Category Archives: Evangelism

How Do Atheists Get To Heaven? A Response to Pope Francis

Pope FrancisHow do atheists get into heaven?

This isn’t the opening line of a bad joke, but rather it’s an eternally important question that we all need to ask.

Yesterday (September 11, 2013)  Pope Francis wrote an open letter to Eugenio Scalfari, the founder of the Italian newspaper La Repubblica in which he said, “God’s mercy has no limits if you go to him with a sincere and contrite heart. The issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.”

In other words, you can be an atheist, but if you follow your conscience, you can expect God to extend mercy to you and you will be with Him for eternity in heaven.

While I respect Pope Francis’ attempts to further dialogue with people who are not traditionally open to religious conversations, I am deeply saddened by his distortion of truth. The Pope and the Bible do not agree on this all important matter.

Below are a few lessons from the Scriptures that clearly state how an atheist goes to heaven. If you are an atheist, I encourage you to read these verses and ask if God is really there, that He will show Himself to you and lead you into truth.

1. An atheist must recognize that their disbelief in God is foolish.

Psalm 14:1 “The fool says in his heart, ‘There is no God.’…”

There is a God who gave all of us life. Every breath we take is a testimony to His mercy, even if we don’t recognize it. If you’re an atheist, please know that you have a Maker and He says it is foolish for you to ignore that He made you (Psalm 139:13-14) and that He lovingly sustains you (Matthew 5:45).

2. An atheist must recognize that God has graciously given much evidence of His existence in creation.

Romans 1:19-20 “For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse.”

All of creation is a high-definition testimony of God’s existence and power and beauty. God says that there is no excuse not to believe in Him in light of all He has made. If you are an atheist, please pause and ponder where everything came from and if indeed it is possible that there is a God who did it all to point to Himself.

3. An atheist must recognize that if they try to obey their conscience they will only be condemned.

Romans 2:14-16 “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. 15They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them 16on that day when, according to my gospel, God judges the secrets of men by Christ Jesus.”

This is certainly the passage Pope Francis had in mind when he gave hope for people who don’t believe in God. The problem is that even when our conscience becomes a law to ourselves, we break it all the time. Sure there will be instances where our consciences “excuse” us because we avoid things we know we shouldn’t do, but how many times does it “accuse” us!

The reality is that all of us have many strikes against our conscience and that only further shows that we aren’t in good standing with God. The God of heaven is holy and He will not allow evil to remain forever (Habakkuk 1:13). Our conscience doesn’t excuse us ultimately, rather it condemns us before God and shows us that we need Him to forgive us. If you are an atheist, I encourage you to consider the times you have done things you know to be wrong. What if there is a God who really cares about those things?

4. An atheist must realize that they are already condemned before God because they haven’t believed in Jesus.

John 3:18 “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”

When we die we do not have to wonder what will happen. God tells us that if we turn from our sin and believe in Jesus, we will be forgiven and not be condemned before God for our rebellions. But if we do not believe in Jesus, we are already condemned because of the ways we have rejected His revelation to us in creation, in our conscience, and ultimately in His Son.

Revelation 21:8 “As for the cowardly, the faithless, the detestable, as for murderers, the sexually immoral, sorcerers, idolaters, and all liars, their portion will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death.”

There is no hope for those who do not have faith in Christ. The only thing that awaits them is the eternal judgment of God. This not popular or palatable for many, but it should sober us and cause us to reflect on what the Bible says about eternity. If you are an atheist, please do not allow these warnings to fall on deaf ears. Ask God, if He is really there, to show you what is true.

5. An atheist must turn from their sin and trust in Jesus.

John 3:36 “He who believes in the Son has eternal life; but he who does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God abides on him.”

John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me.”

Acts 4:12 “And there is salvation in no one else; for there is no other name under heaven that has been given among men, by which we must be saved.”

1 John 5:11-12 “And the witness is this, that God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son. He who has the Son has the life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have the life.”

How can an atheist get into heaven? Not by denying God or attempting to follow their conscience. Atheists get to heaven by ceasing from their atheism and surrendering to Christ.

