Do atheists go to heaven?
For most atheists, the obvious answer is, “No.”
Ironically, atheists agree with traditional Christians on this point. It’s just that atheists don’t think anyone else goes to heaven, either. And traditional Christians think that atheists go to hell—an idea that atheists reject.
Then again, Christians and atheists can’t even agree on how to define “atheism.”
- Christians tend to define atheism as a belief that there is no God.
- Atheists tend to define atheism as a lack of belief in gods.
What strikes me about both of these definitions is that they’re all about belief or lack thereof. And these days belief is seen as something we do with our head, meaning with our intellect.
But Psalm 14 and its variation in Psalm 53 start out:
Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
Not “in their heads,” but “in their hearts.” Saying in your head that there is no God, as your average present-day atheist does, is very different from saying in your heart that there is no God.
So before we get to whether atheists go to heaven, let’s look more closely at what the Bible means when it talks about believing or not believing in God.
Does the Bible contradict itself about who goes to heaven?
The problem with traditional Christian ideas about believing in Jesus, and believing in God, is that they cause the Bible to contradict itself about who goes to heaven.
Christians often point to John 3:18 to support their view that anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus Christ goes to hell. Here it is:
Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God.
According to traditional Christian doctrine, God condemns anyone who doesn’t believe in Jesus. But if you read on, the Bible makes it clear that it is not God who condemns, but nonbelievers who condemn themselves by their actions:
And this is the judgment, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. For all who do evil hate the light and do not come to the light, so that their deeds may not be exposed. (John 3:19–20)
John 3:18 is not talking about those who merely don’t believe in Jesus with their heads. It’s talking about “people who love darkness rather than light because their deeds are evil.”
Those myriad Christian preachers who say that even though nonbelievers do good deeds, they will still go to hell because they don’t believe in Jesus are causing the Gospel of John to contradict itself.
They are also causing John 3:18 to contradict what Jesus says in Matthew 25:31–46 about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell:
- Those who feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite in strangers, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, and visit those in prison will go to eternal life.
- Those who do not feed the hungry, give the thirsty something to drink, invite in strangers, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, and visit those in prison will go to eternal punishment.
This is precisely what traditional Christians deny—especially the evangelicals and fundamentalists in the Protestant wing of Christianity. They say that if you believe in Jesus you go to heaven, and if you don’t believe in Jesus you go to hell. They say that although you should do good deeds, this has nothing to do with your salvation. In other words, they reject Christ’s own teaching about who goes to heaven and who goes to hell.
What does the Bible mean by “belief”?
That’s because they don’t understand what the Bible means by “belief.”
The Biblical concept of belief is very different from our present-day concept of belief.
In this age of science, reason, and intellect, we think of belief as a mental or intellectual acceptance of some idea—as thinking in our head that something is true.
But in the Bible, belief is something we do with our whole self, including our heart and our hands. From a Biblical perspective, believing without living by that belief is not belief at all. Here’s how the Apostle James put it:
What good is it, my brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but do not have works? Can faith save you? . . . But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I by my works will show you my faith. You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder. (James 2:14, 18–19, emphasis added)
For James, what we do shows what our faith is.
When the Bible talks about faith and belief, it is not talking about something we do with our head. It is talking about the beliefs and principles that we live by.
What does it mean to believe in God?
What, then, does it mean to believe in God?
The Bible says that those who believe in Jesus are not condemned, but those who don’t believe are condemned already.
It also says that those who love their neighbor by doing good deeds for them will go to eternal life, while those who do not will go to eternal punishment.
Is the Bible contradicting itself?
No, it is not.
Instead, it is saying that believing in Jesus, and believing in God, means loving our neighbor and doing good things for our neighbor. That’s why Jesus says:
Not everyone who says to me, “Lord, Lord,” will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven. (Matthew 7:20)
To put it in more abstract terms, when we believe in and live by what is good and true, we are believing in God, whether or not we call it God. And when we believe in and live by the things Jesus taught, we are believing in Jesus whether or not we say we believe in Jesus.
For more on belief from the Bible’s perspective, see the article, “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”
When is an atheist not an atheist?
With that under our belt, let’s look again at the question of whether atheists go to heaven.
The question is, atheists by whose definition?
Today, atheists roundly reject the old definition of atheism as “godless, wicked, and sinful.” And yet, that is precisely what the Bible means when it talks about people who do not believe in God.
In Psalms 14 and 53, after saying “Fools say in their hearts, ‘There is no God,’” it goes on to say:
They are corrupt, they do abominable deeds; there is no one who does good.
These Psalms, and the Bible as a whole, are not talking about people who do not intellectually accept the concept of God. No, the Bible is talking about people who reject everything good and true that God stands for by living corrupt, evil, and destructive lives.
Does that really describe your average philosophical atheist in the world today?
Of course, there are some atheists who are terrible, evil, and destructive people. But there are also some religious folks who are terrible, evil, and destructive people. Both of these groups—the religious evildoers and the non-religious evildoers—are atheists as the Bible defines atheism. They both reject in their lives the good and true things that come from God.
But atheists who care about their fellow human beings and the good of humanity, and who honestly believe that a lack of belief in God leads to a better, more enlightened, and more just world, are not even atheists by the Biblical definition. That’s because even though they do not say “Lord, Lord,” they actually do the will of our Father in heaven by working to make the world a better place for everyone in it.
In short, to fully accept the Bible’s teachings about who goes to heaven, and specifically about whether atheists go to heaven, we must broaden our definition of God, and of belief in God.
Traditional definitions of “belief” require a person to believe in a specific being (or beings) that we call God.
But in a broader definition suggested by the Bible passages quoted above, and many others, believing in God means believing in a higher good than merely benefit for oneself, and believing that there is a truth we are meant to seek beyond our own particular knowledge and the ideas we gravitate toward because we think of them as benefiting ourselves in some way. In Christian terms, we must include in our definition believing by our actions in the Holy Spirit—which is God’s love, wisdom, and power flowing out into the whole universe, and into human society.
Conscientious atheists commonly strive for a higher truth and a greater good than themselves and their own benefit. And whenever they do so, they are believing in what comes from God even if they do not accept the concept of God. And as long as they believe in some higher good and some higher truth, and live by it, they find their place in heaven, not in hell, when their life on this earth is over. In this way, they are held to exactly the same standard as those who believe in God.
Why are atheists atheists?
Traditional Christians—especially fundamentalist and evangelical ones—can be very harsh in their condemnation of atheists and their insistence that atheists will go to hell.
And yet, their own faulty, non-Biblical doctrines have a lot to do with the growth of atheism in recent centuries. (For some examples of those non-Biblical doctrines, see “‘Christian Beliefs’ that the Bible Doesn’t Teach.”)
It is no accident that some of the most diehard atheists grew up in conservative Christian families and communities. They had harsh, irrational, unloving doctrines shoved down their throats—doctrines about God condemning to hell billions of good, honest, loving, conscientious people just because they didn’t believe in Jesus.
I’ll put it bluntly. These teachings about God are false. And when atheists reject these terrible, false beliefs about God, they are not rejecting God as God really is. They are rejecting false gods. Unfortunately, the false gods they were raised on so tainted the very idea of God in their mind that many will never be able to believe intellectually in God as long as they live.
And yet, the very fact that they have rejected a harsh, angry, arbitrary, unloving, and unjust God means that they value the qualities opposite to those falsely attributed to God. They value kindness, good will, reasonableness, justice, and yes, even love.
Do atheists go to heaven?
Will people who believe in these things, and live by them, really go to hell? Will people who live by the good qualities that God really is not find themselves in heaven?
Heaven is the eternal home of those who love what is good and true simply because it is good and true. And that is a very good description of many sincere atheists who only want the world to be a better, more rational, and more just place for everyone.
As Jesus says in Matthew 25:31–46, when we figuratively stand before the throne of God after we die, God will not ask us what we believed. Instead, God will ask us what we did. And all those who loved and served God’s brothers and sisters here on earth are loving and serving God, no matter what their intellect thought or their lips said about God.
Do atheists go to heaven?
If they love their neighbor as themselves, the answer is yes.
In doing so, they are loving God and showing by their actions their belief in the true character and reality of God.
For further reading:
- Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
- Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?
- “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
- Faith Alone Is Not Faith
- Can We Really Believe the Bible?
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What About that Holy Spirit?
- Can Gang Members Go to Heaven? (Is Life Fair?)
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
Excellent expansion and interpretation on this controversial topic, Lee!
I hope it gives others the same benefit as it does me.
Thanks for your thoughts and your kudos. I’m glad the article is helpful to you!
This article as usual is an enlightening read. Thank you sir. As much as I absolutely understand & even see it the way you put it,i cannot help but point out the story of Cornelius in Acts 10 which has been shoved in my face so much by people who believe that only those who believe in Jesus Christ get saved. Truth is that point cannot be outrightly written off seeing as Cornelius was one who was recorded to be righteous,yet the angel of the Lord insisted that he sends for Peter who shall tell him what he ought to do. Please,i would very much like to hear your thoughts on that. Thanks
Thanks for your comment and question.
The story of Cornelius in Acts 10 is the story of a non-Jewish, non-Christian man who accepted Christian baptism along with his household. There is nothing in the story saying that non-Christians can’t be saved. Rather, it is the story of a good and godly man accepting Christianity.
Thank you so much lee I am an atheist but every now and then I find myself asking if there’s a God then I realized the question above so now I have more to be greatful about in life and more to be wishful for after.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. You’re very welcome! I’m glad the article has given you some extra peace of mind.
Fascinating article! I recently wrote a blog post addressing John’s views on eternal life vs. the synoptics’ view:
https://religioustexts.wordpress.com/2015/02/02/john_vs_synoptic_gospels/ (under “Eternal life”)
I agree that the synoptics don’t portray belief in Jesus as necessary for eternal life, as evidenced by Matthew 25 and other passages (although see Luke 10:13-15). However, John closely associates the two. Your idea that belief in God means loving your neighbor, feeding the hungry, etc. is interesting, but what’s your opinion of John 20:30? It reads:
“Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.”
20:30 is the first ending of John, where John tells us why he wrote his gospel–to convince us that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. By believing–and here, belief seems to mean intellectual acceptance of an idea–we may have life in his name. Do you agree with this interpretation?
By the way, I’m an atheist, and the last thing I want is to actually convince people that I deserve to be tortured for eternity in hell. It’s extremely disturbing when people think I deserve something much worse than the Holocaust for not sharing their beliefs. But I was very curious about your opinion, having just finished reading all the gospels.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your thoughtful comment. I enjoyed reading the linked article. I do have a few quibbles with some of the statements in it, but no need to get into that here.
I take it as a general principle that although the Bible may, and even does, contradict itself here and there in its plain, or literal, meaning, a deeper and more spiritual understanding of its message reconciles those contradictions and shows them to be two different perspectives on the same deeper reality.
In the case of John vs. the Synoptics, you make an excellent point in your article that the Synoptics emphasize a life according to God’s commandments, while John emphasizes belief in Jesus. However, instead of seeing that as a contradiction, I see it as two different perspectives on the same underlying reality.
The bridge between the two is what I said in this article about the Biblical meaning of “belief” and “faith.” It wasn’t until 1,500 years after Christ that Martin Luther came up with the idea of salvation by faith alone. Present-day Western Christians–especially Protestant Christians–seem especially adept at separating belief from life and from motives. This, I think, is rather bewildering to people of other cultures, who seem to assume that if you believe something you also live by it. And I think it would have been entirely bewildering to the people and cultures that existed in Biblical times.
When John talks about belief in Jesus, such as in John 20:30, he’s not talking about some intellectual or conceptual acceptance of the idea that Jesus saves us from our sins. Rather, he’s talking about a life-transforming change of mind and direction in life that pulls us out of evil and destructive (“sinful,” in Bible language) ways of living, and transforms us into people who live from love for God and love for the neighbor.
If we think of “belief” and “faith” in this way, then John and the Synoptics are giving the same message, only from a different perspective. John emphasizes our relationship with Jesus Christ, whereas the Synoptics emphasize the change brought about in our lives by that relationship.
I would also point out that John 20:30 is not exclusive. It says that we can have life (meaning spiritual life) by believing in his name. That particular passage doesn’t say anything about others having no spiritual life. However, for more on this whole topic please see the article:
Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
I just wanted to say thank you for writing this article. I am a Seventh Day Adventist, and this answered a lot of questions and I think it will aid me in becoming closer to Christ. I really like how this was put simply. Thank you,again and God bless.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your good words. You are very welcome! I’m glad the article was helpful to you.
As far as going to heaven and all that, I just accept myself the way I am now. I will never love my neighbor, he/she is likely deserving of scorn at best (just like me!). Its liberating to drop the facade of goodness and just let one’s hate run free. I do believe in God (to get back to the topic), but I don’t love him.
It is good to honestly assess and recognize where we are now spiritually. Many people deceive themselves all their lives about their own goodness and rightness, and therefore never take even the first step toward real, spiritual goodness. It’s better to recognize that we are not good when that is, in fact, the reality of the situation.
And yet, that is only a first step. If we stop there, we have frozen our own growth in its tracks. Now that we see clearly where we are, the question is, where do we want to be? Then the real work of spiritual growth begins. It won’t be easy. But it will lead to better things.
If we recognize that we are stuck in a high-walled subterranean cavern with no obvious way out, that recognition is a good thing. Now we’re no longer hallucinating some pleasant and sunny existence when in fact we are trapped in the darkness deep underground. But if we stop there, we’ll always be a prisoner. The next step is to make a decision to get out of the cave. Acting on this decision will be much more work than resigning ourselves to living and dying in the darkness. But we can, through sustained effort and ingenuity, climb out of the cave if we are determined to free ourselves from it.
Then our real life begins.
“It is no accident that some of the most diehard atheists grew up in conservative Christian families and communities. They had harsh, irrational, unloving doctrines shoved down their throats—doctrines about God condemning to hell billions of good, honest, loving, conscientious people just because they didn’t believe in Jesus.
I’ll put it bluntly. These teachings about God are false. And when atheists reject these terrible, false beliefs about God, they are not rejecting God as God really is. They are rejecting false gods. Unfortunately, the false gods they were raised on so tainted the very idea of God in their mind that many will never be able to believe intellectually in God as long as they live.
And yet, the very fact that they have rejected a harsh, angry, arbitrary, unloving, and unjust God means that they value the qualities opposite to those falsely attributed to God. They value kindness, good will, reasonableness, justice, and yes, even love.”
Correct. It is no accident! Any person who cares at all about people does not want the 99% who don’t believe certain doctrines to burn forever. I am in agreement with you that those teachings are false.
As far as all the good things you mention: “kindness, good will, reasonableness, justice, and yes, even love”, I would say that none of them require a magic man in the sky(which is pretty much the concept the atheists I know have rejected). If there is another concept of God that is different, I would like to hear it. Why has there not been a promotion of something better than what christianity has traditionally offered?
Thanks for your comment.
Where do I start? This whole website is all about “a promotion of something better than what Christianity has traditionally offered.” The reason I have largely struck out on my own in this endeavor, with the full support of my wife, is that I do not think the church that I grew up in is doing enough to promote this better view of Christianity, and I no longer think that traditional church forms and formats work in today’s society.
There are many articles here that offer a better view. The one I just published today is sort of a “lite” version:
God is Love . . . And That Makes All the Difference in the World
Here is one with a little more substance:
Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
And of course, there’s the post that is far and away the most popular on my blog:
If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
I could keep on giving more links to articles here promoting a better view of Christianity, but these are enough for now. If you’re interested, feel free to look around some more. And if you have any questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Alright. Thanks for the links. I very much want to see something out there that is better than the christianity I grew up in. I may never be a part of if myself but it will still be a benefit to others who are looking for something to help them heal from bad church experiences similar to what I had.
You’re welcome. Though the denomination I grew up in is very small, its churches do often provide a home for “church-wounded” people who want a more loving and reasonable church than the one they grew up in. Annette and I plan to reach out to many more people who want to be Christian and spiritual but cannot accept the harsh and often irrational doctrines and attitudes of traditional Christianity.
Hey Lee, I just wanted ask you about the “harsh and often irrational doctrines”, are you referring to the Bible as a whole, or certain denominations, such as Catholicism?
I am referring to what many of the traditional Christian churches have done to the Bible, and the ways they have departed from the Bible—especially the spirit of the Bible—in their beliefs and teachings.
In particular, the idea that only Christians can be saved, which is common in traditional Christianity, is a direct contradiction of many teachings in the Bible. And it is a smear on God’s name to say that God will condemn to eternal torture hell the bulk of the world’s population just because they were born into the “wrong” religion.
For more specifics, please see this article, and the articles linked from it: “Christian Beliefs” that the Bible Doesn’t Teach
I have attended an evangelical church for the last 12 years or so. I like your comments above what it means to “believe in Jesus.” This is something I have worked through recently as well. I can see where your perception of our theology is basically, “Say the sinner’s prayer and then do whatever you want.” We do not believe (at least I don’t) anyone is saved purely by intellectual assent, but as you said, by a change in the core of their being. Our works do not MERIT our salvation, but they are the evidence of a changed heart that comes from salvation.
My question is, what do Swedenborgians make of the various passages where Jesus declares to someone “Your sins are forgiven.”? His statement implies that prior to that point, the person’s sins were not forgiven (Note, also, that he did not say this to everyone present). To me this means that the the forgiveness of sins happens in an instant. From what I know of your theology, you seem to reject the idea of us being under God’s judgement for sin, so where does this “instant forgiveness” fit into your theology?
About your first paragraph:
I do understand that the theology of Protestant churches is more complex than, “Say the sinner’s prayer and then do whatever you want.” However, the doctrine of salvation by faith alone as formulated in the various Protestant churches contradicts itself.
And as a practical matter, most “faith alone” Christians don’t even live by that doctrine. They actually live a life of faith together with good works, as James, the Gospels, and Paul himself taught. So despite their holding intellectually to the doctrine of salvation by faith alone–which does not save if actually practiced–they are saved because in reality they live a life of faith together with good works.
