Many articles here on Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life are about how people from all different religions, and even people who have no religious beliefs at all, can go to heaven if they live a good life of love and service to their fellow human beings. Here are some of the more popular ones:
- If there’s One God, Why All the Different Religions?
- Do Atheists Go to Heaven?
- How Big is the New Jerusalem?
- Is Jesus Christ the Only Way to Heaven?
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth
And yet, there are many other articles here that focus on the error of various traditional Christian doctrines, and present other doctrines that we believe to be better and truer. For some samplers with links to more articles, please see:
So what gives?
If people of all different beliefs and doctrines can go to heaven, why does doctrine even matter? Why is it important to believe the right thing? And why do we here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life spend so much time saying what’s true and what’s false? Isn’t that just a big waste of time? Isn’t it just a lot of argument for argument’s sake? Isn’t it sort of . . . combative? Why not just leave people alone and let them believe whatever they want? After all, they can get to heaven even if they believe the wrong things, right?
These are all questions that readers have asked. And they’re good ones!
Correct doctrine is like an accurate road map
People can believe whatever they want. And as long as they live a good life of love and service to their neighbor, they’ll go to heaven anyway. So if people are happy with their current beliefs, we don’t try to convince them to abandon those beliefs and adopt ours.
The articles at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life are not for people who are happy and satisfied with their current beliefs, but for people who are searching for new insight and understanding on tough issues that their previous beliefs aren’t helping them with.
That’s exactly when correct doctrine and right beliefs do matter: when we’re trying to make sense of this confusing world, looking for a reliable guide to help us do the right thing, and seeking to learn and grow spiritually.
Right beliefs are like an accurate road map that we can trust to show us the best route to get us where we want to go personally and spiritually.
Wrong beliefs are like faulty, inaccurate maps that lead us to dead ends, cause us unnecessary pain and anguish as we wander around lost and confused, and lead us to waste years of our lives by sending us in the wrong direction.
Yes, even with a bad map we’ll probably get there eventually if we don’t give up, and we ask for lots of directions along the way. People with faulty beliefs do make it to heaven if they persistently seek out what helps them to live a good life, and actually do live a good life.
If our heart is on the right track, we’ll get there eventually. But if our head is on the right track, we’ll get there a lot more quickly, with a lot less pain and confusion along the way.
Correct doctrine and right beliefs are important because they provide us with an accurate how-to guide for living a life that leads us to heaven—not to mention a much better experience of life right here on earth.
Wrong beliefs have negative consequences
We have said in many articles here that people who believe things that aren’t true can still go to heaven. Getting to heaven is not merely a matter of believing the right thing, as some Christians think. It is a matter of living a good life according to our beliefs.
And yet, even if wrong beliefs don’t send us straight to hell, they do have consequences.
Faulty doctrinal maps cause people to travel down roads that are not only a waste of time, but cause real damage.
For example, consider the huge, ongoing debate between science and religion on the topic of creation vs. evolution. This conflict has caused millions of rational, thinking, scientific people to reject religion. And it has caused millions of devout believers to reject science and reason.
And yet, that entire debate is based on a false and faulty understanding of the Creation story in the Bible. The Creation story was never intended to be a scientific treatise. Rather, it is and always was meant to be an intricate metaphor speaking of our inner, spiritual creation from the darkness and void of our natural self-centeredness and greed through various stages of spiritual growth and rebirth until we have become new, spiritually aware, kind and loving human beings. (See “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.”)
If the Christians arguing that the world was created in six days had correct beliefs about the Bible and its message, the debates between science and religion would be unnecessary. But since those Christians cling to a literalism and materialism about the Bible that the Bible itself doesn’t teach, it causes much unnecessary conflict with our growing knowledge about the nature of the material universe.
Most importantly, if the true, spiritual nature of the Bible were widely known and understood, there would be no reason for rational and scientific people to reject religion, and no reason for religious people to reject science and reason. Instead of being in constant conflict with one another, the two could work together to bring about a better world for everyone.
- There is a Trinity of Persons in God
- We are saved by faith alone
- Jesus died to pay the penalty for our sins
- The Bible is inerrant
- Only Christians can be saved
1. What harm does belief in a Trinity of Persons do?
Prevailing Christian doctrine holds that God is a Trinity of Persons.
The Bible never says this. (See: “What is the Biblical basis for disbelief in the doctrine of the Trinity?”) And yet, it has become the core doctrine of much of Christianity.
What harm does it do? Hasn’t Christianity done okay believing the Trinity of Persons for well over a thousand years since the idea was first developed by Christian theologians in the third and fourth centuries after Christ?
