I have a pastor friend who says the minute we add just one requirement to the gospel of grace, we ruin the message.
The requirement could be anything, big or small.
For example, if someone says, “To be saved you must believe in Jesus and go to church every Sunday,” the message is no longer good news, just another religious system.
One of the first people I met in my neighborhood was a 40 year-old woman named Judy. Despite her age, Judy has the mentality of a pre-teen. She’s a delightful woman who loves Jesus very much.
She expressed to me and my pastor friend Brian that she wanted to get baptized. Of course, we encouraged to do so. Brian even offered to baptize her.
But Judy said a preacher told her she couldn’t get baptized until she quit smoking.
We corrected the bad theology and told Judy she doesn’t have quit smoking to qualify for baptism.
“I know,” she said. “But I do have to quit cussin’”
Brian baptized Judy that very week.
We look back at the story and laugh but the truth is alarming. Someone out there is telling people they have to abide by a certain moral code before being allowed to place their faith in Jesus.
For most Christians, this truth is elementary. Anyone willing to dig a little deeper understands that smokers and cussers and other sinners are the very people Christ wants.
But what about discipleship? Is discipleship a requirement for salvation?
I love the discipleship movement sweeping through the American Church. At one point, I was determined to disciple my entire neighborhood. It didn’t work out.
When my discipleship plan didn’t work out, my wife said, “Maybe not all believers are disciples.”
I looked at her like she was stupid when she said this. But Rachel doesn’t really need my validation. She just shrugged her shoulders and bounced away into the living room.
On another occasion, Rachel asked, “Do you think alcoholics go to heaven?”
I know a lot of alcoholics.
She explained, “I was talking with a friend about what it means to believe in the gospel. What God expects of someone who claims to know Jesus. My friend believes that a person who claims to know Jesus will make every effort to put down the bottle and get sober. Otherwise, that person won’t go to heaven.”
I immediately thought about my friend Ricky. Ricky is one of the neighborhood drunks. I pass by his apartment when I walk to work and he hollers at me from his second story window. I can tell his level of drunkenness based on how much he “needs” to talk to me. If it’s late in the day, he really needs to talk.
Ricky loves God. He asks me to pray for him every time we interact. He often cries when we pray. He wants to come to church and become a righteous man, a good husband and father.
But man, he just can’t stop drinking.
I told Rachel that I think Ricky will go to heaven. That he will stand before Jesus’ throne and sigh in relief. Jesus will embrace Ricky and gently whisper, “It’s over,” as Ricky cries into his chest.
The reason I believe this is that Ricky is banking on the gospel. The only hope he has for heaven is that Jesus’ death and resurrection actually cover his sins and that God will accept him if he simply believes.
I don’t know if I can honestly say Jesus is my only hope.
I know that sounds blasphemous.
But I think, deep down, I believe my life has earned me something with God. I’m a minister, I work with the poor, I try to live a good life.
If I am really honest, I might just believe I have myself covered. And that scares the hell out of me.
Rachel listened to me and nodded her head. “I agree,” she said. “Do you see what I mean when I say that not all believers are disciples?” I smiled and laughed to myself.
Dang she’s smart.