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The Survey Says

“In your opinion, how does one receive eternal life?” The question was simple enough, but I was unprepared by the responses that we would receive.

Years ago, I participated in an investigative religious survey near where I resided. The survey team connected with the local newspaper to query occupants about the varying degrees of religious position and understanding in this city of 20,000. Conducting the survey took many hours of effort, but we methodically made our way from home to home in the residential areas of town. The survey took about five minutes to conduct, but the published cumulative results from our inquiry over a two-week time period still causes me a bit of consternation.

Questions on the survey included:

“In your opinion, is there a God?”

“Does anyone in your home pray?”

“Do you believe in life after death?”

Although some occupants wouldn’t participate (and a few were even downright hostile), we came away with some insights about how the community understands and assimilates spiritual things.

The answers to one particular question though have troubled me in the ensuing years that followed.

“In your opinion, how does one receive eternal life?”

Overwhelmingly, more than 85% of the people that we surveyed answered this simple question with the following: “By being a good person.” To say that I was somewhat taken aback would be an understatement…especially since many of the participants freely spoke of their deep love for God and their keen desire to actually have eternal life.

How could anyone actually believe that they could achieve eternal life based on their performance?

The Bible is clear that there is only One Way into heaven…how could these poor people have believed otherwise? Jesus is the Way, the Truth, and the Life. How could anyone mistake their goodness as a ticket into eternity when only He could provide that?

In the years that followed this little exercise, it occurred to me on a number of occasions that although I disagreed (in theory) with their understanding of how to achieve eternal life, I often lived smack-dab in the center of it. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve wondered if I’ll ever be “good enough.” If I’m honest with myself, I still visit this lonely place of questioning from time to time.  How could anything this amazing, have so little to do with my behavior, and so much to do with a love that is larger than my wildest dreams?

“For by grace are you saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God…” (Ephesians 2:8, NKJV).

I’m not pooh-poohing good behavior. Obedience is a wonderful gift as well, but that’s a by-product of the giftnot in order to receive it. God is love, and I don’t add value to that love because I’m good enough!

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About Michael Temple

Michael Temple

writes from Grand Forks, North Dakota.

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