As for the good works being the fruits of faith, that may be so. But it is purely a semantic distinction, made for the sake of adherence to doctrine. If you have faith in Jesus and as a result of that faith live according to the commandments of Jesus, then in fact you are both having faith and doing good works as Jesus commanded. And by virtue of that faith expressed in works, you are saved.
Turn it around and ask yourself: If a person had faith, but lived an evil life–i.e., did not do good works–would that person be saved? No. Because if faith does not lead to good works, then it is not real faith.
Given that real faith cannot exist without good works, it’s splitting hairs to say that we’re saved by the faith and not by the good works. It may make some theologians feel superior in their superior intellectual acumen. But it makes not a particle of difference in reality. In real life, faith must lead to, and be accompanied by, good works or it does not save, nor is it even faith.
Further, although faith is the first visible sign of a changed person, it is not actually the first event in our salvation. God working in our heart is the first event of salvation. When our heart begins to respond to the presence of the Lord, then our mind follows by expressing faith in Jesus. We think of faith as being first, but in fact it is secondary to love, just as Paul says (1 Corinthians 13:13).
So even though the first thing we see is faith, the real order of salvation is:
love -> faith -> good works.
Only when this cycle is complete are we saved.
Thanks so much for all of your thoughtful responses to my questions. I think my thinking is mostly in agreement with you when it comes to works/faith. To say that we are saved by faith and not by works is like saying “Nobody is saved by wearing a red shirt but everyone who is saved wears a red shirt.” The part I can’t sort out in my head is what to make of our concept of sins being forgiven in an instant, which Jesus appears to do several times in the gospels. As you know, we evangelicals believe that our sins are forgiven the instant we “trust in Christ.” Granted, what “trusting in Christ” means is very ambiguous even for us, but is there some place for this thinking about forgiveness in your theology? Do we need to be forgiven by God? Does this take place in an instant or only at the end of our lives consisting of good works? I think you probably see what I’m getting at.
Thanks again! Have a great day!
Looks like we crossed messages. I think the comment below addresses your questions. If it doesn’t cover it, feel free to ask again!
Thanks for the detailed explanation. Just to make sure I understand, the New Church position is that God has already forgiven every human for every sin — it is just a matter of recognizing that you are not going to be punished for your sins — there is nothing that one has to do to have this forgiveness applied to you (e..g say the sinners’ prayer)?
Does the New Church believe that God ever actively punishes anyone? (By actively, I mean that he takes specific action to ensure that the person receives some kind of temporal punishment that he/she would not have received otherwise — more than just the natural consequences of sin). For example, let’s say Bob is good at robbing banks and he spends his whole life robbing them but never gets caught. If I understand your theology correctly, when Bob dies he will end up with other people like him, which in a way is punishment, but will God do anything else to him?
Almost, but not exactly.
Yes, God has already forgiven every human sin. Despite the outward appearance, and various statements in the Bible spoken to fallen humans, there is no condemnation in God. Only a desire to bring us out of hell (spiritually) and into heaven.
However, as I mentioned in my comment below, there is something we have to do to have that forgiveness applied to us. That is to repent of our sins. As long as we continue sinning, we reject God’s forgiveness, so it cannot become active in our lives.
At the same time, we must believe in God (or something that stands in for God, such as a goodness, truth, and love higher than ourselves). If we repent just for our own benefit, such as to get out of trouble and save our own skin, that is not real repentance. We must repent because we recognize that our wrong thoughts, desires, and actions are contrary to God’s will, and therefore wrong in themselves.
So it’s not just a matter of recognizing that we’re not going to be punished for our sins. It’s a matter of not sinning anymore. Or at least, making a commitment not to sin anymore. As humans, we’re going to slip up and sin from time to time. But as often as we do, we must repent and commit ourselves to not engaging in such sins in the future. We’ll never be perfect at it. But God sees our intent and our follow-through, and accepts us, imperfect as we are, if we are making a real effort to cease to do evil and learn to do well. And God then helps and strengthens us from within.
Does God ever actively punish us? Despite the appearance, no. God doesn’t need to, because as Psalm 34:21 says, “Evil shall slay the wicked.” Our sins bring their own punishment upon themselves, in the form of death, disaster, retribution, prison, and so on. This doesn’t work perfectly in the material world, but in the spiritual world it is an immutable law.
What actually happens is that when we commit evil in the spiritual world, we withdraw ourselves from God’s protection, and reject it. Then other evil spirits see our weakness and vulnerability, and swoop in to wreak vengeance on us–which they love to do. So the evil spirits punish one another.
It is not God’s will that anyone should be punished. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:32), and “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11). God shows us a stern face when we are engaged in evil. But like a good parent, behind that stern face is only love, and no desire to punish.
So no, God doesn’t punish us when we do evil. Rather, we punish one another. Evil brings its own punishment upon itself. God would love to protect us even from that, but cannot because when we are engaged in evil we reject both God and God’s protection. And God will not violate our free will and force God’s own will on us if we are firmly opposed to it.
Now about your question as expressed in your second paragraph:
From a Swedenborgian perspective (which I think is simply a genuine Christian perspective), our sins are always forgiven by God. God is pure forgiveness, and has forgiven us before we ever sinned.
The problem isn’t whether God forgives us. The problem is whether we accept God’s forgiveness. When Jesus said, “your sins are forgiven,” he was speaking to his listeners from their own human perspective, while still with divine meaning.
He said, “Your sins are forgiven.” That is a simple statement of fact. God had already forgiven them for their sins, so that they are forgiven.
However, it is also a statement of the real experience of the person receiving the forgiveness.
At the moment that the person accepted God’s forgiveness, as pronounced by Jesus, who is “God with us,” that forgiveness becomes effective in the person’s life. Now not only has God forgiven, but the person has accepted God’s forgiveness. So from the human perspective of the one forgiven, his or her sins are now forgiven, even though before they seemed not to be, and in practical terms weren’t forgiven because the person had rejected God’s forgiveness.
God will not force forgiveness on us. Even though God has forgiven, does forgive, and always will forgive every sin we humans ever have committed, are committing, or will commit, it is only when we accept God’s forgiveness that it becomes effective in our lives.
And for us to accept God’s forgiveness, we must repent from our evil lives. For more on this, see my article, Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness
You reference, “It is not God’s will that anyone should be punished. “I have no pleasure in the death of anyone, says the Lord God” (Ezekiel 18:32), and “As I live, says the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked” (Ezekiel 33:11).”
Does this refer to the death of the physical being as human form in this plane of existence, or the “death” of the spiritual being choosing hell over heaven in eternity?
If one has free will, even as spirit in eternity, and there is no “purgatory” wherein punishment is doled out by God, and if the chosen spiritual path is hell-bent rather than heaven-bound, wouldn’t God care most for the happiness of the spirit regardless of it’s end destination, and therefore find pleasure and solace in that?
About the first, in their original context the verses from Ezekiel were talking about physical death, which was the penalty for most severe offenses against God.
However, the Bible also has deeper meanings throughout. And you’ve put your finger on the deeper meaning of “death” in the Bible: the spiritual death of choosing hell over heaven.
In other words, it means either or both. But for us today, it means especially spiritual death.
About your second question, though the whole idea is repugnant to conservative Christians, one way to think of hell is that it is where God gives as much pleasure as possible to people who have chosen evil over good. There, at least they can engage in some of the evil and gross activities that give them pleasure, whereas in heaven they would not be able to engage in those activities at all–which would be torture to them.
Unfortunately, evil actions bring their own punishment and pain upon themselves. So although God does provide a place (hell) where evil people can have some pleasure, that pleasure is inevitably followed by pain.
Much of that pain comes from revenge taken against them by the other evil spirits whom their actions have harmed. A band of thieves in hell may pull off a successful heist, experience a rush of pleasure from it, and glory in their loot. But soon their victims will band together against them, steal back all their ill-gotten gain, and rough them up in the process. This is very painful and humiliating to them. And so they experience the pain that inevitably follows their pleasure. This is just one simple example of how things work in hell. There is as much variety as there are varieties of evil actions that the people (evil spirits) there love to engage in.
Another example: Swedenborg describes some hells as being like continual armed revolutions and coups as everyone seeks to rise up to absolute power over everyone else. Those who are in power now will later be reduced to abject slaves under the boot of those whom they had previously ground under their own boot.
So while God does provide a venue for some happiness, or more accurately, pleasure, for people who choose evil over good, there is only so much God can do when our pleasure is to give one another pain. (For more on hell, see, “Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?”)
This is in stark contrast to heaven. There, our joy and pleasure comes from doing good things for one another. That results in greater joy and happiness for everyone involved. When everyone’s joy is to give joy to others, instead of taking away from one another’s joy, everyone adds to one another’s joy and happiness, which continues to grow to eternity.
Perhaps bearing more directly on your final question, it is difficult to discern just how God feels about the lives of those in hell. After all, God’s mind and heart is infinite, while ours is finite.
The clear teaching is that God loves and seeks to bless everyone, including the worst devils in hell.
In other words, God loves and seeks to bless all people, even those who have made themselves enemies to him.
And I do believe that God does what is possible to give pleasure even to the devils in hell. However, I can’t help but think that God also looks upon them with sorrow, knowing that if they had made a different choice, they could have had far greater happiness and joy than they will ever have.
Yet God also fully respects our human sovereignty over our own lives. God will not negate the choices we make–including the choice to live evil lives eternally. Theoretically God would have the power to lift all the devils out of hell, and transport them into heaven. But doing so would destroy their very humanity, and destroy them as eternal beings in the process.
So my best guess is that God looks upon the evil spirits in hell with a mixture of love and sorrow. Love for them as created beings, and sorrow at the pain they inflict upon themselves and one another compared to the joy that they could have had if they had chosen good instead of evil. And yes, some solace in that at least they can experience some pleasure in life, even if it is a sick pleasure.
21“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?’ 23Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’ (Matthew 7:21-23).
Atheists are NOT going to go to heaven if they don’t change that atheism before the day the Lord comes to take the Christians to heaven.
They don’t acknowledge God, never mind has faith in the only one who we must be save through, Jesus.
Notice that in the passage you quote from Matthew 7:21-23 Jesus says that those who do the will of my Father who is in heaven will enter the kingdom of heaven, but evildoers will not. If it were only faith in Jesus that mattered, he would not have said that.
Please also read Matthew 25:31-46. There Jesus says who will go to eternal life, and who will go to eternal punishment. And he says nothing at all about faith in Jesus. Instead, he says those who love their neighbor by doing good for them will go to eternal life, but those who do not will go to eternal punishment.
Jesus said that the most important commandments in the Bible are to love the Lord above all, and love our neighbor as ourselves. That is what determines whether we go to heaven or to hell. Faith does not just mean belief. It means doing God’s will. And God’s will is that we love God and love our neighbor as ourselves.
If you claim that only those who believe in Jesus will go to heaven, you are very much mistaken because you are denying Jesus’ own clear teaching in the Gospels.
For the real meaning of Jesus being the only way to heaven, please see this article: Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
Very good points there. Not to be rude, but Donna kind of got destroyed there. But any ways, I’m glad you feel the same way I do about this topic, Lee.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
To be fair, my purpose is not to “destroy” Donna. I believe she is a good and sincere person who, unfortunately, has been deceived by false teachings invented by human beings such as Luther and Calvin. My purpose and hope is that she may see the Bible, and God, in a new light, and adopt a more thoughtful and loving approach to Christianity and to her fellow human beings.
Having said that, I’m glad you (Mark) enjoyed the article. There’s too much narrow-mindedness masquerading as “Christianity” out there. This website aims to be an antidote to that narrow (and false) form of “Christianity.”
You’re 100% correct. Also, I apologize for sounding extremely rude.
Thanks. All’s well that ends well. Unsolicited advice: If a sentence you’re thinking of saying starts with, “Not to be rude, but . . .” think carefully before saying it! 😛
Ha ha 🙂 That reminds me of a coworker I had on my first job. He started saying something to me with, “I’m trying to think how to say this tactfully…” Too late, buddy. Too late 🙂
Haha, I am guilty of doing that quite a few times.
Quick question, what about Relevation 21? “But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.” Thanks
Hi Ice Cube,
What is your question?
In that verse it says unbelievers go to hell, right? Or am I just reading it wrong?
Hi Ice Cube,
Did you read the article? It all hinges on your definition of “belief.” The idea that it is some intellectual affirmation of Jesus Christ as our Savior, as the Son of God, as dying for our sins, and so on, really has no Biblical basis at all. Belief is not about what we think in our head. It’s about the principles that we live by. If, after reading (or re-reading) the article, you still don’t get it, please feel free to ask again. Thanks.
Yes, sorry. I apologize.
Hi Ice Cube,
No need to apologize. I just wanted to make sure I was answering the right question.
Thanks for this. I lost a long time friend to cancer last year. He was an atheist but throughout our friendship I saw him constantly demonstrate kindness and concern for others. Indeed he knew his cancer was terminal but hoped that he could undergo some of the new types of treatment so that the results would provide information that could help others.
I am a follower of Christ but I found the attitude of some of my fellow Christians decidedly unbending when I discussed my friend’s likely prospects in eternity.
Your interpretation of the relevant Biblical verses certainly demonstrates the real love of God for all his children and not for a select few who would seem to practice Christianity one day in seven.
I have saved your article and do intend to discuss further both with friends and family.
In any case it certainly has renewed my faith and given me some peace.
So sorry to hear about your friend’s death. I think he is now learning some unexpected things about the afterlife—one of which is that it’s real, and another of which is that the religious beliefs he had rejected were wrong about it. 😉
I’m glad this article has been helpful to you. I do hope it will make an impact on your friends and family as well. Unfortunately, some people are very stuck on their beliefs, and with them it will fall on deaf ears. But maybe others will be a little more open.
At any rate, I assure you that your friend is not headed to hell!
Hello! Lovely article as usual, I thank you for taking the time to write it as it gave me some peace of mind. I come from a Catholic family, and am so incredibly grateful I am. Unfortunately though, my grandmother does not believe in a God. She is Unitarian and goes to her church often, but has openly stated she doesn’t believe in one, but focuses on mindfulness instead. This gives my mother much anxiety, and though we’ve tried to reach out to her it seems she won’t budge. Can you think of any way to gently nudge her in the right direction?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad the article gave you some peace and comfort, especially about your grandmother.
My suggestion is to let her follow her own beliefs, and don’t try to convince her of something she’s not open to. Presumably, since she’s your grandmother, she’s lived long enough to have had time to consider her own beliefs, and come to an understanding of life and the universe that makes sense to her and gives meaning to her life. If she’s active in a Unitarian church, she’s likely a thoughtful and caring person. And as I said in the article, I believe God will accept her into heaven on that basis. The best thing you can do for her is to give her your love and affection, without pressuring her to believe something that may not ring true for her. Trying to change her beliefs would only create tension and distance in your relationship with her.
Christ commands us to love our neighbor as ourselves. Giving her your love will speak far more eloquently about your faith that trying to convince her of your beliefs about God.
For another angle on the same idea, please see the article, If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
Thanks so much for writing this.
After years of searching my heart I realized that I could not honestly say that I believed in a god. Despite this, I do believe in and strive to practice love, forgiveness, justice, compassion, integrity and generosity. What you have written here gives me new hope in people of faith like you. Please keep it up – you’re doing good 🙂
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I’m glad this article was helpful to you!
I hope you’ll stick around and read some of the other articles here. Perhaps you’ll pick up a new concept of God that may make more sense to you than ideas of God that you’ve encountered in the past.
Regardless of that, though, as I said in the article, if you believe in and practice those god-like qualities, I believe you’ll be in heaven, not hell, when your time on this earth is over.
Hi! Wonderful article as usual. I was born into a Christian family and am so grateful I was, but I have relatives who were not as lucky. Is there any way to nudge them in the way of Christianity? Also, how would you respond if somebody said that God wasn’t real because there was no proof? Even Albert Einstein said it wasn’t plausible.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I would say that the best way to nudge people in the way of Christianity is to treat them with true Christian love, respect, and kindness. Proselytizing is just as likely to chase them away as attract them. But as Jesus said:
Many people are turned off from Christianity because they see Christians acting in harsh and hypocritical ways. If Christians were known for their love, kindness, and selfless service to others, that would be the greatest possible “advertisement” for Christianity.
About proof for the existence of God, please see my article, “Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?“
Not a question, but more a general comment. I’ve only come across this tonight, but I’ve been obsessing over it for the past hour and studying every claim you make. This is an extremely revolutionary view, and, it seems, a very researched one. I honestly am amazed and mindblown by this perspective and this whole analysis of what our language defines as ‘belief’ v.s what the Bible defines as belief. Thank you so much for putting this out there.
You’re very welcome. Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. I am glad this article is opening up your mind to new and deeper spiritual possibilities.
For more on “faith” as commonly defined in our language today and faith as understood in the Biblical languages, see the article: Faith Alone Is Not Faith. And of course, if you have any questions as you read, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Just googling around about sola fide and found your blog. I’m from Indonesia and raised protestant, but have much question about the solas, especially sola fide. Getting through the articles on your blog gives me invaluable perspective about the term of belief.
Thanks & keep up the good work, man.
Regards from Indonesia
Welcome! Thanks for your kind words. It’s always good to hear from far-flung readers. I’m glad the articles here are helping you gain perspective on the real meaning of faith and belief. Godspeed on your spiritual journey.
Lee, I absolutely loved this article. I tend to not call myself Atheist anymore due to the fact of how it makes me look in public. I call myself a non-theist with an open philosophy. Believing that humanity still needs a faith in a God in order for there to be good. Even though I may not believe in it myself. I support faith and religion. For years, growing up, I struggled to understand why my friends believed I was going to hell. I was disheartened by the fact that they believed that. It didn’t matter to me that I wasn’t going to heaven or hell because I didn’t believe in it. But what mattered to me is what my friends thought of me. This hurt the most. After all these years, I just now ran into this article helping me understand the subject better. I just wanted to contact you because this article has made me feel so much better. Knowing that there are people who believe in God that do not necessarily believe I will be eternally punished. This article is life changing for me. I always felt bad that people of the Christian faith would judge me harshly. This gives me hope that faith can be positive and not negative. Thank you so much for this. If I may ask what is your denomination? I know that this may not matter but I now find it interesting to study different religions/faiths.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. I’m glad this article means so much to you! I believe that if more Christians and other religious people thought the way I do as expressed in this article, there would be far less conflict in this world. Along the same lines, you might enjoy the article, “If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?”