The history of institutional Christianity is not a pretty sight. For a good 1,500 years after the emperor Constantine called the First Council of Nicaea in 325 AD to adopt Christianity as the state religion of the Roman Empire, Christianity was more often an oppressive, greedy, and warlike institution than the religion of love, peace, and simplicity of life that Jesus preached in the Gospels. And it’s no coincidence that the Council of Nicaea was precisely the point at which the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons became the official, central doctrine of the main body of the Christian Church.
That’s the historical and institutional reality. But what harm does it do for individual Christians to believe that God is a Trinity of Persons?
First of all, it’s a confusing doctrine. No one really understands it. Not even the legions of high-powered theologians who have defended it over the centuries. In the end, even they admit that it’s a mystery beyond human comprehension. For ordinary laypeople, there’s no hope of understanding it.
This leaves individual Christians with a confused picture of God. There is supposed to be one God, and yet God is said to be three Persons. So these Christians picture God as three distinct beings: one called the Father, one called the Son, and one called the Holy Spirit. And though they may say and believe that there is one God, they’re actually thinking of three different Gods, each of which has a different personality and role.
Further, Christians who believe in a Trinity of Persons often think of the Father as an angry, punishing God, and of the Son as a loving, forgiving God. They’re both afraid of God and drawn to God at the same time—but really, to two different versions of God. So they pray to one of them to have mercy on them for the sake of the other, as if one version of God has to convince the other version of God not to send the poor, confused Christian to eternal hell.
This basic contradiction and confusion about the nature of God inherent in the non-Biblical, human-invented doctrine of the Trinity of Persons has formed the foundation for many other false, confusing, and damaging doctrines that have led traditional Christians astray for many centuries.
2. What harm is caused by Protestants believing in salvation by faith alone?
It took another 1,200 years after the Council of Nicaea for Martin Luther to develop the doctrine of justification by faith alone. And this doctrine is still held only in Protestantism, which constitutes a little over one third of Christianity.
However, it is one of the most loudly proclaimed “Christian” doctrines in the world today, and Protestants commonly believe that it is the core message of the Bible.
The reality is that not only is this doctrine not taught in the Bible, but it is specifically denied in the Bible. (See: “Faith Alone Does Not Save . . . No Matter How Many Times Protestants Say It Does.”) And though we won’t go into it here, the doctrine of justification by faith alone depends on the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons. If the doctrine of the Trinity of Persons is false (which it is), then the doctrine of justification by faith alone also falls to the ground.
But let’s get to the point.
What harm is there in believing that we are saved by faith alone?
Although Protestant theologians insist that Christians must live a good life, average Christians who hear that salvation comes 100% from believing in Jesus naturally assume that the way they live is not so important. After all, the preacher has told them over and over again that it’s their faith, and not their good works, that saves them.
Why bother to live a good life if it’s only what we believe that saves us?
Protestant theologians and ministers can preach until they’re blue in the face that the faithful must also live good lives. But the reality is that ever since Martin Luther first invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone, Protestantism has been dogged by many millions of laypeople, and even ministers, who live bad lives and think they’re still going to heaven because of their belief in Jesus.
When the rubber hits the road on the doctrine of salvation by faith alone, people hear that what’s critically important is to believe in Jesus—and that it’s not so important to love their neighbor as Jesus taught. What they hear is that you can be a total jerk and still be saved as long as you believe that Jesus paid the penalty for your sins. (We’ll get to that in a minute.)
In fact, a good trick is to indulge yourself and engage in your favorite sins and vices all your life, and then accept Jesus right before you die—which (supposedly) magically erases all of the terrible things you’ve done your whole life, and gets you into heaven.
There is another seriously destructive effect of believing that faith alone saves:
Since the key thing for salvation is (supposedly) believing the right thing, this means that everyone who believes the wrong thing is going to hell, no matter how good, loving, and kind their life has been. In other words, according to this doctrine, most of the world’s population is going to hell!
Further, those who think that right belief is the only thing that saves us often have an “us vs. them” mentality in which we are right, and everyone else is screwed. And this attitude, unfortunately, commonly leads to prejudice and bigotry against everyone who isn’t part of our church and our version of Christianity.
Ever since Martin Luther invented the doctrine of justification by faith alone five centuries ago, it has been making it much harder for Protestants to consider people of other religions and churches to be fully equal to Christians in their integrity as human beings. And this has led to much needless conflict in the world.
3. What harm is caused by believing that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins?
The idea that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins, known technically as “penal substitution,” is another Protestant doctrine that is stated nowhere in the Bible. (See: “Did Jesus Really Die to Pay the Penalty for our Sins?!?”) And yet, it goes hand-in-hand with the doctrine of salvation by faith alone. And it does similar damage to people’s spiritual faith and life.
