Hal and Wanda ask this provocative question:
I guess this is more a philosophical question than a theological one. Why do you think individuals want to make it so difficult to be saved? You would think they would be eager to embrace faith alone as the saving message. I guess the spirit of the Pharisees is alive and well and in charge of many churches!
I was one of the modern-day Pharisees when I was confronted with the promise of life during the summer before my senior year in college. I was a member of a religious boys’ club that taught extreme Lordship Salvation. My best friend from the club had come to faith in Christ for everlasting life via the ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. He challenged me to come to a Crusade meeting.
I was afraid to go, since I was fairly sure they would try to deceive me. But I also knew that this was my best friend, and I ought to at least pray about it. I prayed and I went.
I can tell you it was fairly hard for me to believe the faith-alone message.
After that meeting, I made an appointment to meet with Warren, a CCC staff member. That step was hard too. It was another barrier. But I lacked assurance and wanted it. Warren opened his Bible and showed me Eph 2:8-9. It seemed too easy: saved by grace and apart from works.
It took five separate meetings with Warren before I was convinced. He must have quoted Eph 2:8-9 fifty times in those five meetings. Finally, I believed the promise of life. I knew I was saved once and for all.
So, my personal answer is one word: TRADITION. The tradition I had been in for 14 years was antithetical to the faith-alone message. Warren essentially deprogrammed me! All unbelievers need deprogramming!
Think of all the traditions that reject the faith-alone message. I got an email today from a friend named William in which he listed 19 different denominations or groups that reject the faith-alone position. He included Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Church of Christ, Pentecostals, Charismatics, the cults, and other denominations too.
Tradition often hinders faith in Christ for everlasting life. Not just Roman Catholicism. Most Christian traditions warn their adherents to avoid the supposedly heretical message of easy believism or cheap grace.
Let’s envision a different Christian world. Imagine that 100% of the people within Christendom believed in Jesus for everlasting life that can never be lost. Then we’d be asking why the Buddhists, Hindus, Muslims, and Orthodox Jews reject the promise of life. But the reality is that most people within Christianity not only do not believe the faith-alone message, they feel it is their duty to war against it.
What about people who come from atheist or agnostic homes and believe what they were taught? Well, they do not believe in God, the Bible, life after death, the Trinity, or everlasting life. They obviously do not believe the promise of life.1 Their tradition makes them especially hostile to the promise of life. Their whole worldview is opposed to not only the promise of life, but also the entire Christian faith.
However, I get Hal and Wanda’s point. Why would anyone in his right mind reject out of hand that one will spend eternity with the Lord in His kingdom if he simply believes in Jesus? Shouldn’t people at least be attracted to that message? Yes. They should. But tradition is a powerful thing. People learn to view the Bible and the condition for everlasting life in a certain way. And that way makes sense to them. It seems fair to them that bad people go to hell and good people go to the kingdom. The faith-alone message means that bad people can go to heaven when they die. Thank God it does, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23).
1 A decade or more ago a Christian leader named Fred, from another parachurch ministry, asked me, “If an atheist believed in Jesus for everlasting life, would he be born again?” My answer was, “Well, no atheist believes in God or in life after death. So, no atheist believes in Jesus for everlasting life.” He kept pressing me: “But what if an atheist did believe in Jesus for everlasting life?” I finally said something like, “If an atheist somehow did believe in Jesus for everlasting life—thereby ceasing to believe the fundamentals of atheism—yes, he would be born again.” A few months later I read that he reported that I said that atheists can be saved (presumably without first becoming theists or believing in life after death). I was more than a bit disappointed that Fred misrepresented what I had said.