In answer to your question, I am an ordained minister of the Swedenborgian Church of North America. I should add that this is one of the more liberal Swedenborgian denominations. Though all Swedenborgians believe that people of all religions can go to heaven, some of the more conservative ones might not agree with me about atheists going to heaven. But I believe that what I have written in this article is sound based on the Bible as understood in the theology with which I grew up. (I am a cradle Swedenborgian, from a family of Swedenborgian ministers.)
If you want to know more about Emanuel Swedenborg (1688-1772), who wrote the theology that our church looks to in understanding Christianity and the Bible, please see: “Who was Swedenborg? What Should I Read?” For more about the basics of what we believe, please see: “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach,” and the articles linked from it.
And of course, if you have any further questions, please don’t hesitate to ask.
Hi Lee, just wanted to let you know that I love reading your articles and I am a muslim. Thank you and God bless you.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind words. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!
John 14:6New International Version (NIV)
“Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”
The only way to heaven is by believing Jesus Christ is the son of God
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment.
However, you’ve mis-read the passage you quoted. It doesn’t say, “No one comes to the Father except through believing in me.” It says, “No one comes to the Father except through me.” For more on the difference, please see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”
You can’t go through Jesus if you don’t believe in him.
Romans 10:9 If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved
Once again, you are misreading the passage you are quoting. Romans 20:9 makes a positive statement about something that will happen if you profess your belief in Jesus Christ and believe in your heart in his resurrection. It says nothing about what will happen if you don’t do these things.
I’m not misreading the Bible verses. Good works alone will not get you into heaven. Salvation has everything to do with believing in the one true God, Jesus Christ. Only Jesus Christ can save you. That is the truth. God gives us a choice to make. People who do not believe in Jesus and confess him as Lord and Savior will go to hell. It may not be what you like or what you think is fair, but you didn’t create the world, God did. I pray for the eyes of the hearts of the unbelievers to be enlightened to the truth in Christ Jesus.
I understand that that’s your opinion. It’s the opinion of many traditional Christians—especially evangelical and fundamentalist Protestants. However, this is mere human tradition and formulation, not anything the Bible itself actually says.
While I agree that good works alone will not get you into heaven, the Bible doesn’t actually say that. Neither does it say that faith alone will get you to heaven. But it does say:
And while it is true that only Jesus Christ can save you, the Bible tells us how Jesus Christ how saves people who don’t believe in him (as “belief” is commonly understood today), such as Jews, “Greeks” (pagan polytheists), and Gentiles:
And Jesus says that he will judge all the nations (not just Christian nations) according to whether they have or haven’t done good deeds for their fellow human beings in need:
The plain fact of the matter is that Jesus never says that people who do not believe in him will go to hell. See: “Did Jesus ever actually say, ‘If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell’?”
I know that you are sincere in your beliefs. But your beliefs are based on human formulations and traditions, not on anything the Bible actually says. See also: “‘Christian’ Beliefs that the Bible Doesn’t Teach,” and the various articles linked from it.
And once again, please see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”
You are believing in and spreading falsities because you have been misled by human theologians and teachers who have based their doctrine on things that the Bible never says.
I think you are the first minister I’ve come across that I actually have time for. 🙏
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. That sounds like a compliment! 😛 Thank you. I’m glad you’re enjoying the site. Godspeed on your spiritual journey!
Thanks Lee. Great Discourse. I’ve learnt a lot! I do, however, have some questions: how is anyone able to do good if that person doesn’t acknowledge God? Isn’t such good from himself?
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment. Glad you enjoyed the article!
In response to your question, for those people who believe in God, it is certainly necessary to acknowledge God’s presence in their life, and that the good he or she does is ultimately from God and not from themselves. Otherwise we humans get all prideful and full of ourselves about our good deeds, and that corrupts both us and our good deeds.
However, as discussed in the article, for people who don’t believe in God what’s necessary is to believe in some truth and good higher than themselves and their own benefit. For example, many conscientious atheists believe in the value of benefiting humankind as a whole, and benefiting individual human beings as they encounter them. This, for them, functions as “God.” And in reality, such a belief is just a secularized version of Jesus’ commandment to love our neighbor as ourselves. Atheists who follow that sort of principle are acknowledging God’s commandments in action, even if they don’t intellectually believe in God.
Atheists who believe in and live by a principle of truth and goodness higher than themselves and their own benefit are not acting from themselves, nor thinking that what they do is from themselves. They think of it as something greater than themselves. And that is why they, too, can be a part of God’s kingdom. Their life is not merely wrapped up in their own wealth, power, and pleasure, but is devoted to benefiting their fellow human beings, as Jesus commanded.
Hi Lee~ Persedeplume here. [MyDoorIsAjar] I’m building a post rather than reblogging for better flexibility of comment. May I have your permission to reproduce portions of this article? I’ll be sure and attribute and link to the post.
Yes, as long as you link back to the original article, that would be fine.
Thanks Lee. The article should be up in the next day or so. It would have gone up today but for the distraction of the Aug 21st nonsense.
Hi Hi Persedeplume,
You mean the eclipse, or nonsense related to the eclipse?
Hi Lee! Thank you so much for posting this amazing article and answering many of my spiritual dilemmas that have been eating me up inside! You are truly an awesome and insightful person! One thing that could back up this post is that people of all religions have had near death experiences and ended up in heaven- including atheists! Thank you so much and god bless you!
Thanks for stopping by, and for your kind comment. I’m glad the article was helpful to you! And yes, as you say, atheists, too, have near-death experiences. God does not discriminate, even if we do.
Hello, Lee! I write you from Spain. My english is not perfect, so I may commit some mistakes in my writing. Sorry for that.
I have always considered myself an agnostic. I also love art, which, like Andrei Tarkovsky said, it’s one of the few paths that leads us to Trascendence. Recently, I experienced an existencial crisis in which I wanted to find an explanation to the mysteries of life. The amount of scientific information, the diversity of opinions about religion and the “unclear” teachings of some parts of the Bible make me feel really unconfortable. That saturation of information made me fall in a place in which I really don’t know what I can (or want to) believe.
I have been raised an agnostic. I wasn’t baptised because my parents wanted me to choose when I was old. Now, I have tried to find faith, but I just simply can’t accept christianity and the doctrines of the Catholic Church because I’m a rationalist and, mainly, of the theology of Heaven and Hell. I mean… it’s okay with Heaven, but I can’t just accept that hundreds, thousands, millions, billions of pepole are suffering in eternal torment because they were “not good”. For me that idea is disgusting and maked me feel profoundly sad. Not because I don’t believe in justice (it’s because I do believe in justice that I can’t accept eternal torment)… but because I cannot assume that a God that calls himself Love can permit something as terrible as eternal suffering. I mean… Has anyone really thought about the concept of eternity? Do they really understand it? I can accept that bad people (murderers, rapists, bad people who enjoys tomenting other people) who doesn’t deserve eternal life are threw into the lake of fire in that second death and vanished forever. Like a quick, eternal and irreversible death. I don’t think any person is black or white to make that choice… but at least is not immoral. But what is the purpose of suffering for eternity? Ain’t that immoral? Ain’t that the triumph of evil? I’ve red several arguments but none of them can convince me.
Thinking about Hell separates me from God. If we have the laws of love written in our hearts, my heart says that torturing a human being for eternity is immoral. I mean, I suffer when my mother cries, or my girlfriend feels sad, of even when my dogs are sick. Imagining that my mother and father (whom I love with all my heart and who I really know are great persons) are going to suffer for eternity because they don’t believe in God… that makes me feel sick. Maybe I am misunderstanding something, but if imagine that I’m going to be happy in Heaven and they are going to suffer in Hell, I just want to cry. That can’t be God. That can’t be good. The Bible says that in Heaven there’s no suffering. Well, then I would be an hypocrite who won’t be caring about the rest of the human beings that are suffering. Do we want that? Where’s the compassion? Where’s the love to our neighbours? Look, I do no harm to anyone and I try to understand the point of view of every single human being, accepting them and believing in love. As everyone, I commit mistakes, but I don’t consider myself a bad person (even that’s not up to me tu judge or decide).
But how can I accept religion if it’s contrary to my moral beliefs? Am I against God and Jesus because I say that Hell is not just, not even for the wickest person you can imagine? Am I going to Hell because I don’t believe in Jesus? The doctrine of the Catholic Church says that the only way of salvation is accepting Jesus as our savior. The Bible says. Jesus says. But I think that accepting Jesus means accepting something that my heart says it’s bad (meaning Hell, torture, torment, eternal fire and suffering for decent human beings). I also think it’s hypocrite accepting something knowing that most of the people surrounding you may not be with you. I can’t know how christians who truly believe in Hell can sleep well. I would be an hypocrite if I say that I accept Heaven just for myself and “go to hell” with the rest. Some believers say that religion has another good things. Great. I believe it has great moral beliefs. But in the end everything is accepting something in order to have eternal life. For me that’s superficial. Like I said… it can’t be only black or white. You believe or you don’t.
The priest of my town, Father Jesus, who is one of the most humble persons I’ve ever met, said to me that he’s completely sure that there are some other ways of reaching eternal life that doesn’t mean accepting Jesus as your personal saviour or getting baptized. I think he means love, knowledge, art and the desire of discovering the Truth, four things which I can (and truly want to) accept. But the more I read on the Internet about these things (Heaven, Hell, judgements, torment, sins)… the more anxious, disturbed and separated from reality and Trascendence feel. Whan can I do, Lee? I found some relief in your words, but I don’t know how much long that would last.
Sorry for the length of the paragraph. Thank you for reading me. Hope you can answer me some day.
Thanks for stopping by, and for your comment and questions.
These are all excellent questions.
And I assure you that there are good and satisfying answers.
However, to get your head around those answers, it will require your spending some time reading, studying, learning, and contemplating what you’re learning. It will also require you to unlearn things you’ve heard from traditional Christian sources, including from the Catholic Church, and to gain a new understanding of God, spirit, the Bible, and the purpose of our life here on earth.
This means, of course, I won’t be able to give you full and satisfactory answers to your huge questions in a single comment in response to yours. But I can give you the basics, and link you to various articles where your questions are answered in more depth.
To start out, here are some basics:
and for personal pleasure even if that means hurting other people in order to get it.
of the evil and destructive things they enjoy.
To start off, since you’re very concerned about hell, please read this article:
Is There Really a Hell? What is it Like?
It explains what hell is really like for those who live there, compared to the horrific pictures of eternal conscious torment painted by many traditional Christians. Basically, hell is the sort of human community that results when everyone is out for themselves and doesn’t care about the wellbeing of anyone else. Yes, there are punishments in hell. But they’re not meted out by God. Rather, they’re inflicted upon one another by the evil spirits themselves—who love nothing more than attacking each other and giving one another pain.
Next, nowhere in the Gospels does Jesus ever say that anyone who doesn’t believe in him will go to hell. See:
Did Jesus ever actually say, “If you don’t believe in me you will go to hell”?
Traditional Christians, including the Catholic Church, have added to the Bible many things it doesn’t actually say, and have claimed that Jesus said things he never did say.
In fact, the Bible, including Jesus Christ himself, is very clear and explicit that good people of all religions will go to heaven if they live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings according to their own conscience. See:
If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
And of course, as the above article says, atheists, too, can go to heaven if they believe in some higher principle of truth and goodness than merely their own benefit. This higher principle by which they live serves as “God” for them. In fact, the principles that good atheists live by are God in their lives, because everything good and true comes from God.
About the Bible, and why it’s written the way it is, please see these articles:
Can We Really Believe the Bible?
How God Speaks in the Bible to Us Boneheads
And one final article for now:
Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
I realize I haven’t addressed or answered every single one of your questions here. But I hope these brief answers, and the longer articles I’ve linked for you, will get you off to a good start. Once again, if you’re going to find satisfying and humane answers to your deep and searching questions, it is going to take some time, effort, and study on your part.
Meanwhile, if you have further questions as you read these articles, please leave more comments as needed. I will be happy to stick with you and answer your questions until you have become satisfied that God is indeed a God of pure love, pure justice, and pure mercy, who does everything possible to bring us to heaven and keep us out of hell. If some of us stubbornly and willfully choose to live in hell instead, that’s not God’s fault, but ours. And even then, God and the angels do everything possible to lighten the torment and allow the people in hell to have as much of their (sick) pleasures as they can given the bad and self-defeating choices they have insisted upon making.
Thank you very much for the answer, Lee. I didn’t expect it so quick. It’s difficult to find people that are interested in listening to others.
I’ve read all the documents you gave me and the questions are growing. I don’t want to be annoying, and I truly need to think, contemplate and absorbe all the things you wrote me. But, still, I’d like to make you some more questions (if possible). When you want me to stop, just say so.
1) In Matthew 10:37-38 Jesus said that we had to love God more than our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, wifes, husbands, friends, etc. How could we love Jesus-God more than our relatives, the ones who listen to us, that warm us, love us and that gave us all the good things we have? How could we despise it in order to follow a Messiah that we don’t know? Someone would claim that God truly exists and that He is absolutely real. But, honestly, like I said, I’m an agnostic that has been raised in a scientific society and I have a rational, analytic behaviour. I have read some apologetic books (some of then annoying) and the five ways of Saint Thomas Aquinas… and I admit there are an amount of philosophical (not scientific) arguments that can makes us infer that there’s a Firt Engine. (Well… science, through quantum physics, also say that, but that’s another subject). Now, maybe it’s materialistic saying it, but I usually believe in the things that I can see and the evidence accepted by the great scientists, which are as humble as some christians.
Look, in this stressful existencial crisis, mi mother asked me, while I was writing you this, if I was angry with her because she felt I was a little bit distant. You can’t imagine how sad that made me feel! Thinking about the existence of God made me, just in a week, being separated for the things I love the most. Is that what Jesus wants us to do? I simply can’t accept it as something good. I mean… when he was talking to the people in Matthew, Jesus was real, they could touch him, look at him, see his miracles. I can’t do it. I just simply have to accept it because an ancient book and tradition says so. But why He doesn’t give ourselves anything that we can touch or see? Some would claim that the existence is enough proof. But… is it? If that was real, there would be no doubts in the hearts of the people.
So… if I love God more than my relatives… ain’t I despising my true nature as human? That virtues that supposedly God gave me?
2) It is also said that in the afterlife we won’t recognize our relatives. Ain’t that terrible and awful? I mean, I know that there would be joy and eternal happiness… but I don’t conceive being happy forever without sharing that privilege with the ones I love. It makes me feel kinda lonely.
3) Another question. If God wrote in our hearts, in our spirit, the concepts of moral (meaning good and evil and justice)… When I think that something related to God is not fair, am I contradicting God? If I think that even for the wickest person Hell is unfair and that annihilation would be more mercyful… Am I a sinner just for saying that? Am I bad for saying that I love more mi mother, whom I know and feel her love, than God, who doesn’t appear to listen to me?
4) All the texts you sent made me believe that there is still hope in believing a mercyful God that is Love. But… why the catholic doctrine accepts the horrible depiction of Hell? Why the protestants say that the only truth can be found in the Bible, and accept Hell as eternal torment even for the good people? Why they say that a good person that does good things, if he doesn’t believe in Jesus at all and accept him as their savior, is still going to Hell? Ain’t that hypocrite? How can a person accept that and be a good person? Do you think they’re good persons? If we should love our neighbours as much as we love ourselves… Why Jesus wanted us to “despise” them in order to believe in Him? Ain’t that a contradiction? If we reject believing in God and accepting the sacraments, but we still are good people… is there hope for us? I know you answered me, but is a thing that still torments me.
5) When you see the different doctrines about Hell, Heaven, Justice, God, Jesus, Religions… are you never afraid of being mistaken? What if Hell is like is depicted in, for example, protestantism and the medieval catholic church? What if God is Love… but also Hate? What if Jesus was simply just a story invented by people that lived a long time ago? What would have happened if Constantino hadn’t make it an official religion? What if there’s no God and we’re all conditioned by our very human limitations and, after we die, there’s nothing but… nothingness? Because we can’t prove that all that things are real. Philosophy, as human brain, has got it’s limitations.
6) Sometimes is said that because Jesus died for our sins, he deserves our absolute submission and acceptance. But… if God sent Jesus to Earth, He perfecly knew that whether he survived the human barbarism or not, he would be in Heaven for eternity. So… is it fair that a human person suffers a punishment for his/her sins if Jesus only lived a few years and suffered (a lot, okay) but temporarily, knowing that after his death He would go to Heaven for eternity? I mean… most of us would sacrifice ourselves (and someone even commit suicide) if they knew 100% that tomorrow they will be in Heaven. So… why is the sacrifice considered such an heroic and emblematic thing?
7) Why isn’t anything related to scientific knowledge mentioned in the Bible? Won’t that be a proof that God was absolutely real? I mean, if Jesus said… “Combining these two chemical elements you can make that new one” or “This is the formula for the theory of relativity” everyone, still today, would believe in God.
8) Ain’t it possible that God made all religions for the human beings for them to find their own spiritual path to Trascendence?
9) Is God angry because of postmodernism? I mean… now we have human rights, we accept every single human being, doesn’t matter his/her sexuality, condition, color, religion, etc. Everyone has got rights (and we still need to improve). We love. I know that there’s still poorness and tragedy in some areas of the world and that we’re sort of “idiotized” by mobile phones, videogames and computers, but we are better than a hundred years ago. And definitely better than one thousand years ago, when we didn’t even have vaccines, electricity or any sort of advanced technology. Ain’t God proud of what we achieved? Ain’t that the true meaning of existence: evolution? If you think about the physics and biology, everything has got a progressive evolution: Big Bang, Universe, Biology, Bacteria, Monkeys, Humans, Thoughts, Technology, Rights… Ain’t in the plan of God that we, as society, leave behind us religions in order to be moral, real, sophisticated and self-sufficient creatures? Ain’t that our Heaven? If we didn’t have rational thinking separated from the Church we, as society, wouldn’t have evolved. And now, with all the evidence showed by science, it’s even more difficult to believe. But… if God exists, He would have also created all the things that the science is discovering. So, in a certain way, he wanted us to discover them. Didn’t He know that all those things would make us be “less” believers? Maybe that’s His plan? What does God have to say about that? Wants us to be irrational and believe after all the things we know now? Ain’t that a contradiction to our free will?