If believing that we are saved solely by our beliefs, and not at all by our good works, isn’t enough to give the impression that our evil actions don’t really matter, then the doctrine of penal substitution finishes the job.
This doctrine states that God the Father is angry with all of humankind because we are all sinners, and that the justice of God the Father requires that we be punished for our sins. The punishment is eternal death in hell. But Jesus, so the doctrine goes, suffered that punishment instead of us by dying on the cross. If we accept that Jesus’ death paid the penalty for our sins, then we no longer have to suffer that penalty ourselves.
In plain language, penal substitution means we can sin but not get punished for it as long as we believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us.
Once again, no matter how often Protestant theologians and preachers say that the faithful must repent from their sins, the average layperson naturally thinks, “Why? If Jesus has paid the penalty for all of my sins, why should I bother not sinning?” And millions of Protestants have figured that repenting from sins such as lying, cheating, and engaging in illicit sex isn’t such a big deal because, you know, Jesus paid the penalty for our sins!
This doctrine is like a get-out-of-jail-free card for Christians. It leads many Protestants to think that the way they live is nowhere near as important as what they believe, and that they can sin with impunity.
Yes, many Protestants do repent from their sins and live good lives. But these doctrines give them no help and support in doing so. Rather, they confuse the issue. They give the impression that believing in Jesus is the only really important thing, and that everything else is an optional add-on.
And yet, right beliefs are meant to lead us to right living. If they don’t do that, they’re useless.
Both the doctrine of justification by faith alone and the doctrine that Jesus paid the penalty for our sins are not only false, but damaging and destructive because they lead many people to believe that repenting from their sins and living a good life isn’t all that important for Christians. And yet, repenting from our sins and living a good life of loving and believing in God by loving and serving our fellow human beings according to God’s commandments is the Bible’s whole message!
These two false, human-invented doctrines lead many Protestants to ignore the clear and overwhelming teachings of the Bible due to their mistaken notion that being a Christian is all about belief, and that living a good life is optional.
4. What’s the harm in believing that the Bible is inerrant?
Yes, there are technical distinctions between these two approaches to interpreting the Bible.
And yet, for ordinary Christians, the fancy technical definitions of Biblical inerrancy and Biblical literalism add up to a distinction without a difference. In practical terms, when these doctrines reach the ears of ordinary Christians, they amount to the same thing: Everything in the Bible is literally true and without error exactly as it is written.
What’s the harm in that?
Well . . . not to put too fine a point on it, but many things stated in the Bible simply aren’t literally true and without error exactly as written.
- The universe was not created in six days.
- Humankind did not start with two individual human beings named Adam and Eve.
- There never was a flood that covered the entire earth.
- The many different languages spoken around the world did not develop because early humans tried to build a tower to heaven, and God punished them for it by confusing their languages so that they couldn’t communicate with each other.
We now know from science, beyond a shadow of a doubt, that these and hundreds of other things stated in the Bible simply aren’t literally true, and didn’t actually, physically, historically happen as described. The attempts of Biblical literalists to provide “scientific explanations” for their literalistic interpretations of the Bible are ridiculous and downright laughable to anyone who has a solid understanding of science and scientific method.
Biblical inerrancy and Biblical literalism do great harm by putting religion on a collision course with our developing knowledge of science and history. Christians who accept these doctrines must reject much of what we have learned in recent centuries about the nature of the physical universe, and our development, history, and place in it as human beings.
And yet everything science is discovering about the material universe is a discovery of what God has created. Even scientists who don’t believe in God are studying and bringing to light the wonders of God’s creation. It is unfortunate and very sad that so many Christians feel they must reject all of these wonderful discoveries, in which we can see the infinite and omnipotent nature of God reflected as if in a mirror.
Due to the false and physical-minded doctrines of Biblical literalism and Biblical inerrancy, millions of Christians are still living in the Dark Ages when it comes to science and history.
5. What’s the harm in believing that only Christians can be saved?
This one should be fairly obvious.
Since only about one third of the world’s population is Christian, this would mean that at least two thirds of the world’s population is going hell simply because they were born into the wrong religion.
That makes God look pretty bad.
It’s hard to think of God as truly loving if God has arranged things so that the vast majority of people are going to hell through no fault of their own. There are still people living in this world who haven’t even heard of Jesus, let alone having Christianity effectively preached to them. And God is going to send them to hell for something over which they have no control?
