Commentary

 

What the Bible says about... Who Is Saved?      

By Rev. John Odhner

There is a common tendency with people to make negative judgments about other people. In high schools, this tendency shows itself in cliques. A few popular kids get into a group, and gradually begin to think that they are better than others because they are better liked. Kids who aren't "in" may become objects of pity, or contempt, or even of cruel jokes. In one way or another the clique passes subtle judgment on the others as being a lower class of human beings.

The same tendency to look down on others shows itself in various religions. Some religious groups become so self-centered that they believe no one of a different faith can go to heaven. When taken to an extreme, this kind of attitude is far more cruel than the snobbish teenage cliques.

The teachings of the Bible are quite a contrast to this. To begin with, God's Word tells us that we should not label people as "saved" or "sinner." Jesus said,

"Judge not, that you be not condemned. Why do you look at the speck in your brother's eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?" (Matthew 7:1, 3)

The disciple James put it this way: "There is one Lawgiver, who is able to save and to destroy. Who are you to judge another?" (James 4:1)

When the Lord was on earth, a judging attitude was prevalent among the leaders of the church. Many thought that when the Messiah came, He would save Jews, and not others. When Jesus did come, they condemned Him for associating with non-Jews and Jews alike.

Jesus discouraged this kind of attitude. Once He was speaking with some people who "trusted in themselves" that they were saved and others were not. He asked them to consider two prayers: "God, I thank you that I am not like other men," and "God, be merciful to me, a sinner!" Jesus praised the man who thought he was a sinner. (Luke 18:9-14)

It's better to think of yourself as a sinner than to think you are saved.

You may remember the parable of the good Samaritan, too, who stopped to help the wounded man by the roadside. Even though this Samaritan was of the "wrong" faith (from the Jewish point of view), Jesus said that the Samaritan should be loved as a neighbor, because he was a good man. In fact, He said that a person who wants eternal life should be like this Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37), even though the Samaritan was neither Christian nor Jewish. Jesus saw - and sees - what is in a person's heart, not just what church one belongs to.

The Bible states clearly that it is the way a person lives, not just what he believes, that determines whether he goes to heaven or not. Jesus said, "Not every one who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven." (Matthew 7:21)

Again, "He shall reward every one according to his works." (Matthew 16:27)

"Those who have done good," He says, will go "to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation." (John 5:29)

Since a person's life, not just his faith, determines his eternal lot, Jesus foretold that many Christians would not be saved, because they had lived an evil life.

"Many will say to Me in that day, 'Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in Your name, cast out demons in Your name, and done many wonders in Your name?' And then I will declare to them, 'I never knew you: depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness!'" (Matthew 7:22-23, Luke 13:25-27)

One reason why a non-Christian can be saved, is that he can love his neighbor. Anyone who genuinely loves his neighbor also loves Christ, although he may not realize it. Jesus said, "Inasmuch as you have ministered to one of the least of these My brethren, you did it to Me." (Matthew 25:40)

Faith in Jesus, without love to the neighbor is meaningless.

"Though I have all faith, so that I could remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing." (1 Corinthians 13:2)

Genuine love, on the other hand, is a sign that a person knows the Lord in his heart, regardless of the religion he professes outwardly.

"Love believes all things." (1 Corinthians 13:7)

"He who does good is of God, but he who does evil has not seen God." (3 John 1:11)

"Let us love one another, for love is of God, and every one who loves is born of God and knows God. God is love, and anyone who abides in love abides in God, and God in him." (1 John 4:7-11)

Summary:

Some Christian churches teach this: Only Christians are saved.

What the Bible actually says (and what the New Christian Church teaches): Good people from all religions are saved.

Some references from teachings for the New Christian Church : Heaven and Hell 318-328, Divine Providence 326

Used with the permission of John Odhner, the author of this very useful site: http://whatthebiblesays.info/Introduction.html

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From Swedenborg's Works

 

Divine Providence #326

Divine Providence (Dole translation)      

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326. We need to look at these one at a time and expand on them.