Thank you for, again, reading my words. Hope you find some interesting aspects to talk about.
Regards from Madrid.
Thanks for reading the articles, and for thinking about them and the ideas they present. I enjoy answering questions as long as the people asking the are sincerely seeking understanding. So feel free to ask as many questions as you feel the need to ask. I can’t always promise to answer this quickly, but I will respond.
1) About Jesus saying we must love God more than we love our family members:
It’s good to keep two things in mind when reading the Gospels:
Jesus commonly spoke metaphorically rather than literally.
Jesus commonly spoke provocatively to break people out of established thought and habit patterns.
Jesus was not writing a theological treatise. He was pushing and prodding people to think more deeply about their lives, and leave behind anything that would hold them back from living a new and better life spiritually.
When Jesus said that we cannot love our family members more than we love him, and in one place (Luke 14:25–27) that we must hate our father, mother, wife, children, brothers, sisters, and even our own life, he was addressing people who were ready and willing to make excuses as to why they could not follow him. He was also speaking of the full commitment required to follow him.
He did not literally mean that we must hate our relatives. Rather, he meant that we must hate anything that stands in the way of our following the Lord.
Unfortunately, family members often hold us back from throwing ourselves 100% into the course of life that God is putting in front of us. They commonly think of us as just the boy (or girl) they raised, or as the ordinary person they know. They commonly don’t believe that we can really go on to do great things. Jesus’ own family tried to stop him from engaging in his ministry of teaching, preaching, and healing because they thought he was the ordinary person they knew. They believed that he was out of his mind to be putting on all these airs and saying and doing all these big things.
So when Jesus says that we can’t love our close family members more than we love him, what he means is that we can’t put the views and opinions and strings of family and friends ahead of following God and doing the right thing. If God is showing us a path we know we must take for the greater good, but our father or mother or brother or sister or wife or husband is telling us it’s wrong or too much for us and that we shouldn’t do it, then God, not our family members, must take precedence in our decision of what to do.
However, this doesn’t mean that we must literally hate our family members. To the extent that God is present in our family members, we are to love them as our neighbor and as vessels for God. When our family members support us in doing good and great things, that is God’s presence in them, and we can love them fully because in loving them we are loving God’s presence in them.
This is a huge subject, and I can’t do full justice to it here. But the core message is that of the two Great Commandments Jesus gave us, the commandment to love God with our entire being must take precedence over the commandment to love our neighbor (including our family) as ourselves.
If there is any conflict between the two, then we must put God first.
But assuming our friends and family members don’t oppose and hold us back from doing God’s work, then loving them is part of loving God with our whole heart. After all, God is the one who created all of our fellow human beings, so loving them is also loving God.
For more on this, please see:
How do I Love God with my Whole Heart?
And about Jesus speaking metaphorically rather than literally in many of the things he said, and prodding people in provocative ways to think more deeply and more spiritually, please see:
Eat My Flesh, Drink My Blood
About Jesus not being physically present with us, that is true. We can’t chat with God the way Jesus’ followers did. But there is still plenty of material out there, including the Gospels themselves, that tell us about God, and about what God is like and what God requires of us. It’s up to us to decide whether to pay any attention to it. But lack of physical, scientific evidence is not a good reason to reject God. For more on this, please see:
Where is the Proof of the Afterlife?
Sorry if I didn’t write earlier. I didn’t find the time to sit down in front of the computer.
First of all, Lee… I need to sincerely thank you. Your comments made me think with a different perspective about spiritual matters. I confess you that I suffer from GAD (General Anxiety Disorder) and due to certain circumstances in my life an ordinary crisis have been mixed with spiritual beliefs and religion. You know, an explosive cocktail. Your words gave me peace, something that I thank you with all my heart, even if that sounds ‘corny’.
I was raised, like I said, in an agnostic family, but the tradition of my parents was profoundly catholic. So… we are like “agnostic catholics”, if that term exists. I just can’t simply accept some doctrines of catholicism or accept some Trascendental revelation if I have in mind that severe, unfair and parcial God of the Old Testament and the interpretations re-made by men from the God (and Jesus) of the New Testament.
I think I told you, but my priest, who is catholic, told me something similar to you: “Even if you don’t believe in God, he still loves you. Not believing in Jesus doesn’t condemn you: there are another ways of reaching Trascendence”. I feel that if I’m being a good loving person I’m also in the side of God. I don’t know if my heart, having my brain a rational education, can accept a personal God, but I can accept His precepts. Rationally I doubt and emotionally I also doubt. I accept that there is a God. That’s not a problem, because I’ve always believed there is a sort of Cosmic Mind that is in every single thing we see. I don’t think I’m blaspheming if I consider that Cosmic Mind the God that revealed in Jesus or in any other religious doctrine. So, correct me if I’m wrong, but if I still believe in that “strange force” or Mind that moves the world, I may be also believing in God. And if that God is materialized in Jesus, then I do believe in Him, even if I don’t share (because of the obvious sociocultural differences) some of the things that he said to his followers and that later de Apostles wrote in their books, probably reinterpreting them (because it’s a fact that those were written more than 50 years after Jesus’s crucifixion and there could be distortions of the original message).
So, I’ll follow this extremely wise sentence you gave me: “Real faith is not believing something because someone else told you so. Real faith, and real belief, is seeing for yourself that something is true, and believing it simply because it is true”.
I still have some doubts, but I first want to process everything you wrote me. So, now, I’m letting you rest from all these spiritual doubts that you have answered me with extreme patience. I couldn’t believe you were investing so much time in a stranger. If God is really out there, I know you are one of the best examples of His kindness. If some day I come to America and visit your state, I’ll be proud to have some chat with you. I invite to the coffee!
Thank you again for all you wrote me, Lee. Like we say in Spain even if we talk to strangers (which, translated to english, also sounds very ‘corny’): a big hug!
Thank you for your kind words. It really is my pleasure and my joy to answer your questions, especially knowing that they come from an unsettled heart and mind that is seeking peace and understanding.
We are each on our own spiritual path. And I believe God tailors that path for each one of us. Not everyone is suited to be a member of a traditional Christian institution or congregation. Yes, traditional Christianity serves many people who believe simply in what they are taught, and who live good lives on that basis.
And yet, for those whose minds race ahead, and need deeper and more satisfying answers, those traditional Christian institutions often are not satisfactory.
As far as your belief in God as a Cosmic Mind, as long as you consider that Cosmic Mind to have particular moral and spiritual content, and not to be just a blind force, then it can serve as a guide to your life even if you can’t at this time in your life accept the more personal, human version of God that is taught in Christianity.
Once again, we’re all on our spiritual path, and God comes to us in the form we need in our current spiritual life.
If you’re ever traveling through the U.S. and happen to pass through the wilds of Wyoming, it would be a great pleasure to sit down and have a chat.
Meanwhile, I’m glad my words have helped to ease some of your spiritual anxiety and to move you forward on your spiritual quest.
And of course, if at some point you’ve had a chance to digest our conversation so far, and you have further thoughts or questions, I would be happy to continue the conversation with you here on the blog.
Continuing on to your other questions:
2) It’s not true that we don’t recognize our relatives in the afterlife. The reality is that we do recognize our family members and friends on the other side. In fact, they are commonly the ones who first greet us when we arrive there.
What does happen over time is that if we don’t have all that much in common with the people who were our family members and friends here, we will drift away from them in the spiritual world.
In the spiritual world, we are close to the people who are spiritually close to us—meaning people who share our values, the things we love, and the things we enjoy doing. As the old saying goes, in the spiritual world, “birds of a feather flock together.”
This means that any family members or friends whom we are truly close to in spirit, we will remain close to in the spiritual world. They will be our “family” there. Meanwhile, any blood relatives or earthly friends whom we really don’t have much in common with will settle elsewhere in the spiritual world, and most likely we will lose contact with them, just as we lose contact with former friends who have gone in a completely different direction than we did.
Also, over time we will no longer think of the people who were our blood relatives here on earth as parents or children. Instead, we will come to think of everyone around us as our brothers and sisters, and will look to God as our common parent. For one thing, no one is physically older or younger than anyone else in heaven. Everyone there has the body of a young adult in the prime of life.
That is the short answer to your question. For the long answer, please see:
Can we Keep our Friends in the Afterlife?
3) Life can be complicated. We are all in process, walking along a spiritual path. God is not concerned with things we might think in the moment, or issues we may have with God’s ways in the moment. Rather, God is concerned that we continue to think, struggle, learn, and grow. Over time we will find answers and resolutions to the questions and conundrums we face in life—including the ways that we currently disagree with God.
Sometimes we learn over time that God was right after all, and our previous objections don’t hold any water.
Other times we learn that what we thought God was saying is not what God is actually saying. In other words, we realize we were mistaken about God and about God’s teachings, and we must revise our view of God and God’s commandments.
This is why God doesn’t hold it against us if at times we get angry with God and rail against God and disagree with God. We must learn for ourselves what is right and wrong, so that we can make it our own.
If we’ve been taught that God says we must hate all foreigners, and that makes us angry, that’s part of our learning that that’s not what God really teaches.
Or, on the other hand, if we’ve been taught that God says we must love foreigners just as much as we love our own people, but our own prejudice stands in the way of our doing that, then our struggle with this issue is part of our learning that God loves all people equally, regardless of their religion or nationality or race, and that we must learn to do so as well.
In other words, struggling with these issues, and struggling with God and with what we’ve been taught about God, is part of the spiritual path that we all must walk.
About annihilation vs. eternal hell, if I were a betting man I’d be willing to bet that if you took a poll of criminals in prison, and asked whether they’d rather just be snuffed out altogether or whether they’d rather be allowed to continue their life and sometimes engage in their favorite criminal activities, even if they then get into trouble for it, that the overwhelming majority would say they don’t want to be snuffed out; they want to be able to keep living.
It’s not wrong to think about annihilation. There are some churches that believe in it, and reject the idea of an eternal hell. However, for my part, I don’t think it’s fair or merciful for God to just snuff out the life of everyone who doesn’t live the way God wants them to live. Would we respect the leader of a country who says, “These are the rules you must live by, and if you don’t, I’m gonna kill you?” God is not a tyrant or madman. God puts the choice in our hands of how we wish to live our life. And God doesn’t snuff us out just because we choose to live in a way that is opposed to what God wants for us. That, at least, is my belief.
But once again, God doesn’t get angry with us or reject us because we argue with God, or because we think different things than God might want us to think. God simply asks that we think and act from integrity and according to conscience, and that we keep our mind open to the possibility that we might be mistaken, and also that what we’ve been taught about God might be mistaken.
4) There are two basic reasons Catholics and Protestants teach these false doctrines about a literal fiery hell and about all non-Christians being saved:
Yes, Jesus does talk in the Gospels about the fires of hell. But he never goes on to say, “And I mean literal fire, which is going to last forever and is going to burn, burn, burn people’s flesh!”
Traditional Christians have taken Jesus’ words about hellfire, read them very literally and materialistically, and fantasized lurid scenes of evil sinners eternally roasting on spits while being poked and prodded by devils with pitchforks.
But all of that is more Hollywood than Bible.
Jesus continually speaks in “parables,” or metaphorical language, to the people. He provides vivid imagery from people’s ordinary lives to illustrate deeper, spiritual realities. And the spiritual realities go beyond the physical imagery used to convey and express them.
There is no literal hellfire literally burning people’s flesh for eternity. Instead, there is figurative hellfire, which is the “fire” of continually burning anger and hatred among evil spirits against everyone who stands in their way, and especially against God. It is not a fire of rapid oxydization, but a fire of anger and evil passion. That is the sort of (negative) spiritual fire that exists in hell, which is a spiritual place, not a physical one.
And as for only Christians going to hell, the Bible itself flatly contradicts this in many places. The two clearest and most obvious ones are Matthew 24:31–46 and Romans 2:1–16, which I would encourage you to read carefully and pay attention to exactly what Jesus, and Paul, say in these passages.
So those “Christians” who say that only people who believe in Jesus Christ (i.e., Christians) are saved are contradicting the plain teachings of the Bible itself.
The teachings in the New Testament are aimed primarily at Christians. And any Christian who rejects Jesus Christ is rejecting God as they’ve been taught about God. So of course those Christians who don’t believe in Christ can’t be saved because they are rejecting their own religion and their own beliefs and their own God.
But when the New Testament talks about non-Christians, it makes it clear that non-Christians can be saved if they live good lives of love and kindness to their fellow human beings in need, and follow their conscience according to their own beliefs inscribed upon their hearts.
So yes, non-Christians who are good people, and who actively love and care about their fellow human beings, can be saved just as easily as Christians. In fact, Christians who profess to believe in Jesus but don’t live a good life of loving their neighbor as they love themselves cannot be saved because they are disobeying the teachings of Jesus Christ.
Believing in and accepting Jesus as your Lord and Savior is the only way to be saved. John 14:6, which declares, “I [Christ] am the way, the truth, and the life: no man comes unto the Father, but by Me,” and Acts 4:12, “Neither is there salvation in any other: for there is none other name [Jesus Christ] under heaven given among men, whereby we must be saved.”
Okay, if we accept that… does an evil person that rejects God with hate deserve to go to the same place that a good man that didn’t believe because he, for example, didn’t care about religion? Hitler next to Maharma Gandhi? You think that’s fair?
It’s not up to you or me to decide what is fair. God made everyone and if a person chooses to not believe if God, then they are choosing to go to hell. Hell is complete separation from God, which shouldn’t worry those who don’t believe anyway.
I mean… I can understand that a person who doesn’t want to believe in God because he or she is absolutely wicked can go to Hell. For me it’s hard to accept an eternal punishment, but in the way that Lee is trying to explain it… it’s acceptable and even mercyful. But a good person that has always acted good but didn’t believe in Jesus… deserves that punishment? I’m not talking of a person that is truly wicked (which actually can happen), but a person that didn’t have the sociocultural stimulations to believe, or just the biological and psychological composition (we tend to forget that the brain of the people is not always the same; rejecting that is rejecting empirical evidence) that made him/her thought that religion wasn’t the only path of being a good person. Do you think that’s fair? A loving mother who heard of Jesus but was never too much into religion (probably because the priests in her childhood were not what we could call good and loving people) next to a wicked, perverse and sadistic murderer that voluntarily rejects every kind of love? Really? Are you telling me that is justice?
PD: Lee, I’m not answering your responses because I prefer having all the answers together in order to continue with some questions (by the moment less than before). Thanks again for answering all this stuff. It’s really helping me to construct a moral, loving, intelectually and spiritually plausible point of view. God bless you for your patience.
Neither of those passages says anything about “belief.” They both say that Jesus is the only means of salvation. But they don’t say that people who don’t believe in him can’t be saved. And even the passages that do talk about belief in Jesus make it clear that “believing” isn’t just a matter of “faith,” but a matter of living according to what Jesus taught. See:
Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?
Jesus himself said that living by his commandments is the way to be saved. In particular, loving our neighbor as ourselves. Read Matthew 25:31–46. There Jesus tells us who will be saved and who will not on the day of judgment. And he says not a word about “faith” or “belief.” It’s all about how we live.
Why would anyone follow the commandments of someone they don’t believe in? Jesus is our Lord and Savior and the only way to the Father is through him.
The fact of the matter is that many people of all religions do follow the commandments of Jesus, as summed up in the two Great Commandments on which, he says, all of Scripture depends.
Besides, the “Jesus” that people of many other religions don’t believe in is the false, intolerant Jesus, preached by so-called “Christians” who have completely mangled the teachings of Jesus Christ into something that neither he nor any of his apostles would have recognized.
Why would atheists want to go to heaven and spend eternity with God, Jesus, and the Holy Spirit, of which they don’t believe in? (Matthew 10:33 But whosoever shall deny Me before men, him will I also deny before My Father who is in Heaven.) Please ask Jesus to be your Lord and Savior today.
As explained in the article above (did you read it?), most atheists today are not atheists as the Bible defines it. They are not evil, wicked people who do evil, wicked things. Such people are the true atheists, who have rejected from their lives everything that God is and represents.
Rather, most atheists today are good, thoughtful, moral people who simply can’t accept the false picture of God that traditional Christianity (not to mention various other religions) teaches. It is the fault of false, intolerant, unchristian doctrines such as yours that so many good people are turning away from God today. And you will have to answer for that when it comes your time to stand before God’s heavenly throne.
I never said atheists are wicked, evil people. They do not believe in God. So why would they want to go to heaven and be with God for eternity? Romans 14:11 the Scriptures say, “‘As surely as I live,’ says the LORD, every knee will bend to me, and every tongue will confess and give praise to God.” God is good all the time and loves all of us, even those who choose to deny him. I hope you are not trying to persuade people to deny our Heavenly Father.
No, it is the Bible itself that defines atheists as people who reject God because they are wicked and do evil deeds:
Biblically, that’s what an atheist is. Not just someone who intellectually doesn’t believe in God, but someone who says there is no God because they are corrupt and do abominable deeds, and do not do good.
And of course I’m not trying to persuade people to deny our Heavenly Father. I’m simply pointing out that people who are intellectual atheists but who in fact love their fellow human beings and devote their lives to doing good deeds for others believe in God in action even if they don’t believe in God in their heads. They are not atheists as the Bible speaks of atheists.
Good-hearted atheists will, I believe, come to believe in God in the afterlife when they discover that God is not the intolerant and irrational being that they have heard about from the so-called Christians, but is in fact a being of pure love, pure truth, and pure mercy.
I have a few questions, but the first one is this. In Romans is said that the pagans, greeks, etc. would be forgiven if they acted well according to the law. But, immediatly after that (and you say the context is important) it’s said again that the law doesn’t matter if you believe in God. Meaning… that the only way of saving ourselves is believing in Jesus (and ignoring the law?). I don’t quite understand the contradictions in the book of Romans. It’s said that The Law of Faith is better than the Law of Acts. Couldn’t this point of view carry us to some dangerous thought? Like… I believe in Jesus so I can kill you because you don’t and I’ll be judged and saved because, like I said, I believed in Jesus?
