By Frank Himmel
Are you headed for heaven? In November, 1990, the Gallup organization surveyed Americans’ thoughts on heaven and hell. The results were published in the March 25, 1991 issue of U.S. News & World Report. Seventy-eight per-cent of those responding believe there is a heaven. When asked if they thought they had an “excellent or good chance of going there,” guess how many said yes? That’s right, seventy-eight percent. In other words, just about everyone who believes there is a heaven thinks he is going there. (In contrast, sixty percent of those surveyed said they believed in hell, but only four percent thought they were going there.) Will the majority be saved? What does the Bible say?
Few Will Be Saved
If the majority go to heaven it will be a stark reversal of conditions on earth. Here God’s people are always a decided minority. In fact, the only time since Eden when they have constituted the majority was immediately after the flood. The righteous are so few that they are often called a “remnant,” a small part, a trace. God had only a remnant in Old Testament times. “In the same way then, there has also come to be at the present time a remnant according to God’s choice of grace” (Rom. 11:5).
The Savior himself often indicated that few will be saved. In the well-known parable of the sower (Lk. 8:4-15), Jesus likened hearers of the gospel to different kinds of soil. Only one, the good soil, brought forth fruit to maturity. While the story is not intended to establish ratios, it is interesting to note that there are three times as many unacceptable hearts as acceptable ones. The parable of the wedding feast (Matt. 22:1-14) also argues against the notion that most will be saved. Many in that story turned down the summons to the feast. Others tried to attend while ignoring the terms of the invitation. Jesus concluded, “For many are called, but few are chosen.”
“And He was passing through from one city and village to another, teaching, and proceeding on His way to Jerusalem. And someone said to Him, `Lord, are there just a few who are being saved?’ And He said to them, `Strive to enter by the narrow door; for many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able”‘ (Lk. 13:22-24). Perhaps that declaration of doom “rang a bell” with Jesus’ disciples. He had sounded the same theme earlier in the Sermon on the Mount. “Enter by the narrow gate; for the gate is wide, and the way is broad that leads to destruction, and many are those who enter by it. For the gate is small, and the way is narrow that leads to life, and few are those who find it” (Matt. 7:13,14).
Why Few Will Be Saved
God wants all men to be saved. Christ died for all. The gospel invitation is open to all. Nevertheless, these passages affirm that only few will be saved. Jesus’ roads and gates illustration helps us understand why. The routes to heaven and hell are as different as a mountain trail through backwoods West Virginia and an interstate highway through Kansas.
First, consider the wide road. Hills, rivers, rocks, and trees can confine the width of a road. They constitute restrictions. The wide road to hell knows no such limits. It is an unrestricted way. There is room on it for every opinion and practice. Folks going that way can believe whatever they like and live however they please. It is also an undisciplined way. Driving on narrow mountain roads tenses us up. We sit up. Both hands grip the wheel. We watch carefully, knowing there is little room for error. Mistakes could be tragic. The highway to hell is not like that. It is more reminiscent of an eight-lane turnpike. You turn on the cruise control, lean back, and steer with one finger. Alertness and self-discipline are not required in the wide way. You may do what you will.
No wonder that Jesus described this as the popular way. It is the easy way, full of travelers just following the crowd. There is little concern among them whether God approves this or that. Sadly, it is also the destructive way. William Barclay calls it a thoughtless way since those on it have not thought through their course. What benefit is there in taking the easy route if it goes the wrong direction? Perhaps we could call it the short-sighted way.
Now compare that to the heavenly highway. It is a narrow, restricted way. Truth restricts it. Truth by nature is always narrower than error. For example, there is only one right answer to the math problem 2 + 2 = but an infinite number of wrong answers. Similarly there are many ways to displease God, but only one way to please Him. There are many errors one might believe, but only one body of truth. It is the faith once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 3), God’s word (Jn. 17:17). Realizing this, those walking the narrow way must be vigilant. Every New Testament book warns Christians against being caught up in error and thus turning aside from the way.
The broad way requires no investigation, no search. To travel it you can literally do nothing. The narrow way is not like that. It must be sought. Though it is never very far away (Acts 17:27), Jesus said, “Few are those who find it.” Why so few?
To begin with, some are not looking for it. They really do not care. Others are looking, but in the wrong place. The directions to heaven are not on human road maps. Nevertheless, people seek answers in philosophy, psychology, and science.
They look for guidance in them-selves, the majority, society, their preacher — everywhere but the Bible. That is as futile as trying to discover the way from Boston to Chicago using a Florida map.
Some are not looking for the heavenly highway because they falsely assume they are already on it. Who has not made this mistake on a trip? You are cruising down the highway, making good time, feeling great, only to discover later that all the while you have been going the wrong way. That may well describe one’s spiritual condition. He is sincere. He feels good about his direction. He is going as hard as he can. He thinks heaven is just around the corner. Yet he is completely off track. Sincerity and zeal are commendable, but on the wrong road they will no more get us to heaven than they will to an earthly destination.
How can we prevent this common pitfall? Constantly check the signs and mileage markers. God’s Bible map is full of indicators marking the way. He describes individually and collectively what those on the right road are thinking, saying, and doing. If his description does not match my life, I must change directions. (Note: Just asking other people for directions will not do. In the verses that follow Jesus warns us of those who pretend to know the way but in fact will lead us astray. We must consult the map.)
Finally, there are those who find the narrow way but refuse to walk in it. They consider its constraints too limiting, its requirements too exacting.
What Few Will Be Saved
Based on merit no one would be saved. All make false steps from time to time (Rom. 3:23). However, God has graciously offered us salvation as a gift. To whom is salvation given? Not to everyone: we have learned that only few are saved. Not to everyone who is religious: we have learned that it is possible to be religious but walking a route that is not God’s way. Not even to everyone who professes Christ. A few verses after the roads illustration Jesus said, “Not every one who says to Me, `Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven.”
Who are the saved? Both Peter and Paul quoted Joel who wrote, “Whoever will call upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Joel 2:32; Acts 2:21; Rom. 10:13). “Calling on the Lord” is certainly more than crying out, “Lord, Lord.” It is not inviting Jesus into your heart, accepting him as your personal Savior, making a decision for Jesus, or praying the sinner’s prayer. No one in the New Testament was ever told to do such things. Peter explained that it is acknowledging Jesus’ lordship by repenting of sins and being baptized in his name for forgiveness of sins (Acts 2:36-38). Ananias said the same thing (Acts 22:16). It is doing the will of the Father (Matt. 7:21).
Thus added to Christ, we are reconciled to God through Jesus’ blood, and will be presented before him “holy and blameless and beyond reproach — if indeed you continue in the faith firmly established and stead-fast, and not moved away from the hope of the gospel” (Col. 1:19-23). Are you on the right track?
Guardian of Truth XXXVII: 3, p. 14
February 4, 1993