Mother Teresa and the Refrigerator of all Eternity
I hope that Mother Teresa is in heaven, but I don’t know if she’s there. I can’t know if she’s there...and neither can you. God keeps such knowledge from us while we sojourn here on earth. All we can do is examine a person’s life and then make judgments based on our own ideas of what the criteria might be for entering heaven. And if your idea is that God will one day weigh a person’s good-works and sacrifices against her deficiencies for entrance to heaven, then you’d be pretty sure that Mother Teresa is there. But that’s not how God does it. God takes his children to heaven—and only his children to heaven—and a life of service makes no one a son or a daughter. That requires a new birth. Here we find the lesson of Nicodemus instructive.
The religious establishment simply hated Jesus, so when one of their members, Nicodemus, decided to visit him, he had to go secretly at night. He thought that the risk was worth it though, because he believed that Jesus was sent from God. “…no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.” (John 3:2). But Jesus’ opening comment confused, rather than edified, the Jewish leader. “… unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” (John 3:3, ESV). Nicodemus had no frame of reference for such a concept. Born again? What could this mean!
Nicodemus argued that it was impossible for a grown man to be reborn, but Jesus countered that this was not a natural birth but a spiritual one. Furthermore, anyone who is not reborn in this way cannot even see (understand) the Kingdom of God, let alone enter in. Nicodemus was an earnest man who was learned in the ways of the Jews, who achieved religious position among them, who knew and lived the Law to the best of his ability, yet Nicodemus understood nothing about entering heaven. Nothing!
Before he could even understand what the Kingdom of God was really all about, he had to abandon some age-old ideas and then embrace some totally new ones. Jesus taught (and very plainly) that we all have that same requirement to enter heaven, and that it has nothing to do with a life of sacrifice and good-deeds. “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again.’” (John 3:7). Jesus was unequivocal. No one enters heaven who is not born again. So, whether or not Mother Teresa is in heaven depends solely upon whether or not she was born again. Her life of sacrifice and service does not weigh-in.
Not convinced? Do you on some level still believe that a person who, in perfect earnest, lays down an entire life for service to God and humanity—enduring poverty and making countless sacrifices in the name of God—must certainly be considered by God for entrance into heaven? I’m sorry. Not only does God not consider them, he disavows them! Hear Jesus.
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’” (Matthew 7:21–23, ESV).
Matthew 7:21-23 is a picture of the Final Judgment. Note particularly who’s protesting their death sentence: Religious people! Earnest people! People who have performed “mighty works” while speaking God’s name! These are people who thought for sure that they knew what God wanted, but (and this is a huge but) there is a difference between their understanding of pleasing God, and God’s understanding of being pleased. With this in view, shouldn’t all “godly” people drop everything, and try to get a handle on what God means by “but the one who does the will of my Father”? What is God’s will concerning entrance to heaven? Let’s let Jesus clarify.
“For this is the will of my Father, that everyone who looks on the Son and believes in him should have eternal life…” (John 6:40, ESV).
Note well that there’s nothing about doing good-works in this verse; it’s all about belief. Believe on the Son, Jesus Christ, and you’ll have eternal life. But what does God mean by believe?
To truly believe, we must find the true Jesus. And by the true Jesus, I mean find the complete Jesus. Believing that Jesus was a great man or that he was a great moral teacher might sound like belief-enough, but those beliefs are false! They are partial-by-design; they have become euphemisms for Jesus-is-not-God or Jesus-does-not-save-because-no-one-really-needs-saving. The Bible clearly teaches that Jesus was God—and that man is not! Since man is not, he needs saving. One cannot find the true Jesus by ignoring the Bible.
The Bible also teaches that Jesus is the only one who saves, but this has implications in logic that fly over people's heads. Even among people who identify themselves as Evangelicals, a majority states that there are other ways to heaven. Sorry. Logic tells us that adding a wrong answer to a right answer makes the right answer wrong. Since the Bible teaches that Jesus is the only path, he needs no help of any stripe—no Buddha, no Mary or no life of sacrifice.
Few would argue against Mother Teresa being the poster-girl for good-works. She lived a life of sacrifice, service to humanity and service to God. But Mother Teresa was a Roman Catholic, so to be saved she would have had to cut through a lot of their aberrant doctrine to touch the real Jesus—the biblically revealed Jesus. I grew up (culturally) Catholic, and it’s my prayer for my Catholic family members that they may connect rightly with the Christ, because it does not matter what church anyone belongs to (or even if they belong to a church at all!), salvation is always the same. A person must rely on the biblically revealed Jesus Christ for salvation, by applying the biblically revealed method of faith. And faith is that which stands alone, apart from works. Yes, works should follow…but they should never lead.
I hang my children’s art on the refrigerator, not because they create objectively wonderful works, but because they are my children. And, because they are my children, their pictures are worthy. That’s exactly how God works. When his children do good works (which may not be judged as worthy by any onlookers), he hangs them on his refrigerator of all eternity, and because they are his children, those good-works are deemed worthy. But what of the “great works” done by other children?
Other is the operative word. Other children have other families. So, no matter how objectively wonderful the works of other children may be (and even if they put my family’s name on them), I will not hang them on my refrigerator. These children are not of my family, so none of their works are worthy. And so it is with God. Although we who are his children get to hang our works on his fridge, other children may not—even if their works look spectacular, and even if they were done in his name. It’s the family’s fridge. Others be gone.
So, if Mother Teresa was able to see through to the real Jesus, if she was born again into God’s family, then her great works will hang on the refrigerator of all eternity. If not…well, read Matthew 7:21-23 again. Sorry.