Jesus explains what it takes to go to heaven for all those who want to go there. Listen carefully if that's what you want:
1. Believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God
For God loved the world so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in Him will not perish but have eternal life.
- John 3:16
2. Remain faithful until death
And everyone will hate you because you are my followers. But the one who endures until the end will be saved.
- Mark 13:13
All other teachings by Jesus and the Apostles about this subject can be folded into these two ideas. For example:
- The commands to repent, be baptized, love our brother, bear fruit, worship, and so on are all various ways to express our faith in Christ.
- And those teachings that talk about personal holiness, prayer life, perseverance, developing relationships with God and others speak to the ongoing process of remaining faithful to the Lord for a lifetime.
Now, of those two (faith in Christ, and remaining faithful until death), I believe the second (remaining faithful) is the more difficult. After all, the line between disbelief and belief is usually crossed only one time. Oh, it may require time and patience but once a person believes he rarely goes back to disbelief.
Faithfulness, on the other hand, is mostly about delayed gratification - the reward comes at the end. You need to finish your life faithfully in order to receive what the Bible calls the "crown of life". Another reason why I think faithfulness is difficult is that it has so many enemies lying in wait to destroy it. Jesus mentions a few of these in the parable of the seed planting.
18"Hear then the parable of the sower. 19When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is the one on whom seed was sown beside the road. 20The one on whom seed was sown on the rocky places, this is the man who hears the word and immediately receives it with joy; 21yet he has no firm root in himself, but is only temporary, and when affliction or persecution arises because of the word, immediately he falls away. 22And the one on whom seed was sown among the thorns, this is the man who hears the word, and the worry of the world and the deceitfulness of wealth choke the word, and it becomes unfruitful. 23And the one on whom seed was sown on the good soil, this is the man who hears the word and understands it; who indeed bears fruit and brings forth, some a hundredfold, some sixty, and some thirty."
- Matthew 13:18-23
A. Persecution for believing God's Word - vs. 21. For example: the pressure from non-believers to stop being faithful/stop holding to our principles/lower or compromise our Christian values, etc.
B. Cares of this world - vs. 22. For example: all those things that are not necessarily evil but get in the way of us being faithful to Christ and His church. Sickness; bad weather; conflict with people; stress; failure; work; moving; STUFF. Before you know it you're drowning in the business of family and life and have no time for the Lord!
C. Jesus also mentions the allure of wealth - vs. 22. For example: the desire to be rich; to be first; to succeed; to be valued; to find our place in the world. The deceit is that this desire and the effort that goes into it takes our focus away from Christ and His will for us. The desire for wealth and success dulls our spirit and interferes with our commitment to finishing - why? We put aside spiritual things "for awhile" in order to pursue wealth and either lose our way or never come back to Christ. Now in addition to these enemies that Jesus points out in His parable there are numerous other obstacles that make remaining faithful to the end difficult.
Let me just name a few more:
1. Our personal sins. Aside from persecution and the cares and pleasures of the world there is the matter of our own sinfulness that discourages us from finishing. Seeing our weaknesses, failing to do or be what we want to be in Christ often kills our desire to continue on in the faith.
2. Unbelievers drawing us away. How many people have ignored Paul's warning in II Corinthians 6:14-16 not to be "yoked" or partnered with unbelievers, and lived to regret it? Unbelievers influencing, discouraging believers to let go their faith in order to maintain a friendship, or some kind of business or family relationship. Those not committed to Christ will never be a help to us in remaining faithful.
I'm not saying we shouldn't have relationships with non-Christians, that would be impossible - I'm just reminding you that those who refuse to believe and honor Christ will always be a challenge to our own faithfulness so we have to be aware of this. I could go on with the list of reasons why remaining faithful until the end in my opinion, is the most difficult command of the Lord to follow. You know, the commentators talking about the hockey playoffs are always listing what it takes for the Canadiens to reach the finals and win the Stanley Cup Championships...they say:
- It takes a team that stays healthy
- It takes solid goal tending
- It takes an offense that can score
Well, in the same way, I'd like to share with you what I think "it takes" for Christians to remain faithful to the end and get to heaven.
What it takes to get to heaven
1. A firm decision
The first step in any successful enterprise is always the decision to go ahead and not quit until the end. We need to make up our minds about Christ once and for all - we're in or we're out - even if we don't know what the future holds.
Peter the Apostle is a good example of this. In John 6: we see a situation where things were going badly as many disciples were deserting Jesus because it seemed that following Him was becoming too difficult. Jesus turns to His Apostles and says, "Are you also going to leave?"
And in vs. 68 Peter replies, "Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God."
Jesus said to His closest disciples - "Make up your minds! Decide! Are you in? And Peter confirms his original decision to follow Jesus and gives the reasons why. He's all the way in. You can't be faithful until the end if you are continually questioning or renegotiating your decision to follow Christ. Think of the ideal spouse:
- Totally faithful without a doubt
- Completely devoted to your family
- There for you through good or bad times, no matter what.
