A Sense of Proportion

I find it interesting – and, given my personal belief in the completed work of Christ, somewhat frustrating – that many Christians believe that there are a whole lot of hoops that people need to jump through in order to be ‘saved’.

Jesus said in a few places (Mt 19:14; Mk 10:13-16; Lk 18:17) that the Gospel is far more easily accepted by ‘little children’, though, which suggests to me that actually the Gospel is very simple. And I also believe that not only is the Gospel simple, but also that religious people have added (and continue to add) layer upon layer of conditions and caveats to that simple Gospel, thus making it virtually unreachable.

Jesus had this to say about people in His day who did things like that:

“And you experts in the law, woe to you, because you load people down with burdens they can hardly carry, and you yourselves will not lift one finger to help them.” (Luke 11:46)

This strongly suggests to me that in fact the imposing of religious burdens on people is a far cry from the freedom that Jesus actually came to bring us. In short, He came to bring us Rest:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.”

– Mt 11:28-30 (Message)

It’s also analogous to a military combat aircraft. Of itself, a modern jet fighter is fast, clean, manoeuvrable and sleek.

But once you start adding missiles, bombs, fuel tanks and other pods and stuff onto the underwing racks, the aeroplane rapidly becomes far heavier, more unwieldy and harder to fly, and its performance is reduced drastically. The aircraft becomes ‘dirty’, to use flying parlance, and it is no longer ‘clean’.

In short, the more you burden it, the harder it becomes to fly. And I do wonder if actually some Christians’ faith actually does ‘fly’ as it should do, to continue the analogy, so burdensome have all these various add-ons and requirements become.

And that’s not at all what Jesus came to give us!

 

In a previous post, I have examined the dire outlook which is the logical conclusion of taking literally the ideas of the ‘narrow way’ and the ‘wide way’, as put forward by Jesus in Matthew 7:13-14 and Luke 13:23-24. Today, I thought I would try putting some numbers to this concept, and follow that with a little bit of logic (albeit fairly tongue-in-cheek!), to give us some idea of just how crazy this doctrine is, in the light of the fact that Jesus is usually claimed to be a ‘perfect Saviour’. Using this logic, Jesus actually ends up appearing to be nothing of the sort, as we shall see.

Right, let’s get started. There is, we are told, a wide way, and a narrow way (Mt 7:13-14). By definition, the narrow way is less travelled, because Jesus said that ‘few are those who find it’. We can therefore assume that the narrow way is not as broad as the wide way, and that less people travel the narrow way than they do the wide way. What sort of proportion are we talking about here? Well, most Evangelicals would use backward logic and say that since only about 1% of the worlds population have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’, and said it ‘properly’ at that, then it’s about 1% on the narrow way, and the other 99% on the wide way. But I am going to be more generous than that today. I want to use the most generous figures I can get away with, and still show how ludicrous the numbers are even in spite of this.

It is estimated that roughly 33% of the world’s population is (nominally) Christian. [1] So I am going to use this figure – one third – at each stage in my argument, which as I said is generous, but hey. So, one third of the world’s population find the narrow path, which we assume is Christianity. Now, each Christian religious group will have their own ideas as to what additional doctrines are ‘essential’ to [what they would call] being a Christian, so let’s add some of these ideas in to the formula. A typical set of required Evangelical beliefs, and the numbers resulting from them, would go something like this:

Of that one third of the world who are nominally Christians, let’s assume that one third of those are in the ‘right’ denominational field. For Evangelicals, that is of course Protestantism as opposed to Roman Catholicism.

Of that number, one third will be in the right Protestant denomination (e.g. Baptist, Pentecostal or whatever) [2]

One third of these will claim that they are following the correct leader or be in the correct congregation.

One third of these will have said the ‘sinner’s prayer’

One third of those will not only have said it, but actually meant it/said it ‘properly’/said the ‘correct form’ of the prayer

Of those people, many people in that congregation are those that ‘God hates’ [3]; only one third are in his ‘good books’.

One third of those people in His good books will be actively keeping the correct laws/Rules as determined by that church; (some will not, and will be closet ‘sinners’ and therefore ‘lost’)

Of those keeping the Rules, only one third will ‘endure unto the End’ (Mt 24:13)

Of those that ‘endure unto the End’, only one third will have confessed every single sin before they die.

Of those few that confess Every. Single. Sin., only one third will have absolutely no fears or doubts when they cross over – these fears and doubts also being a ‘sin’ and therefore sufficient to ‘disqualify’ that person.

Of those that stand before Jesus and say ‘Lord, Lord, did we not [do lots of things for you]’ (Mt 7:22), to only one third will Jesus not say, “Away from Me; I never knew you!” (Mt 7:23) because they didn’t do those things from the correct motivation or whatever.

Only to those remaining after all these tests will Jesus say, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant. Enter now into your inheritance’ (Mt 25:23).