(a) Belief in God brings about God's union with us and our union with God; and denial of God brings about severance. Some may believe that people who do not believe in God can be saved just like people who do, provided they lead moral lives. "What does belief accomplish?" they say. "Is it anything but a thought? I could easily believe in God if I knew for certain that God actually existed. I have heard about him, but I haven't seen him. Show me, and I'll believe." Many people who deny the existence of God talk like this when they are given space to argue freely with someone who does believe in God.

But I shall illustrate the fact that belief in God unites and denial of God separates by sharing what I have learned in the spiritual world. If people there think about others and want to talk with them, they are immediately present. This is taken for granted there and never fails. The reason is that there is no distance in the spiritual world the way there is in this physical world, but only an appearance of distance.

[2] Then too, just as thinking about others, together with some awareness of them, causes presence, so a feeling of love for them causes union. This is what makes people accompany each other and converse amiably along the way, live in the same houses or in the same community, meet with each other often, and work on tasks together. The opposite happens, too, if people do not love each other, and even more so if they dislike each other. They do not see each other or get together. They are as far from each other as their lack of love or their active dislike. If by any chance they do meet, that meeting triggers the dislike, and they vanish.

[3] These few examples show what makes for presence and what makes for union in the spiritual world. Specifically, presence comes from remembering others and wanting to see them, and union comes from a feeling that arises from our love.

The same holds true for everything in our minds. There are countless elements there, all arranged and united in accord with our feelings, or the way one element loves another.

[4] This union is spiritual union; and it works the same in widely inclusive instances and in individual ones. The source of this spiritual union is in the union of the Lord with the spiritual world and with the physical world, again in inclusive and in individual instances. We can see, then, that to the extent that we believe in the Lord and think about him on the basis of what we understand, the Lord is present, while to the extent that we believe in him on the basis of a loving feeling, the Lord is united with us. Conversely, to the extent that we do not believe in the Lord, the Lord is absent; and to the extent that we deny him, we are separated from him.

[5] A result of union is that the Lord turns our faces toward him and then leads us; and a result of separation is that hell turns our faces toward it and leads us. So all the angels of heaven face toward the Lord as the sun, and all the spirits of hell face away from the Lord. This shows what belief in God does and what denial of God does.

Further, people who deny God in the world deny him after death. They are inwardly structured as described in 319; and the structure adopted in this world remains forever.

[6] (b) Our belief in God and union with him depend on our living a good life. Everyone who knows anything religious can know about God. People can talk about God from this knowledge or from memory, and some of them can even think intelligently about God. If they do not live good lives, though, this brings only a presence. They are still perfectly capable of turning away from him and turning toward hell, which they do if they live evil lives.

Heartfelt belief in God, though, is possible only for people who live good lives. Depending on those good lives, the Lord turns them away from hell and toward himself. This is because it is only they who actually love God. They love the divine values that come from him by living them. The divine values that come from God are the commandments of his law. These commandments are God, since he is the divine nature that emanates from him. This is also loving God, which is why the Lord said, "Whoever does my commandments is the one who loves me, but whoever does not do my commandments does not love me" (John 14:21-24 [John 14:21, 24]).

(References: John 14:21-24)


[7] This is why there are two tablets of the Ten Commandments, one for God and the other for us. God is constantly at work to enable us to accept the things that are on his tablet. However, if we do not do the things that are on our tablet, we are not open to the heartfelt acceptance of the things that are on God's tablet; and if we are not open to them, we are not united. As a result, the two tablets are united as a single one and are called "the tablets of the covenant," and "covenant" means "union."

The reason our belief in God and union with him depend on our living good lives is that good lives are like the goodness that is in the Lord and that therefore comes from the Lord. So when we are engaged in living good lives, the union is accomplished. The opposite happens with people living evil lives. Then there is a rejection of the Lord.