When people accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior then they are filled with the Holy Spirit. The fruits of the Holy Spirit are kindness, love, peace, joy, patience, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. If someone is truly serious about following Jesus Christ and being a Christian then they will live by the fruits of the spirit.
I know few people that are all that things and the don’t believe in Jesus. They happen to don’t care.
The issue you bring up is one that has dogged Protestantism ever since Luther first invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone. The technical name for it is “antinomianism.”
In its starkest form (there are milder forms), antinomianism is the idea that since we are saved by faith alone, apart from all works, and since Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins, it doesn’t matter how we live, or even whether we sin. It only matters whether we have faith that Jesus has paid the penalty for our sins. This has given many Protestants a sense of license to sin, believing that it doesn’t affect their “salvation status.”
Of course, Protestant preachers and theologians roundly condemn this view. Unfortunately, their false doctrine of justification by faith alone makes it inevitable that many people who accept that doctrine are going to come to this conclusion. Falsity has damaging effects, and antinomianism is one of the inevitable damaging effects of the falsities of justification by faith alone and penal substitution.
However, of course, Paul was not talking about justification by faith alone or about penal substitution in Romans or in any of his other letters. This is a fundamental misunderstanding of Paul’s argument and Paul’s point.
It is true that Paul’s letters can be confusing. Even during Paul’s own lifetime Peter commented on this:
(Incidentally “scriptures” here is a mistranslation. It should just be “writings.” The New Testament canon had not yet been determined at that time. The only scriptures in existence were the books of the Old Testament.)
However, once we clear our minds of later false interpretations such as faith alone and penal substitution, Paul’s meaning becomes clear enough despite the fancy language that he seems to enjoy using.
At the most basic level, Paul was arguing that it is no longer necessary to be a circumcised, observant Jew in order to be saved. He was arguing that the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses, including all the laws of sacrifice, diet, ritual cleansing, and so on, was no longer in effect, because Jesus’ life and his death on the cross fulfilled and superseded all those ritual and ceremonial laws, doing away with them.
Usually Paul refers to being an observant Jew as “circumcision” and “the works of the Law.” But sometimes he shortens the latter term to simply “works.” This can lead to some confusion among readers who don’t realize that he is using a short form of “the works of the Law,” meaning the ritual and ceremonial Law of Moses. But in these instances, the context makes it clear what he’s talking about. What he does not mean in these instances is “good works,” which he everywhere says we must do in order to be saved.
Meanwhile, at a broader level, Paul was arguing that salvation was no longer about strict obedience to a harsh and exacting set of laws. Rather, it was about an internal faith, or faithfulness, that causes us to live a good and lawful life based, not on mere blind obedience, but on an understanding and acceptance of the principles behind the law, the greatest of which has to do with love—specifically, love for God in Christ, and love for the neighbor.
The point, then, is not that we no longer have to follow any laws. Rather, it is that we now follow the laws of faith and love from an inner motivation rather than from external obedience and fear of punishment, as people had done previously under the Law of Moses. So when Paul says that that we are saved by faith apart from the works of the law (Romans 3:28), he is saying that we no longer have to be observant Jews. But when he goes on to say that he establishes the law through faith (Romans 3:31), he is saying that we still have to be law-abiding, but now we do it from an internal motivation—that of “faith,” or of faithfulness to God.
When he’s pursuing this line of argument, he will say that even the Jews under the old covenant of the Law of Moses were actually saved, not by their adherence to the Law, but by their faithfulness to God as expressed in their commitment to obeying the Law of Moses.
This is why he could say that both Jews and followers of Christ are saved by the same law of faith, or as it really should be translated, faithfulness.
And it’s why he could say that even Gentiles, who don’t have the Law (of Moses—that’s what makes them Gentiles), become “a law unto themselves,” meaning, not that they become rampaging criminals, as that phrase is sometimes used today, but that, as he says, they have the law written on their heart and on their conscience, and that if they keep that inner law, then they, too, are saved by the law of faithfulness to God.
Does this help clear up some of the confusion about Paul’s letters?
5) No, I’m not really afraid of being mistaken. Not on the big issues. I’ve been living with this faith my entire life—and that’s getting to be a fair number of decades by now. I’ve learned something about the other religions of humanity. And though some of them are quite beautiful at their core, none of them can hold a candle to what I have learned from my own religion.
Further, many of the things that traditional Christians claim simply aren’t stated anywhere in the Bible. We can trace their doctrines to particular human beings at particular times in history. Constantine. Anselm. Aquinas. Luther. Calvin. These people all originated new doctrines (or in the case of Constantine, presided over the originating of new doctrines) that are stated nowhere in the Bible. And the various Christian churches today get their doctrine primarily from these human beings, and only secondarily, if at all, from the Bible.
Beyond that, my religion tells me that in order to be saved I must love my neighbor as myself, and devote my life to doing good deeds of love for my fellow human beings. Even if everything I believe turns out to be utterly wrong, it has still caused me to live a life that will make this world a better place for everyone. And anyone else who follows these beliefs will also be making the world a better place.
Being “correct” is less important than being good. And even if everyone who listens to my teaching, and to the actual teaching of Jesus in the Gospels, ends out just dying and passing into oblivion (no afterlife), they will still have left a better world for the people who come after them.
So no, I don’t get worried about whether I’m all wrong. I see the good effects in people’s lives when they accept these teachings and put them into practice in their lives. And with teachings as well as with human beings, as Jesus said, “you will know them by their fruits.”
6) Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection is, of course, a huge subject.
Suffice it to say that pretty much everything you’ve been taught about the meaning and purpose of Jesus’ death from Catholic and Protestant sources is wrong, and is taught nowhere in the Bible.
I could go on and on, but I hope you get the idea. Catholic and Protestant doctrines about Jesus’ death, and how it brings about our salvation, are simply wrong, because it they are based on the teachings of human beings and not on the teaching of the Bible.
The truth is that Jesus’ passion and death on the cross was his final battle against “the Devil,” or the combined force of all human evil. Jesus had been fighting these battles against the Devil all his life. We get a couple brief glimpses in the story of his temptation by the Devil after his forty day fast in the desert at the beginning of his public ministry, and also in the story of his temptation in the garden of Gethsemane just before his crucifixion.
Jesus’ death did not by itself save us. Rather, it was his final act of defeating the evil powers that were holding humanity hostage and dragging us down to hell. By his resurrection he demonstrated his complete victory over evil, hell, and death.
So no, some temporary suffering that Jesus knew would be over soon did not bring about our eternal salvation. Rather, Jesus’ work of defeating evil, the Devil, and hell (which are really just different words for the same thing) brings about our salvation if we are willing to accept from God the power to overcome these things in our own lives.
This is, of course, a very brief answer to a very big question. Here are a few more articles to read for a little more depth and detail:
7) The Bible was written in a pre-scientific age. It wasn’t until a few centuries ago that science really began to come to the fore, and become a major force in human understanding of the world. The Bible doesn’t address scientific subjects simply because science as we know it today didn’t exist in Bible times.
Beyond that, science really can’t tell us anything about God and spirit. Science is the study of material reality. And for that purpose it is an excellent tool. But God and spirit are non-material entities. So science simply isn’t the right tool for the job of teaching us about God and spirit. That’s what religion is for.
Meanwhile, my own belief that there is no contradiction or conflict at all between good science and true religion. But that’s an entire vast subject all its own.
8) I do believe that God is behind all of the religions in the world, and that the different religions exist precisely to give people of different regions and cultures a pathway to God that works for them. See:
If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
9) I think God is very pleased with all the progress we humans have made in many different areas in the past few hundred years especially.
And I believe that the reason we’ve made that progress is that God has brought to an end the era in which the West was dominated by a corrupted and destroyed version of Christianity whose teachings and practices had strayed so far away from the teachings of Jesus Christ that that church was Christian in name only, and not in reality.
To put it plainly, I believe that the second coming of Jesus Christ has already happened. It was not a physical coming like the last one. He’s already done that, and doesn’t need to do it again. It was, rather, a coming “in spirit and in truth” (see John 4:23–24).
If we look at recent history, we find that there was a decisive turning point in human society at the time that secular historians call the Age of Enlightenment. In 18th century Europe the Christian Church’s intellectual hold on the people of Europe (and its colonies) began to be broken. Science and reason came to the fore as the reigning principles by which philosophers, and many of the common people, judged whether something was true or false.
Ever since then, traditional Christianity has steadily gotten thrown down from its position as the spiritual, moral, and intellectual arbiter of Western intellectual and social life. It is no longer the reigning institution in the Western world.
At the same time, I believe God delivered to the world a revitalized Christian doctrine that not only returns to the Bible’s own teachings, but gives them a depth and power they had been missing ever since Jesus himself, and his Apostles, walked the earth and taught Christianity as the Lord Jesus Christ himself taught it. That revitalized and truly Bible-based Christian doctrine can be found in the theological writings of Emanuel Swedenborg (1688–1772). Swedenborg’s writings don’t replace or even add to the Bible. Rather, they restore a true understanding of the Bible, and also give us a deeper understanding of its meaning than the world has ever had before.
I don’t make these statement lightly. But you, of course, will have to investigate and decide for yourself whether Swedenborg’s teachings are worthy of notice and belief. I can tell you, though, that after the Bible itself, Swedenborg’s teachings are the greatest source of the teachings and ideas that I present here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life. If you get to the point where you want to learn about God and spirit “straight from the horse’s mouth,” I would be happy to make some reading suggestions. I believe most of Swedenborg’s writings have been translated into Spanish, though I do not know how good the translations are.
Oh, and before Swedenborg turned his mind to God and spirit, as called to do by the Lord, he spent his life engaged in science and philosophy. So Swedenborg himself was a scientist turned theologian.
Meanwhile, here are some articles that go into these things in more detail:
Back to your question for another moment: I believe that in our era God is purposely destroying the old so-called “Christian” church that has claimed to be Christian for so many centuries, but in fact is nothing like the Christianity that Jesus taught in the Gospels.
But this, in my mind, does not mean that God is getting rid of religion. Rather, God is getting rid of an old, corrupt, and false religion so that a new and true religion can take its place.
But first, the old one has to be rejected. And that is happening more and more, as people become atheists, or become “spiritual but not religious,” and so on. Yes, traditional Christianity is still very strong in some areas of the world. Ironically, Europe, where Christianity used to reign supreme, has rejected Christianity more than any other part of the Christianized world. Europe is now largely secular. And as the rest of the world develops and becomes more educated, I believe those parts of the world will also reject the false dying version of “Christianity” that used to reign in the West.
What will replace it will probably not be a church institution as we have known the Church so far. I don’t know exactly what it will be. But I believe it will be far more personal, direct, humane, thoughtful, and loving than anything that has posed as “Christianity” for many centuries.
And I have devoted my own life to smashing to bits that old, false Christianity, and helping the Lord to usher in a new (but really, old), revitalized, and true Christianity that, I believe, will eventually become the primary religion of the entire world.
That brings me to the end of this round of your questions. I hope these answers are helpful and thought-provoking. I also encourage you not to believe anything just because I say so, but to think about and investigate these things for yourself, and come to your own conclusions. Real faith is not believing something because someone else told you so. Real faith, and real belief, is seeing for yourself that something is true, and believing it simply because it is true.
So I encourage you to seek the truth wherever you can find it, and to believe the truth when you can see it clearly in your own mind.
To a reader named Rachel,
Thank you for your comment. However, I have deleted it because it violates our comments policy, which I ask you to read before commenting here further.
I am sure you are very sincere in your beliefs. Unfortunately, you have been misled by misguided teachers into believing that the Bible teaches things it simply does not teach. Please see these articles for more on what the Bible does and does not teach about faith, good works, and salvation:
Are atheist brothers in your opinion? In the way bible defines it.
If they live a life of love, kindness, and concern for their fellow human beings as Jesus Christ taught, then yes, I consider them “brothers” in a broader version of its biblical usage.
But think about for example. 1 cor 5:11-13. This passage would be kind of pointless if basically anyone can be brother. Its really hard to tell who is living a live of love and you have to remember that those good people still do alot of bad things. And in verse 10 how do you make a distinction between people of this world and those in the “church” as you define it.
And I have by the way to say thank you for always responding so quickly to my comments.
That’s why I said “‘brothers’ in a broader version of its biblical usage.” In the Epistles, “brothers” usually means fellow believers in Christ. But I believe there is also a broader “Church of Christ” that includes all people of good will everywhere who live the way Jesus teaches us to live, whether or not they consider themselves Christians. See: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?”
As for whether people are actually living a life of love, about all we can go by is Jesus’ statement, “You will know them by their fruits” (see Matthew 7:15–20). We don’t have God’s view straight into the human heart. But we can pay attention to the way people live, how they treat other people, whether they observe basic moral and ethical rules, and so on, and make our own best judgment about the quality of their character.
“In the Epistles, “brothers” usually means fellow believers in Christ” didnt you say somewhere that all who do good works are believers in christ or something? Correct me if im wrong.
What about verse 13? Those outside will be judged by God.
The point of the whole passage is that Christians are to judge people inside their group, not people outside their group. It’s God’s job, Paul is saying, to judge people outside their group. As for immoral people within their group, Paul says Christians are to expel them from the group, and then they’re God’s problem.
This, incidentally, is quite different from how most fundamentalist “Christian” groups operate. They feel free to judge and condemn everyone who is not part of their group, thus violating Paul’s instructions in this passage.
And about God judging those “outside,” it doesn’t say that God will condemn them, but that God will judge them. That judgment will be positive or negative depending upon the character and life of the particular people. See Romans 2:1–16.
The things is in my opinion Paul gives two groups. Brothers and those of this world. And I think brothers are those who do the will of the father(matthew 12:50). So those of this world could be the opposite.
So if unbelievers can do the will of the father they should be brothers, right? But they’re not, as Paul defines it. Unless Paul has a different meaning to the word “brother” than Jesus, which I dont believe, this doesnt make sense.
“They feel free to judge and condemn everyone who is not part of their group, thus violating Paul’s instructions in this passage” I 100% agree with you. Been thinking about this myself.
Once again, see Romans 2:1-16. Unlike the so-called “Christian” Church, Paul taught very clearly that non-Christians can be and are saved if they live according to their own conscience. He did not believe, nor did he teach, that anyone who wasn’t a believer in Christ would be damned to hell. Rather, he said, in the passage you referred to, that non-Christians would be judged by God.
But his letters are addressed to Christians. And as I already said, he used the word “brothers” to refer to people who were believers in Christ, and thus among the community of Christians (though the word “Christians” had not yet come into regular use).
Why would Paul use a different definition than Jesus even if he wrote to christians? Its possible but unlikely to me. Do you have any proof?
“he used the word “brothers” to refer to people who were believers in Christ,” Didnt you say that those who do good works are believers in christ? Wasnt that your explanation for john 3:18? Or that atleast was your point as I understood it.
Paul never met Jesus in person, and the Gospels were not yet written when Paul was engaging in his ministry. There’s no particular reason to think that he would speak the same way Jesus did, and use words in the same way. There are many differences between the wording in the Gospels and the wording in the Epistles of Paul.
Also, I don’t mean to make a hard-and-fast rule about the way Paul used the word “brothers.” That’s just a generalization: he regularly used it to refer to people who were within the group of Christian converts.
And, I was using “believers in Christ” in a very broad sense when I used it of people who live according to Jesus’ teaching whether or not they actually believe in Jesus. Once again, see: “Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?” Paul says in Romans 2:16 that all non-Christians—Jews, “Greeks” (pagan polytheists), and Gentiles in general—will be judged by God through Jesus Christ.
So do you think that the bible has two definitions of some who believes in christ? I think you have just made that up so you could respond to passages like john 3:18.
Did you read the article I linked for you?
The “is Jesus only way to heaven?” article? I think I did but I can read it again.
Yes. There are many other articles here that deal with your questions as well. Here are three more:
As long as people think that today’s “Christian” churches are actually following the Bible and the teachings of Jesus Christ, they will be confused and misled about both the Bible and true Christianity. I continually hear people saying “the Bible says X,” when the Bible certainly does not say X. Rather, Protestants (usually) claim that it says X, when it says nothing of the sort, and even denies X.
I do not mean to impugn the good intentions and good lives of many thoughtful Christians. I believe good people of all religions, including today’s false “Christianity,” will be accepted into heaven by the Lord. But the doctrines they have been taught in their churches are largely false, and that is what I oppose. See:
Does Doctrine Matter? Why is it Important to Believe the Right Thing?
If your definition of believing is correct. Then bible would be very confusing. For example in acts 16 “…Sirs, what must I do to be saved?
31 And they said, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved, and thy house.” Paul should have just said “do good works to be saved.” The prison guard didnt know about your definition of believing. So Pauls simple answer turns to something more complicated.
Paul would have been completely confused by today’s “Christian” definition of “faith.” For Paul, faith and good works could not be separated. The idea that someone could “believe” in Jesus, but not do what Jesus said, would have made no sense to him whatsoever.
In fact, this is a common criticism of Christians by people of other religions: that Christians profess various beliefs, but they don’t live by them. This is the legacy of the false “faith alone” that has taken over in Protestantism. Christians who think they can have “faith” while not obeying the Lord’s commandments.
When Paul told the prison guard to believe in Jesus, both Paul and the prison guard would know very well that believing in Jesus meant following Jesus’ teachings and commandments. Without that, “faith” has no meaning whatsoever.
Yes but the faith is the one thats changes us. Fruit of the spirit and all that stuff.
If someone says his a believers but keeps on doing bad stuff without even caring. Then theres a problem.
And why would the prison guard know what Paul meant? The question still remains. Why didnt Paul say “do good works”?
I remember how I changed when I started to believe. Its kind of like in Acts 2:14-15.
And when I said earlier about you talking too much about christians who are wrong(mostly protestants). I get it. You think they and I are wrong. You dont have to repeat yourself. I understand your view already.
Where does the Bible say that “faith is the one that changes us”? Where does the Bible ever say that we are changed by faith unaccompanied by good works? The Bible says just the opposite, in many, many places.
