Monday, March 9, 2009

Americans vs. Jesus on Entering Heaven

If you're a news junkie, chances are you've already seen the recently-released survey on religion in America that indicates that Americans are leaving organized religion, especially Christianity, behind. The survey has some interesting things to say, but I was even more intrigued by an article re-posted on USA Today about a similar survey taken last fall. In this one, 54% of respondents said that over half of "average Americans" will make it into heaven. The question is asked again of several different religions (or non-religious) groups with varying results, but it's the underlying assumption that interests me. Since the majority of our country self-identifies as Christian, I found it interesting to hear their idea on heaven as contrasted with Jesus.

The survey seems to suggest that people think that your average Joe is good-to-go. What did Jesus have to say in Matthew 5, though? In a chapter where he gives an impossibly lofty moral standard, he begins with the assertion that "unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." The scribes and the Pharisees were the "super-religious" of the day, the people who followed God's commands with zeal and fervor, and even invented their own commands to fill in the gaps. Jesus said that their righteousness is not sufficent to enter heaven. He then concludes the chapter with the even more stunning proclamation - "You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." Jesus holds up perfection as the standard we must meet for acceptance into God's kingdom.

This sentiment is further expressed in Jesus' famous declaration to the rich young man in Luke 18, "It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God.” All these sayings serve to build up an incredible standard, such that the disciples eventually asked, "Then who can be saved?" Jesus repiles, "What is impossible with men is possible with God." Notice his implication - it is impossible for men to gain access to heaven. This can only be accomplished by God's free grace, a grace that Scripture makes explicitly clear is given through faith in Jesus.

It's pretty clear that though we're a nation where a lot of people say they follow Jesus, precious few have actually looked to see what he has to say. This should cause us all to take a closer look at the gospel we proclaim. Are you communicating the Gospel of grace, or an easy, average Joe, be-a-good-person folk religion? Pastors, how would the people in your church answer this survey? We all need to be careful to examine the faith we proclaim, lest we contribute to the generation that has seemingly adopted a Christianity with very little Christ.

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