Do you like this idea of a spouse? Well, decide that this is the kind of disciple you'll be to Jesus. It wouldn't hurt if you decide that this is the kind of spouse you'll be as well. Being faithful to the end requires a firm decision once and for all that Jesus Christ is my Lord and I will be faithful to Him no matter what.
2. A reality check
Ok, so you've made this firm decision. You see, just because you make the decision doesn't automatically get you to the end faithfully. You need to realize that once you've made the decision - the "gloves come off" as far as the battle for your soul is concerned. Once you decide that you will be faithful, everything to lead you away from that decision will come into your life. Here are some fairly common things that I've seen in the last 30 years of ministry:
- Your old "life", whether it be your old sins, habits, activities, friends, etc. will reappear to draw you away from Christ.
- Someone or something will come between you and the church.
- The church is Christ's body and one of its functions is to help each member remain faithful to the Lord.
- The best way to draw someone away from Christ, therefore, is to find a way to separate him/her from the church.
- People who are separated from the body (for whatever reason) are usually separated from the head of the body (Jesus) without much effort and in little time.
- Doubt because of personal failure.
- Those who have decided to follow Christ take failure pretty hard.
- Moral failure
- Financial trouble
- Conflict at home or with other Christians etc.
iMany believers mistakenly equate failure with loss of faith or doubt. For example if I really believe I wouldn't fail; or fail so badly or so often. The mistaken idea is that if God is good and my faith is true and the church is right - then all of these things wouldn't happen.
Why should I continue? What's the point?
You know, I've preached these types of sermons before - telling people in advance what to watch out for and they say, "Amen" and "Thank you" brother Mike for helping me stand firm - but many of them still fall away. For example I have a picture of the original congregation of this church in my office dated 1985. 50% have given up following Christ! Most have gone back to the world.
There are some here today who won't be here in one year let alone at the end of their lives - all because they didn't face reality. Being faithful means facing opposition from every direction, that's why Jesus said:
Your enemies will be right in your own households.
- Matthew 10:36
Jesus didn't mean that you had to be at war with your family in order to be a Christian. He was simply warning those who had decided to follow Him that in the battle for your faithfulness - even your own family could become an obstacle - that's how rough it can get. So if you want to be faithful to the end it requires that you be aware of how nasty the fight will be and the price you may have to pay to get there.
Finally, aside from a firm decision and a serious reality check, in order to be faithful until the end - it takes:
3. Trust in the Lord
Jesus has not asked us to do what is impossible. The Hebrew writer says that Jesus is "...the champion who initiates and perfects our faith." in Hebrews 12:2.
In other words, He's there at the beginning:
- Helping us to believe unto salvation
- Washing us clean of sin in baptism
- Blessing us with the Holy Spirit
And, He's also there guiding and sustaining us each day in our walk of faith until the end - as He's promised.
- I am with you always... - Matthew 28:20
- I will never fail you, I will never abandon you - Hebrews 13:5
It's not that He's just at the finish line waiting for us to arrive. He's with us every step of the way, through every obstacle, discouragement, and temptation. When I win - I trust that He will receive my praise and thanksgiving. When I lose - I trust in His continued grace and mercy - and I move on. When I'm tempted, doubtful, discouraged or confused - I trust that He can and will enable me to continue believing in Him and show me the way that I must go.
I trust Him enough to look forward to the promise of heaven and not backwards to my many failures, as Paul says:
13...forgetting what lies behind and reaching forward to what lies ahead, 14I press on toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus.
- Philippians 3:13-14
I trust Him enough to know that what He has promised, He will indeed give me in the end - so I run the race with confidence. You can't be faithful to the end without trusting in Jesus because that's what the journey is about - trust. We enter - into the eternal heavenly realm by the power of the Son of God and are carried there by the wings of trust which we develop though a lifetime of faithfulness to Him.
There's an old saying that goes, "Everybody wants to go to heaven but nobody wants to die." That saying may be true for doubters and unbelievers because they don't know what to expect after death. They'd like to go to a heavenly place but they're not sure it exists so they'd rather stay here on earth as long as they can, just in case.
For Christians this saying should be changed to: "Everybody wants to go to heaven but only a few:
- Make the decision once and for all to go there.
- ...and only a few... are ready for the opposition that they will encounter along the way.
- ...and only a few are willing to completely trust Jesus to get them there safely.
When Jesus said,
the gateway to life is very narrow and the road is difficult, and only a few ever find it.
- Matthew 7:14
He wasn't saying that God wanted the way to be narrow and difficult with only a few on it. He just knew that not everybody (certainly not the majority) would be willing to give what it would take to find the road and then follow it all the way home. I know that everyone here wants to go to heaven, I hope that after this morning you'll also know what it will take to get you there.
God bless you as you press on.