The idea that only Christians can be saved almost inevitably leads to a certain amount of callousness toward non-Christians. It leads to thinking of them as lesser beings. And historically, it has been used as a justification for terrible acts of war, slaughter, bigotry, and prejudice by (so-called) Christians against non-Christians.
Even today, this belief tends to be associated in many conservative Christians’ minds with the idea that Christians are superior to non-Christians. Even today, many Christians are still prejudiced against Muslims, Jews, and other non-Christians. If they’re all going to hell anyway, why should we worry about their rights and their wellbeing?
The idea that only Christians are saved not only makes God into a small-minded tyrant, but it pushes Christian believers into prejudice against non-Christians—and often even against the “wrong” kind of Christians, who believe differently than we do.
I know, I know. The belief that only Christians are saved is supposed to spur Christians on to evangelize and make converts for Jesus. But when people of other religions don’t become Christians after the Gospel is preached to them, this evangelistic zeal quickly turns into condemnation of all those recalcitrant unbelievers who refused to hear the message.
Since many Christian churches still teach the false, non-Biblical teaching that only Christians can be saved, many Christians continue to believe that non-Christians are lesser beings who are unloved by God and destined for eternal torture in hell—and who can therefore be used and abused at will.
Right beliefs have positive consequences
We could point out the negative consequences of many more false, non-Biblical “Christian” beliefs. But you get the idea.
On the other side of the coin, true, Bible-based beliefs do have positive consequences for those who believe them, understand them, and live by them. Let’s take a briefer look at five such beliefs from the article, “Christian Beliefs that the Bible Does Teach”:
- There is one God, and Jesus Christ is that God
- Believing in Jesus Christ leads to salvation
- We must not do evil and destructive things
- We must do things that are good and right
- We must recognize that the power to do these things comes from God
1. There is one God, and Jesus Christ is that God
This, of course, is a Christian belief. I’m not saying that non-Christians must believe it. But if you’re a Christian, obviously you should believe that Jesus Christ is God. Otherwise you’re rejecting the God of your religion. And that’s never a good thing.
But more specifically, believing that Jesus Christ is the one God who came to earth in order to save us, and to teach us and guide us on the way to heaven, makes it possible for us to believe in and picture in our minds one infinitely loving, infinitely wise, infinitely powerful God who is present with us personally. We can worship, love, and follow one God, without confusion about whether God is angry at us or loves us, will condemn us to hell or lift us up to heaven, and so on.
By believing the Biblical truth that there is one God who came to us as Jesus Christ, we can have a clear, unconfused picture of God in our minds, and we can love one God as our Lord and Savior. We don’t have to worry about what one Person of God will do to us if we don’t believe in another Person of God.
In short, by believing in a God who is fully one, both in essence and as a single divine Person, we can have a much clearer and closer relationship with God.
For more on what this God has done for us, please see: “The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus.”
2. Believing in Jesus Christ leads to salvation
Protestant theology claims that believing in Jesus Christ is salvation.
But that’s not how it works.
Here’s how it really works:
When we believe in Jesus Christ, it brings us into a direct, personal relationship with God. And that has saving power in itself.
But where the rubber really hits the road is that when we believe in Jesus Christ, we will learn and follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. And in the Gospels Jesus teaches that we must repent from our sins—meaning stop doing selfish, mean, evil, and destructive things—love God above all, and love our fellow human beings (“our neighbor”) just as we love ourselves.
Believing in Jesus Christ leads us to salvation because it causes us to listen to Jesus’ teachings and do the hard work required to stop being selfish jerks, and to instead become thoughtful, loving, kind, and caring human beings. And that’s what salvation is all about.
For more on this, please see: “Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth.”
3. We must not do evil and destructive things
When we start out in life, we tend to be pretty wrapped up in ourselves. As babies and toddlers it’s all about our own comfort, our own pleasure, and our own toys. And as we grow through our childhood and teenage years, we still tend to think that the world revolves around us, and that its purpose is to give us happiness and pleasure.
Many of us hit adulthood thinking we’re hot stuff—or at least just a little better and smarter than everyone else. Even depressive, self-deprecating types spend much of their time focusing on their own misery, certain that of all the people on the earth, me, myself, and I are the most miserable. Either way, our focus is on ourselves.
Whichever direction our personality turns, we all do some pretty stupid and selfish things that hurt both ourselves and the people around us. Often we keep right on doing them even when we’ve discovered through hard experience that they’re getting us nowhere fast.
The first message that John the Baptist, Jesus, and Jesus’ disciples all preached in the Gospels was that we must repent from our sins. In other words, we must stop doing evil and destructive things.
Can we all agree that life is just plain better when we stop doing hurtful, evil, and destructive things?
