«Lord, are there few that be saved?» Jesus was faced with this question when he was on his way to Jerusalem on the last Passover (Luke 13:23). We don’t know who asked, but the question has been asked by many people at all times, although it may not have been brought up for debate very often. How will it be with our neighbour, who just passed away? And what about our old aunt, whom we accompanied to her final rest last week?
First of all, let us establish that Jesus does not give a fixed and finished answer to the question. However, he responds by calling for battle: «Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able, Luke13:24). Therefore Jesus does not wants us to spend time and energy speculating on how many percent of the world’s population will be saved. On the other hand, we must use the time and effort to make sure we get in there ourselves – and of course help others to get in through the narrow gate.
Nevertheless, we need not reject the question entirely. Although we do not get involved in heavenly percentage calculations, there are some interesting and important premises in the question which we would do well to go into more carefully. Actually, all questions concerning salvation and eternal life should engage us – except, as I said, the numerical speculations themselves.
The subject of salvation is so extensively treated in the Bible that it would lead too far to take up the matter in its full breadth here and now. Let’s just mention the most important. Jesus himself said: «He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned”, Mark 16:16).
«Og dette er Hans vilje som har sendt Meg: At hver den som ser Sønnen og tror på Ham, skal ha evig liv. Og Jeg skal reise ham opp på den siste dag«, John 6:40.
A belief in Jesus and that his work of salvation applies to each of us is the very entrance ticket to the kingdom of God. Note that the word in Mark 16:16 is also clear that whoever does not believe will be damned or lost. It is nevertheless important to emphasize that believing in Jesus implies obedience to the Lord’s commandments and laws:
“Not everyone that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven; but he that doeth the will of my Father which is in heaven«, Matthew 7:21.
On the basis of this word of Jesus and some others, it may be reasonable to draw the conclusion that we must do good works to be saved. God’s word does not teach us that good works are necessary for salvation, but rather that good works come as a fruit of our repentance and salvation. And if that fruit does not appear, salvation hangs in the balance, cf. Matthew 7:21. As a closer discussion of this side of the matter is not the main point of this article, we will not go into it in depth now.
Many of the world’s population are not particularly religious, and a growing number are avowed atheists. Therefore, the knowledge – and for that matter the interest – in God’s word is not particularly great either. We have reason to believe that a large part of the religious impulses people receive is what people take with them when they go to church for baptisms, confirmations, and funerals. The Bible is an unknown book to most people, where it sits dusty on a bookshelf or in a box in the attic. And when people then come to church at life’s big events, it is a rather distorted message they hear, perhaps especially at funerals. The priest talks about God’s love and care, and how we now place the deceased in God’s hands. At the same time, some beautifully selected words from the Bible are read that underpin the image of God’s love. Everyone knows, however, that the deceased, who now lies in the coffin in the chancel, cared neither for the Bible nor for Christianity; on the contrary, he was a little rascal, who both cursed and drank a lot. But God’s love overcomes all obstacles, is what those present is told.
I am afraid that the many funerals with the beautiful words about God’s love have given most people a wrong picture of the message of the Bible. When they have returned home after the ceremony and memorial gathering in the parish hall, there are probably few who sit with a sense of seriousness that drives them to look up the dusty Bible to find more complementary answers. I would rather believe that most people think along these lines, if their thoughts at all veer towards the religious: «Well, well, we can just relax. God is good, he takes care of us, as long as he exists somewhere out there”. And then the mind immediately returns to more important things! such as the trip to the cabin next weekend or how to deal with an intolerable colleague who seems to think he owns the whole world.
Here my thoughts return to the answer Jesus gave on the road to Jerusalem: «Strive to enter in at the strait gate» (Luke 13:24.) In these words there is a clear seriousness, a hint, or a reminder that it may cost something to enter the kingdom of God. And that we may even have to do something. The verb «to fight» doesn’t exactly encourage passivity! In addition to Jesus’ own words, let us read what the apostle Paul has said on the matter: Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not as in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, (Philippians 2:12).
And he that taketh not his cross, and followeth after me, is not worthy of me. He that findeth his life shall lose it: and he that loseth his life for my sake shall find it”, [Matthew 10,38-39 (Jesus)].
Otherwise, it is naturally best to read the words in a larger context. If you read the New Testament in its entirety, you will soon have to recognize that a somewhat lukewarm and dull public religiosity does not measure up to God’s word. It is not my intention to cause trouble for anyone with what I write, but the question of salvation is so fundamental and important that we cannot fail to point out what the Bible says about the matter.
Finally: It is true that Our Lord is generous and wants the best for everyone, including salvation and eternal life. However, there is a limit. As an acquaintance once illustrated salvation many years ago: «If I hold out my hand with a 100 USD bill and offer it to you, what will it take for it to become yours? … … Exactly, you have to reach out your hand and accept it«. This is also how it is with salvation: it is a gift that must be accepted by each of us. And then the fruits of repentance can begin to grow, slowly but surely.
Written by Frank Erland Aaserud
All Bible texts are from the King James Version 1611/1769.