While it’s likely true that most of us aren’t generally thinking about eternal salvation when we’re out shopping for candles at Target or browsing books at Barnes & Noble, we’ve probably all seen a salvation tract or two (or three, or twenty). You know the ones we’re talking about, the little pamphlets you occasionally find on a table or, most likely, in the bathroom, asking if you’re sure about whether or not you’ll go to heaven when you die.
Show of hands – how many of us have actually read one of these?
It’s probably a safe bet that most people don’t take these tracts seriously. They’re kind of annoying in a way, because who wants to think about the prospect of eternal damnation when they’re just trying to get in and out of a public restroom as quickly as possible? Maybe you’re not a Christian and you view tracts like these as propaganda meant to scare you into going to church and believing in Jesus, just another reason to avoid religion altogether. Or maybe you are a Christian, and you’re sure you’ve got the whole salvation thing figured out. Well, you’re pretty sure but again, you’re in a public bathroom, and why aren’t there any paper towels?
It’s true that some of these are indeed meant as scary propaganda, just as some of them are most certainly well intentioned. Regardless of the intent, however, most of these tracts are fairly similar when you get down to what is actually inside them. Commonly you’ll find the Ten Commandments, or else an Old Testament passage that is all fire and brimstone. Beyond that, Jesus will come up, along with the importance of believing in his life, death, and resurrection as atonement for our sins – which is obviously pretty important.
Interestingly however, the bulk of the pamphlet is usually filled with questions or assumptions about your behavior in everyday life, generally concerned with making sure you’re not engaging in any bad behavior that might prevent you from gaining entry to heaven – things like drinking alcohol, smoking or doing drugs, having sex before (or outside) marriage, or being jealous of your neighbor’s Escalade. The arc of this line of thought seems to point to one question – are you good enough to get into heaven?
The answer is, of course, no, but if this how we’re thinking then we’re missing the point.
Salvation is not about us, and it’s not about the things we’ve done. Salvation is, and only ever has been, about Jesus and what was done on the cross millennia ago. While it is important for us, especially if we claim to be followers of Christ, to be mindful of our behavior, this is not the whole point. When we die, we will go to heaven because we believe that we are broken beyond repair by sin, and that a loving God sent his son – the man we call Jesus – as a peace offering, a way of telling us, It is okay, I forgive you and I want you to come back to me. We will go to heaven because God, in an unheard of act of unconditional love, sacrificed his son Jesus to cover over our brokenness, and because three days after dying on the cross, Jesus emerged from the tomb in triumph over death and over our sin. It will not be because we didn’t smoke that cigarette, or didn’t drink that beer, or resisted the urge to go to that website. The point is that salvation is not about us – it is only about Jesus.
It’s not easy to believe this, to accept it as truth. As humans it is in our nature to feel that things are in our control, to think that we are the masters of our fates and the captains of our souls, to paraphrase the famous poem. But it is precisely this that makes the Gospel so radical. Believing in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus and in the fierce love of God, and giving our lives in service to his call, takes us completely out of ourselves. At that point we are no longer our own, and while what we do is important, it is not everything. Righteous living is the natural overflow of a heart that is given to God, but it is foolish to think that our own goodness, apart from God, will ever be enough.
So the next time you see one of those salvation tracts in the bathroom or lying around on a table at Starbucks, take a moment to read over it and think about your soul. If you’re tempted to ask yourself if you’re good enough to get into heaven, stop for a moment and remember the words of Peter:
It’s not about you – it never was. So then, the question is not, Am I good enough to get into heaven, but rather, Is God enough? And the answer to that is, and will ever be, yes.