The very idea that there could be some sort of theoretical “faith” without good works has no support whatsoever in the Bible. Faith without good works is not faith. It is an empty intellectual construct.
The prison guard would know this because today’s Protestant idea of faith as intellectual belief separate from good works was not part of the thinking of the people of that time. I could go into this in detail, but instead I’ll refer you to an article in which I do precisely that:
Faith Alone Is Not Faith
It’s your choice whether to read it. But the real biblical meaning of “faith” and “belief” are covered there in some detail. What Protestants call “faith” has nothing to do with “faith” or “belief” as those words are used in the Bible.
When you started to believe, did you make any changes in your life? Or was your “belief” just something in your head?
The people in Acts 2 weren’t just intellectually believing and having “faith” in their head. They were “declaring the wonders of God” (Acts 2:11) in many different languages. In other words, they were preaching the Gospel to people of all nations. That is not mere faith, or faith alone. That is faith together with good works: the good work of declaring the Gospel to people of all nations and races.
Nowhere does the Bible say that we are saved by mere faith, unaccompanied by good works. But in many places it says that faith without works is dead, either in those explicit words (James 2:26), or in other words that mean the same thing.
The problem with all of these Protestant (and Catholic also) readings of the Bible is that they read things into the Bible that simply aren’t there. They add to the Bible things that it doesn’t say, and subtract from the Bible things that it does say, and so they will receive the greater condemnation, because they substituted human traditions for the Word of God.
At least Catholics are somewhat consistent in that they believe that God has entrusted to the Church the right and power to formulate and promulgate doctrine. So if they teach doctrines that aren’t in the Bible, they have some justification for it in their own belief system, even if I believe they’re wrong. But Protestants have no excuse. They proclaim a belief in Sola Scriptura (“by Scripture alone”), and yet all of their major doctrines state things that the Bible doesn’t say anywhere, and even explicitly denies.
Paul did say to do good works, in many places. Protestants quote passages where Paul speaks about faith without the works of the Law. But what about the much longer passages where he gives detailed instructions about all of the good works we are to do if we wish to be saved?
The idea that Paul doesn’t teach us that we are to do good works as part of our salvation is ludicrous. Even in the famous Ephesians 2:8–9 that Protestants quote so often claiming Paul says we are saved by faith without good works (which he never, ever says), Paul immediately goes on to say, “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, italics added)
What is the fruit of the spirit then?
“Paul did say to do good works, in many places.”
“For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:10, italics added)”
About these. I never said that christians shouldnt do good works. They just doesnt buy us salvation in my opinion. Salvation wouldnt be a gift if you have to work for it. Think about someone giving you a gift and then saying “give me 100 dollars or I will take this gift from you.”
Who ever said that good works buy us salvation? This is a Protestant misunderstanding and red herring. Good works don’t buy us salvation any more than faith does. Both of them are gifts from God, for which we can take no credit. And if we do take credit for them, we have stolen God’s glory, and have nullified their saving effects.
Jesus tells us in John 15:1–16 that he is the vine and we are the branches, and that without him we can do nothing. Our good works, if they are saving works, do not come from ourselves, and they do not buy us heaven. Rather, they come from the Lord, and they are the Lord working in us and through us. Both good works and faith are free gifts from the Lord, if only we are willing to accept them from the Lord.
Even the work we do is done through the Lord’s power working in us. The very ability to “work out our salvation with fear and trembling” (Philippians 2:12) comes from the Lord, not from our own power. Even when we are working very hard, it is still a free gift, because the power to do the work comes from the Lord, not from ourselves. Everything we have, everything we are, and everything we do is a free gift from God.
Also, notice that Paul never says that we are not saved by good works. He only says that we are not saved by “works.” Nowhere in the entire Bible does it say that we are not saved by good works. This is yet another idea that Protestants have added to the Bible that the Bible itself never says.
“This is a Protestant misunderstanding”. I PERSONALLY misunderstood what you meant. It has nothing to do with me being a prostestant.
I agree that God is the one who can make us do good works. I just think that is part of the fruits of the spirit/the law in our hearts.
“Also, notice that Paul never says that we are not saved by good works. He only says that we are not saved by “works.”” What are you even talking about? Good works are still works. Can you clarify?
“Both good works and faith are free gifts from the Lord.” Are good works and faith different in your opinion? Sometimes you say they are the same sometimes you say they are different.
By the way. How can you explain Romans 10:14-17? If you think faith means doing good works. Good works dont have much to do with hearing any message.
Protestantism is the only branch of Christianity that teaches salvation by faith alone and denies that good works have any part in salvation. Therefore all of the arguments against good works as saving, including the argument that they are necessarily meritorious (the technical way of saying that they “buy your way into heaven”) come from Protestant sources.
Even if you may think of such things as your personal beliefs and ideas, those beliefs and ideas have sources, and the sources of these particular beliefs and ideas are Protestant. That is why I keep bringing Protestantism into this discussion. Whether you are aware of it or not, the particular ideas and arguments you are putting forward are Protestant ideas and arguments.
It is good to be aware of the sources of your beliefs.
Okay I understand. You just sound like you really hate protestants and it kind of bothers me. Of course you dont really hate them but you talk a lot of negative things about them.
I talk negatively about their beliefs. “Love the Protestant, hate the doctrine.” 😉
During my ten years of parish ministry I worked closely with many Protestant pastors and laypeople. They were good people. Most of them were from the more liberal churches in town. The conservative and evangelical churches and pastors mostly avoided the ecumenical and interfaith scene—though I did manage to get them involved in a few joint projects and services. So no, I don’t hate Protestants.
But the official doctrines of their churches are not taught in the Bible, and contradict everything the Bible says. That’s what I hate.
In response to this:
Protestants commonly say that the Bible says we are not saved by good works. But the Bible never actually says we are not saved by good works. Only that we are not saved by “works.”
Paul was perfectly capable of saying that we are not saved or justified by good works. He uses the term “good works” quite a few times in his epistles. But he never does say that we are not saved or justified by good works. This should be a clue that when he says that we are not saved or justified by “works,” he is not talking about good works. If he were, he would have said so at least once. But, once again, he never does say that.
It should therefore be a clue that when he does say that we are not saved or justified by “works,” he is using “works” in a meaning other than “good works.” The meaning he does intend by “works” in those passages is covered in this article:
Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does
At minimum, it is simply incorrect to claim that the Bible says we are not saved or justified by good works. It never says that. Not once. Only that we are not saved or justified by “works.”
In response to this:
Yes, faith and good works are different. Faith is on the “truth” side of things, whereas good works are on the “good” side of things. They are distinct, but they can never be separated from one another, or they cease to be faith and good works.
Faith involves believing, understanding, and following the truth, and specifically for Christians, the teachings of Jesus Christ in the Bible. Good works is the actual putting into practice of that faith; it involves doing good deeds of love and service for our fellow human beings.
We can’t have faith, or be faithful, to Jesus, without actually doing the things that our faith tells us to do, which is at the simplest level obeying the Lord’s teachings and commandments. Meanwhile, if we do not believe that these things come from the Lord, and that we must do them because the Lord has taught and commanded us to do them, they are not genuine good works, because our reasons for doing them generally have to do with serving our own interests—such as getting paid, or building up our own status and reputation.
In short, faith and good works are distinct from one another, but they cannot be separated, or they are no longer faith and good works. Separating them is like separating the heat and light of the sun, or separating the form of an object from its substance. Once they are separated, they are either nothing, or they are ineffective at accomplishing anything, including salvation.
In response to this:
Romans 10:14–17 is talking about how we receive faith—by hearing the good news preached. That seems clear enough. As I said in my previous reply, faith and good works are not the same. But both together are necessary for salvation.
This isn’t just “my view.” It doesn’t matter what I think. But it does matter what the Bible says.
I’m not just saying, “I think traditional Christian doctrine is wrong.”
I’m saying, “Traditional Christian doctrine is not stated anywhere in the Bible.”
There’s a big difference.
For several decades now I have been challenging Protestants to show me even one passage in the Bible that says we are saved or justified by faith alone, or that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, or that good works are the fruits of faith, or that God is a Trinity of Persons, and the same for many other key Protestant doctrines.
Not a single Protestant in all those years has ever been able to show me even one passage in the entire Bible that says any of these things. And that hasn’t been for lack of trying.
The simple fact of the matter is that:
The list goes on and on. In fact, the Bible clearly and explicitly denies of many of these things. Once again, please see my series of articles starting with:
The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?
This goes way beyond me thinking that Protestants are wrong. The Bible doesn’t say the things that Protestants say it does. Protestant doctrine is not taught in the Bible. Anywhere. It was made up by human beings centuries after the Bible was written.
If you think I’m wrong, show me the passages where the Bible says any of these things.
You can’t, because they’re not there. You’re not arguing with me. You’re arguing with the Bible.
About Romans 2:1-16.
He talks to people who have stubborn/hard, unrepentant hearts.
Read verse 7-8. In verse 7 “To them who by patient continuance in well doing seek for glory and honour and immortality.”
Unbelievers dont seek for immortality. So maybe its not talking about unbelievers.
In verse 8 “But for those who are self-seeking and who reject the truth…” Unbelievers reject the truth, right?
Atleast consider my points.
Romans 2:1–16 is explicitly talking about unbelievers. Jews are not Christian believers. “Greeks” are not Christian believers. Gentiles are not Christian believers.
Traditional “Christians” (they’re not really Christian, because they reject the teachings of both Jesus and Paul, and replace them with human teachings found nowhere in the Bible) have tried to argue away this passage for centuries. But the simple fact of the matter is that in Romans 2:1–16, Paul tells us how non-Christians who remain non-Christians can be and are saved through Jesus Christ at the time of judgment.
You said that jews are not christian believers but didnt for example Paul still consider himself a jew. Back then you could be a jew and a christian believers kind of. And gentiles were turning to Jesus.
You kind of skipped over my arguments. I think I had some relevant points so please consider them.
Im not trying to offend you but most of your comment was pretty useless. You waste so much time telling me how traditional christians are not really christians and how they’re wrong about everything(and you do this often). Not really relevant to the debate.
It is important to understand that the main teachings of Protestant and Catholic Christianity are not from the Bible, nor are they taught in the Bible. They are from human councils and creeds. See, for example, this series of articles:
The Faulty Foundations of Faith Alone – Part 1: God is a Trinity of Persons?
The reason I haven’t given you more specific answers in the comments is that most of your questions are already answered in other articles here. That’s why I keep referring you to them. I don’t like to have to retype things I’ve already explained in detail elsewhere.
As for Romans 2:1-16, there is no possible way that this is referring to Christians. He uses three words, “Jews,” “Greeks,” and “Gentiles” all of which are clearly meant to refer to people who are not believers in Christ. It is true that at this time many Jewish-born Christians still considered themselves Jews. But they did not consider themselves Greeks, and they certainly did not consider themselves Gentiles.
Unfortunately (sorry to say it again), false “Christian” doctrine has caused Protestants and Catholics to ignore the plain, obvious meaning of Paul’s teaching in Romans 2:1-16. He is talking about how non-Christians are saved by God through Jesus Christ. This is clear to any objective reader.
Arent gentiles and greeks just those who have become christians but arent born as jews? Greek and gentile are just names for non jewish nations. Acts 11:18 for example describes gentiles who have repetance or you could say faith.
Acts 11:1–18 addresses a theme that is very common in the Acts and the Epistles: whether non-Jews can be saved by Jesus without having to observe the Mosaic Law that Jews are required to observe. This was a major debate among the early Jewish-born Christians, as you can see by reading Acts 15, recounting the “Council at Jerusalem,” as it later came to be known.
This is also a major theme in Paul’s letters. That is what he is really talking about in his statements about being saved by faith apart from the works of the Law. As I’ve covered in many articles here, including some of the ones I’ve linked for you, Paul was arguing that it is not necessary to be an observant Jew in order to be saved by faith in Jesus Christ. Once readers of Paul understand this, much of what he says suddenly falls into place. Paul did not teach salvation by faith alone any more than Peter, James, John, or Jesus himself did.
The difference between Acts 11:1–18 and Romans 2:1–16 is that the Acts passage is talking about gentiles who are coming to Peter to be baptized and become Christians, whereas the Romans passage says nothing at all about the Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles it speaks of becoming Christians. Paul then goes on to talk in Romans 3 more specifically about how people are saved through faith in Jesus Christ. In Romans 2 he is speaking more broadly about how all people who live according to their conscience, whether Christian believers or not, are saved by God through Jesus Christ.
It is important not to add things to the text of the Bible that it doesn’t say.
The problem is that you act like in romans 2 greeks, gentiles must mean those who are not believers. But those words in my opinion just describes their nationality and that they are not jews by birth.
I know its important not to add to the bible. So you shouldnt either say that those words MUST mean unbelievers. Dont act like its 100% certain.
Have a great day!
In Romans 2:1–16 Paul could have said “Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles who were baptized and became brothers.” But he didn’t say that. That’s why reading it that way is adding to the Bible. Paul simply didn’t say that these were Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles who became Christian.
Further, the passage bears little resemblance to Paul’s descriptions of how baptized believers are saved. There is not a word about faith in the whole chapter. It is all about those who seek goodness and glory vs. those who reject the truth and follow evil. And then he contrasts those who sin apart from the law (meaning “Greeks” and “gentiles) with those who sin under the law (meaning Jews). And he is about to argue that baptized believers are not under the law. So at least the Jews here are certainly not baptized believers, because if they were, they would not be under the law.
Then he goes on to say that those who obey the law are considered righteous in God’s sight, whereas those who are not under the law, but follow the things that the law requires, have the law written upon their hearts, and are judged by their conscience at the time when God through Jesus judges the secret thoughts of all.
This doesn’t sound anything like what he goes on to talk about in Romans 3 about being saved by faith apart from the works of the law.
Not only does Paul not say in Romans 2 that he’s talking about baptized believers who were Jews, Greeks, or Christians, but the entire sequence makes it very clear that he is not talking about baptized believers. Trying to make his statements in Romans 2 be about baptized believers is therefore not only adding something to his words that he did not say, but it is completely ignoring and misunderstanding the whole thrust of his argument, and not paying attention to the things that he did say.
Okay, Ill try to study this passage more and see what it says. Im not really seeing what you are seeing. It will take some time so dont wonder that I wont reply to your arguments yet.
“Paul simply didn’t say that these were Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles who became Christian”
Though, this bothered me. I just cant understand why is it such a problem that the word gentile could mean believers. Doesnt the word gentile mean just someone who is not born jew? For example if im talking about someone who is chinese. Would it be so weird if that person that I was talking about turned out to be a christian? Would you automatically asume that he was an unbelievers before you know? Maybe not the best example but you get the point.
Used by themselves, only “Jews” could sometimes be used to mean “Christians.” But usually in the New Testament “Jews” means “Jews.” Neither “Greeks” nor “Gentiles” would normally be used to describe Christian believers. But if it says that a Greek or Gentile has been baptized, or has become a “brother,” or the context otherwise indicates that these are people who have become Christians, then yes, those “Greeks” and “Gentiles” are now Christians. But they will now usually be referred to as “brothers” rather than as “Greeks” or “Gentiles.”
In Romans 2, there is no indication that these Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles have become Christians. So the usual way of reading it would be that they are just what those words usually imply, non-Christian Jews, “Greeks,” and Gentiles.
I understand but I think its not 100% proof that they are. For example see Galatians 2:3. But I totally understand your point.
It’s the most sensible way to read the passage based on what the text itself says. The text simply doesn’t say that these Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles have become Christians. And the context gives every reason to believe that they have not. Assuming that they have converted and are Christians is just that: an assumption. And not a very sound one based on what the passage actually says. It’s doctrine driving the Bible instead of the Bible driving doctrine.
In Galatians 2:3 Titus has clearly become a Christian. He is accompanying Paul on his evangelistic missions. And notice once again that the issue of circumcision comes up.
Did you get my latest comment which I sent yesterday?
For some reason it got put into the spam folder. I fished it out of there, and responded just now.
Thanks for replying!
And I have read romans 2 and studied it and I still think it doesnt teach what you teach.
In my experience, people who have been infected with and heavily ingrained in Luther’s doctrine simply cannot read the Bible and see its plain meaning. There is too strong an overlay of faith alone in their thinking. They read everything in the Bible through that distorting lens.
Anyone who can read the one and only explicit statement about faith alone in the Bible, “You see that a person is justified by works, and not by faith alone” (James 2:24), and still believe Luther’s doctrine of justification by faith alone, simply cannot read and accept what the Bible says. Such people are putting human doctrine ahead of the Word of God. In my experience, having had extensive biblical and doctrinal conversations with many Protestants over a period of two or three decades, people who have this dogma-induced blindness will ignore or explain away anything in the Bible that disagrees with Luther’s doctrine. That is its mesmerizing power to blind and confuse human minds.
As I have said before, Romans 2 never says, nor does it give any indication, that it is speaking only about Christian believers, and that the “Jews,” “Greeks,” and “Gentiles” that it mentions refers only those non-Christians who have become Christians.
Starting in Romans 1, Paul is addressing the letter to the group of believers in Rome. They are, he says Gentiles who have been called to faith (Romans 1:1–7), and whom he therefore addresses them as “brothers” (Romans 1:13, where he again refers to them as “Gentiles”; these are not Jewish Christians). He also says that their “faith is proclaimed throughout the world” (Romans 1:8), indicating that the Roman converts he is addressing are such exemplary people that they have a reputation for faith that reaches far and wide.
He concludes his opening salutation by saying:
Here he is clearly speaking of Jews and Greeks who have accepted the Gospel.
And so the whole opening of Romans is addressed to people who have become Christian “brothers,” and in this case, to Gentiles (Romans) who have become “brothers.”
Then, in Romans 1:18–37, he speaks of the wickedness of humankind generally. Clearly in that section he is not talking about the Christian converts in Rome, whose “faith is proclaimed throughout the world.”
And then in Romans 2:1–16 he speaks of God’s righteous judgment against the people who engage in such wicked behavior. Again, he is not talking here about the Roman Gentile believers who are “brothers” (converts to Christianity), whose faith is “exemplary.” The Romans he is addressing are not the ones who are “are doing the very same [evil] things” (Romans 2:1).
