HOW MANY WAYS TO HEAVEN ?
Charles E. Caniff, during his lifetime received two presidential citations. Before his retirement he was the Executive Director for the Association of Rehabilitation Centers for the United States and Canada. A plane crash during World War II left him a paraplegic. He was a marine flyer, a Captain, who had seen combat in the Pacific. He was back in the states to train pilots and was the only passenger on a plane that crashed, leaving Charles and the pilot paralyzed. After leaving the hospital and returning to civilian life he started the Midwest Paraplegic Association. He organized wheelchair basketball games and other activities for other paralyzed veterans so that they would have something else to do besides “drinking too much and feeling sorry for themselves.” For his activities in this area he received a presidential citation from President John F. Kennedy as the “Handicapped American of the Year” from 1960-61. In 1990 he received another presidential citation, the Theodore Roosevelt Environmental Award, from President Bush for his vision and efforts in establishing The Charlotte Harbor Environmental Center on Burnt Store Road south of Punta Gorda, Florida. Life Magazine included him in its “Academy of Achievement,” the same year the magazine recognized Bob Hope and Wernher Von Braun. “Charley” departed this life on November 10th 2005.
Uncle Charley was my boyhood hero, my late father’s youngest brother. I last visited with him in Venice, Florida the summer before he passed away. Sometime, not too long before he departed this life, I talked to his older sister, my Aunt Lorena about him. I asked what she knew of his faith. She said he told her that he thought he was alright, as he had “done a lot of good for this country.” Christian doctrine says that we are “saved” by faith, not by our good works thus according to this Uncle Charley’s “good” that he did for America did not qualify him for heaven. Now I am not here to judge Charles Edward Caniff. At the request of my late mother I preached the funeral service of Robert R. Hughes, her husband, my stepfather. During the message I said that, “Bob Hughes is in the hands of a just God,” which was my only comment about his eternal abode. My departed loved ones, my mother, my father, my brother, my grandparents and others are all in the hands of a just God. And in the hands of a just God is where I must leave Uncle Charley.
It is easy for us Christians to say that we are saved by faith, not by works. We can quote the scriptures that state that:
By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. Ephesians 2:8-9.
Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved. Acts 4:12.
Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me. John 14:6.
So we believe and teach that it is faith in Christ that saves us, not good works or anything else.
This presents a problem that almost all Christians don’t seem to be aware of. I once heard a college student refer to Jesus as egotistical for saying, “I am the way, the truth, and the life.” On the surface it does appear to be a very egotistical statement. You make a statement similar to that about yourself and see how people react to you. We Christians quote the Bible as authoritative and feel that that should settle the matter. Problem is, there are millions of people who do not know the Bible, or look upon it as anything other than an old book about religion. Many consider it a collection of myths. Quoting scripture to them often has no positive effect.
So if good works do not qualify us for a better afterlife but only faith in Jesus does, then we had better be able to explain ourselves on the subject. Fact is that, to an erudite, thinking, person, who is not schooled in Christian doctrine, that statement probably comes across as absolutely asinine. For after all, our conscience condemns us when we do bad things and exonerates us when we do good. So why doesn’t “doing good” qualify us for heaven?
I understand that the justice of God requires satisfaction. Therefore our sins must be punished. If we all had to pay for our own sins then we would all be lost. Therefore God sent his Son to pay the penalty for our sins. We then believe and teach that faith in Christ’s sacrifice, i.e. through His shed blood, we have redemption and a clear conscience. So far so good! But what of good works? Why don’t they save me? If I recognize that I am doing wrong, and turn my life around and start doing better, as some do, why does that not qualify me for heaven? Rationally it should. Trouble is–it just doesn’t! Here’s why.
The first three chapters of the Biblical book of Genesis tell us that man once had perfect fellowship with God, but then sinned; fell from grace; separated from God, and quite simply went his own way. What was his sin? It wasn’t the apple on the tree or the pear (pair) on the ground. It wasn’t a peach or plum, a cherry, or even a crab apple. The biblical account is very brief; we are not given a lot of details. Fact is that, the first eleven chapters of the Bible, about ten printed pages, covers at least two thousand years of human history. Thus to really understand just what transpired we must read between the lines, and do so very carefully. So what did happen there in the garden of Eden? According to Genesis God came to walk in the garden “in the cool of the day.” Adam and Eve were not present so God called for them. They were hiding. They had developed a problem with guilt and along with this came fear. Guilt and fear, two things they had not known when they walked with God. So again, what happened? You say, “Sin happened.” Yeah, any of us can say that, but can you explain it; can you put it in your own words which will cause us to understand it and, at the same time, let us know you understand it and are not just rehearsing what you have been taught?