And that’s not even including those who have/have not been baptised, those who believe/don’t believe that the Bible is the inerrant/infallible Word of God, those who believe/don’t believe in Hell, those who believe/don’t believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true version, those who do or do not feed the hungry, visit those in prison and clothe the naked, those who hate gay people, those who don’t hate Donald Trump, those who vote differently from how God would vote, you get the picture. There are so, so many hoops that Evangelical churches would have you jump through that it’s nigh on impossible to pass all the tests.

Try calculating that even roughly [4] and even only including the factors I have [sort of] quantified above, and you end up with a vanishingly small fraction of people who will ‘qualify’ – because, let’s face it, every Christian has slightly different beliefs and will in no way believe in all of those things, plus the other random hoops that every different group invents for themselves. Therefore, for someone to qualify for Heaven by jumping through Every. Single. One. of those hoops is more or less impossible to attain. And that’s all presuming a Saviour who is apparently capable of ‘keeping [us] from falling’, although given that list of pitfalls that are all supposedly our fault, it doesn’t sound all that hopeful, now does it?

By the way, I should re-emphasise somewhat sarcastically at this point that this is all supposed to be “Good News”.

You’d never have guessed, would you?

Of course, I don’t believe any of this. I’m just emphasising how silly all these ‘requirements’ are. Of course Jesus is an effective Saviour – infinitely more effective, in fact, than these people give Him credit for!

In fact, Jesus is indeed the One Who is ‘…Him that is able to keep us from falling, and to present us faultless before the presence of his glory with exceeding joy!’ (Jude 24-25) It’s all based on what He has done, not on what we will do, believe, achieve or assent to. All these hoops to jump through? In reality, God doesn’t care about them because they don’t actually exist. Leave them behind, ignore them and take no notice of those who advocate them.

So, what shall we say then? I think we should reiterate the words of Jesus in Matthew 11:28, which I will quote once again for your edification:

“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me. Get away with me and you’ll recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me and work with me—watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to live freely and lightly.” – Mt 11:28 (Message)

Come to Jesus. That’s where the freedom lies. As I emphasise in many of my blog posts, the Christian life is not about rules and regulations, it’s about freedom. Freedom from sin, freedom from care and worry, freedom from human regulations, freedom from the fear of man, judgement and God – freedom, freedom, freedom! If it’s not about freedom, it’s not the Gospel!

So, take heart! Jesus came to free us from the letter of the Law, and in fact nailed it to the Cross in Himself (Col 2:14). We are no longer bound by the Law; we are instead living under Grace (Rom 6:14). In fact, none of the ‘requirements’ listed above apply to any of us. What matters is not rules, requirements and regulations; what matters is the New Creation (Gal 6:15). If you are In Christ, you are a new creation, and there is no going back. If we died with Him, we shall also live with Him (Rom 6:8; 2Tim 2:11) – and that death we died is a one-way deal!

Dead to sin, dead to Law (which is the power of sin) and alive to God in Christ Jesus!

Oh, glory!


[1] 2012 figures, from Wikipedia entry ‘List of Religious Populations

[2] Obviously ‘Our’ denomination is the right one to be ‘in’, and indeed the ‘only’ one to be in. Everyone else is ‘out’! Funny how these things work, isn’t it? 😉

[3] Mark Driscoll: “Some of you: God hates you!” – link to YouTube video

[4] To save you the effort, I have calculated this for you. The proportion of people who would make it to Heaven by fulfilling every one of these criteria simultaneously would be 0.000055% of all people, or one in approximately 1.8 million people. Calculating this even further, this means that of the worlds population of approximately 7.4 billion people, there would only be just over 4,000 people in Heaven. The rest, according to standard Evangelical doctrine, burn forever in the fires of Hell. No wonder I don’t believe in that concept!

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8 thoughts on “A Sense of Proportion

  1. “those who believe/don’t believe that the King James Version of the Bible is the only true version”

    About that– what is it with some of these Evangelical jokers about this fixation with trying to make everyone believe that if their Bible does not say “walketh” instead of “walks,” “doeth” instead of does, etc., that the people who do not believe in that are not/cannot be truly saved or of Him?

    Think about it– if I was the pastor of a church that used, say, Good News for Modern Man as the main version of Scripture, would I make someone who had a KJV and wanted to read the same verses from it feel unwelcome? I could not do that!

    I could not say to that parishioner, “You with the KJV– put that away and get with the Good News for Modern Man; that’s the version we’re using in this church, and is the only one acceptable here”– that would make that parishioner would feel unwelcome!

    But Evangelicals (at least some of the fundy kind) don’t see it that way; if an unlucky parishioner had Good News for Modern Man in one of those churches, some might say to that one, “You with the modern version– put that away and get with the KJV; that is the only one acceptable here!” I would most certainly feel unwelcome in that kind of church!

