This question is asked by people who are attracted to Jesus, but who find the prospect of becoming a serious follower daunting in their own culture or domestic situation. Often the thought behind it is a wistful longing to follow Jesus, but from the safety of one's own ethnic religious setting. This is the problem of the 'secret disciple'.
- WONDERFUL CLAIMS
Are there any guidelines or clear biblical teaching that may help find an answer? One of the challenges for many people is that the more they find out about Jesus, his person, his compassion and sensitivity for people in the lowliest of circumstances, they find him irresistible. And when they go on finding out about his wonderful claims to deity, and his death and resurrection, they begin to see that this is an all or nothing issue.
In other words, they see that Jesus' claims are total and so exclusive of all other allegiances that they want to give Jesus their all and love him as their Lord and Savior and Friend. At the same time, they hope to do this within the security of their present religion. And there are growing numbers of people in this delicate situation.
- WEIGH CAREFULLY
There is no doubt this dilemma is deeply challenging. This is when people 'count the cost' (Luke 14:28) in light of the great issues at stake, weighing them up like a profit and loss account 'for what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? ' (Matthew 16:26). Even if you strive to gain all this world has to offer; social acceptance, the supports of ritual and religion and the esteem of family but lose an eternity of glory in the father's house, your values have deceived you!
Jesus' words are clear – half measures are unworthy of him. Split allegiances have no place. Is he your first love? Jesus challenged his hearers with 'whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me … and whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me' (Matthew 10: 37-38). Does his call seem too intolerable? But then, what about the fullness of his love poured out upon the cross; he has already borne the truly intolerable burden, the penalty of our sins.
Sometimes a person in a non-Christian religion, whose heart is drawn to love Jesus, is overwhelmed to find he is with them, that he has found them and come to them, giving them the peace and joy of his presence. To find that the Lord and Savior of the helpless, the downtrodden and needy comes to share his life and love is so wonderfully precious and intimate, no one or nothing could take his place, ever again.
- ONE WAY
This is time for reflection. Are you free to share this with your closest family, or if you do will you immediately be cast out as unfaithful or worse? This is the challenge of the 'secret disciple'. We must all ask the Lord for his wisdom and guidance to help us to be faithful to him. A short answer to the big question about staying in your religion and still go to heaven is 'Yes', but only on the basis that you have truly trusted in Jesus Christ, as your living and reigning Lord. However, if you still hope your ethnic non-Christian religion and its observances offer you spiritual help and a secure pathway to heaven, as well as Jesus' way, you may stay sadly confused.
Only Jesus is the way to the Father; no one else (see John 14: 6). That is because the Christian life is more than about merely changing an external religion; It is about you as an individual being reconciled to God by faith in Christ, the one mediator between God and men and women. It is about Christ indwelling you, by his Spirit, to make you a new creation. When that happens, you may still have some links and associations with your ethnic religion, but they will soon mean very little to you.
I realise many people do not enjoy personal freedom and may be forced against their will to attend religious observations. That is a difficult trial, but it does not mean you are betraying your Friend and Savior. So, in answer to the leading question; a home in heaven is given freely for all who will turn from their sin and self and trust the Lord Jesus as Savior and Lord. He who died carrying the just punishment of our sinfulness (what love!) Has also been raised raised victorious forever. So, if you have the freedom to disassociate from your old religious allegiances, do so, as you see the old broken chains falling from you.
- LIVE WISELY
Salvation is not given as a reward for our willingness to be cast out by religion, family and friends, because it is a gift, purchased by Jesus, to be received by faith. But, when you trust in the Savior and are strengthened by his word and perhaps find one or two other people who have also trusted him, you may carefully and discreetly be able to encourage one other. And if you are treated harshly, pray for those who persecute you.
Live wisely, pray for others who become hostile to you. Care for them, and show them kindness, as you grow in following your Lord, who has promised 'I will never leave you nor forsake you' (Hebrews 13: 5).
By Michael JS Austin, Ph.D.
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