FAITH: The way to heaven

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There is an old joke which the late Billy Graham used to tell on himself, which goes something like this. Billy was visiting a city where he was to lead one of his famous missions, when he met a little boy. ‘Can you tell me where the post office is?’ inquired Graham. The boy responded, ‘Go down this street, turn left at the lights, and you can’t miss it.’ ‘Thanks,’ replied Billy. ‘You know I’m here as an evangelist; do you know what that is? It’s someone who tells people how to get to heaven.’ ‘Oh,’ said the boy, ‘you must not be very good at it-you didn’t even know the way to the post office!’

An apocryphal story, no doubt, not to be taken as fact. However, it is true that the Church has an evangelistic calling; its main purpose is to tell people how to get to heaven or, what amounts to the same thing, how to get right with God for this life and the life to come.

A lot of people are unclear in their minds as to how a person can be forgiven of their sins and accepted by God. A common idea is that we have to earn God’s favour by being ‘good.’ If men and women try to live according to the Ten Commandments and the moral teachings of Jesus, they believe this will be enough to get them through the door of heaven. At least, they hope that when all is said and done and God comes to judge us, our good deeds will outweigh our bad in the heavenly scales. Of course, Christians are to do justly and love mercy. We are to seek to do deeds of kindness to those we meet who are hurting or in need. But it is very important to do these things for the right reasons. We are not to do these works in order to impress God or become worthy of salvation. Holy Scripture is very clear on this. As St. Paul stressed many times, it is ‘not a result of works, so that no one may boast’ (Ephesians 2:9). Being forgiven, accepted, made right with God, saved – or whatever term you want to use – can only come to us by grace, which means ‘as a free gift.’ God’s grace is unmerited, unearned favour, granted to those who can never do enough to be worthy.

Some feel that if we are part of the Church, receive its sacraments, support it faithfully and serve in it devotedly, God will be pleased with us and grant us salvation. In the classic comedy, ‘Life with Father,’ William Powell plays a hard-headed Wall Street businessman, Clarence Day, who is not particularly religious. His wife, Vinnie, worries about him because he has never been baptized. Dr. Lloyd, the minister of their church, preaches that baptism is absolutely necessary if the soul is to be saved. This is what is stressed in the movie, not Christ, not the cross, not faith. But the emphasis in the New Testament is not on sacraments. They have value as they point us to Jesus, but they are not stressed as preaching is. The thief on the cross who repented was not baptized and could never receive Communion. Yet, he was saved simply by calling on Christ to remember him.

If you know that you are a sinner, are truly sorry for your sin, and want to be forgiven and have a place in God’s kingdom, the living Lord Jesus Christ invites you to come to him. His death on the cross is what outweighs all our sin. Just trust him. He says, ‘Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden and I will give you rest’ (Matthew 11:28).

John Vaudry preaches at Bristol Memorial and St Andrew’s Fort Coulonge in Quebec.

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