By Paul Miller
July 1, 2016
The way to heaven is simple, yet narrow, and most won’t be going there, according to what Jesus said (Matthew 7:14). Even a whole lot of good, nice, religious people will miss eternal life—even though they think that they are good Christian people. See the parable of the ten virgins with lamps, for example (Matthew 25), or read when Jesus told about the many people who did good and wonderful works and called Jesus “Lord,” yet ended up eternally lost (Matthew 7:21-23).
There is only one way to heaven, and that is through Jesus Christ (John 14:6). That is pretty specific. That is a good thing for those who are sincerely seeking the way to God. That is bad news for those who do not like the way of Jesus. That is bad news for those who are depending upon their good works or their church attendance. That is bad news for those who believe that being a member of a specific church will get them to heaven.
Like Naaman (2 Kings 5), our pride causes us to want to do great things in order to please God and earn our own salvation. If we had to donate a lot of money, visit Jerusalem, attend church every week, pray an hour a day, read the Bible through every year, wear certain clothing, visit the sick, donate a kidney, give up certain habits, paint our neighbor’s house, or anything else like that, most of us might work hard in order to be sure that we would meet the divine requirements. However, all Naaman was told was to go wash in the Jordan River and he would be clean. He did not like that. He would have done great things. He would have donated much money. He would have visited the best rivers in the world. Instead, God wanted him to go wash in a little muddy river in Israel. Thanks to the urging of his servants, Naaman swallowed his pride, washed himself in the Jordan River, and was cleansed of his leprosy.
What about you? All God requires of us for salvation, for eternal life, is to wash ourselves in the blood of the Lamb. He tells us only to look to Jesus, to believe in Him, and live. And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life (John 3:14-15). Does that offend you as it offended Naaman? Would you not rather do great things? Would you not be more pleased if God required church membership and attendance? Wouldn’t it help your pride if God required you to wear certain clothing and follow a list of manmade rules? Wouldn’t you rather make it to heaven because of how much good you think you have done and of how religious you think you are?
Yet all God requires of us to be born again is to repent—to turn from our ways and look to Jesus for salvation. Will you not seek Him? We must give up our ways and our thoughts. They are wicked to God (Isaiah 55:6-7). He has told us how things are, and He did not ask our opinion on the matter. We are sinful people with wicked hearts. Our hearts are stained and cannot be cleaned—no matter how hard we try to clean them or how good we try to be. The only answer is a new heart to replace our wicked heart.
A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you: and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and I will give you an heart of flesh. And I will put my spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes, and ye shall keep my judgments, and do them (Ezekiel 36:26-27).
You cannot clean up your old heart. Notice that God says that He will give us the new heart, and then He will cause us to walk in His ways. We do not first walk in His ways and then get the new heart as a reward. All the good that we try to do with our old sinful hearts counts as nothing—or worse than nothing.
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away (Isaiah 64:6).
I was recently reading a book by 19th-century pastor, Ichabod Spencer. In that book, he tells of a lady reminding him of a sermon that he once preached that helped to lead her to Jesus. The lady reminded him:
I know you represented us in that sermon as lost sinners, lost in the woods, wandering over mountain after mountain, in dark and dangerous places among the rocks and precipices, not knowing where we were going. It grew darker and darker. We were groping along, sometimes on the brink of a dreadful precipice, and didn't know it. Then some of us began to fall down the steep mountains, and thought we should be dashed to pieces. I know I thought so. But we caught hold of the bushes to hold ourselves up by them. Some bushes would give way, and then we would catch others, and hold on till they gave way, broke, or tore up by the roots; and then we would catch others, and others. . . .
You said our friends were calling to us, as we hung by the bushes on the brink, and we called to one another, “Hold on—hold on.” Then, you said this cry, “Hold on—hold on,” might be a very natural one for anybody to make, if he should see a poor creature hanging over the edge of a precipice, clinging to a little bush with all his might, if the man didn't see anything else. But you said there was another thing to be seen, which these "hold on” people didn't seem to know anything about. You said the Lord Jesus Christ was down at the bottom of the precipice, lifting up both hands to catch us, if we would consent to fall into his arms, and was crying out to us, “Let go—let go—let go." Up above, all around where we were, you said they were crying out, “Hold on—hold on.” Down below, you said, Jesus Christ kept crying out, “Let go—let go”; and if we only knew who he was, and would let go of the bushes of sin and self-righteousness, and fall into the arms of Christ, we should be saved. And you said we had better stop our noise, and listen, and hear his voice, and take his advice, and “let go.”
Are you holding on or letting go? Are you in spiritual darkness holding on to your own righteousness, your church membership, or your traditions? Will you not look and see Jesus calling out to you to let go of those things and fall into His arms and trust in Him alone? As long as you are holding on, you cannot be saved. It is only when you let go and have nothing else to hold on to that you are safe in the arms of Jesus.
— Paul Miller
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