Jesus Christ is the Only Sure Way to Heaven

When you follow Jesus, He doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do.

(photo: Guillaume Bodinier, “Paysanne de Frascati au confessionnal” (1826))

The pathology report from my biopsy came back.

There was a lot of gobbledygook in it, but one phrase stood out: “no evidence of malignancy.” That sentence came with a few caveats, but, bottom line is that I’m a free woman until the next check-up.

I’ve thought a lot about what I want to do with whatever good time I have left in this life. My sons — who are two fine young men — are grown and launched. I’m through writing laws. Much of the “work” part of my life is finished.

There is the matter of a few books that I need to write. But other than that, the way ahead of me is wide open.

This brings me to a question that one of my readers posted in the comboxes. This person expressed dissatisfaction with their own spiritual progress. Or rather, their lack of stasis in a spot of holiness.

Once again, I don’t know this person. I only know what they wrote. But it sounded — I hope I’ve got this right — as if they were suffering from a bit of what S.t Paul described when he essentially said, “I don’t understand myself. I want to do what is right, but instead I do what I hate.” In other words, St Paul tried to be a perfect Christian, but in spite of his best intentions, he sinned.

That is the human condition. It’s woven into our nature from the Fall. We reach for the infinite good, but we keep sliding back down into the pits alongside all the rest of humanity.

We live in a fallen world. We are fallen creatures. We cannot, of ourselves, achieve the sinless state necessary to enter through the gates of Heaven. Even if we are locked in solitary confinement, we will still manage to sin with our thoughts.

That is why we need a savior. Because we cannot save ourselves.

So, how do we deal with this proclivity to sin that is part and parcel of who we are? Do we need to keep lists like a dieter writing down the food they eat? Do we need to add it up, count it out and decide at the end of each day if our sins outnumber our good deeds?

Some religious beliefs do pretty much this. Their hope of paradise lies in trying to make sure that when they stand before god and their sins are put in the scales, they will have enough good deeds to tip the balance toward their salvation.

This way of faith must lead to a kind of silent desperation in its adherents, a constant search for what is, in fact, “right.” I cannot imagine the angst of thinking that my salvation depended on me.

Christians are free from all that. We have been given the lighter yoke of abundant life now, in this life.

Make no mistake about it. There is only one empty tomb.

This is also only one sure way to heaven, and that is found in following Christ Jesus. Those of us who know and follow Christ also know that we cannot pay the debt of our own sins.

We know that God cannot abide sin — any sin. We cannot enter His presence if we are stained with any sin whatsoever. There is no balance sheet in heaven. There is only absolute, perfect, love of a kind that none of us can know on our power.

When I stand before God, I do not plan to offer my good deeds as recompense for my sins. My sins are such that nothing could ever balance them out. Based on my own spiritual score sheet, I deserve to go to hell.

I know that. I know it.

However, I am not worried about my eternal destination. I have an Advocate Who will speak for me in that court. There will be no sins on my balance sheet when I stand before God because my Advocate has already served the time for my crimes. Jesus has squared the circle of my debts.

This is not to say that we should take our sins lightly. I believe — and this is just me talking, not some weighty Church teaching —  I believe that if we decide that we can sin and do what we want because God will forgive us, we are mocking Him. I think that is a serious sin which breaks our relationship with Him. In short, I think that kind of thing can put your sins back on your own shoulders again.

But what of people like the reader who so abhor their sins that they cannot abide them? How do they deal with the continuous slide back into sin that we all face? What happens when we leave confession, go out, and commit the same exact sin we just confessed?

It’s simple, really. Sin is abhorrent, yes, but there is no reason to stay stuck in the slime of it. Just go back to confession, and try again. There’s a bumper sticker that says “Christians aren’t perfect. They are forgiven.” That pretty well sums it up.

Back when I was in elected office, I dealt with a lot of temptations to sin. Most of the temptations that got to me weren’t the ones that people think about. I wasn’t tempted to sell my office to special interests. I didn’t fall down the rabbit hole of worshipping an ideology instead of trying to follow Christ. I wasn’t aiming to turn the job into a lucrative lobbying position after I left.

I got a daily pounding of temptations, just the same. It’s hard for someone outside to imagine the pressures that elected officials are under. The emotions that the continuous psychological and emotional battering of being in the barrel 24/7 bring down on elected officials are impossible to describe to outsiders.

It’s a war, both inside the legislative chamber, and outside of it. It’s also, much of the time, every dog for him or herself.

During those years, I got up every morning and prayed the Rosary. I read the Bible through every 15 months or so, I went to Mass several times a week, and I tried to go to confession every week.

What I did not do was beat myself up over the sins I sinned, the mistakes I made and the things I did wrong. When you write laws, you know you’re going to make mistakes and people will suffer for those mistakes. You will make mistakes, no matter how hard you try to do it right.

What you have to learn to do is your best, your honest, absolute, take-no-prisoners best, every single day. And then, when you make a mistake, do everything you can to correct it.

Part of the responsibility of public office is the knowledge that you hold millions of lives in your hands, including the lives of generations of people not yet born. You are your constituents’ voice in government, and, if you represent a poor district of the “wrong” people, you are their only voice.

There is no way to do this job and not fall into the traps of hubris, self-interest and partisan dishonesty without God’s help. It is much more difficult spiritually to hold power in your hands than it is to have cancer.

The reader who wrote that question wasn’t asking about the things I just described from my own past. He or she was simply asking how to deal with the proclivity to sin, to stay focused on Jesus without drifting.

My answer is the same one I gave myself when I was in office, the same one I learned to trust when I was a stay at home mom, and the same one I have found to be the answer when dealing with cancer. My answer is to trust Him and follow Him.

Don’t try to tote up your sins on a balance sheet. Don’t focus on which which Thou Shalt Not you did, or which Thou Shalt you didn’t. Focus on Him. Think on Him. And follow.

When you sin, go to confession. Confess honestly and know that you are forgiven. Pray and ask Him to help you stop whatever sin you are most stuck on, and then trust Him. He will help you.

Know that you are not God. You are a fallen creature, and you cannot ever achieve perfection. Nothing you do will make you good enough to go to heaven. But, because He loves you so much, He has made a Way for you. He is that Way.

The secret to abundant life is walking in Christ by following Him and nothing else. When you follow Jesus, He doesn’t change what you do. He changes what you want to do.

He turned a lot of things I wanted to do upside down from what they were before. He didn’t do it by beating me over the head with a club. He did it by loving me.

Let Him love you. Let Him lead you.

He has given us the sacraments to provide us with simple, accessible ways to Him. The Eucharist is an opportunity to touch Him and taste Him in real time. It is a moment of grace that heals us in an absolutely reliable way.

Confession washes us clean. The Eucharist salves and heals us. The Word of Scripture inspires and directs us. Church teaching gives us a roadmap, complete with signposts and rest stops. Prayer allows us to take our deepest fears and happiness to Him in conversation.

You don’t have to understand theology to go to heaven. You don’t have to do great things to go to heaven. You don’t have to be successful at anything except love.

Just trust Him. And follow Him.

If you do that, you will have abundant life.

And He will lead you Home.