Imagine arriving at the gates of Heaven and being asked to choose between one of three chairs. Everyone who chooses the correct chair is welcomed into Heaven.
The chair on the right represents a person who is relying 100% upon his noble deeds to get into Heaven.
The chair on the left represents a person who has done just as many noble deeds but is relying 50% on his deeds to gain entrance into Heaven, and 50% on the cross where Jesus died for our sins.
The middle chair represents a person who has done just as many noble deeds as the other two, but who nevertheless places “all of his eggs in the basket” of the Savior’s atoning death. He is relying 100% upon the sacrifice Jesus provided on the cross, and 0% upon his noble deeds. He is trusting in Christ alone to get into Paradise.
The middle chair represents saving faith in Jesus Christ, whereas the other two chairs represent works righteousness.
Scripture declares: “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 God cannot and will not allow people in the outer two chairs into Heaven.
Why? Because like each one of us, they are lawbreakers. They hope in vain that their noble deeds will wash away some of their sins. Nothing but the blood of Jesus has that kind of power, and Christ’s blood only gets applied to your sins when you trust in Christ alone for salvation.
“Without faith it is impossible to please God” (Hebrews 11:6). Your good works only please God after you have been converted. Spiritual conversion occurs when you repent of your sins and place your full confidence in the cross rather than in your noble efforts and religious acts (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47; Galatians 2:16).
The good works done by those in the outer two chairs are not able to wash away even one sin. And this of course is why the faith represented by the outer two chairs is incapable of giving a person the assurance of salvation. After all, how could a person ever know for sure that he has done enough to earn eternal life in Heaven? If some or all of your confidence for going to Heaven is in your own efforts and deeds, your confidence is terribly misplaced.
“All who rely on observing the Law are under a curse” (Galatians 3:10). In other words, the people who are sitting in the outer two chairs are under a curse because they assume their righteous deeds make them worthy to enter Heaven. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Do you honestly think God would have sent his only Son to suffer crucifixion if you and I could gain entrance into Heaven by obeying the Law? After all, how good is good enough? God’s Law demands perfection, and you and I fall far short of perfection. Therefore, our only hope is Christ, who provided the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Hebrews 10:1-18).
Remember, we are talking about what you are relying upon to enter Heaven. The three chairs represent three people who have done the same amount of noble deeds, but whose faith is very different from one another.
Faulty thinking leads a person to ask, “Have I done enough to enter Heaven?” The real issue is this: “What am I relying upon to enter Heaven?” Your answer to this most important question can help you to see whether or not you currently believe the Gospel, and are therefore saved, redeemed, forgiven, born again and justified (Romans 3:21-28; Galatians 2:15-16).
Jesus said, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). This is the good news of the Gospel, and it is represented by the faith of the middle chair. The One who suffered and died on the middle cross provides the only path to Paradise (Acts 4:12).
The Scottish evangelist and teacher Oswald Chambers wrote, “The center of salvation is the cross of Jesus, and the reason it is so easy to obtain salvation is because it cost God so much.”
While it is not easy to live the Christian life, it is relatively easy to be born again. This new birth (1 Peter 1:3,23) occurs supernaturally on the front end of your relationship with God (John 3:6). The challenging part comes into play when you discover from firsthand experience that following Christ involves denying yourself and “saying ‘No' to ungodliness and worldly passions” (Titus 2:12).
Just because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:26) does not mean that our works wash away any of our sins. Good works are simply the fruit of saving faith, (John 15:5) just like apples are the fruit of a healthy apple tree. A person with the faith of the middle chair does good works that God finds acceptable and pleasing in his sight.
You must first enter God’s family through faith in Jesus. After all, apart from Christ, “all our righteous acts are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6) in God’s sight. These rags of self-righteousness are what God sees when he looks at the ethical deeds done by those in the outer two chairs. Millions of people seek to justify themselves before God as they sincerely attempt to earn their way into Heaven.
Picture yourself standing at the gates of Heaven and the Lord inviting you to sit down in one of the three chairs. The middle chair is for believers who will be welcomed into Paradise, whereas the two outer chairs are for those who are trying to earn eternal life in Heaven. Sadly, they will be sent to Hell to pay the eternal penalty for breaking God’s commands (Matthew 25:41,46).
So, which chair would you choose?
Dan Delzell is the pastor of Redeemer Lutheran Church in Papillion, Nebraska.