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I recall a past news article by Independent Digital News where the headline read, “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 past 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 was true or false, the fact that it still circulates the internet requires a response 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 me put it another way; by the time a person learns and fully understands all the complexities of Old Testament Law, he or she would 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 given a sentence of eternal separation from God in a place commonly referred to as hell. 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 so that we could be forgiven of our sins 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). God’s word is absolute and 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).
Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture is taken from the New American Standard Bible®, Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission.
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