Will only a few people go to Heaven when they die? The Scriptural answer to that profound question is “yes.” Despite the loving intentions of our God (John 3:16; 2 Peter 3:9; 1 Timothy 2:4) most souls will not go there. When the disciples asked the Lord, “Are there few that be saved?” (Luke 13:23), He answered their question plainly. “Strait is the gate and narrow is the way which leads to life and few there be that find it” (Matthew 7:13-14). Most people either do not know this or, for whatever reason, reject His teaching. Millions of people say, “I am a Christian,” but with little or no evidence that their claim is in agreement with the Bible. Funeral services regularly reassure the audience that the deceased person is in Heaven. Is this always true or just wishful thinking?
A tragedy today is that most people confidently expect to go to Heaven, however questionable their spiritual condition. Some persons may seldom read the Bible or know its teaching about salvation. Yet multitudes remain mysteriously, irrationally confident of going to Heaven. The general reasoning seems to be “God is simply too loving to send me to Hell.” Many think that because they belong to a good church, or any church, they will make it to Heaven. It may be they are not regularly, or even occasionally, attending, but they think this neglect makes no difference. They may feel, “I’m basically a good person,” or at least, “I’m not a bad person.” Therefore, “God will accept me as good enough for Heaven.” Is this true? On the contrary the Bible tells us that “none is righteous” in the sight of an infinite holy God (Romans 3:10). Some persons may seldom read the Bible or know its teaching about salvation. Still multitudes remain mysteriously, irrationally confident of going to Heaven.
What is the situation in the world regarding the number of those who identify themselves as Christians? In 1980 E.R. Dayton in his book,
To Reach the Unreached, estimated there were about one billion “Christians” out of a world population of four billion—roughly 25%. In 1998 the world population was estimated at six billion. Here the number of “Christians” was estimated at 1.5 to 1.8 billion, about the same percentage and still a minority. The term “Christian” includes every variety of belief, including cults with serious contradictions concerning major doctrines. It also includes all baptized persons who long ago may have stopped attending church. Many churches use “godparents” (those who supposedly vow to see the children raised as Christians) to “believe” on behalf of infants or small children when they are baptized. This is done usually by sprinkling and marking their foreheads with the sign of the cross. Later, candidates go to catechism classes, largely consisting of memory work (creeds, verses of Scripture such as the Ten Commandments, etc.), and it is assumed they understand and believe all they were taught or memorized. Then they become members and can “take communion” after a “confirmation service” presided over by a bishop. Of course none of this, other than baptism, is mentioned in Scripture; nor was it practiced by the Apostolic church of the first century. The qualification for baptism is genuine saving faith (Acts 8:36-37). The blood of Christ alone removes sins, not the waters of baptism (Revelation 1:5; Hebrews 9:22), or any church ritual.
Evangelical churches believe that by the preaching of the gospel hearers will obey the gospel message and thus be saved (1 Peter 4:17; Acts 5:32). Although exact figures are difficult to determine, it is estimated that only 300 to 350 million believers belong to evangelical gospel-preaching churches. That is about 25% of those in the world who say they are Christians. Of this number, only the most optimistic person would believe that every one of them is truly a born-again believer, showing at least minimal signs of new life in Christ. Out of a world population of six billion, even 300 million people are certainly few in number. How do they become Christians according to general practice? Most evangelical church members are baptized and hold church membership. There is the widespread belief that this is all that is required. Genuine saving faith is assumed. Some so-called “Christians” base their hope of Heaven on baptism and church membership. Churches are reluctant to remove lapsed attenders from membership. Today, virtually no one is ex-communicated for sinful behavior, despite the command to do so in 1 Corinthians 5.
Evangelists sometimes hold a period of consecutive evangelistic meetings or “revivals,” as they are called in some parts. I recall one evangelistic revival incident. It involved an elderly widow who certainly was living a Christian life and attended one of these meetings. The preacher typically used a multiple appeal at the end of his message. He first asked those who wanted to be saved to come forward. There was almost no response. The evangelist continued his appeal: “Those who want to be restored to the Lord, come forward.” Then he appealed, “Those who want to rededicate their lives to the Lord, come forward.” Finally, because the response was so poor, he desperately appealed, “Those of you who are not doing as much for the Lord as you should, come forward.” That appeal touched the elderly widow. She came forward to sit on the front seat as an “inquirer.” The pastor was the one who first spoke to her. “Tell me, why did you come forward?” She replied in a quavering voice, “I don’t think I’m doing as much for the Lord as I should.” The pastor rose and said, “And who is?” Then he walked away with a despairing sigh.
