In his novel, A Painted House, John Grisham describes a Sunday school teacher eulogizing a mean character named Jerry Sisco, who had been killed the night before in a back alley fight after he picked on one person too many.

In the words of the little boy who had seen the fight with his friend Dewayne: “She made Jerry sound like a Christian and an innocent victim. I glanced at Dewayne, who had one eye on me. There was something odd about this. As Baptists, we’d been taught from the cradle that the only way you made it to heaven was by believing in Jesus and trying to follow his example in living a clean and moral Christian life… And anyone who did not accept Jesus and live a Christian life simply went to hell. That’s where Jerry Sisco was, and we all knew it.”

Did you grow up believing that? I did.  But growing up with a belief is not the same as coming to grips with it in adulthood. Is what we learned as children valid? Is Jesus himself as categorical and exclusive as all that? 

Many years ago, I sat across the table from a man who almost lost his faith over this issue. He had friends – people he loved and respected – who had a much broader view of things. They told him he was very narrow-minded to believe that Jesus was the only way.  Would they be lost, damned for all eternity, if they refused to believe like the boys in Grisham’s novel?

We don’t have to wonder. Jesus made it crystal clear in Matthew 7:21-27.

21 “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. 22 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?’ 23 Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’

24 “Therefore, everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. 25 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall because it had its foundation on the rock. 26 But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. 27 The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” [1]

He followed that up with an even more exclusive statement in John’s gospel:

 Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”[2]

Membership in the kingdom does not depend on what we say, how religious we are, or how moral we are. Membership belongs to those who believe and from that belief obey. Membership in the kingdom is not about creeds or images. It is about heart and action. Membership does not depend on what we think of Jesus.  Membership in the Kingdom of God and where we go when we die depends on what Jesus thinks of us.

What does he think of you?


[1] The New International Version. (2011). (Mt 7:21–27). Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan.

[2] John 14:6 NIV

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