We are all sinners in need of a Savior. Jesus Christ is the Savior whom God sent to awaken us from our atheism or sleepy self-righteousness or dead religion. He is God’s only provision for to make us right with Him. There is no other way to heaven other than believing in Jesus. If you are an atheist, please give consideration to whether or not Jesus is who the Bible claims that He was.

If you are a Christian–

Pray for your atheist friends to have soft hearts toward the Lord

Pray for divinely appointed opportunities to talk through the Scriptures with them.

Pray for Pope Francis to have humility before the Scriptures and “not be wise above what is written” (1 Cor. 4:6).

It is only by grace that any of us are saved (Eph. 2:8-10), which should do nothing but produce humility toward God, compassion toward others, and patience with those who do not yet believe in God. It is not however loving or compassionate to tell people that they can go to heaven without believing in Jesus because that is a lie.

The Toughest Conversation I’m Glad I Had

grandmom and granddad

    We weren’t sure when Grandpa woke up, but we knew it was long before the sun did. My earliest memories of him revolve around a small kitchen table where he sat each morning drinking coffee and reading the newspaper. The walls of his basement were decorated with World War II honors and pictures of his hunting victories. Locked gun cases held treasures we were only allowed to behold when Grandpa opened them for us.

     I learned my first curse words from my grandfather, who was sure to drop some colorful language in at least every other sentence. He could be an intimidating man, but his smile and belly laugh calmed our trepidation. His love for my grandmother was marked by service and tenderness I’ve rarely seen rivaled. He stood when she came into the room and attended to her every need.

      Granddad was an occasional churchman. His faith would have best been described as private. As our family’s patriarch he always prayed before meals, when  he’d take the opportunity to thank God for our country and blast whomever might be president at the time. I never saw him open a Bible and never heard him speak of Jesus, except when interjecting his name as an expletive.

 Weighty Awareness

      In 2011, my wife and I planned a trip to Wilmington, North Carolina, as part of our family’s summer vacation. We chose this spot because we love the beach, but mostly because my grandparents lived there, and we wanted them to meet our newborn son. Our family was buzzing as the days drew closer, but along with the anticipation, a weighty awareness rested on my heart. The Lord was calling me to share the gospel with Granddad.

      Though burdened for his salvation for years, I hadn’t enjoyed many in-person opportunities for that kind of conversation. Granddad was now in his 80s and, though not in bad health, I sensed the Lord had set apart this time for me to initiate an eternally important conversation with him.

      I guess I’m like anybody else when it comes to sharing the gospel. I believe the good news with all my heart, but whether it be fear of man or feelings of inadequacy, I still get anxious whenever I proclaim Christ’s name. The pending conversation with Granddad took my fear to another level, for several reasons.

      First, it was Grandpa. He was a man of steel, and I was scared to death to speak truth to someone who’d lived nearly four times as long as I had. He’d forgotten more than I’ll ever learn, and the thought of calling him to repent and believe in King Jesus made me so anxious I was nearly nauseous over it.

     Second, he claimed to be a Christian. He’d gone to church a billion times and heard as many sermons. He was a longstanding member of a Presbyterian church that appeared to be, to put it charitably, light on the gospel. Though Grandpa was a man of impeccable integrity and faithfulness, he didn’t display fruit that would be characterized as Christlike (Matt. 7:16; Gal. 5:22-23).

     Third, he was family. It’s always tough to share the gospel with family since they know all about you—the good, bad, and the real bad. Grandpa knew me when I was a womanizing cokehead who mocked religion and disgraced my family. Though Jesus has done a wonderful work in my life, I was still aware that Grandpa knew my past. And on this particular occasion, it haunted me.

     Before the trip, I prayed and asked others to do the same with the hope God would soften his heart and give me courage to speak truth. The Lord answered those prayers as on the last day of the trip I had a clear 30-minute gospel conversation with him. At first it was a little tough, but I believe the Lord blessed our time together.

     Though Grandpa raised numerous questions and shared some of his doubts, he expressed willingness to consider the news I’d relayed to him. Once I returned I sent him a letter addressing his questions, some selected Scriptures to consider, and a copy of my friend Mike McKinley’s excellent book Am I Really a Christian?. We had one follow-up conversation, during which he remarked, “I’ve never understood this ‘born-again’ thing, but I think I’m starting to get it.”

