By Stephen Knapp

Most Christians feel that they are bound to go to heaven simply because, as they say, Christ died for their sins. This is one of the basic principles of Christianity, which was an idea that originated from the apostle Paul. How do I know this? Because I was born and raised a Christian for 20 years of my life and seriously studied it out of my own conviction for several years as well. So, many Christians seem to think, and some even say, that even if they cannot give up all of their sinful habits, all they have to do is believe in Jesus and that he died for their sins, and they will be saved. Itís very simple. So when they compare Christianity with other religions, this is one of the reasons why they point out it is so much easier than others. They especially do this when preaching to Hindus or Buddhists in their attempt to convince them to convert. Yet, mere belief in Jesus and his crucifixion as being all you need to be saved is a controversial point. Not all of the gospels that were in circulation when the New Testament was compiled agreed that the crucifixion was an act of atonement. Nor when you really study the teachings of Jesus is this elementary thinking advocated. It is a little more complicated than merely believing in something, which the next few pages will point out. This means that it may not be so easy for just anyone to claim to be a Christian and have an easy path to heaven.

             First of all people need to realize that Jesus was a Jew whose message was primarily for the Jewish people. In Matthew (10.5-6), Jesus tells his twelve disciples to go and preach, but not to the Gentiles (non-Jews), nor to the Samaritans, but go to the lost sheep of the house of Israel. This was to whom he wanted his message to reach. Again in Matthew (15.22-24), a woman besought Jesus and asked for mercy because her daughter was vexed with a devil. But Jesus said nothing to her. Even his disciples, who were Jews, asked him to send her away because she cried after them. Yet his answer was that he had come to this world only for the lost sheep of Israel. His intention was to help only the Jewish people. Only after much pleading from the woman did Jesus finally cure her daughter. So this seems to indicate that Jesusí main interest was with the Jews; yet, they completely rejected him. They did not accept him as a divine savior. And when he was crucified by the Romans, this was taken as further indication that he was not the messiah that was described in the Jewish prophecies. Nonetheless, the Gentiles and non-Jewish people accepted the doctrine of Christianity and now believe they are saved by the blood of Christ, which is another concept that came primarily from the Apostle Paul. You generally do not find this teaching before he interjected his own thoughts and writings into Christianity.

So do all Christians go to heaven? Not when you consider all the rules for exclusion. According to the books in the New Testament, Jesus left specific instructions that have to be followed or entrance into heaven may not be as sure as many Christians say. In Matthew (10.37), Jesus says that if anyone loves his or her father, mother, son, or daughter more than him is not worthy of him. But also in Matthew (15.4), God commands that a person must honor his father and mother, and he that curseth his father or mother must die the death. So you must honor your parents, but not more than you love Jesus or you will not get to heaven.

Jesus also explains in Matthew (12.36) that any idle words a man speaks will have to be accounted for on the judgment day. So you must also avoid idle words and gossip. That is not an easy task for many people. Many so-called Christians I see do not even make the attempt to curb such tendencies. Jesus further explains in Matthew (16.23-28) that a person must deny himself the interests or pleasures of men and take up the cross and follow him if he expects to reach the kingdom of God. This certainly indicates that more than mere faith is expected of a Christian, but how many can deny themselves of the common pleasures of men and take up the cross?

In Matthew (18.34-35), Jesus says that the Lord will punish you if you do not forgive everybody of their trespasses against you. And again in Matthew (25.35-46) we find that it is expected that a good Christian must feed and clothe the poor, and take in the homeless, though they be strangers, for as much as you do this for them, you do it also for Jesus. And if you ignore such people, it is as if you ignore Jesus, and you will go into everlasting punishment.

Now we can see that the requirements for getting into heaven are getting more demanding. But wait, there is more. In Matthew (19.20-30), a man comes to Jesus and wants to follow him, but Jesus tells him to first sell everything he has and give the money to the poor. However, the man could not bring himself to do that and sadly went away. Jesus explained to his disciples that hardly any rich man can enter heaven; it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle. Then his disciples were amazed and questioned, if this was the case, who could be saved? Jesus replied that all things are possible with God, but those who have forsaken houses, father, mother, wife, children, or property for his nameís sake shall inherit everlasting life. So the conclusion is that if you cannot become renounced, you miss that everlasting life.

Similarly, in Luke (6.20, 24-30), Jesus says blessed are the poor, for they shall reach the kingdom of God, and woe to the rich, woe to those who are full for they will be hungry, and woe to those who laugh now for they will know sorrow. Plus, you must love and do good to your enemies and those that hate you, give the other cheek for those that hit you, do not forbid anyone to take your coat, and do not ask that your goods be returned from one who takes them. (This is all a huge difference compared to the time and tactics of the Inquisition, which tortured or killed anyone who refused to be a good Christian.)

