“If the Gospel is not about me getting into heaven, what’s the point?”

FOT_0110713_heaven“I accept The Lord Jesus as my personal savior,” has become the modern formulation of becoming a Christian. It is so common that we fail to see it is relatively recent and in many ways it fails to express the Gospel. Clearly, this formula arose in a culture that values commercial transactions and in an evangelical environment that values heaven above Jesus as the Way, Truth and Life. Many times when approached with the question of my accepting Jesus as my personal savior I’m asked where I am going at the moment of my death. When I point out that few of the Bible conversion stories have such a pattern, the person asking me about Jesus as my personal savior stares blankly back. If the Gospel is not about me getting into heaven, what’s the point? Christianity is about heaven, right? Jesus coming to be with us as the Way, the Truth and the Life is just window dressing.

The formula’s key words arise within the two little words, “my” and “personal.” These two words are the ones that make it both the subject and the attitude of the formula. The point of the formula is me, me, me — perfect for the “me” generation. They are also the places where the biggest issues are for Christian living. They betray the fact that the focus is still dead on the individual and not God, nor living. The point of the formula is to continue with the self at the center. The action is taken by the speaker and not God. I do the accepting and Jesus is passive in the formula. Like a good consumer, I choose who my personal savior will be. Once I make the transaction of choosing the right personal savior, I get to go to heaven. Much like a “personal” trainer is in my hire to make my body better, a “personal” financial advisor is there to make my money work for me, the “personal” savior is there at my beck and call to get my spiritual life working. The end results for the trainer, financial advisor and the savior is the point, great body, great retirement, and getting to heaven or its about me, me, me. We, like good consumers, can ask for a money back guarantee.

The problem, of course, is treating the creator of the universe as a tool for one’s ends. Jesus is the savior of the world, a universal category and not simply a hired hand to get one into heaven. The point is Jesus, not me. When Jesus says the Kingdom of God is at hand, he means something about how we are to live and how we are in any given moment. We also join a larger community that is beyond our small world.

I have been approached at airports, county fairs and many public places. Each time the call is to go deeper into my own ego. The call is not to love others and God, Jesus’s commandment to his followers, but to love my own hyde and worry about me, me, me and how I, yes me, the only really one I care about me, me, me and how I, yes me, get into heaven. In many ways, it can tempt us into avoiding Jesus as the savior of the world and turn him into another consumer good for own small pleasure. When the Gospel becomes only about getting into heaven, how can we hear the true Gospel underneath it. Jesus is the Way, the Truth and Life and it more than simply my personal savior for my Way, my Truth, and my Life. Lord Jesus calls me and accepts me as a lowly servant and I follow because he is the Way, the Truth, and the Life.


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Mark Hilditch

Ernesto, thank you! In our radically individualistic culture this is a desperately needed perspective. I highly recommend a book titled, “When the Church was a Family” by Joseph H. Hellerman. He does some fantastic work on the way the gospel is heard and understood in family-centered cultures, like the first-century world of the New Testament.

Tom Schmidt

Ernesto, and Mark: I really like what you say, and the way you say it. The only thing I disagree with is Ernesto’s use of the “I am the Way” statement, from the Gospel of John. Although here it is used to support the return from the idolatrous use of Jesus as a personal savior and the accent of religion for personal gain, and calls for a return to considering Jesus’ message of the present empire of God (Over that of Rome), generally that extended quote is used to say that Jesus is the exclusive way, and all others are wrong. I agree with the biblical scholars that , using very rigorous, scientific historiography, strongly believe that statement is John’s redaction of the Jesus story, his view and never was said by Jesus. To accept that statement as actually Jesus’ I have to twist my brain into a pretzel, taking it as metaphor. I see no gain in using it generally. And in this present application, I believe it is unnecessary; you make a very good case without it for the need to stay true to Jesus words and deeds, independent from our individual psychological needs and cultural biases. I am a Disciple of Jesus because of his greater glory, not for my greater glory.

Liv Larson Andrews

Excellent reflection, Ernesto. Thank you. A friend used to say it this way: treating the Christian life only as a route to heaven is as mistaken as treating our elders with kindness only in hopes for a big inheritance.
The most radical call in the gospels is into relationship and community. Thank you for the reminder!

Jan Shannon

Ernesto, thank you for this reminder! I am preaching on evangelism this week, and your words will likely work their way into my sermon. “When Jesus says the Kingdom of God is at hand, he means something about how we are to live and how we are in any given moment. We also join a larger community that is beyond our small world.” Good stuff!

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