     Granddad died on December 17, 2012, with his wife of 55 years by his side. He’d requested to be cremated, and my grandmother fulfilled his request. I had the honor of leading a memorial service in his birthplace of Currituck, North Carolina.

Seed Sown

     In the days since Grandpa’s death, I’ve often wondered whether the seed sown upon his soul took root. I have hope that God brought about repentance and faith in my grandfather before he died, but I cannot be certain. What I can be certain of, however, is that the words of Scripture are true: “The fear of man is a snare” (Prov. 29:25).

     No matter what man we fear (even if it’s Grandpa), fear is a snare. Fear is a snare for us, and it’s a snare for those who need to hear the message that can save their souls. The gospel is the power of God for salvation (Rom. 1:16), and it is good news. Yet as Carl F. H. Henry observed, it is “only good news if it gets there in time.”

     I haven’t always obeyed the Lord’s call for me to share the gospel. To this day several scenes haunt my memory. I know, however, that although I’ve withheld the gospel from some, God’s mercy extends to me. His grace abounds to undeserving rebels like me.

     The conversation with my grandfather was one of the toughest I’ve ever had, but I’ve been sobered in the hindsight of his death. My fear appears quite shortsighted today, for at this moment he’s in eternity. He sees what we have only heard. Christ is more real to him now than when we sat at the kitchen table and read the Scriptures that pointed to the Lord of glory.

     I trust that on that last day when we all stand before that great judgment throne, the fear of man will be exposed for utter foolishness. The weightiness of eternity presses us into deeper dependence on Christ to do what he’s called us to do—while we still can. To be paralyzed by fear of human opinion, rather than stirred to declare the truth that can deliver from destruction, is a most saddening tradeoff.

     God has placed each of us in our families, neighborhoods, classrooms, and workplaces to be ambassadors of Christ (2 Cor. 5:20). We aren’t there by chance, and there is no time to waste. Pray for God to open doors for the gospel. Ask him to give you courage to speak his name.

     I’m convinced that one day, when standing before his Son, those tough conversations will be among those we’ll be eternally glad we had.

What Did St. Francis Really Say About Preaching the Gospel?

If you’ve ever talked with a Christian about evangelism, you’ve probably heard the now famous words attributed to St. Francis of Assisi that go something like this— “preach the Gospel at all times, use words if necessary.”

That’s tweetable, but did St. Francis really say that? And more importantly, is it wise advice?

This slogan is actually an apparent misquote of what Francis said in chapter 17 of his Rules of the Friar (1221). Here’s the quote in full:

Ch. 17 — Of Preachers.

“Let none of the brothers preach contrary to the form and institution of the holy Roman Church, and unless this has been conceded to him by his minister. But let the minister take care that he does not grant this leave indiscreetly to anyone. Nevertheless, let all the brothers preach by their works. And let no minister or preacher appropriate to himself the ministry of brothers or the office of preaching, but let him give up his office without any contradiction at whatever hour it may be enjoined him. Wherefore I beseech in the charity which God is all.”

What St. Francis told his friars was not to preach unless they had received proper permission to do so. And that even if they didn’t get to preach, he wanted to make sure that “all the brothers preach by their works.”

I don’t post this to defend St. Francis and his theology. To be honest, I’ve never read anything else he’s ever said (except some of his bird sermons). I do know however that somewhere along the line, someone stretched what he said into something Jesus and the Scriptures never say.

We must preach the Gospel at all times, and to do that we must use words. We can’t preach by our deeds. That’s like saying feed hungry people, use food if necessary.

The Gospel is a message that must be proclaimed with words. We can and must affirm the message of the Gospel by our deeds, but we can’t live the message clearly enough to help people know that we aren’t just moral atheists or Hindus or Muslims or Mormons. Jesus was the Word made flesh, but still used words to warn, instruct, and encourage those he ministered to.

The way people know who Christ is, what He requires of them, and why we live the way we do is to proclaim, with words, the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

So, preach the Gospel at all times, and since its necessary, use words.