Christianity and Salvation
I've been thinking about the idea that anyone who believes in God and accepts Christ as his or her saviour goes to heaven. Is this really the case? Does it not matter how you believe and the depth of your belief and the extent to which you apply that belief to your life? Does it not matter how much you reflect the reality of Christ in your own being? It surely must do or else why bother to be a saint? Why not just believe in your outer mind and carry on as normal, not overtly sinning but not really doing anything very differently to anyone else either? That, of course, is precisely what many professed religious people actually do but it's nowhere near good enough, and on a certain level is actually hypocritical. For if spiritual belief does not translate into radical restructuring of the self it's insipid and can hardly be called belief in the religious sense. After all, to believe God, if it's to mean anything, obviously requires a different sort of belief to believing that the earth goes round the sun. If belief in God does not become absolutely central to everything what sort of belief is it? After all, as James says in his second epistle, when talking about the necessity of faith and works for salvation, even the demons believe in the one God.
While sincere belief in God and Christ (or another valid religion) may be sufficient to pass some kind of earthly examination it is not sufficient to get an individual to heaven in the true sense. This is where we must make the crucial distinction between salvation and theosis. The former is just the first step on the road to the latter which is divinization of the human soul and what we are put on earth to achieve. For we are not just called on to believe in Christ but to become Christ, true sons and daughters of God, ourselves. We already are this in potential but that potential must be realised and for this to happen a lot more than simple belief is required even if simple belief is the first and necessary step.
It might help if we could see that the higher worlds are not just made up of heaven and hell (however we conceive these) but that there are many different levels of being, becoming progressively more spiritual the closer we approach to God. By that I mean that greater vistas of light, love, beauty and consciousness open up the higher we ascend but we must have developed something that corresponds to these in our own being. So the ordinary believer will find himself in a spiritual realm that approximates to his own inner development. If this is limited so will that be whatever his beliefs might be. The saint will find himself or herself in a truly heavenly world because he or she has fully purified the soul. By the same token, someone whose spiritual consciousness is darkened or closed will find himself in a similar environment, one that reflects his own darkened state. Then again souls at different spiritual degrees of development could function on the same level but perceive that differently according to their transparency to God.
All of which makes the idea that mere belief in God is enough to go to heaven far too simplistic. For one thing, there is no 'heaven' as such because 'my Father's house has many mansions', but, for another, it is how that belief transforms you that matters not the belief itself which falls into the necessary but not sufficient category. Belief must act like the leaven in bread. If it doesn't have a transformative effect then it's no good and the soul will not rise.
Belief in Christ might point you in the right direction but until Christ is born in your heart you are a worldly person. I am not talking about the extravagant melodrama of being 'born again'. This may or may not be a spiritual thing. More often than not it is a purely emotional reaction, a religious excitement not a true spiritual awakening. But when the light of Christ is actually born in the heart then you start the transformation from earthly personality to spiritual soul and it is only this that makes a person a true Christian. Belief is part of it but until belief becomes absorbed in the heart and is not just an intellectual acceptance of a theoretical proposition it will not take you very far.
Here are some quotations from Jesus that bear this out and tell us that merely believing in him is insufficient. He calls us to something far more radical than that.
- Many are called but few are chosen.
- If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it.
- Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.
- Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.
- Many will say to me on that day, 'Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name and in your name drive out demons and in your name perform many miracles?' Then I will announce to them, I never knew you! Depart from me, you lawbreakers!'
It's difficult to take from these sayings of Jesus the idea that belief in him is all it takes to get to heaven. For one thing, what sort of Christ are we believing in? The true Christ or a concoction of our own or someone else’s? The fact is that to believe in the true Christ you have to have his image in your heart already. You have to have the spiritual capacity to respond to reality. Naturally this doesn’t have to be very highly developed yet. Its development is what the spiritual path is all about. But it has to be there in some sense. You must respond to the real Christ and not just an image, sentimental, made up or whatever, that you have got from somewhere external. So yes, belief in Christ will no doubt get you to heaven but it must be the true Christ as he is known in the heart, and you must act on that belief.