"Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God's one and only son."
For those who don't read the 'Comments' section I draw your attention to this question from a reader:
Terry, do you really believe yourself that non-christians are all condemned automatically, that it is more important to have the right caling card than being a good person? That sounds rather arbitrary and un-just.
This is how I replied:
What is good?
When I was at school I remember being examined in woodwork. The project that session was to make a teapot stand. I don't think that mine was fantastic, and it was certainly not anything I would give houseroom to, but the angles were accurate and it fitted together without nails or glue.
The schoolmaster was marking the students' work but was getting bored with it. Eventually there were only a few teapot stands left in the box. He sneered at what was left. "All the rest can have 5%" he said.
5%! I only needed 50% to be top of the class. I protested. Taking my stand together with one of the others in the box I complained to the schoolmaster. "My teapot stand is much better than his," I insisted. "His has nails sticking out and it isn't square."
"You're right," answered the master, "you can have 6%."
There is another way to get to heaven. Can you get 100% in everything you do? If you are perfect you will be admitted to heaven. That's the standard. Unfortunately, the difference between the best of us and the worst of us is the difference between those teapot stands - the difference between 5% and 6%.
But trust in your own righteousness if you want to; I would rather trust in Jesus.
Getting to heaven isn't difficult. We don't have to climb Everest or swim the Atlantic. Just trusting Jesus is all; it involves a bit of pride swallowing which can be daunting.
It would be nice to think that everybody could go to heaven on their own merits. What a perfect world we would have if that were true! Were it so then the crucifixion would have been unnecessary.
As it is, Jesus said, "No man cometh to the Father but through me."
I want to expand on this.
It is not simply a matter of having the right label. A verbal assent to God and a life of dissolute behaviour will not do. "Faith without works is dead," wrote James. Nor should we think that we are repaying God for our salvation - as if we could! Paul wrote, "It is by grace (grace means an act of undeserved mercy) you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10.)
Does this mean that only Christians can do good things? Of course not! Christians believe in something called common grace. In his mercy God restrains evil and uses the good deeds of men, believers and unbelievers, to fulfill his will. And it is not his will that any should perish. Peter wrote, "He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance." (2 Peter 3:9).
Christians are sometimes accused of exclusivity. It is believed that they think of themselves as an exclusive club - extraordinary people with special merit - with special rights of entry to heaven. The truth is quite the opposite. Entry to heaven is a free gift available to anyone, rich or poor, Jew or Gentile, black or white, clever or stupid, male or female, laborer or intellectual, child or old person, Democrat or Republican. It was available to Hitler and Stalin.
Of course, Heaven is not what everyone wants. If you revel in hatred, desire dominance, delight in the unkind put-down, enjoy cheating your boss, your wife or your neighbor, love a lie or think yourself a God, then Heaven may not be what you're looking for. If you were in heaven like that you would spoil it for everybody else. If Godly characteristics are not up your street there is a place from which God has withdrawn even his common grace.
Look around yourself. Do you see evil in the world? I do.
Look into yourself. Do you see evil there? I do.
Paul writes quoting the Hebrew Bible, "There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one." (Romans 3:10-12) and he adds his own comment, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (v23)
If you say this doesn't include you, your standards are too low and what is more the Apostle John says you make God a liar.
Do you know anyone else who offers a remedy for your sin?
But Paul continues about all those who have sinned and fall short (the old English word 'sin' is an archery term that means your arrow falls short of the target), he continues, "they are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood. He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished - he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus." (v23-26)
Christmas is celebrated all over the world because it marks the day that God intervened in the mess we had made for ourselves.