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Frankly speaking, I am not optimistic enough to expect that everyone who finished the previous chapter prayed to receive Jesus Christ and was saved. Maybe you completely agree with all that we have discussed, but you still want to find out more before deciding. Maybe you have a few questions about salvation by the blood of Jesus Christ.
You may ask why salvation is so simple, “If our attempts to live morally do not get us anywhere, how can a simple prayer inviting Jesus Christ into our lives be sufficient?”
Yes, in this competitive world, we get what we pay for. If I am given something, I naturally suspect its value or the motivation of the giver. However, many times we are a bit too cynical. Some people look at a painting and see it as no better than a tablecloth. Yet, when they hear the amount of money that the owner paid for it, they suddenly find the painting quite exquisite and artistic.
Thankfully, God is not like us. Through the prophet Isaiah, He said, “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways. As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.”114 According to His plan, eternal life is a free gift. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”115 This gift comes not from human considerations, but from His grace. “For it is by grace you have been saved.”116
If He requires from us anything but faith, then I would say that He is as worldly as we are, favoring people who meet the material criteria. If He requires us to donate money to build temples, then He favors the rich. If He requires us to memorize the Bible, then He favors those capable of great memorization feats. No, He wants to save everybody, no matter who that person may be. Belief in Him is the only criterion.
Furthermore, if God’s criterion for salvation is not based on faith, then He gives people reason to be proud. If He says, “Whoever goes to church every Sunday will be saved,” then on the last day someone will boast, “Because I have been to church…” Isn’t this a vicious circle, since we have seen that being proud is sinful? “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith--and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God -- not by works, so that no one can boast.” 117 After being rescued from drowning can anybody claim, “It was to my credit that I grabbed the lifesaver that saved me?”
Actually, although it looks simple, believing in Jesus Christ in faith has a profound effect on one’s life but it requires a lot from us. Jesus Christ never promised us wealth or even health but he warned, “I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”118 In this book, I do not promise you a rose garden to lure you into some religious institution. Instead, I want to emphasize repentance and trust.
We can try to enter into heaven by two methods. The first is to use brute force to break into the Gate of Heaven. The second is to use the cross-shaped key. While the first is absolutely useless and only hurts us, the second, simple as it is, surely will lead to success.
“But what about those who have never heard of Jesus Christ?” you may ask. “Should their destiny simply be hell?”
First, we must remember that there are many things that are beyond human ability to understand or that we have no right to know. What we do need to know and what we can understand, God has made known in the Bible. In a battle, a soldier cannot demand to understand the entire battlefield strategy before performing his duty.
However, we know this: God is just. He would not punish anyone simply because that person has not heard of Jesus Christ, and hence cannot believe in him. If they must face eternal damnation, it is because they have sinned against Him and others. Paul writes, “All who sin apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who sin under the law will be judged by the law… This will take place on the day when God will judge men’s secrets through Jesus Christ, as my gospel declares.”119
But it is important to note that you have heard the gospel of salvation. Instead of letting you be punished as others, God wants to save you by the blood of His Son. Suppose that you are in danger in a little boat in the high seas and there is a frigate that wants to save you. Should you tell them that, because there are so many other little boats that are perishing, you do not want to be saved? If you wonder about the people in Africa who lived two centuries ago and never heard of Jesus Christ, then I would ask you to leave it to God to judge them. However, if you wonder about your close friends or relatives, then this is even more the reason that you should come to Christ, because only when you have invited Jesus Christ into your heart can you bring the Gospel of salvation to them, so that they can be saved like you.
Let me tell you something about Vietnamese national tradition. Many people have told me that they do not want to believe in Christ because doing so would be contrary to national tradition.
Actually, like language or science, national culture is not static, but it must change to survive. A person who contributes the most to his culture is not the one who follows what other persons do, but the one who embraces and spreads good ideas. In Vietnamese history, the closed-door policy of the previous centuries taught us a very expensive but dear lesson.
