress the belief. As Bell writes:
"At the center of the Christian tradition since the first church have been a number who insist that history is not tragic, hell is not forever, and love, in the end, wins and all will be reconciled to God." 3
This book created a firestorm within fundamentalist and other evangelical theologians and believers. Three thousand members of his congregation left. He resigned to organize a new congregation which allegedly had 10,000 members by late 2012.
He co-authored with Don Golden a 2012 book titled "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book." 4 A book review by Spirituality and Practice says:
"Bell and Golden present a clarion call for a justice emphasis within Christianity and, given the nightmarish developments in the U.S. and the world, it could not have come at a better time!: 4
However, passages like John 5:28-29 and Matthew 25:32-46 imply that one's salvation status is not determined until after they have died; further it is based on the sum of good and bad deeds that they performed during their entire lifetime on Earth. Thus one's salvation status is unknown until after their death when they are judged to be saved or unsaved.
Some related topics that are covered elsewhere in this web site:
Paul Gross, " Lying for God: The Dover Debacle," Skeptic Magazine, Vol. 14,
#3, 2008, Page 73.
Gross reviewed the following book:
Lauri Lebo, "The Devil in
Dover: An insider's story of dogma v. Darwin in small-town America," New Press,
reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store. The
book describes the legal battle over the constitutionality of teaching Intelligent Design in the public schools of Dover, DE.
It received a 4.7 star rating (near the highest possible) by Amazon customers.
Rob Bell, "Love Wins: A Book About Heaven, Hell, and the Fate of Every Person Who Ever Lived," HarperOne, (2011). List price: $22.99. Amazon.com sells it for $13.79 in hardcover and $9.99 in Kindle eBook format. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store.
- Ibid, Page 109.
Rob Bell & Don Golden, "Jesus Wants to Save Christians: Learning to Read a Dangerous Book," HarperOne, (2012), List price: $14.99. Amazon.com sells it for $10.94 in paperback and $13.43 in Kindle eBook format. The latter is a rip-off price established by the publisher. Read reviews or order this book safely from Amazon.com online book store
Copyright © 1997 to 2019 by
Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Latest update: 2019-MAY-08
Author: B.A. Robinson