“And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name
under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Acts 4:12 (ESV)
There are many roads to failure in this life. There are fewer roads to success, but there is still more than one way to get there. But what about the path leading away from this physical life and into eternity? How many roads lead to Jesus?
Recently, a video surfaced of Pope Francis comforting a small boy whose father, an atheist, had died. The young man simply asked the Pope if his father was in Heaven. Even though his father was an atheist, he was a good man, and he had taken the time to have his children baptized. Now he had departed this life, and the mind of his young son was suddenly focused on thoughts of eternity.
Upon the death of a precious loved one, we all find great comfort in imagining them walking into the loving arms of Jesus. Many begin to examine the life of the departed from the standpoint of their good works. As people gather around the casket, stories are exchanged and tears are shed. We find great solace in reminiscing the good times, because they often bring about smiles and laughter…enough to cover the grief and tears of the moment. But, there’s always the question, and it’s a question that may never be voiced aloud, but it should be.
It’s the very same question that troubled the aforementioned young boy…”where is my loved one now?” “Are they with Jesus?” Certainly no one would appreciate a negative answer to this question at the graveside…and so, the emotion of the moment, and the quest to show compassion and comfort, outweighs further inquiry into whether or not the departed really had a genuine relationship with the Lord that was evident. The desire to feel good about the moment trumps the desire to know the truth, and it reinforces in culture a false narrative that God would never send a good person to Hell.
When someone we love dies, many will often loosen their theological perspective to allow room for emotions to buffer the pain of what my remain unspoken but still staggeringly obvious. Here, I’m referring to a person who has died and who has never evidenced a genuine, life changing faith and relationship with Jesus.
If “dad” was a true atheist, and if he lived his entire life personally rejecting the existence of God, then it is doubtful that he had a genuine relationship with the Lord. If his words and actions are the evidence of his real beliefs, then “dad” is not in the presence of God upon his death; instead, he is awaiting a final judgment which will eternally separate him from God. It’s a hard truth, but it’s a truth that should be spoken aloud for others to hear and understand.
Often the death of a loved one is all that will focus people on the question of eternal security, because the weight of that question has just hit them in the face. Yet, we often hide Jesus, the one true way to Heaven, behind softly spoken assurances that the good life of the deceased has done its job and swept them into the arms of Jesus…regardless of the evidence of Lordship.
Many embrace religions that entertain multiple paths to salvation. Many of these would factor in our works and good deeds as pivotal to our “attainment” of a place in Heaven. Sadly, many of these religions are loosely based around the Bible, and the followers of these religions would identify themselves as “Christians.”
God’s Word is very clear as to the number of roads that lead to Heaven. There can ever only be one, and His name is Jesus.
John 14:6 says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
I Timothy 2:5 says, “For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus…”
John 10:9 says, “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved…”
I John 5:11-12 says, "And this is the testimony, that God gave us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.”
There’s no room for comforting ambiguity in these verses. Scripture is not vague or obscure in defining for us the one pathway to Heaven. It is man who alters the criteria, often for the sake of compassion or pity. Possibly, we just don’t want to offend others, so we water down the reality of God’s Word, redefining the very nature of salvation, while cheapening the blood of Jesus into something that may not actually be required for an eternity in God’s presence.
Salvation is not “granted” by weighing out the good deeds a man has performed over the course of his life. It is not “acquired” by examining the culmination of our knowledge or wisdom at the end of our days. It is not “given” to us by the demands of a culture that is convinced that a quality life, full of virtue, morals and character, will lead them to Heaven.
Back to the young boy whose father had died…
There’s varying opinions on what Pope Francis meant in his answer to this distressed young child, and I will not debate the theories here. I will say this, if we speak “Heavenly assurances” to someone concerning the eternal destination of their loved one, and that loved one was an atheist who denied God, we perpetuate a great untruth. The only eternal comfort to others in the death of a loved one who did not know the Lord is the realization that, for those who remain, Jesus is still waiting, and very much longing, to save them. There’s still time for them to make a decision to follow Christ.
Replacing truth for comfort is dangerous. The words of Scripture cannot be bent around emotion. The Words of God are not meant to console the grieving as much as they are meant to bring a recognition of the truth. So, it’s important to understand that not all of Scripture is intended to comfort…a great deal of it is there to warn. Death is coming; Heaven is real, and, my friends, Hell is also real…and it will have residents.
In times of death, be compassionate, but do not fail to see the consequences of a life lived in rebellion towards God. When dealing with those who believe that there are multiple paths to Heaven, again, be compassionate, but do not fail to speak the truth. Forever, there has only been one way to Heaven, and that one way is Jesus Christ.
“Consequently, He is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since He always lives to make intercession for them.” – Hebrews 7:25 (ESV)
Keith Beatty is a Worship, Missions and Media Pastor living in North Alabama. He's excited and very humbled to be a follower of Jesus Christ!