[8] (c) A good life, or living rightly, is abstaining from evils because they are against our religion and therefore against God. There is ample support for the proposition that this is a good life, or living rightly, in Teachings about Life for the New Jerusalem, from beginning to end. I would add only this, that if you do all the good you can, if you build churches and decorate and fill them with your offerings, if you devote your wealth to hospitals and hospices, if you give alms every day, if you help widows and orphans, if you faithfully attend divine worship, even if you think, talk, and preach about these things in all apparent sincerity, and still do not abstain from evils as sins against God, all these good deeds are not really good at all. They are either hypocritical or self-serving, because there is still evil within them. Our life is in absolutely everything that we do, and good deeds become good only by the removal of evil from them.

We can see from this that abstaining from evils because they are against our religion and therefore against God is leading a good life.

[9] (d) These are the general principles of all religions, through which everyone can be saved. Belief in God and refusal to do evil because it is against God are the two elements that make a religion a religion. If either is lacking, we cannot call it a religion, since believing in God and doing evil are mutually contradictory, as are doing what is good and not believing in God. Neither is possible apart from the other.

The Lord has provided that there should be some religion almost everywhere and that everyone who believes in God and does not do evil because it is against God should have a place in heaven. Heaven, seen in its entirety, looks like a single individual, whose life or soul is the Lord. In that heavenly person there are all the components that there are in a physical person, differing the way heavenly things differ from earthly ones.

[10] We know that there are within us not only the parts formed as organs from blood vessels and nerve fibers--the forms we call our viscera. There are also skin, membranes, tendons, cartilage, bones, nails, and teeth. They are less intensely alive than the organic forms, which they serve as ligaments, coverings, and supports. If there are to be all these elements in that heavenly person who is heaven, it cannot be made up of the people of one religion only. It needs people from many religions; so all the people who make these two universal principles of the church central to their own lives have a place in that heavenly person, that is, in heaven. They enjoy the happiness that suits their own nature. On this subject, though, there is more in 254 above.

[11] We are assured that these two principles are basic to every religion by the fact that these two principles are what the Ten Commandments teach, and they were the basis of the Word. They were given from Mount Sinai by the very voice of Jehovah and written on two tablets of stone by the finger of God. Then they were placed in the ark named for Jehovah and constituted the Holy of Holies in the tabernacle and the very center of the temple in Jerusalem. Everything else was holy simply by being there. We are told a great deal more about the Ten Commandments in the ark in the Word: see the passages collected in Teachings about Life for the New Jerusalem 53-61, to which I may add the following.

We are told in the Word that the ark containing the two tablets with the commandments written on them was captured by the Philistines and set up in the shrine of Dagon in Ashdod. Dagon fell to the ground before it, after which his head and his hands were found lying apart from his body on the threshold of the shrine. Because of the ark, the people of Ashdod and Ekron by the thousands were plagued by hemorrhoids, and their land was ravaged by mice. Then, on the advice of their leaders, the Philistines made five golden hemorrhoids and five golden mice and a new cart. They put the ark on the cart with the golden hemorrhoids and mice beside it and sent the ark back to the Israelites drawn by two cows that lowed along the way, in front of the cart. The Israelites sacrificed the cows and the cart (1 Samuel 5, 6).

(References: 1 Samuel 5:1, 6:1-19)


[12] Now let us see what all this means. The Philistines meant people who believe in faith separated from charity. Dagon portrayed that system of belief. The hemorrhoids that afflicted them meant earthly loves, which are unclean when they are separated from spiritual loves; and the mice meant the destruction of the church by distortions of the truth. The new cart on which they sent back the ark meant a new teaching, though on the earthly level, because a chariot in the Word meant a teaching derived from spiritual truths. The cows meant good earthly feelings, the golden hemorrhoids earthly loves purified and made good, and the golden mice the destruction of the church taken away by goodness (gold in the Word means what is good). The lowing of the cows along the way pointed to the difficulty of turning the obsessions with evil of our earthly self into good desires, and the sacrifice of the cows and the cart meant that the Lord was appeased.

[13] This is what this story means spiritually. Put it all together into a single meaning and see how it can be applied.

On the meaning of the Philistines as people who believe in faith separated from charity, see Teachings for the New Jerusalem on Faith 49-54; and on the ark meaning the holiest values of the church because it contained the Ten Commandments, see Teachings about Life for the New Jerusalem 53-61.

(References: John 14:21-24)

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