Donald Trump knows a thing or two about hard work. In fact, it's difficult to imagine anyone having a stronger work ethic. And Trump's run for the White House is giving us an inside look into how much energy he put into building his business empire.
While out on the trail, presidential candidates are sometimes asked about their personal faith and religion. It is always fascinating to see what happens when the topic turns from politics to paradise.
In a recent interview with GQ magazine, Trump was asked if he thinks he will go to heaven. He responded, "I hope so. That's what I strive for."
Those eight words speak volumes.
A person may say, "I hope my favorite team wins the Super Bowl." Likewise, one may say, "I know my favorite team didn't win the Super Bowl last year."
But can one humbly and honestly proclaim, "I know I will go to heaven when I die," or does such a declaration demonstrate sheer arrogance?
It all depends upon the basis of the person's confidence. In other words, what is the object of their faith and the reason for their assurance of entering heaven one day?
Christianity is the only religion which invites sinners to place complete confidence for salvation upon the work Jesus accomplished on the cross. This is where the Lord was striving intensely to earn eternal life for man, and where Christ eventually said, "It is finished." (John 19:30)
It was at the cross where Donald Trump's sin and the sins of the world were paid for by the Redeemer. Christ didn't die so that you and I could in turn "strive to be saved." Man's sin was paid for "once and for all," so that "everyone who calls on the name of the Lord will be saved." (Acts 2:21)
Think of it this way. Over the years, Trump's companies have filed for bankruptcy on four different occasions. Likewise, a sinner must in essence "declare bankruptcy" before God in order to have his sins washed away. You must admit to God that you have a debt you are incapable of paying back, and that you are in way over your head.
No one gets into God's family or into heaven by striving to work his way there. Such a feat is impossible because man is sinful. No amount of human effort can wash away man's sin. Only the blood of Jesus which was shed on the cross can wash away sin. And this much-needed cleansing only occurs through faith in Christ, rather than by striving to do good.
God's message to believers is clear: "In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, in accordance with the riches of God's grace." (Ephesians 1:7)
We "have" redemption; not, we are "striving to be redeemed." The "riches of God's grace" operate on a different level than the "riches of Donald Trump."
If money or hard work could earn a person's way into heaven, Jesus would never have come to earth to suffer and die for our sins. He came here because it was the only way our sins could be washed away. The miracle of "the new birth" takes place the moment a sinner turns to Christ in repentance and faith.
That's not to say there isn't plenty of striving involved in the Christian life. It is a daily challenge to say "no" to sinful desires and "yes" to God's will. Temptation and stress place plenty of pressure upon believers. And we strive everyday as Christians to do the right thing in our thoughts, words, and actions. Thankfully, our inheritance in heaven is secure, and we are now free to do good works not in order to be saved, but because we have already been saved. This is the clear teaching of the New Testament.
You see, God loads up Christianity on the front end of a person's relationship with God. It's on the front end that a believer is "justified," "saved," "forgiven," "redeemed," and "born again." Once you enter a relationship with Jesus Christ, paradise becomes your eternal home. But don't take my word for it. Check it out for yourself. It's all right there in Scripture. And while personal salvation is never a "license to sin" or a license to be lax in doing God's work, it nevertheless guarantees eternal life in paradise for each one who enters God's family through faith in Jesus Christ.
This isn't a new message. Jesus and the apostles never taught that man can work his way into God's family. No one gets accepted by God that way. In fact, acceptance into God's family through faith in Christ must take place in order for God to see any of your work as being "good" in His eyes. No matter how hard you try, your sincere efforts won't please God if you reject Christ and remain outside His family. Scripture makes it clear that "all who rely on observing the law are under a curse." (Galatians 3:10) That is, all who try to work their way into heaven by their good deeds.
And this is why Donald Trump would be wise to develop a biblical perspective concerning Christian faith, good works, spiritual striving, and eternal life in heaven.
By saying, "I hope so," Donald seems to recognize that he may not be good enough to get into heaven. But then again, who is?
"All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:23)
And the tragic mistake made by millions of people is the belief that one can overcome his sinful imperfections by striving to "be good." This natural assumption is a deadly error.
Without first being justified before God through faith in Christ, it is all for naught, and it won't get anyone into paradise. Not even Donald Trump with his incredible work ethic.
This is not a minor point, or merely a matter of semantics. It's at the heart of Christianity, which includes man's separation from God as well as the solution the Lord provided to bridge this chasm. If we could get to heaven by striving to live a righteous life, then why did Christ die on the cross? Weren't people already striving to obey God prior to Christ's birth in Bethlehem? Of course. But their sincere efforts were not enough to pay for their sins. Far from it.
As the apostle Paul wrote, "If righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" (Galatians 2:21)
You see, God would never have sent His Son to pay for our sins on the cross if our striving could get the job done.
In God's eyes, "whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it." (James 2:10)
This is why the question posed to Donald Trump is so critical not only for him, but for each one of us. It is essential that we come to realize our need to declare bankruptcy before God. Until we take this step of confession, repentance, and faith, our sins remain upon us, no matter how hard we strive to do good.
It's not about man picking himself up and working his way into God's family. Instead, it is about a perfect sacrifice for man's sin, which is the only basis upon which a holy God can accept sinful man into His family.
Do you see the radical difference between the two approaches? One is works-based as man relies upon his efforts to be saved. The other is Christ-based as a believer relies upon the cross as the payment for his entrance into heaven. And then once "saved by grace through faith," (Ephesians 2:8) a believer will indeed strive everyday to live for Christ, but only after receiving the promise of eternal life on the front end.
This is why it isn't arrogant for a Christian to honestly say, "I know I will go to heaven when I die." After all, Christ earned it for us by His death. We simply receive the benefits through faith.
As the apostle Paul explained, "We maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law." (Romans 3:28)
Trump worked his way into a huge fortune consisting of billions of dollars and thousands of material possessions. But no man can work his way into "the riches of God's grace." (Ephesians 1:7) This eternal inheritance can only be received through faith in Christ.
It would be fantastic to one day hear Donald Trump answer the question about heaven this way: "Yes, I know I am going to heaven. I know it because Jesus is my Lord and Savior, and He paid the price I could never pay in a million years. And because my place in paradise is guaranteed as the result of Christ's payment for my sins on the cross, I strive everyday to live for the One who rose from the dead and reigns forever. I strive to do His will and please my Redeemer."
Have you ever noticed how Christians often refer to Christ with a personal pronoun? "Jesus is my Redeemer." That doesn't mean He is "mine alone," but He is nevertheless "my Savior." In other words, no one can believe for you.
This beautiful relationship gets established on the front end through repentance and faith. And our guaranteed inheritance on the back end is not a license to freely give into temptation today. Such an ungodly attitude is incompatible with Christian discipleship.
The only road to heaven involves declaring bankruptcy before your Creator, and then relying completely upon the finished work of Christ on the cross. Otherwise, you won't benefit personally from the gruesome and violent death the Lord endured 2,000 years ago. It took the everlasting love of God to make such a tremendous sacrifice on our behalf. And it takes the faith of a child for anyone today to receive the eternal benefits.
If you find yourself striving and struggling to be accepted by God, the solution to your spiritual dilemma is simple. File spiritual bankruptcy, and then claim your eternal inheritance on the basis of Christ's death on the cross. It's the only path to paradise. And it's the only way to have your good works accepted by God.