Unlike Romans 1, in Romans 2 Paul never uses the word “brother,” he never uses the word “faith,” he never uses any of the words or phrases that he has used in Romans 1:1–17 to indicate that he is speaking to and about Christian converts. Such wording is entirely absent from Romans 2.
In fact, he starts off with wording that makes it clear that what he is about to say refers to all people:
In a more literal translation:
The Greek is ἄνθρωπε πᾶς ὁ κρίνων, (anthrope pas ho krinon) “O human, all the judging.” (The Greek anthropos is gender-inclusive.) Not “brother.” Not “person of faith.” Every person who judges.
Is he talking about the Roman converts, who are exemplary in their faith? Whom he has just praised to the sky in his opening salutation? It is impossible to think this. He is calling down God’s harsh condemnation on people who engage in evil actions. He is now speaking of all people who judge others but engage in the same evil actions for which they condemn others (Romans 2:1).
It is preposterous to think that he is here speaking of Christian believers. He has just spent Romans 1:18–32 condemning wicked and guilty humans. There he is obviously not talking about Christian converts. Now in Romans 2 he begins by condemning “all people” who judge those who engage in such actions, yet engage in them themselves. Not “brothers” who do such thing. Not “the faithful” who do such things. All people who do such things.
His wording throughout Romans 2:1–16 continues to be all-inclusive (italics added in each case):
If he had wanted to say, “all brothers” or “all faithful,” he would have said that. But he doesn’t. He continually uses the word “all.” Meaning that he is talking about all people, not some subset of people. There is no indication whatsoever that he is speaking of Christian believers. Not a word in the entire chapter.
To take his repeated “all” and say, “He means only Christian believers,” is to ignore his plain words. He simply doesn’t say, or indicate in any way whatsoever, that he is referring only to Christians. Reading it that way is an example of the Luther-induced blindness that I spoke of above. It is reading into the Bible things that aren’t there, simply because false doctrine requires that they be there.
Similarly, in Romans 2:17–29, Paul is speaking about Jews and their observance of the Law. Clearly he is not talking about the Roman converts he is addressing in the letter; they were never Jews, but are Gentile converts. Once again, to read that section of the letter as if he is speaking only of Christian Jews is to read into it something Paul simply doesn’t say. Not only that, it is to completely miss Paul’s point.
Romans 3:1–20 continues on the subject of Jews, the Law, circumcision, sin, and so on.
It is not until Romans 3:21–26 that Paul returns to the subject of being saved by faith in Jesus Christ, which he had spoken of somewhat more elliptically in his opening salutation to the “faithful” “brothers” in Rome, who are Gentile converts to Christianity.
Once again, it is very clear that in the entirety of Romans 2:1–3:19 Paul is speaking of non-Christians, and of all people generally, regardless of their particular religious beliefs or faith: of all Jews, “Greeks,” and Gentiles, not just those who have become Christian faithful. Only a dogma-induced blindness could cause a person to read that part of the letter and conclude that Paul is speaking only of Christian believers. Every wording and every indication in the text of the letter itself in those sections is that he is speaking of all people, regardless of their religion or faith.
Reading it otherwise is to read into the Bible things that the Bible simply doesn’t say because one’s (false) doctrine requires the Bible to say things that it doesn’t actually say.
In this way, the false doctrine of justification by faith alone that Luther invented and laid down as the cornerstone of Protestant belief has twisted and corrupted everything in the Bible, turning its plain truth into human-induced blindness and falsity.
Paul is not the only one who spoke (in Romans 2:1–16) of all people being saved or condemned according to their good deeds or lack thereof. Before him, his Lord and Savior Jesus Christ said the same thing, in Matthew 25:31–46, where he describes the judgment of the nations.
Jesus opens his description of that great Judgment by saying that when the Son of Man comes in glory, and sits on his glorious throne, “all the nations will be gathered before him” (Matthew 25:1, italics added). Not some nations. Not only the Christian nations. All the nations.
Then, he says, the King (the Son of Man) will separate and judge them for eternal life or eternal punishment based on what they have done. If they have done good deeds for people in need, they will receive eternal life. If they have failed to do good deeds for people in need, they will receive eternal punishment.
Like Romans 2:1–16, there is not a single word in Matthew 25:31–46 indicating that Jesus’ teaching here is limited to Christian believers. He never uses the word “faith,” or “brothers,” or any other word that limits his opening “all” to Christian believers only.
Once again, reading Matthew 25:31–46 to mean that Jesus is speaking only of Christian believers is reading into his words something he simply doesn’t say. He says all the nations. His words apply to all people, not just to Christians.
Just as in reading Paul’s words in Romans 2:1–16 and thinking that he is speaking only of Christians there, reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31–46 and thinking that he is speaking only of Christians there is a case of dogma-induced blindness that makes it impossible for those who have been infected by Luther’s false, anti-biblical doctrine of justification by faith alone to read and understand anything the Bible says.
John’s warning applies to such people who add words to, and subtract words from, the words of God in the Bible in this way:
About romans 2. Im not actually sure why I thought that it was just talking about gentiles who are believers. I read the word “every man” and it became clearer. Im sorry. Im reading the bible in english and its not my first language and I’ll admit I think I tried to put my own ideas to the verse without really thinking about what it was trying to tell. So maybe thats why I didnt understand the use of the word “gentile.”
I still think you interpretation is not right. So here are three links which have the explanation for this passage:
By: Matt Slick
By Paul Ellis(in the first link. Read the part “Isn’t Paul preaching works?”)
And now about romans 10. These kind of passages are the reason I dont think that you are right in the interpretation of romans 2 for example.
“Faith and belief are not necessarily the same thing”
If you read romans 10 its clear that the believing that is talked about is linked with salvation. So in john 3:18 and romans 10 they should be the same since they both are linked with salvation. Dont try to make a distinction between them. There isnt.
“Basically, if we don’t hear about the Lord and his teachings, we really can’t have faith because we don’t even know the things that form the basis of faith.”
What about the atheist who dont hear?
The thing is romans 10 says faith comes by hearing. John 3:18 says those who believe are saved. Therefore your explanation for john 3:18 doesnt make sense because faith has to come by hearing. But good works do not come by hearing.
You are, of course, free to believe what you wish to believe.
The three articles you link to make the usual Protestant mistakes of adding things to the Bible that it doesn’t say, and subtracting from it the things that it does say. Neither writer has the slightest understanding of what Paul is talking about in his letters. Both of them are wearing the thick blinders of Luther’s doctrine. They therefore simply can’t read and understand what the Bible says.
I could provide a point by point explanation of how each one of these articles is adding to and subtracting from the Bible. However, I’m beginning to get the sense that your mind is already made up, and that nothing I say will make a difference. When it gets to that point, it’s a waste of both your time and mine to continue the conversation.
Here are some the main articles on this site that deal with the errors in which Matt Slick (CARM) and Paul Ellis are entangled:
If you want the answers to your questions, they are in these articles. However, if you are already convinced that salvation is by faith alone, and you’re just here to tell me I’m wrong, then nothing I say, and nothing the Bible says, will convince you otherwise.
The thing is im pretty sure you dont have an answer to romans 10 and me neither, if your view would be right. So my view must be right because there isnt an answer to romans 10 and john 3:18 for example. In my opinion there are other passages also. If you have an answer that makes sense link the article or comment. I showed in my latest comment that your answer didnt make sense.
This has been a really long debate :). I understand if you want to stop. Have a nice day!
I’ve already explained Romans 10 multiple times in the comment sections of this blog. See, for example, my answers to two other readers who asked about Romans 10:9 here and here.
I simply don’t think this debate is going anywhere. I could respond to every single passage in the Bible if you like. But if your mind is already made up that we are saved by faith alone and not by good works (something that the Bible never says), it will be a complete waste of time. Since you have already adopted and confirmed Luther’s false and unbiblical doctrine in your mind, you simply won’t be able to read and understand what anything in the Bible means.
I’ve been down this road before. I have found that no amount of quoting the Bible will convince a solfidian of the error of that doctrine, because that doctrine is not based on the Bible. It’s based on an idea (justification by faith alone) that has been so thoroughly ingrained in the minds of doctrinally-oriented Protestants that they simply cannot see anything else. No matter where they look in the Bible, they see “justification by faith alone,” regardless of the fact that it’s not actually stated there, and is, in fact, explicitly denied.
If James 2:24 isn’t enough for you, then nothing I say, and no Bible passage I explain to you, will make any dent at all. You’ll just move on to the next misunderstood Protestant proof-text, and we’ll keep spinning our wheels forever.
In my experience, the only thing that shakes Protestants out of that belief is a serious life trauma that ejects them from their church and breaks down their faith. I have talked to Protestants who were able to reject Luther’s doctrine after a life-shattering divorce, or a business failure, or being thrown out of their church, or some other personal trauma. Short of that, Luther’s doctrine has been stamped too deeply into their minds to be extirpated.
I know you want to stop and you dont have to reply if you dont want to(but please do).
Im trying to understand the bible. I dont genuinely understand your take on romans 10:14-15. Why is it talking about hearing? You sent me links but both were about verse 9 and those. But my problem is that you your explanation for john 3:18 was that some atheist who lives a life of love does “believe” in a saving way. So you logically should use the same definition in romans 10:14-15 but it wouldnt make sense because good works have nothing to do with hearing. You see this is more about just that I dont understand your explanation than that Im a prostestant. If I had the same view as you I would probably still think about this.
So please understand that im not trying to be stubborn on this. You are just using the definition of believing a bit inconsistently in my opinion.
I havent disagreed with james 2:24 by the way.
This can be the last passage we talk about.
I am happy to continue the conversation as long as it seems like it’s going somewhere. When things start going in circles, that’s when I get off the merry-go-round.
About Romans 10:14–15, it’s not necessary to make it so complicated. In those verses Paul is making a simple point: You can’t have faith in Jesus unless someone tells you about Jesus. Sort of like you can’t watch the World Series unless someone tells you about baseball.
The bigger picture is that as long as your mind is infected with Luther’s doctrine, you will never be able to properly read and understand Paul’s letters. My primary advice and urging is that you completely repudiate the false doctrine of salvation by faith alone. Once you do that, you will begin to understand what Paul is talking about. Until you do that, you will always be confused and in the dark.
“Paul is making a simple point: You can’t have faith in Jesus unless someone tells you about Jesus.” But what if someone does good works but hasnt heard about Jesus. Because you define believing as doing good works. This was my point all along.
No, I do not define believing as doing good works. Rather, I say that believing cannot be separated from doing good works, or it is not believing. Our beliefs are the ideas that we hold to in our minds that we act upon. If we say we believe in marital faithfulness, but we actually commit adultery, do we really believe in marital faithfulness? The belief is distinct from the act, but if we do not act upon it, and especially if we act contrary to it, it is not really our belief.
The beliefs are the mental side of it. The actions are the physical side of it. The love from which we do it is the heart side of it. These are all distinct from one another. But they must be together for any of them to be real.
That is why faith alone is not faith.
To respond to your other statement, “faith” as it is most commonly used in the Epistles and in the New Testament generally is speaking of Christian faith, because the Epistles are written for a Christian audience: namely, the various Christian groups to which they were originally addressed, and their spiritual descendants within Christianity. Christians who do not believe in Jesus are either not really Christians, or they are violating their faith.
For non-Christians, the standard is to follow God as they are taught by their religion to believe in God, and in particular, to follow their religion’s rules for loving God and loving the neighbor.
For atheists, the standard is to follow some higher moral and ethical code that involves doing good for one’s fellow human beings because that is the right thing to do. As explained in the above article, such atheists are not even atheist by the biblical definition of atheist.
“But they must be together for any of them to be real.” Yeah but why wouldnt Paul talk about that same faith? He links it with salvation so it must be the same kind of saving faith that is talked about in john 3:18, right?
Do you think in romans 10:14-17 Paul is talking about your definition of faith(it includes good works and its faith even if you dont believe Jesus existed)?
Short answer: Yes, I do.
Paul never teaches faith alone. He never teaches faith without good works. Only faith without “works,” by which he means the “works” of the Jewish ritual law, which he also calls “circumcision.”
Further, as I’ve said repeatedly, Romans 2 is clearly about how people who do not believe in Jesus are saved. So yes, I think that Paul has a much broader view of salvation than today’s “Christian” church does, and that Paul’s definition of “faith” includes living by that faith, or else it isn’t faith. Otherwise why would he waste so much time giving detailed instructions about how to live a Christian life?
Paul explicitly says that non-Christians (people who don’t believe in Jesus) have been justified by faith in Romans 4, in which he speaks of Abraham being justified by his faith before circumcision had even been instituted—and obviously, long before Jesus was born. And in Romans 9 he speaks of the Israelites not being saved by the Law because they did not follow it based on faith. So even Jews can be justified if they follow their law based on faith, rather than based on “works,” meaning mere behavioral observance of the requirements of the Law of Moses without the faithfulness to God that gives observance of the Law its life and meaning.
And if you think that Paul means Abraham was justified without actually living by his faith and doing good works as well as having faith, then you are causing the Bible to contradict itself, because James 2:20–24 states explicitly that Abraham was justified by his works, which were active along with his faith (not just as a consequence of faith, as false Protestant doctrine claims).
So yes, I think that Paul, James, Peter, John, and Jesus all teach according to the definition of faith that I am using, in which it is not faith unless it is accompanied by good works. And yes, I think they all teach that non-Christians can be and are saved if they have faith and do good works according to their own beliefs.
The traditional Christian denial of this is a stunning rejection of the teaching of the entire Bible, both Old Testament and New. Today’s “Christianity” is not Christian, because it rejects the clear teachings of Jesus Christ and of the entire Bible about salvation.
Do you understand my question? My point has been that IF your definition is correct then how can hearing produce good works? Hearing has nothing to do with good works. I want the answer to this.
About romans 4. I agree that Abraham was saved. Im not saying that jews before Jesus even came to earth couldnt be saved. They just believed in God. About romans 4 by the way. Verses 4-5 :).
“And if you think that Paul means Abraham was justified without actually living by his faith and doing good works as well as having faith” I didnt say that. Of course he lived by hes faith. Though james 2:20-24 doesnt talk about good works.
The first point about romans 10 is important. Reply to that.
One of the symptoms of solfidian blindness is that it causes the sufferer to continually see words and ideas in the Bible that aren’t there. People suffering from solfidian blindness see the word “alone” here where it doesn’t exist, and the word “produces” there where it doesn’t exist.
Romans 10:17 doesn’t say that hearing produces faith. That verse says, in the KJV:
But there is actually no word for “cometh” in the original Greek. Translated more literally, it says “faith is by/from hearing.” This is a reference to what Paul has just said a few verses earlier:
The meaning of “faith is by hearing” is clear from the context: You can’t have faith in Jesus if you’ve never even heard of Jesus because no one has preached Jesus to you. Remember, there was no New Testament at that time. The Good News was spread almost entirely by word of mouth—i.e., by preaching.
Solfidian blindness takes a simple sequence about how it is necessary to have Jesus preached to you in order to believe in him, and adds words such as “produces” that simply aren’t there, creating false doctrine out of thin air. Solfidian blindness changes the meaning of the passage so that it will conform to Luther’s doctrine, which is so deeply ingrained on the mind of the sufferer that he or she sees “faith alone” everywhere in the Bible, even though it’s not there. It is like walking through a beautiful forest on a sunlit day and seeing hyenas and crocodiles everywhere.
The Bible also never says that faith produces good works, or that good works are the fruits of faith. Believing this is another symptom of solfidian blindness.
Until you reject and repudiate Luther’s doctrine, you will never be able to read and understand what the Bible says. You will continue to add words and ideas that aren’t there, and subtract words and ideas that are there.
Hearing does not produce faith. Faith is produced by the working of the Lord Jesus Christ in the believer’s mind and heart. However, Christian believers must have heard of Jesus in order to accept Jesus consciously into their mind and heart, so that Jesus can accomplish his fullest work there.
Jesus can still reach people who don’t consciously believe in him, but not to such a great extent. He has to work through more diffuse and less focused beliefs. He is perfectly capable of doing this—hence his ability to save Jews, Greeks, and Gentiles who are not Christians, as Paul tells us in Romans 2:1–16; and hence his ability to save all people, of all nations, not just Christian nations, who do good deeds of love and kindness for their fellow human beings, as Jesus himself tells us in Matthew 25:31–46.
“The meaning of “faith is by hearing” is clear from the context: You can’t have faith in Jesus if you’ve never even heard of Jesus because no one has preached Jesus to you. Remember, there was no New Testament at that time.” I agree with this. My point was that if this is just about christian faith. Then why john 3:18 doesnt talk about that aswell?
Also you have to understand that you calling me blind and ranting about protestants doesnt change anything. Even if you feel it does.
I dont make my points because im blinded. I think my question is pretty logical. I genuinely dont understand your view on this. Even someone who isnt a christian could probably ask the same questions. So it has little to do with me being a ptotestant. I just see contradiction and I ask you about it.
The Bible is capable of talking about different subjects in different places. It is not always talking about faith alone. In fact, it is never talking about faith alone, except when it rejects it.
Did you read the article I linked for you about John 3:18? Here it is again:
Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?
I speak of Protestant blindness because that’s what’s preventing you from understanding both what I’m saying and what the Bible is saying in all of these passages. I have linked many articles for you. Read them. Then read Acts 15. Then read the articles again. Then read Acts 15 again. Perhaps eventually the light will penetrate your solfidian blindness, your eyes will be opened, and you will see the truth.
Until the scales fall away from your eyes, I could explain every single passage in the Bible, and you still would not see or understand.
I understand why you talk about protestant blindness but it just doesnt make me (or anyone) change their minds. Atleast if you say it over and over and over again.
I have read the article.
You havent been able to answer my question so that it makes sense. We can end this debate after you just finally come up with an answer to romans 10:14-17. Or maybe you said it already and I didnt understand. But for the last time. IF your definition of faith is correct. Then how hearing has anything to do with it? IF I and most of the christians are correct then it makes sense. Your hear, you believe, you get saved. If you say this talks JUST about christian beliefs. Then why would Paul talk about christian faith while john 3:18 wouldnt?