Let us take an honest look at the major religions in Vietnam. Did they start overseas? If everyone wanted to preserve the national tradition, then how could these religions enter Vietnam and become part of the national heritage? Similarly, many consider that Christianity is a western religion, but as you know, Jesus Christ was a Jew who came from the Middle East. People have this conception because in the past, many westerners accepted Christ and spread this truth to their own societies. If you feel that Christianity is the truth but will not apply to your own life and then spread it to your neighbors, then how will people be saved? I hope that in the future, Christianity will become part of the Vietnamese national heritage, so that even though we may be scattered throughout the world as we are today, we will eventually be gathered together in heaven.
“Some people say that believing in Christ means not respecting your ancestors.” People may say so, but the Bible never teaches that. To the contrary, the Bible teaches us to respect of our parents. One of the Ten Commandments is “Honor your father and your mother.”120 The Apostle Paul taught, “Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.”121 The Bible also says that disobeying your parents, just like gossiping, slandering, God-hating, insolence, arrogance and boastfulness, greatly displeases God.122
Even amid the excruciating pain on the cross, Jesus Christ saw his mother and then said to one of his disciples, “Here is your mother,” bestowing her into his care. This disciple then took care of her.123
The reason that Christians are reputed to disrespect their parents is that they do not worship their dead ancestors. But to Christians, filial piety is not expressed in the food offered during their parents’ death anniversary, but it is realized in care and concern while their parents are still alive. If I believed that Friday the 13th is unlucky, then I would not leave my house on that day. If I did not believe so, then I would go to work as usual. This would not mean that I have no concern for my safety. Similarly, if I did believe that after their death my ancestors needed fruit offered by me to eat or paper cars burned by me to drive, then I would not make these offerings. This does not mean that I do not respect my ancestors.
Actually, if I really wanted to pay respect to my ancestors, then I would have to do so for all of them, not just a few generations before me. Furthermore, earlier generations should be respected more than recent ancestors. If my parents worshipped my grandparents, then I should respect my grandparents more than my parents. Using induction, we ultimately arrive at God, and we must respect him more than all our ancestors. It is God that Christians worship, in a manner described in the Bible. “God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”124
Now you may say, “I know many Christians and I have discovered that they are not better than anyone else. I found them too hypocritical sometimes. How can I believe in God?”
I cannot deny this. As I confided with you in the foreword, I felt the same way. However, I want to say a few things here.
First, as I explained to you, many people go to church but have never invited Jesus Christ into their hearts so that their lives can be changed. They are Christians to other people, and they may even become pastors or bishops. However, to God, they still have to face eternal damnation. If these people commit unethical deeds, should you refuse to be saved just because of them?
Jesus Christ died for the sinners, but he rebuked the hypocrites in his time. “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to.”125
But even genuine Christians still commit sin. Remember that believers are not perfect, but are forgiven by God. Immediately after you believe in God, he considers you sinless, because Jesus has paid for your sin. In Biblical language, you are justified.126 However, although you may now despise sin, your life will not change overnight. Instead, you must live as a boat aiming north, striving to become Christ-like in a righteous direction. Nobody expects that after you believe, you will instantaneously become a “saint” in this world. (And also please do not wait until you become a “saint” before you believe.)
Even though there are hypocritical Christians, this does not mean that Christianity is wrong. Many years ago, the elite Vietnamese had a saying: “The Vietnamese language survives, the Vietnamese people survive.” Yet many of them preferred to converse with each other in French or English. This does not mean that Vietnamese language has no value.
Believing in God means looking at Jesus Christ, not at other people. Paul advises us to look to Jesus Christ as the “author and perfecter of our faith.”127 He was not hypocritical, and his life was consistent with his teachings. On the last day, when we are asked whether we believed in him, we cannot ask back, “But how come Mr. So-and-So is so hypocritical?”
Maybe the obstacles preventing you from coming to God are deeper. May be you do not believe that the Bible is the word of God and hence you do not believe that its teachings contained therein about heaven and hell are true. This is an important issue that we will examine together in the next chapter.
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