How do I get to heaven?

Earlier this week, I asked how we as United Methodists would answer the question: How do I get to heaven?

Here are a few of my thoughts on the answer.

I begin by saying we make a mistake if we confuse the process of salvation with the goal. What do I mean by that? I mean that we often answer these types of questions by laying out some form of the order (or way) of salvation. Repent of your sin. Confess Jesus Christ. Get to a good church. Etc. But these are the steps in a process. They are the outward forms, not the inner grace.

As one who has been greatly influenced by the Wesleyan movement, I would say the answer to the question about getting to heaven is some variation on one of John Wesley’s favorite verses, Hebrews 12:14b. Without holiness no one will see the Lord. I’m not tied to this specific half-verse, of course. The witness to holiness in the Bible certainly spans from Genesis to Revelation. The points is this. God is holy. If we wish to dwell with him in eternity, we are called to be holy as well.

I see the answers — obviously not in this form if talking with a real human being — as going in this order.

How do I get to heaven? That’s easy. Be holy as God is holy.

What does it mean to be holy? Well, let me show you some places where God spells that out for us. Let me talk to you about the law and the prophets. Let’s see what Jesus said about those. Let me show you some people who have exemplified what he taught.

How can I do all that? I’ve tried, and I fail. Well, let me talk to you about Jesus Christ, the forgiveness of sins, the power of the Holy Spirit.

That seems pretty hard to do. Well, good news, we have a whole bunch of other people trying to do the same thing. We’re called a church. You should come along with us.

Of course, it is rarely this straight forward in real life. I just think staring off with “put your faith in Jesus” misses the point. It leads people into viewing Christianity as a kind of fire insurance program.

Do you ever see those signs or billboards on the side of the highway? They do it this way. “Avoid Hell. Believe in Jesus.” In church, I think our message is at times a more sophisticated version of these highway signs. But we are jumping the gun. We are offering the process before the solution. The process is not bad. It just isn’t the actual answer. It can confuse people into thinking that because they uttered some words in sincerity or got dunked in a creek that they are glory bound. When the real issue at the end of it all is going to be whether we are, in fact, holy.

Maybe I’m wrong. This is the way I’d answer my own question, though. I’d be interested in your thoughts on the matter.

 

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4 thoughts on “How do I get to heaven?

  1. We get to heaven by faith. What is faith? We surrender our will to God’s will, by saying like Jesus. “Not my will, but yours.” What are we putting our faith in? Jesus’ sacrifice that takes away our guilt. What are we guilty of? Sinning. What is sin? Failing to reach God’s standard for us (otherwise known as holiness) Fortunately, his holiness is applied to us when we surrender our lives to him, because we can never become holy on our own.
    I’m a little leery of starting with “Be ye Holy.” because we all intuitively know we can’t.

  2. John, your question gets us talking like we are answering academic theologians who just tuned in. I’m not going to bite on that. Rather…I think of the hillside graveside service I conducted last weekend. Most of the 80 family members and paladins that formed the graveside canopy were not saints but scalawags, ignoramuses and the oblivious, hell cats and tattooed rebels. I had to shout like Billy Sunday over the din of traffic below. I cut to one text: Romans 5:8 (“God proves his love for us in that while we were sinners, Christ died for us”). I didn’t do any fancy footwork, no bait-and-switch, no empty assurances. I walked around the perimeter and looked (sympathetically) into their eyes and said “this is the old gospel that will save you from the wrath of God and make you fit for heaven.” Of course, there’s a lot more to preach…but maybe only one opportunity.

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