I shall try.
But to understand what really took place the average “Christian” has a major obstacle to overcome; one that is so daunting that the great majority will not even attempt it but try to cast it aside as unnecessary, or even erroneous. That obstacle is THE HOLY BIBLE! Idolatry, namely bibliolatry, is rife in our midst. Now before proceeding further let me say that I believe the Bible; all of it. I believe the Bible is all scripture and that, “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: That the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” However the Bible is not my god! When Jesus died on the cross the veil of the temple was rent from top to bottom opening the way for me (and you), to go directly to God. It is not necessary to go through a priest, a son of Aaron, or a priest ordained by the church of the Vatican. Nor is it necessary for me to go through or via the Bible. I can go straight to Almighty God; Jesus paved the way. God gave us the Bible to be a great aid, just as is quoted above, but in this one very important area we have made it a great hindrance.
For you see, before the fall, Adam walked with God in the cool of the day. And what is God? “God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” Prior to the fall, Adam lived in the Spirit, walked in the Spirit, was taught by the Spirit, and was led by the Spirit. Prior to his fall into sin everything Adam did was in, and of, and by the Spirit. You see in Adam’s day there was no scripture and Adam did not need a Bible for he had the Holy Spirit. God’s purpose for us is to restore us to the relationship with Him that Adam had before the fall. We must be “born again” which properly understood is to be born of the Spirit; we must live in the Spirit, be taught of the Spirit, comforted by the Spirit, assured by the Spirit, walk in the Spirit, be led of the Spirit, and produce the fruit of the Spirit. For you see, as the Bible says, “As many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are the sons [and daughters] of God.”
But the “church” is just not comfortable with that. Your “leadings,” they say, must be subjected to the Bible, which really means not the Bible, but what they understand and teach that the Bible means. Of course, just what that is depends on which “Christian” denomination you affiliate with. But some will say I am advocating anarchy, that the average Christian left to himself and his “leadings” will fall into all sorts of error. I am not advocating anarchy but am in fact advocating what the Bible advocates. In any case we already have anarchy and errors innumerable, and it keeps getting worse. Jesus taught that His sheep hear His voice and the voice of the stranger they will not hear. Jesus’ voice is the voice of the Holy Spirit and that Spirit will not lead us astray. Show me two people who are in perfect harmony with God’s Spirit and I will show you two people who are in perfect harmony with each other. Harmony is what we will have in heaven, and nothing else, just as it was in the garden of Eden before man fell into sin. In harmony there is peace, there is love, no wars, no friction, but joy and fellowship.
So then, why is it that your good works don’t qualify you for heaven? In the Apostle Paul’s letter to the Romans, the 7th chapter, from verse 14 through verse 25, Paul uses the first personal pronoun “I” twenty seven times (Read it!). In the middle of all this (verse 21) he says, “I find then a law that, when I [emphasis mine] would do good, evil is present with me.” How could “I” doing good, be in anyway evil? You think that is audacious; the Bible goes much further. Proverbs 21:4 tells us that, “the plowing of the wicked, is sin.” What on earth is wrong with plowing a field? What is wrong with it is that “I” determined to do it. Doing what one is led to do by the Holy Spirit is pure and truly good, but doing what “I” decide to do (and it matters not what it is) is evil. Adam, in the garden of Eden, left the Spirit of God and decided he would determine what is good and what is evil ( he partook of the tree of knowledge of good and evil) and we have had chaos, friction, wars, fights, arguments, divorce and such like, ever since. Anything and everything but harmony and all the fruit of the Spirit (the tree of life) has been our lot every since man decided he would decide. I am sorry but your “good works” won’t save you. You will have to come to God, when His Spirit beckons you, and trusting that Christ’s sacrifice has atoned (made you one with God) for your sins, begin life in the Spirit, and finish your life there. There is salvation in none other; not Islam, not Judaism, not Hinduism or any other ism or schism. There is joy in the Holy Ghost. Begin to experience and enjoy it today!
James B. Caniff