In an article I wrote last week entitled, "Three Chairs at the Gate of Heaven," I laid out how a person can be assured of entering heaven when he dies. I encourage you to read it and see if you think it's what the pope believes. The Gospel message is the foundation of the Christian faith. And it's a message which all people, including Catholics, need to hear.
So would the pope choose the middle chair? It's a critical question for Catholics because of the way they hang on the pope's every word. The pope could set the record straight for Catholics, and he could go a long way in convincing other Christians that he agrees with them concerning the message of the Gospel.
It all comes down to the Gospel. After all, there is only one. While there are a variety of denominations and religious organizations, including the Roman Catholic church, there is only "one Lord, one faith, one baptism." (Eph. 4:5) And that's why there is only one true Gospel.
Once you read the article about the three chairs, you will see exactly what I mean by "the Gospel." It's the good news which Christ presented. (see John 11:25,26 and Luke 18:9-14) Paul and the other apostles taught the same thing. It is the message of salvation through faith in Jesus Christ. This is not something man is capable of earning. That's impossible. And it's why we need the Gospel.
The pope needs the Gospel just like you do. We all need God's grace and the gift of salvation. Whether you are a Catholic, a Baptist, a Muslim, or an atheist, you need the Gospel. You need Christ. You need the faith represented by the middle chair. Without it, you cannot enter heaven. And neither can anyone else.
God loves all people, but not everyone has heard and accepted the truth of the Gospel. Multitudes of people in our world are seeking to be "good enough" to get into heaven by their deeds. In reality, only Jesus can make us good enough in the eyes of the Father. And only the Lord can produce the goodness of God in our heart.
If the pope were to say, "Yes, I am sitting in the middle chair," it would be astounding. It could create a sense of deep unity in the Gospel among many Catholics and other Christians around the world. And it could help Catholics who are currently sitting in one of the outer two chairs to go ahead and switch seats. It's the only way anyone can find spiritual rest in Jesus and the assurance of salvation through faith in the Savior. As it stands, there are far too many people who attend religious services but are not yet sitting in the middle chair. This sad reality is present in every denomination to one degree or another.
So would the pope choose the middle chair? It's a huge question with immense implications. Religion without the faith of the middle chair is just religion. Nothing more. Only the faith of the middle chair brings a person to the Father. And only then can a person's deeds on earth please God. It's only after someone has first trusted in the cross for salvation. If anything more than the cross is relied upon for eternal life, the individual is not yet forgiven and saved. Such "faith" is not the faith of the New Testament.
Faith comes first, and then works. Personal salvation (the new birth) always precedes good works. The middle chair comes first, and then works. If my salvation is not secure in Christ when I attempt to start working for Him, then I have not yet trusted in His death for the salvation of my soul. Works only matter after a person first believes. Good works, according to God, are the fruit of faith. (see Ephesians 2:8-10)
This is why Scripture instructs believers to "work out your salvation with fear and trembling." (Phil. 2:12) You cannot "work it out" unless you are already "saved." That is, unless your soul is already secure for eternity. The "fear and trembling" is not intended to be over whether or not you are saved, but rather, over the sincerity of your Christian devotion as it is lived out before our holy God. That is an awesome and reverent responsibility, but it is not something that can ever earn a person eternal life.
"Wait a minute Dan. What about the person who claims to believe, and yet deliberately continues to live for sin rather than for the Savior?" Good question, and there is an easy answer. Such a person is not a follower of Jesus, no matter what he claims about his religion. (see Galatians 6:7,8) True religion, which is another way of saying Christ's religion, is pure in motive and has plenty of good fruit. After all, Jesus is the Vine and His followers are the branches. (see John 15:5) If you are connected to the Vine through faith, the fruit of the Holy Spirit will be produced in your life. (see Gal. 5:22,23)
Christianity becomes very confusing if you try putting the cart before the horse. Salvation is only received by one who has the faith of the middle chair. There is no salvation in the other two chairs, regardless of a person's sincerity or zeal. This is why the three chairs are so instructive. They highlight the vast difference between relying upon our efforts for salvation, as compared to relying upon Christ alone.
By the way, you might want to consider setting up three chairs and using this approach as you share the Gospel with your family and friends. It's an easy and powerful way to help others understand and believe the Gospel.
Each person, regardless of his church affiliation, needs to be connected to Christ through faith alone. Only the faith of the middle chair brings about this connection. The "faith" and works of the other two chairs leave a person's soul in grave danger, and outside the kingdom of God.
These are sobering issues. We are dealing here with eternal realities. That's why the pope would be wise to boldly proclaim the middle chair as the one representing his personal faith. That is, if he truly believes the Gospel the same way millions of Christians around the world believe it. You see, at the end of the day, even the pope cannot be saved by the "faith" of the two outer chairs. Such "faith" will never save a single soul, regardless of his religious credentials.
It comes down to what a person is relying upon for salvation. It comes down to the middle chair as you trust in the One who hung on the middle cross. God's forgiveness can only be received one way: individually. And only through faith in the Savior.
Your own salvation does not depend on which chair the pope chooses. Instead, it depends on what you do with the cross where Christ was the perfect sacrifice on your behalf. Will you choose the middle chair today and become eternally secure in Jesus? Once you do, your righteous deeds will immediately begin to please your Father in heaven.
It's definitely not too late for you to accept the Gospel and the forgiveness of sins. And it's not too late for you to share the good news with your family and friends. After all, if you don't tell them about it, who will?