In Luke (9.61-62), there is the story of a man who came to Jesus and asked to follow him, but first simply wanted to bid farewell to his family. But Jesus rejected him and said that no man, having once put his head to the plough and looks back, is fit for the kingdom of God. In another place in Luke (9.59-60), Jesus orders a man to follow him, but the man requests that Jesus first allow him to bury his dead father. Jesus, however, says to let the dead bury their dead, and go preach the kingdom of God. In Matthew (5.21-22), Jesus explains that if a person kills another he shall be in danger of the judgement. But he further explains that simply getting angry at another without just cause shall also put one in danger of the judgement. And (Matthew 5.20) unless your own righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you shall in no case enter the kingdom of God.

What all this seems to indicate is that anyone who wants to follow Jesus has to display a high degree of detachment and renunciation from the world and its material attractions and pleasures, and take up the cross. Otherwise, they are not true followers of Jesus, nor are they fit for the kingdom of God. Many Christians may feel that faith alone is all they need to be saved, but these biblical quotes of Jesus certainly indicate that he expected and required much more than that. And the direct quotes from the Bible and from Jesus should certainly carry more weight than the rationalizations of the Christian pastors and priests when they try to minimize the seriousness of what has been said herein.

So, what happens to all those who cannot measure up to the proper standard? In Matthew (13.41-42), Jesus says that the Son of man will send his angels who will gather out all the things that offend and the people who do iniquity and cast them into a furnace of fire where there will be great wailing and gnashing of teeth. If all these rules that Jesus explains must be followed perfectly, along with all the commandments, etc., in order for Christians to get to heaven, then that furnace must be a mighty big place. But what kind of God would create a hell where people eternally suffer? Especially if, according to Christian theology, they are given only one lifetime to have one chance at either becoming perfect and righteous or go to eternal hell. What is the value of eternal punishment if it never ends and the soul does not get the chance to rectify himself? Why would God create living beings who have a fallen tendency and then send them to suffer eternally if they cannot measure up to the proper standard? Threatening someone with eternal damnation is hardly an expression of love and mercy. Therefore, this Christian concept of God and hell makes little sense because this form of punishment is not a matter of rehabilitation, but is based on an attitude of anger and vengeance. What need does God have for this if He is a God of love, mercy, and compassion? Why would God spend His time acting like an angry tyrant? He certainly has better things to do. And as we look into the Vedic conception of God and the nature of His personality as described in the Puranas, we certainly do find a much different and more appealing revelation of the characteristics of the Supreme Being.

The Christian concept of God is that He is a God we must fear. To verify this some people, of course, will point out that in Exodus (20.5) it is written that God says He is a jealous God. But a person exhibits jealousy or anger when he is afraid of losing something, feels insecure, is competing with another, or does not get what he wants. So why would God, who is the creator and controller of everything, feel insecure or fearful? Qualities such as jealousy, insecurity, anger, or vengeance are qualities found in the modes of passion and ignorance. And these modes do not touch the Supreme. But God is perceived differently by different cultures.

In the Bhagavad-gita (9.18), Lord Krishna says that He is the creation, the basis of everything, the sustainer, the goal, the refuge, the master, and the most dear friend. This is a much more appropriate understanding of God. Naturally, He must be our friend since we are all parts of His spiritual energy. The only thing that gives the appearance of our being in opposition with God, or being fearful of Him, is our ignorance of spiritual reality. This ignorance must be overcome with spiritual knowledge, not compounded by the inadequacies of a religion that is lacking in spiritual awareness and provides a deficient understanding of God. The goal of any complete spiritual path is to attain enlightenment of God, our spiritual identity, and our relationship with God. The goal of the Vedic path of bhakti is to develop love and devotion for God, but you cannot love someone when you are afraid of him. Love and fear are incompatible. Therefore, a spiritually realized person will find it difficult to accept that God is angry, jealous, or vengeful. Why should God be angry or vengeful with us when the universal laws that have been established by God automatically take care of whatever good or bad things we deserve? One who is spiritually realized knows that God allows us the freedom to do what we want within the confines of the universal laws, such as the law of karma, and is always waiting for us to turn toward Him, and that He is a God of love, mercy, compassion, and unfathomable understanding. This is God as He really is and is the God we will know in our state of spiritual enlightenment. This is the benevolent God we learn of in the Vedic literature. This is the Supreme Being who cares more about us than we do Him, but who is always waiting for us to turn toward Him and is always with us as Supersoul, Paramatma, the Lord in the heart. This is what is described in detail within portions of the Vedic literature. Thus, we can begin to recognize the depth of genuine spiritual knowledge, if we look in the right places.

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