    So then again, why the insistence on King James only in many fundy churches?

      1. Could have been worse. You could have used ‘wouldst’ 😉

        I can take it out if you like, or we can leave it in for continuity of the way the thread has now gone. Whatever you prefer 🙂

        Yeah, it’s crazy isn’t it?

        Personally I like the KJV but I take it with a pinch of salt. Or two. I like the way it phrases certain passages, and sometimes the point I want to make is better phrased with regards to helping me get the point across.

        But, like you, I would not dream of imposing it on others. I wonder if it’s the ‘familiarity’ of the language they like? Fair enough if so. But I do get the sneaking feeling that actually it’s the theology, that they can extrapolate from the Olde English that they wouldn’t have been able to get from Good News for Modern Man, that they like. And that’s far more scary.

        Also, I think that some preachers of that ilk like to think it makes them sound more like an Old Testament Prophet, or (heaven forbid) even Moses. More authority in the official-sounding older dialect because, after all, that’s how God speaks, isn’t it? 😉

  2. “I can take it out if you like, or we can leave it in for continuity of the way the thread has now gone. Whatever you prefer 🙂”

    Appreciate that– please, leave as is.

  3. Hi Tony

    I came across your site via Tim’s ‘Jesus Without Baggage’. I like much of wot I have read here and there and hope to explore more of your site. It’s nice to see your approach on a site which isn’t ‘Murican. Not so sure about the flying interests, my brother sits in the pointy end of a Ryanair 737, they’re a strange bunch them flyists!! (just in case, I am being ironic here)

    Best wishes

    Ross

    1. Welcome Ross, and thanks for your comment 🙂 Although I’m a British blogger, a lot of what I write or share is inspired or written by ‘Murican contributors; also I am well aware of the turmoil and, well, just plain horror in the ‘Murican Evangelical scene at the present time. I believe it’s driven by the usual market pressures that seem to drive everything else in ‘Murica – money, hype, gossip, media frenzy, controversy and personality cults. Shame the Personality that drives it is not Jesus, or at least it appears not. Still it’s not for me to judge. But thankfully it appears that that horror is not really spreading all that rapidly in the UK, partly I think because we are culturally different.

      Interesting about your brother being at the pointy end of a 737. I’ve flown with Ryanair quite a few times, despite the horrible way the airline often treat their customers.
      That said, Ryanair pilots, cabin crews and ground staff on the frontline have always been great. Some of the best landings I have ever seen, thumping 60 tons of metal, plastic, fuel and flesh down onto a runway at 150mph, safely and in one piece, in appalling conditions: wet runway and a pernickety, strong crosswind at night, have been in Ryanair jets. Most impressive! I am of course now wondering if maybe your brother was driving on one of those occasions 😉

      Yeah, we flyists are indeed an odd bunch. I am actually scared of heights! Get me up a ladder to clean the gutters (and I live in a bungalow!) and I am a quivering wreck. At 300ft on short finals, day or night, or at 10,000ft with a hundred miles’ visibility, I am as cool and composed as, well, something that is very cool and composed indeed, lol. Yes, most odd!

  4. Tony, very good article. I got to phone you through Tim’s “Jesus without the baggage“. Interesting figure, 4000. I think there are some people would be quite happy to know that there are only 4000 people in heaven and of course they believe they are one of those there are probably some that I was surprised that there will be that many that make it. You may have an argument on your hands yet with that 4000 figure. I sure do like your humor. We need to be able to laugh at ourselves as much as we laugh at the fundies of which I was one for a long time. I had a pastor who had a pat answer for those who accused us of thinking we are the only ones that are saved and going to heaven. He would say to that, “That’s not true. We don’t even think all of us are saved.” He wasn’t joking. Anyway, it sure is good to be on this side of hell meaning that I don’t believe anymore in hellfire and damnation. William Paul Young‘s book, “the shack“ played a big part in getting me to where I am today and I still listen to Paul Young a lot on YouTube. Keep up the good work and don’t lose your sense of humor. Flying in the spirit is a beautiful thing. Quite freeing.

    1. Hi Peter and thanks for your comments 🙂 I am glad you got the humour; this can be such a dark subject and I wanted to lighten it up a bit, especially since I don’t believe a word of it! 😀

      The Shack was a big influence on me too. It was more that it showed me that what I was thinking, others were thinking too – but I also learned some lovely new aspects and ideas from it. I have the movie on DVD and I must watch it again, only remembering to have more tissues to hand this time 😉

      You might be interested to look at the articles I have written or linked to in this blog about the Shack. If you look in the Categories list in the right column, near the top of this article, you whould find a link to all the articles in the category ‘The Shack’.

      Once again, thanks for your comments and also for hte encouragement!

      Peace and Grace
      Anthony

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