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  • Writer's pictureBill Wichterman

Can I Hold Anything Back From God and Still Go to Heaven?

Some of Jesus’ words literally scare the hell out of me. One haunting thing He said was that not everyone who calls Him Lord will go to heaven -- not even people who performed miracles in His name. Jesus says to them, “I never knew you.” Yikes.

Fifty-four percent of Americans think they’ll go heaven, but only two percent think they’re going to hell. (The rest either don’t know, don’t believe in an afterlife, or think they’ll go to purgatory or be reincarnated.) Ultimately, it doesn’t matter what we think – it’s what God thinks that matters.

Who are these people who call Jesus “Lord” but whom Jesus doesn’t really know as His own? I don’t think we can know for sure, but I have a suspicion they’re people who truly do follow Jesus in most of their lives but who in the final resort haven’t given Him their complete allegiance. People like the rich young ruler who was a deeply good man who faithfully honored God but couldn’t part with his money when Jesus asked him to give away all he had. These people may do a lot in the name of the Lord. They could be church elders, pastors, missionaries, evangelists, and be publicly recognized as Jesus-followers, but there’s some part of their lives which they refuse to give to God.

I’ve often heard people talk about areas they hold back. “I haven’t turned over to the Lord my . . . (fill-in-the-blank),” as if complete surrender is an optional activity. And I always think to myself how scared I would be to be in their shoes. Maybe I’m misreading Scripture, but I don’t think that holding anything back is an option for followers of Jesus. To my understanding, following God is not a matter of bargaining but one of recklessly abandoning one’s will to Jesus’ control.

Some people have insinuated to me that my views are unnecessarily extreme and that God is gracious with us. He knows we need time to surrender and that it doesn’t come all at once. It’s a process, they say.

I agree that we may not immediately see all the ways we need to change. Forty-two years into my own pilgrimage I keep learning about new ways I need to change. But that’s different than seeing something and choosing not to turn from it. Repentance is surrender of our will to God. Even if we continue to fail time and time again in our obedience, we consistently turn from all our known sin, and when we stumble we resolve not to do it again – and this process may be repeated a thousand times. In His mercy, God forgives us again and again when we repent.

I’ve had friends who bargain with God. I knew one guy who was attracted to God but just wanted to keep getting stoned. He was willing to give God everything except weed (at the time illegal). He asked me to lead him in praying “the sinner’s prayer,” but I declined. I told him that I don’t think we’re truly Christ-followers until we are willing to lay down our lives lock-stock-and-barrel.

I sincerely hope I’m wrong. I hope that the rich young ruler who went away sad is in heaven. I hope that I’m misunderstanding Exodus 34:14: “Do not worship any other god, for the LORD, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God.” I hope it doesn’t mean that God must be the unrivaled ruler of our interior lives, but just that He’s ruler in a lot of areas. I hope we can have some areas that are off-limits to Jesus and where we can retain control. I’m not being facetious. I want this to be true.

But I don’t dare risk that reading of Scripture. What if Jesus will tell people who held back some choice morsel of their souls that He never knew them? I opt to take at face value what seems to me to be the plain reading of the text: give me everything.

My favorite author is C.S. Lewis, who said this:

Give up yourself, and you will find your real self. Lose your life and you will save it. Submit to death, death of your ambitions and favorite wishes every day and death of your whole body in the end submit with every fiber of your being, and you will find eternal life. Keep back nothing. Nothing that you have not given away will be really yours. Nothing in you that has not died will ever be raised from the dead. Look for yourself, and you will find in the long run only hatred, loneliness, despair, rage, ruin, and decay. But look for Christ and you will find Him, and with Him everything else thrown in.

Here's hoping C.S. Lewis and I are both wrong. But I think the only sensible thing is to completely surrender without exceptions or qualifications.

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