Do you have to believe in God to go to Heaven?

By S. Michael Houdmann, Got Questions Ministries

Recent news headlines state, "Pope Francis says you do not have to believe in God to go to Heaven?" and "'To go to Heaven, all you have to do is follow your conscience' proclaims Pope Francis." If you actually read what Pope Francis said, you will see that he did not say anything close to what some are ascribing to him. It appears that the misleading headlines are what people wanted him to have said, rather than what he actually said.

Whether or not Pope Francis believes that a person can be saved by following his/her conscience is beside the point. Many people believe following your conscience and/or being a good person is all it takes to go to Heaven. Let's examine this proposition, biblically, shall we?

In regards to the conscience of an unbeliever, 1 Timothy 4:2 describes it as being "seared," literally "cauterized." This is not to say that an unbeliever, or even an atheist, is without a conscience. Rather, the conscience is part of what it means to be created in the image and likeness of God (Genesis 1:26). Everyone has a conscience. What 1 Timothy 4:2 is saying is that we all, to varying degrees, ignore our consciences. Some have twisted/perverted their consciences to the point that they believe right is wrong and wrong is right (Romans 1:32). Without faith in Christ, without the new creation life (2 Corinthians 5:17), the conscience is an unreliable guide. In its seared condition, it often produces the opposite result than that for which it was intended.

So, there is no biblical hope for a person being granted entrance into Heaven for following his/her conscience. The conscience God created in us has been twisted by sin, and even in its weakened, twisted, and seared condition, no one truly, fully, or consistently follows it.

The idea in some of the headlines, that a hardened atheist will be granted entrance into Heaven if he/she follows his/her conscience, is ludicrous. What does the Bible say about those who reject God?

"The fool says in his heart, 'there is no God.'" (Psalm 14:1)

"They were filled with all manner of unrighteousness, evil, covetousness, malice. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, maliciousness. They are gossips, slanderers, haters of God, insolent, haughty, boastful, inventors of evil, disobedient to parents, foolish, faithless, heartless, ruthless." (Romans 1:29-31)

"None is righteous, no, not one; no one understands; no one seeks for God. All have turned aside; together they have become worthless; no one does good, not even one. Their throat is an open grave; they use their tongues to deceive. The venom of asps is under their lips. Their mouth is full of curses and bitterness. Their feet are swift to shed blood; in their paths are ruin and misery, and the way of peace they have not known. There is no fear of God before their eyes." (Romans 3:10-18)

Does that sound like a Heaven-bound person to you? Does that sound like someone who is following their conscience?

"Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And such were some of you. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God." (1 Corinthians 6:9-11)

Yes, an atheist can go to Heaven. An atheist can go to Heaven by repenting of hardhearted rebellion against God and receiving Jesus Christ as Savior, trusting His death on the cross as the full payment for sin. Whether atheist, agnostic, follower of a false religion, cultist, or make-believer, we are all in the same condition. We are all sinners in need of a Savior. We cannot be saved by our consciences. We cannot be saved by doing good things. We can only be saved by Jesus Christ, who Himself declared:

"I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me." (John 14:6)

TagsFalse-Teaching  | Biblical-Salvation  | Theological-Beliefs

comments powered by Disqus
Published 9-16-13