There is certainly nothing wrong with thinking carefully about our beliefs and the sincerity of them. In fact I would advocate that we do so. We want to know what is real and what is true. If my faith is built on anything besides what is real and true, I want to know about it!
I empathize with this question because for many years I constantly struggled with this question. So to answer it I’ll first share my own faith journey and tie it in at the end.
I grew up in a faith tradition that pretty much scared me into heaven. All I knew was that hell was a place I did not want to go. I heard more about judgement and how awful hell will be for unbelievers and much less about the abundant life (John 10:10) found in Jesus Christ. I was told, “If you want to go to heaven when you die, you need to pray this prayer…” So I was lead through the so-called “sinner’s prayer” and hoped that I had said it just right in order to unlock the gates of heaven when I arrived.
The truth though was that I was paranoid that I didn’t say it just right… what if I wasn’t sincere enough? How can I be certain that I am saved? So I literally prayed the sinner’s prayer on a regular basis because I wanted to make sure that God and I were on good terms!
If I were to put my shaky theology at that time into a paragraph, it was this: If I say that I believe that Jesus died for my sins and rose again and affirm the basic Doctrines of the Christian faith, Jesus will let me into heaven when I die. Sin is just a fact of life, so why even try obeying Jesus with the rest of my life? Beyond getting into heaven, I really don’t have any interest in trying to do what Jesus said we should do…
Then I came across this parable from Jesus:
“Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I say? As for everyone who comes to me and hears my words and puts them into practice, I will show you what they are like. They are like a man building a house, who dug down deep and laid the foundation on rock. When a flood came, the torrent struck that house but could not shake it, because it was well built. But the one who hears my words and does not put them into practice is like a man who built a house on the ground without a foundation. The moment the torrent struck that house, it collapsed and its destruction was complete.” -Luke 6:46-49
I realized I was actually the foolish builder! I called him “Lord,” but I wasn’t interested in learning (let alone trying) to do what he said. As I read through the gospels I began to realize a clear theme: You can not be a Christian without being a disciple (i.e., apprentice). They are synonymous. Said another way, simply believing in Jesus or agreeing with basic doctrines does not necessarily mean you’ve decided to follow Jesus… James 2:19 tells us, “You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that–and shudder.”
Even the demons “believe in Jesus”…
So with that scary thought, I began a journey into seeking what does it really mean to have faith? This is what I discovered: Following Jesus means that we repent of our sin (Acts 3:19) and surrender our lives to Christ in order to become his lifelong apprentice learning from him (the Master of Life) how to live our lives here and now in the Kingdom of God and in the life to come (heaven). As his apprentices we actively seek to put his will into action in our own lives and in the world around us.
Dallas Willard asks this question in The Divine Conspiracy, “[How] is it possible that one can rely on Christ for the next life (going to heaven) without doing so for this one?”
This new understanding of the gospel caused me to reevaluate my faith and the question changed from “How can I be sure I’ll go to heaven when I die?” to “Do I actually walk in an interactive relationship with Jesus that constitutes a new kind of life?
So why do I share all of this? First to let you know that I’ve personally struggled with this same question. Second because I firmly believe that if your understanding of salvation is that crossing the line of faith is more than just a prayer that you pray to get into heaven – you are most certainly a friend of God. Jesus told his disciples in John 15:15 that although he was their Master he didn’t consider them his servants… he called them his friends, and no friend of God will be in hell.
I recommend asking these 2 questions as you think carefully about your faith:
- “Have I decided to follow Jesus and make him the leader of my life?”
- “Would Jesus consider me his friend?”
If the answer to those questions is yes – then you have nothing to worry about in terms of Salvation! You will most certainly be with him when you die; what else would God do with such a person? A person he calls friend.
This is an important topic and I would imagine some of the things discussed above may create new questions. If you have any questions or thoughts, please comment below or write me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I will get back to you promptly.