Who does God choose to save? As a younger Christian I thought that in order to be saved, one must pray the “sinner’s prayer”, which consists of expressing faith in Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection, pleading guilty to sin, asking for forgiveness, and promising to repent. It felt to me that the way to find salvation is by keeping sound doctrine and praying a certain way.
Jesus always came down hard on the religious leaders of his time for their similarly legalistic understanding of faith. Reading Jesus’ words in Matthew 25:31 tells of a much greater, more inclusive view of God’s saving grace:
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”
This passage shows us that being a Christian is not about a belief system or prayers alone. God’s salvation is more magnificent than that. For it includes those who do not know the name of Jesus; children brought up in Islamic households, the mentally disabled, the isolated societies of the world, atheists pushed away by negative experiences of “Christians”. Christ’s way is love (Isn’t that always the way). God does not judge what is in our heads, but instead examines our hearts. God will look more kindly on the altruistic heart of an atheist, than the self-righteous heart of a church-goer. It is as Paul writes in Corinthians 13:
“2 If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
God’s kingdom is not restricted to church members. It transcends background, ethnicity, social class, all barriers and stereotypes. Such is the grace of God.