One of the problems with modern Evangelicalism is the desire to make the Gospel easy to follow. So many Evangelicals wish the entire Gospel message to be reduced to a bumper sticker-level that is easy to understand, easy to accept and easy to follow. But in doing so, they jettison much of what is important in Christianity.
Christianity, however, is a total way of life: it involves a compete giving of one’s life to Christ in body, mind, and soul. This is something that cannot be done in a day and, in fact, it consumes our entire lifetimes.
Luis Palau, a popular Evangelical preacher, falls into the trap of over-simplifying the Gospel:
“Only Christ can give you eternal life. Religion cannot do it. Charitable work will not do it. Good behavior will not do it. Doing communion won’t do it. Reading the Bible won’t do it. Saying your prayers won’t do it. Only Jesus Christ will take you to Heaven if he lives in your heart,” he said.
Let’s look at this more closely:
“Only Christ can give you eternal life.”
A good start, as this is only too true. Christ said that “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6). Yet it is after this that Palau gets off the tracks:
Religion cannot do it.
The Evangelical bug-a-boo: “religion.” Religion, of course, can be used in many ways – it can be an attempt by man to reach God (not a bad thing to attempt, but one fruitless without God’s help) or it can be simply a man-made way to follow other men (never a good thing). But religion at its most fundamental is the way in which man interacts with God, and the Christian religion is one revealed by God as the means to follow Him. As such, religion CAN bring eternal life.
Charitable work will not do it.
Read Matthew 25:31-46 about the sheep and the goats, which Christ concludes by saying, “Then they [the goats] will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.” Clearly feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, and welcoming the stranger will impact our attainment of eternal life, or else why would Christ have given us this parable?
Good behavior will not do it.
The story of the Rich Young Man in Matthew 19:16-22 is a bit more nuanced than Palua’s statement. When the young man asks Jesus how he can obtain eternal life, Christ’s first response is “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments.” If being good were unrelated to eternal life, why could Christ have said this?
Doing communion won’t do it.
Jesus would disagree: “I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world…I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.” (John 6:51,53).
Reading the Bible won’t do it.
Well, as a Catholic I’m a bit surprised that a Prostant would admit this one, so I’ll concede this point to him. (Although reading the Bible is a primary means in which we know how to obtain eternal life).
Saying your prayers won’t do it.
How can we “receive Jesus” except by praying? How can we know Christ except by conversing with him? I know that he means mindlessly repeating our dinnertime and bedtime prayers, but I think it is never a good idea to denigrate the most important activity we can engage in – prayer.
Only Jesus Christ will take you to Heaven if he lives in your heart
Again, this is true – it is only Christ who can take you to heaven.
Palau’s problem is one that most who do not have the fullness of the Faith fall into: they separate and divide what should not – and cannot – be separated. Palau is right to believe that it is only by following Christ that we can be saved, but following Christ involves our whole being, including: “religion,” charitable work, good behavior, communion, reading the Bible and saying your prayers. Without doing those things, we are not really following Christ and eternal life can elude us.
Let us follow the words of Christ himself when he was asked this question:
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered right; do this, and you will live.”