The Right Answer

October 21, 2018

                Tests.  No one likes them.  And yet no life is immune from them.  From the minute we are born, and sometimes even before, we are tested.  Doctors poke, prod, and subject us to all sorts of unpleasant tests to make sure we are healthy, and stay healthy.   The routine ones we submit to willingly, hoping to avoid the ones that come when the doctor first rubs his chin, and then says “I think we need to do some more tests”, which we know means he suspects something isn’t quite right.  And we always hope and pray that we pass those tests.

          As a child we get tested in school to first evaluate our potential, and then our progress through each grade.  No one ever wanted to be held back a grade because they got all F’s on their report card.   We had to study for tests, and those who didn’t either tried to sit next to someone who had so they could cheat by looking at their answers, or they had to leave it to chance that they would mark enough answers randomly correct to pass, even if with only a D-.  In my case, God forbid I should bring home anything less than an A on a test, or all A’s on my report card.  I think to my dismay my father must have memorized Luke 12:48, which says, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.”  But, in the long run I thank the Lord that he did give me intelligence, and that I was always strongly encouraged to use it.

          Back then I thought once I finished with school, that would be the end of the repetitive cycle of studying for and taking tests.  But employers test.  They drug test.  They do background checks.  They check driving records and references.  Many require physicals or other medical tests.  And often you are tested to see if you have the knowledge and talent necessary for whatever career path you have chosen.   To become a pastor I had to study, do homework, and take tests at licensing school, and now I am still studying, doing homework, and taking tests as I go through the United Methodist’s required Course of Study for licensed pastors.   Indeed, life is an endless series of tests.

          But there is one test that is more important that all of these put together.  While the ones I mentioned have the potential to determine your success, or lack thereof, during your life here on earth; the final test you have to take upon your exit from this life will determine where you spend eternity.  You can see it below.  It is one simple question, asked by God Himself – “Why should I let you into heaven?”  I made it multiple choice for you, but God will not.   Because in reality you can’t circle a random answer and hope to have a 1 in 5 chance of getting it correct.  You can’t guess the answer.  You have to be absolutely certain of the right answer or else it is certainly wrong.  That is why it is called ‘faith’. 

          There are some other differences as well between that ‘final test’ and the ones you take here on earth. 

1.   There is absolutely no chance of cheating.  You cannot copy off of someone’s else test, because their answer is written in their heart and your answer is written in your heart.  You cannot claim their answer for yourself.  “My father was a pastor” doesn’t cut it.  “My grandmother prayed all the time and took me to church” doesn’t cut it.  Even “My parents had me baptized as a baby” doesn’t cut it. 

2.  This test is never graded on a curve, as would sometimes happen in school.  Just because there are people in the world who you think are more evil than you doesn’t mean you get a pass into heaven.  James 2:10 says, “For the person who keeps all of the laws except one is as guilty as a person who has broken all of God's laws”.  And there is not one person ever born – except for Jesus Christ – who has never sinned.  Romans 3:10 says “No one is righteous – not even one”.  And 1 John 1:8 says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us”.

3.  If you fail, you will never have a chance to re-take it.  In that way it is like getting tested for entrance into MENSA.  You get one try, and one try only.  Although even MENSA might make an exception under extreme circumstances.  But God will not.  There is no purgatory.  There is no hope of reincarnation and a chance for a do-over.  Hebrews 9:27 says, “people are destined to die once, and after that to face judgment”.  So you better make sure you have the correct answer written on your heart before you take the test. 

          So what is the correct answer, when God asks you why He should let you into heaven?  It isn’t “a” because, like some believe, our good works can never be good enough to “balance out” our sins.  As you heard in our Scripture readings (Romans 3:19-29, Titus 3:3-7, Ephesians 2:1-9), the law merely pointed out our sins, but we cannot be justified by our adherence to it.  It isn’t “b”, because as I said, this test is not graded on a curve.  Where would God make the cut off point?  Jesus never divided sins into mortal sins and venial sins.  Instead he said, “You have heard the commandment that says, ‘You must not commit adultery.  ’But I say, anyone who even looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:27-28).  It isn’t “c” because having your name on a church membership list is not the same as having your name written in the Lamb’s Book of Life (Revelation 13:8, 21:27).  Jude 1:4 warns that “some ungodly people have wormed their way into your churches”.  And Jesus Himself said, “Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 7:21).  So what is the will of His Father in heaven?  Jesus answered that in John 6:40, “For my Father's will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life”.  Therefore the right answer, the only correct one, the only one that will gain you entrance into the eternal kingdom of heaven is “d” – Jesus is my Savior and Lord.  Those six words, if written on your heart, mean that you believe Jesus is the eternal Son of God, who came into this world to bear our price for our sins on the cross, rose again from the dead and ascended into heaven to prepare a place (John 14:3) for all who put their faith in Him exclusively.  Jesus said “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:2).  Not through Him and their good works, making answer “e” also incorrect.  But only through Jesus.  If you have truly made Jesus your Savior and Lord, your life will reflect it through good works, but you are not saved by those works.  They do not contribute to your salvation in any way.  Think of them more as “extra credit”, for God does say we will be rewarded for all we do here out of our love for Jesus.  But without Jesus they avail us nothing.

          You have an entire lifetime to study for that final test.  The answer is in the Bible, your spiritual textbook.  I even gave you the CliffsNotes today.  But don’t put off writing the correct answer in your heart.   Because some day it will be too late.  Amen.     

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