An internationally known evangelist told me he is judged by his success in bringing people forward personally. He said, “I hate it.” I asked, “Why then did you prolong your meetings at the end with these appeals?” He answered, “It is necessary to get results. That means numbers.” In my experience, there are very few such “converts” who prove to be real. I have counseled many times in the “crusades” of the most famous mass evangelist in the world. When I questioned those who came forward, few had any real conviction of sin or true understanding of the gospel. When asked, “Why did you come forward?,” they often replied, “It seemed like a good thing to do. It couldn’t hurt.” I would estimate that a surprisingly small minority of such persons were truly saved, based on referrals to my church and other churches. Still, multitudes base their hope of Heaven on this “decision” experience. A “decision” indicates almost any response to a gospel presentation such as indicated below:
I went forward to the front of a meeting.
I raised my hand after a message.
I said “Amen’’ to someone’s prayer, or repeated a formula prayer.
I accepted God’s free gift of salvation.
I signed a decision card.
I asked Jesus into my heart.
Are such responses taught in the Book of Romans or the Gospel of John? What is the content of the faith of people taking such steps? Is there true “heart” understanding? Consider what often happens after this kind of profession. A worker may introduce this person to another and say, “John just got saved. Praise the Lord.” Or the person may be introduced publicly as “saved.” But I question, “how could the worker be absolutely sure of that without an advance copy of the Lamb’s book of life?” Rather, it is the responsibility of the professed convert to give his or her own confession of faith (Romans 10:7-10). It should be the Word of God (not the worker) who should provide a proper basis for the assurance of salvation. Who is qualified to give another person their assurance of salvation?
In such evangelistic practices, seeds are planted for what could be a false profession of faith. A person may appear to accept or believe in Christ as Savior, but if afterward this person is encouraged to believe that he or she is sure of going to Heaven mainly because of that profession, no matter how they live later here on earth, it is dangerous. This is called the “eternal security of the profession,” rather than the “eternal security of genuine salvation.” There is no Scripture to support the “eternal security of a profession.” In fact, Scripture warns against “vain words” as a delusion (Ephesians 5:6). Praying “the sinner’s prayer” is no guarantee of salvation.
It is remarkable that today there seems to be little or no concern in churches, or by their leaders, or among family members, about the reality of such a supposed relationship to Christ. In many instances there are extended periods of relationship to a particular church by reason of family, friends or ethnic ties. This does not equate to salvation. In prior generations, there was a deep concern about being sure of going to Heaven. There appears to have been a greater fear of God, which is “the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 9:10). This helped break traditional ties. Today false profession has become a “lost doctrine of the church” in teaching, counseling and full length books about salvation. It is a dangerous loss. There is absolutely nothing worse than to die, face God and shockingly find you are not going to Heaven to be with the Lord forever as you had hoped (see Matthew 7:22-23). It is tragic to wonder why your friends, your pastors or teachers or your own family allowed you to drift through life while you were deluded with false assurance.
Are you certain that you are among “the few” of whom Jesus spoke, whose names are “written in the Lamb’s book of life” (Revelation 20:15)? If not, you need to make sure. Study carefully, not selectively, what the Bible says, about how to be saved, giving careful consideration to each applicable verse of Scripture.
Are There Few That Be Saved?
1. Do you think most people professing to be Christians would be surprised to know that Jesus said only a few will reach Heaven by the narrow way that leads to life eternal? Why would anyone question this statement?
2. Why do you think most people are more confident of going to Heaven today than people were 50 to 75 years ago? Previously, most people thought no one could be certain of this until the day of final judgment after death.
3. What seems to be the basis of the confidence of most people claiming to be Christians? Why are they so sure of going to Heaven (Matthew 7:21-23; Luke 13:23-27)? Consider common church practices, rituals or “sacraments” as the basis of hope of some.
4. What may be misleading about current church practices by which many are confident they became Christians? List some methods you might question and say why.