A brother in Christ brought to my attention a news article by Independent Digital News. The headline reads, “Pope Francis assures atheists: You don’t have to believe in God to go to heaven.” You would think such a comment would rock news headlines worldwide, as did the Pope’s recent endorsement for same-sex civil unions. The National Catholic Register asserts that the blogosphere took the Pope’s comments out of context. It claims the Pope was speaking about the need for God’s mercy. Nonetheless, regardless of whether the story is true or false, the fact that it is circulating the internet compels me to respond with the truth from God’s word.
The Bible presents two paths that lead to heaven. The first path requires a person to live a life without sin, not even a little white lie or a rogue mean thought. No sin, not one, ever, or the deal is off. The Bible says, “For whoever keeps the whole Law, yet stumbles in one point, has become guilty of all” (James 2:10). To that end, a person must live in flawless harmony and strictly adhere to the Old Testament Law. That said, the following disclaimer is essential: There has been only one man, who was both man and God, that lived a perfect life without sin, Jesus Christ. The Bible further states that “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory” (Rom. 3:23).
Let us put it another way; by the time you learn and fully understand all the complexities of Old Testament Law, you will have long since sinned against God. Add to that there is absolutely nothing a person can do to earn God’s favor and forgiveness, no amount of good works, no amount of money, nothing! There is no back door per se to enter heaven. Because of sin, you stand guilty before the sovereign High Judge and sentenced to eternal separation from God in a place commonly referred to as hell or what Apostle John refers to as the lake of fire in the book of Revelation. In actuality, God did not give the Law to man so we could get to heaven; instead, it was to show us just how desperate and dire our need is for a Savior.
The -only- way a person can obtain the forgiveness of sin and to one day step through the gates of heaven is through a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and to follow Him as Savior and Lord. The Bible says, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish, but have eternal life” (John 3:16). Knowing that we could not save ourselves from sin, God Himself chose to step out of heaven, to step out of glory, to set His deity aside, and take the form of man, “the Word made flesh, and dwelt among us’ the Bible says (John 1:14). Jesus came into the world to live among us, to laugh as one of us, to cry as one of us, and ultimately die for all of us. Why?
The answer is because God so loved the world–you, me, everyone–and knowing our fate in the lake of fire, God chose to take our place of death because He so loved. Jesus, both fully God and fully man, was the only person to live a sin-free life to become the propitiation for our sins. The Bible says, “Without the shedding of blood, there is no forgiveness” (Heb. 9:22), so Jesus chose to shed His blood on the cross that we, you and me, could be forgiven of our sin and have eternal life in heaven. Jesus said, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). That is God’s word; it is an absolute that no one can go to the Father -except- through Jesus and to do so, one must believe, i.e., “everyone who believes in Him will not perish” (John 3:16).
Perhaps you are seeking to know God and in so doing you have encountered a multitude of theories and ideas that all added up to just plain bunk. Well, look no more. If you would like to accept Jesus as your personal Savior and Lord and be cleansed, forgiven of sin, by His life-saving blood, then all you need to do is call upon His name right now in prayer. You can either lift your prayer or use the prayer below as a guide, but remember, you must confess you are a sinner, that you believe Jesus is the Son of God who died on a cross for your sins and that he rose from the grave. You must do this with a heart of repentance, meaning you will turn away from your sin, from that which displeases God. Understand that you are not coming to Christ by way of intellectual ascent, but by faith. Let us pray.
Dear God, I know that I am a sinner and ask for your forgiveness with a heart of repentance. By faith, I believe that Jesus is Your only begotten Son who died on a cross for my sins. I believe that you raised Him from the dead and that He now sits at Your right hand. I humbly confess Him as my Savior and Lord, and I welcome the Holy Spirit into my life to help and guide me along the narrow path that leads to eternal life in heaven. Thank Father, and I lift this prayer to You in the blessed and holy name of Jesus, Amen.
If you prayed that prayer or lifted your own to invite Jesus into your life as your Savior and Lord, welcome to the family of God. We ask that you please leave a comment below so we can rejoice with you and pray for you. Please be encouraged to also contact a Christian friend or your local Bible-believing church and tell that person or someone at the church that you accepted Jesus into your life. That person will gladly guide you in the steps ahead to help you grow stronger in your faith and closer to God.