The message of the Bible is practical. It improves our lives right now, not only in some future afterlife. For Christians, the first practical good fruit of believing the Bible’s message of repentance is that we immediately begin the work of no longer thinking, feeling, saying, and doing the evil, sinful, stupid, self-absorbed, and destructive things that cause so much harm to ourselves and to the people around us.
For more on this, please see: “Repentance: The Unpopular Partner of Forgiveness.”
4. We must do things that are good and right
The next step is that we must start doing things that are good and right instead.
- If we’ve made a habit of lying, we must start telling the truth instead.
- If we are always insulting and denigrating people, we must start treating them with respect instead.
- If we engage in callous and promiscuous sex, we must develop a sense of sexual morality.
- If we cut corners and slack off at work, we must become good, solid workers instead.
- If we bitch and complain all the time, we must learn to be grateful for what we have.
Obviously, this list goes on and on. And some of the items on it are much more serious.
Do I really need to convince you that replacing thoughtless, uncaring, evil, and sinful behavior with thoughtful, caring, loving, and kind behavior makes a huge improvement both in the quality of our own life and in the quality of life of everyone around us?
Obviously, doing what is good and right, as the Bible and every other holy book teaches, has all sorts of positive consequences for us both individually and as a society. And living in a community of mutual love, understanding, and service is heaven and salvation.
For more on this, please see: “Who Are the Angels and How Do They Live?”
5. We must recognize that the power to do these things comes from God
Now, after all of that repenting from sin and doing good works, we might start to think all over again that we’re hot stuff, and that we’re just a little bit better than everyone else. Okay, maybe a lot better than everyone else!
In other words, we might start building up a lot of pride in our own righteousness.
That’s where this last truly Christian belief comes in.
The reality, according to the Bible, is that everything we have, everything we are, everything we know, and everything we do is not our own. It all comes from God. And it is all God’s, not ours.
God created us in the first place. And God continually sustains our life and gives us the power to think, to love, and to do everything we do each day. That’s why Jesus said:
I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit, because apart from me you can do nothing. (John 15:5, italics added)
Once we realize that everything good in us comes from God, and is God’s in us, all of that pride in our own righteousness goes out the window. We realize that we can’t take any credit for anything we think, feel, or do; it is all God working in and through us.
This makes it possible for us to do great things for God and for our fellow human beings without getting all arrogant and egotistical about it.
In fact, the very definition of being a saved person is loving God above all, and loving our fellow human beings through a life of useful service, while humbly recognizing that we can’t take any credit for any of it because it all comes from God.
And don’t you agree that this world would be an immeasurably better place if each one of us learned to think and live in this way?
For more on the reality that everything we have and everything we are comes from God, please see: “Containers for God.” (Warning: contains mind-bending material!)
True doctrine and right belief do matter
Yes, people can still be saved and go to heaven even if they have false beliefs.
But those false beliefs do have negative consequences.
On the other hand, understanding the true nature of God, the real message of the Bible, and the key, essential, true teachings of Christianity has far-reaching positive consequences.
When we understand the true nature of God, we can have a direct, personal, loving, and unclouded relationship with the one God of all creation.
When we understand that the Bible was given, not to teach us about science and history, but to teach us about our relationship with God and to lead us on the pathway toward spiritual life, we can leave behind the unnecessary conflicts between science and religion, and fully engage our rational, thinking mind while fully devoting our heart to loving God and loving our neighbor.
When we understand that it is not just what we believe, but the way we live pursuant to our beliefs, that brings us to salvation, then we can set about the practical task of overcoming our wrong attitudes and destructive behaviors, and become the good, thoughtful, and loving human beings that God created us to be.
And when we recognize that everything we have, everything we are, and everything we do is not our own, but is God working in and through us, we can become angelic beings who feel God’s love, wisdom, and power flowing into us and through us as we go about a joyful life of loving and serving our fellow human beings, while gratefully accepting their love for us as well.
We here at Spiritual Insights for Everyday Life do our best to demolish false, non-Biblical doctrines and to offer true, Bible-based beliefs in their place for one and only one reason: to help you, our readers, to feel God’s compassionate love for you and to see the light of God’s truth leading you toward a better, more spiritual, more loving, and more joyful life, both here on earth and to eternity in heaven.
For further reading:
- Today’s Christianity: Vastly Void of Truth
- If Non-Christians can Go to Heaven, Why should Christians Evangelize?
- God is Love . . . And That Makes All the Difference in the World
- The Logic of Love: Why God became Jesus
- Who is God? Who is Jesus Christ? What about that Holy Spirit?
- Can We Really Believe the Bible?
- Heaven, Regeneration, and the Meaning of Life on Earth