While filming Catholicism: Crisis of Faith, a documentary examining the teachings of Roman Catholicism, we set up our camera outside Saint Patrick’s Cathedral in New York City. There we interviewed Catholics leaving Mass. We asked them how they hoped to get to heaven and whether they thought that they were going to make it.
“I sure hope so,” Jack, a Catholic from North Dakota answered. Catherine, Jack’s wife, agreed, “I hope so too. But there will be someone else judging that.”
“Everybody hopes,” a woman from France told us. “Every Catholic hopes.” “You don’t know what is going to happen when you get there,” Norman, a resident of New York City, explained. “You might find a surprise waiting for you.”
Joe from Baltimore was also visiting the cathedral that day. When we asked him if he expected to go to heaven, he answered, “I hope to. Yes, I expect to. And I hope to. My wife is I hope up there. She died about two years ago.”
When we asked Joe if he knew he was going to heaven, he made an important distinction. “No,” he answered. “I don’t know. But I hope to. I don’t think you know what is going on in the future.”
Unlike every other religion I am aware of, true Christianity teaches that sinners can be accepted by before God through the righteous work of another (Romans 3:21-26; 2 Corinthians 5:21). It tells of a Savior who bore our burden for us (Mark 10:45; 1 Peter 2:24). The gospel of Jesus Christ is that eternal life is a free gift from God, available to anyone who repents and trusts Jesus to save him (John 3:16; Ephesians 2:8-9).
True Christianity also teaches that those who accept God’s offer of salvation can know that they are going to heaven (1 John 5:13). Because their acceptance before God is in Christ, not themselves, they can have the assurance that their place in heaven is secure. Jesus, the good shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, promises to keep them: “I give eternal life to them, and they shall never perish; and no one shall snatch them out f My hand” (John 10:28). God the Father is also active in the safekeeping of Christ’s sheep. Jesus said, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand” (John 10:29). The Holy Spirit also participates in guaranteeing the future of the redeemed. At the moment of salvation the Spirit comes to dwell in each believer “as a pledge of our inheritance, with a view to the redemption of God’s own possession, to the praise of His glory” (Ephesians 1:14).
The person who is wholly trusting Jesus for salvation knows he will go to heaven. Believing Christ’s work on the cross to be perfect and sufficient, he ceases trying to achieve his own salvation through good works. He rests in Christ (Hebrews 4:10).
Rash presumption is what Rome calls this, and right it would be if salvation were dependent, even in part, upon our own righteous deeds. But believing the promises of God is not presumption, but faith. Jesus solemnly promised,
Truly, truly, I say to you, he who hears My word, and believes Him who sent Me, has eternal life, and does not come into judgment, but has passed out of death into life. — John 5:24