Im sorry if you have already said it.
By the way I dont think that acts 15 relates to our debate. If you refer to the gentiles, they were “turned to God” and believers. You dont have to start to insult me again for not understanding.
I have already explained Romans 10:14–17 several times. Explaining it yet again won’t help. You don’t like my answer. There’s not anything I can do about that. Protestants in general don’t like my views because they are in fundamental conflict with Protestant views.
If you truly want to change your thinking and come to a different view of the Bible, Jesus Christ, salvation, and Christianity in general, I am willing to continue this conversation as long as needed and explain as many Bible passages as necessary in order for you to make that transition. I have had conversations far longer than this one with people who sincerely wanted a new outlook on Christianity and the Bible.
But that does not seem to be your interest or motivation. So far, every time I have explained a passage, including when I have explained the same passage multiple times, you have rejected any part of my explanation that doesn’t agree with your already existing views. I therefore doubt that there is any further usefulness to this conversation.
Perhaps if you told me exactly why you want me to answer your questions and explain these Bible passages, it might help. If the reason is, “I think you’re wrong, and I want to show you that you’re wrong,” then that is not a useful conversation. Or if the reason is, “I [meaning you] think I’m right, and I want you to confirm for me that I’m right by failing to answer my questions to my satisfaction,” then that is also not a useful conversation for me to have with you.
If you are happy with your current views, as I am with mine, then we can each go on our way, and continue our respective journeys each on our own path. However, if you are truly seeking a new understanding of the Bible and salvation, to the point where you are willing to lay aside your current views, then I am willing to continue this conversation.
“you have rejected any part of my explanation that doesn’t agree with your already existing views” your answers didnt just make logical sense.(because hearing doesnt have anything to do with living a life of love/ which you define as having faith in the explanation of john 3:18). I dont think it has anything to do with my view. The problem is that you use the word faith inconsistently in my opinion. Also you said that doing good works is not faith in your opinion. But that they cant be separated. I really dont understand why wouldnt romans 10:14-17 talk about that same faith (including works or in your view just works). Because like Ive said a hundred times hearing has nothing to do with works. And if it just talks about christian beliefs then why doesnt john 3:18 do the same? These are problems.
The reason for asking about this passage is that it contradicts your view in my opinion. So I want you to see that and come up with an answer that makes sense. If you dont have an answer then you would have to think about your view. This my reason. Of course you said you had answers but I dont remember you giving anything that explains the passage clearly.
Its hard for me to change my view if theres passages like this that contradict your view(in my opinion). But to be honest there are more that passages that makes sense more in my view. So thats why we dont have to continue this debate. But please read my points carefully on romans 10:14-17. Think about them on your own if you dont want to continue.
Thanks for replying to me. You always did it very quickly:) Have a nice day!
You seem to think that a word can have one and only one meaning. That’s just not how language works.
Every common word in every language has multiple meanings, or a whole range of meaning. Leaf through the pages of any full-featured dictionary to confirm this. Common words don’t have just one definition. They have multiple definitions. That’s because in ordinary spoken and written language we use the same word to mean various things in different contexts. The context tells us which meaning, or shade of meaning, is intended. “Faith,” “works,” and other words common in the New Testament are no exception.
I cover some (though really, not all) of the meanings of “works” in the New Testament in this article:
Doesn’t Ephesians 2:8-9 Teach Faith Alone?
If you try to make each word mean exactly the same thing in every place it is used, you will make nonsense out of any literary production, including the Bible. That’s just not how language, or the human mind, works.
As for my definition of faith, once again, please read this article:
Faith Alone Is Not Faith
And yes, faith and good works must be together or they are not faith and good works, but that does not mean they are the same thing. An object’s substance and its form are not the same thing. But without both substance and form together, the object does not exist, nor do the substance nor the form exist. This doesn’t mean substance and form are the same thing. Just that they must be together for either one of them to exist.
A chair, for example, has both substance (often wood or metal, and some fabric on padded chairs) and form (the shape of a chair, with legs, a seat, a back, armrests, and so on). Without both its substance and its form, there is no chair, nor is there even any substance and form. But wood, metal, and fabric are not the same thing as the shape of a chair, nor is the shape of the chair the same thing as the wood, metal, and fabric it is made of. The substance and form are distinctly different from one another, but they must be together for either one of them to exist.
It is the same with faith and “charity,” or love that leads to good works. Without both together, neither is real. Without both together, neither has any existence other than a purely theoretical existence in human imagination. For there to be any actual faith, it must be together with good works, and vice versa. That is why faith alone is not faith. It is a non-entity. It does not exist, except theoretically in the imagination of Protestant theologians.
For you to understand the Bible, and my explanations of it, you are going to have to gain a basic understanding of how language works, together with much broader and deeper understanding of faith and good works. The article, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith” linked just above is one place to start on the meaning of “faith” in the Bible.
I understand that language can be used differently. But to me it makes more sense if they just talk about the same faith because both are also linked with salvation. What do you think?
Is there a reason you think they talk about different kinds of faith? I understand that it isnt impossible that they are but do you have proof?
This is why the views one has in reading the Bible will determine what one gets out of it. And it’s why I say that as long as you approach the Bible from a faith-alone perspective, that’s what you will see in it.
My view of faith is developed not only from reading Swedenborg’s writings, but from looking at how the word is used in various contexts throughout the Bible. This is explored in the article “Faith Alone Is Not Faith” that I linked for you earlier. If you want “proof,” that’s where to look.
But really, it’s more about gaining a broader understanding of what love, faith, good works, salvation, and so on are all about.
If you pour water into a square glass, the water will form a square. If you pour water into a round glass, the water will form a circle. That’s how it is with the “water of life”—meaning the Lord’s truth—in the Bible. We understand it according to the already existing shape of our mind.
Changing that shape is difficult. That’s why Catholics tend to remain Catholics, Protestants tend to remain Protestants, and so on. As I’ve said before, usually only some kind of severe life trauma breaks the pattern of a person’s existing faith, and opens their mind up to a new “shape” of faith. The people who come here looking for a new and more satisfying faith are usually ones who are going through the wringer in their lives one way or another, such that their previous beliefs are no longer believable or helpful to them.
If you are going through some sort of life change, and finding that your former beliefs are no longer satisfactory, then there may be a basis for you to move on to something new. If not, it is likely that no amount of discussion or debate will bring you to see faith, works, salvation, and so on in any different light than you have seen them from up to now. That’s why I am asking you why you are asking these questions.
Im asking these because im trying to change your mind. You have to admit that you have the same thing as you say protestants have. You see your view on everything in the bible. Im not saying its a bad thing but im just saying that you are not different.
And I dont think that the bible is in contradiction on these things and thats why its hard to accept your view. I know that language can be used differently but you dont have any good reason to say that john 3:18 and romans 10:14-17 dont talk about the same. So you are also seeing your view in these passages(not always a bad thing in my opinion). So maybe next time you debate with someone you dont have to shame them for holding their views.
By the way about the faith making people to do good works thing which you dont believe. Galatians 2:20. If Christ lives in you then you’ll probably start loving more or it changes you somehow I think. Also one of the fruit of the spirit is love. Love = doing more good works?
We can stop this debate.
If you are trying to change my mind, then you are wasting your time, because that’s not going to happen.
I have had extensive debates with Protestants over the last two or three decades, and have read whole books full of their arguments for faith alone. The result has been to convince me more and more how weak and baseless Protestant doctrine is, without a single biblical leg to stand on. See:
The Extreme Weakness of Faith Alone and Penal Substitution
As I say in this article, I was actually quite shocked, once I began looking into it, at just how weak Protestant arguments for faith alone are. I expected them to have at least some arguments that would prove a challenge to meet. But in truth, they have no worthy arguments at all. It is all based on utter blindness and misunderstanding of the Bible.
And no, I don’t have to admit that I have the same blindness.
In all those years of debating Protestants, not a single one of them has been able to show me a single passage in the Bible that says that we are saved or justified by faith alone, that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, that Christ’s merit is imputed to believers, and so on. Not a single passage.
The Bible simply doesn’t say what Protestant say it does.
Meanwhile, I can point to hundreds of passages in the Bible that say exactly what I believe about salvation, in words as plain as day. For more on this, please see these two pages:
The simple fact of the matter is that the Bible never teaches Protestant doctrine. It is all based on human doctrines, interpretations, inferences, and opinions.
You yourself have so far not shown me a single passage in the Bible that says that we are saved by faith alone, or that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, or that good works are the fruits of faith, or any of the other things you are trying to “change my mind” about. Why should I listen to you when you can’t show me anywhere that the Bible says these things? You’re niggling about terms such as “faith” and “belief,” while ignoring the fact that the Bible never says the things you say it does. You’re straining out a gnat, and swallowing a camel.
If you want to “change my mind,” you could start by pointing me to even one passage that says what you believe, in plain words, without needing Martin Luther and John Calvin to “interpret” it for you.
Meanwhile, the Bible teaches very clearly, in hundreds of places, in its own plain words, the things I believe about salvation. No “interpretation” is required. For example:
Plain. Simple. To the point. Exactly what I believe, stated in the Bible’s own words.
Galations 2:20 does not say that faith makes people do good works. Here it is:
Nowhere does this passage say that good works flow from faith. Rather, it says that the life that Paul lives is the life of Christ in him, which he has by means of faith. So the life (and its good works) flows from Christ, whereas he has Christ in him through faith. The works flow from Christ, not from faith, just as Jesus Christ himself says:
Further, once again the whole passage in which Galatians 2:20 is embedded is arguing that it is not necessary to be an observant Jew to be saved. Read the full chapter, Galatians 2, and can will see this for yourself. That’s why the very next verse after verse 20, and the final verse of the chapter, reads:
Paul is, once again, arguing that it is not necessary to be a Jew, and to observe the ritual law of Moses, in order to be saved through faith in Jesus Christ.
Notice as you read the chapter that the word “circumcision” comes up half a dozen times. Anyone who is not wearing solfidian blinders can see as plain as day what this chapter is talking about. To make it about faith alone, good works flowing from faith, and so on is to ignore the plain message of the chapter, substituting human doctrinal fallacies for the plain teachings of Paul.
And notice here that instead of saying that we are not justified by “works,” Paul says that justification does not come from “the law.”
Is Paul making a different argument here than he does elsewhere? Not at all. He is making the very same argument. But in some places he uses the full version, that we are not justified by “the works of the law,” whereas in other places he uses shorthand versions, saying that we are not justified by “works” or by “the law.” In all cases, he means the same thing: we are not justified by observing the ritual law of Moses, summarized by the word “circumcision.”
Why does the word “circumcision” always appear where Paul makes his arguments about not being justified by “works” or by “the law” or by “the works of the law”? It is because in every case he is arguing that being an observant Jew is not necessary for salvation.
Protestant arguments for faith alone depend upon ripping selected verses out of that context. They depend upon not seeing the big picture, and focusing on individual verses taken completely out of context, and therefore completely misunderstood.
Once more, about John 3:18 and Romans 10:14–17, they are saying different things about faith.
John 3:18 is talking about how we are saved, or not, by believing in, or rejecting, the Son of God. And I have already explained that extensively in the article, “Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?”
Meanwhile, Romans 10:14–17 is talking about how we come to have faith, namely, by hearing about the things we are to have faith in.
I think you have gotten fixated on my statement that faith and belief don’t always mean the same thing. But that’s not the main point here. The main point is that the two passages are saying two different things, and making two different points. One is talking about being saved or not according to what we do or don’t believe in (and “belief” in the Bible is not mere intellectual assent, as I’ve pointed out numerous times, in numerous linked articles). The other is talking about how we must hear about something in order to have faith in it.
And once again, the big picture is that nowhere does the Bible say any of the things that you want me to “change my mind” about. You’re arguing about words, and missing the big picture that the Bible simply doesn’t say what you believe.
But to respond more substantively, any kind of faith, or belief, comes by hearing, not only faith in Jesus. For one to have faith in the Golden Rule (which an atheist is quite capable of doing), one must have heard of the Golden Rule. For one to have faith in Allah, one must have heard of Allah. For one to have faith in the Great Spirit, one must have heard of the Great Spirit. We cannot have faith in something or someone that we have never heard of.
About John 3:18, I have a whole article about it, here:
Does John 3:18 Mean that All Non-Christians Go to Hell?
“Meanwhile, if we do not believe that these things come from the Lord, and that we must do them because the Lord has taught and commanded us to do them, they are not genuine good works, because our reasons for doing them generally have to do with serving our own interests”
But atheist dont belive they come from the lord…
“This should be a clue that when he says that we are not saved or justified by “works,” he is not talking about good works.” But good works are works. No matter how you put it. The word works contains the word good works or bad works. It doesnt matter that he didnt say good works. When for example Paul talks about faith, we know he isnt talking about faith in something evil but faith in Jesus. Thats obvious.
“That seems clear enough. As I said in my previous reply, faith and good works are not the same. But both together are necessary for salvation.”
But your explanation for john 3:18 for example was that believing means doing good works/living life of love/believing in doing good or something like that.
As covered in the above article, though atheists don’t consciously believe in the Lord, if they believe in higher principles than their own benefit, pleasure, and power, such as believing in the good of humanity and in treating other people with decency and respect, and they live by that belief, then that is their version of God. Jesus said that as much as we have done something for the least of his brothers and sisters, we have done it for him.
In my explanation of John 3:18 and related verses in the article, I was not providing a technical analysis of “faith,” “belief” and “good works,” but was speaking more loosely. The main point is that if you say you believe something, but you don’t act on it, then you don’t really believe it. What you really believe is what you live by. If you say you believe in peace, but you’re continually picking fights with people, do you really believe in peace? I don’t think so!
Beliefs and good actions are distinct from each other. But they cannot be separated without losing their character as genuine beliefs and genuinely good actions that are effective and saving.
To expand upon an earlier example, it is indeed possible to at least partially separate the sun’s heat from its light, such as in winter, when the sun’s light is nearly as bright as in summer, but its heat is greatly attenuated. The result is that much plant life dies off, and many animals go dormant or migrate to warmer climates. Vegetative and animal life requires both light and heat. If you remove too much of the warmth, everything dies, even if there is still plenty of light.
That is also what happens when you separate love of the neighbor from faith, so that a person who claims to have faith does no good works for the neighbor. As James said, faith without works is dead. Such a person is spiritually dead, regardless of his or her claimed “faith in Jesus.”
Or, as I explain in the article of that title, “Faith Alone Is Not Faith.”
The idea that we are saved by our faith, and the good works follow from that, is just words with no meaning. The Bible never says this. The Bible never says that good works are the fruits of faith. That is a Protestant shibboleth that sounds sort of biblical, but isn’t actually in the Bible. Faith and good works must be together or they are dead, just as James explains.
I still dont understand. Romans 10:14 questions imply that faith comes by hearing the gospel. john 3:18 says those who believe will be saved. Your definition of believing doesnt make sense if the faith comes by hearing. And dont even try to say, like you did with the word brother, that they mean different kinds of believing or something. So my point is how can you harmonize these two?
Faith and belief are not necessarily the same thing. And “faith comes by hearing” is not the only thing the Bible says about faith. That passage is about how we come to receive faith. Basically, if we don’t hear about the Lord and his teachings, we really can’t have faith because we don’t even know the things that form the basis of faith.
Interesting take, though it seems to me you’re entirely focused on the human element and that has led you astray. The principal duty of man, as Ecclesiastes says, is to fear God and keep His commandments. The first 4 of these commandments are entirely about fidelity of worship, as is the entirety of the Torah and former prophets. The chief crime of the Canaanite groups, for example, was not their child sacrifice or their prostitution but their devoting worship to gods of their own making. I agree that anyone preaching that atheists who do good won’t go to heaven are in error but the error is that there is no good apart from worshiping God, and at that the true God in Jesus Christ. Jesus Himself said that the sheep know His voice, and those who have the gospel preached to them that are of the character that are fit to salvation respond to it. The bitter truth is that despite appearances the atheists that die atheists after hearing the gospel aren’t good no matter how many outward actions they have. At the core of their being they rejected the King and as He said in a parable “But those enemies of mine who did not want me to be king over them-bring them here and kill them in front of me.'” This of course is not to say those who die never hearing the gospel necessarily go to hell as they will be judged on the revelation of God that they were exposed to, and in that some that would technically be considered atheists by the modern definition may go to heaven. To reject the truth when it is presented is the height of evil.
Yes, I’ve heard this line of thinking many times.
The error in it is that the Gospel that is being preached to day is not the Gospel that Jesus and his disciples preached. If the true Gospel were preached to people, and they rejected it, then yes, they would go to hell, because the true Gospel is that we must repent from our evil deeds and instead love and serve our neighbor. Jesus himself said that if we do something for the least of our brothers and sisters here on earth, we have done it for him.
What is being preached instead is a toxic “Gospel” of mere intellectual belief in irrational, unbiblical, and horrible doctrines that make God out to be a bloodthirsty madman who can’t tolerate the least imperfection in us imperfect human beings, and who sends the bulk of the world’s population to eternal torture in hell just because they believe the wrong thing.
This is the “Gospel” that people are hearing today, and those who are thoughtful and rational run the other way as fast as they can. The preachers of this “Gospel” are doing exactly what the Scribes and Pharisees of Jesus’ day did: barring the door of heaven to others, and not going in themselves. These false “Christians” will have to answer for their spiritual crimes, and for driving millions of people away from the love of Christ through their false preaching, when it comes their time to stand before the judgment seat of God.
Meanwhile, when good-hearted atheists, and people of various non-Christian religions, have the true Gospel of Jesus Christ preached to them in the afterlife, they will accept it with joy, and will find their eternal homes in heaven while the false preachers who chased them away from Christianity are learning the error of their ways, and, if they refuse to give up their false teaching and preaching, shuffling their way down to the eternal punishment that awaits those who fail to do good for their fellow human beings.
Does Swedenborg support the idea that people of all religions can go to heaven?
Yes, way back in the 18th century, before it was popular, Swedenborg stated emphatically that people of all religions go to heaven if they live a good life according to their own religious beliefs. Here is one example of what he said about this:
For more on this, please see:
If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?