The Westminster Shorter Catechism was completed in 1647 by the Westminster Assembly, and continues to serve as part of the doctrinal standards of many Presbyterian churches to undergird faith.
When the Christian is asked, “What is the chief end of man?” The proper answer is given. “Man’s chief end is to glorify God, and to enjoy him forever.”
When the atheist is asked, “What is the chief end of man?”, the most common response is that meaning in life is endogenous—that is, self-produced (2008 American General Social Survey).
According to this study, there is no empirical evidence that atheists are more likely than theists, the religiously affiliated, and persons reared with a religious affinity to fatalism, nihilism, and suicide. Any assumptions to the contrary would be misleading.
Perhaps the data on this point is correct. Charles Krauthammer, a prominent media voice, died at the age of 68. In a poignant farewell letter to his friends, he wrote, “I leave this life with no regrets. It was a wonderful life – full and complete with the great loves and great endeavors that make it worth living. I am sad to leave, but I leave with the knowledge that I lived the life that I intended.”
What Charles Krauthammer did not give any thought to is life after death. Few agnostics and atheists do. But what if they are wrong? What if God does exist? What if there is a resurrection from the dead? What if there is a day of judgment? What if the way of salvation, offered by God through Jesus Christ, was rejected?
Time will tell if the faith and message of the Christian is the correct one, or if the agonistics and atheists are correct, and life is endogenous, or self-produced. Time will tell if heaven is real, and so is hell.
While many have given much thought to life after death, many others have none. As a result, they are not prepared to die, either with faith, or without faith, psychologically. When pressed, the average person, religious or not, might say they believe they will go to heaven when they die because they are a good person. Most people believe they are a good person, and to suggest otherwise is offensive.
Christians are often hated because they do speak about sin and the need to repent. The Christian message makes people feel badly about themselves, but only because the heart is bad, it is desperately wicked, and in need of regeneration.
Christians are often resented because they do declare that a person cannot save themselves by good works. The Church tells people to be humble, to bow before God, to repent of sin, and become a supplicant before God, asking, not demanding eternal life and a place in heaven.
The Christian message humbles the pride of man and reminds the soul that nothing good have they ever done to deserve salvation.
“The things that I love and hold dear to my heart Are just borrowed,
they’re not mine at all;
Jesus only let me use them to brighten my life,
So, remind me, remind me, dear Lord
Roll back the curtain of mem’ry now and then,
Show me where you brought me from, and where I could have been;
Just remember, I’m a human and humans forget –
so, remind me, remind me, dear Lord
Nothing good have I done to deserve God’s own Son,
I’m not worthy of the scars in His hands;
Yet He chose the road to Calv’ry to die in my stead –
Why He loved me, I can’t understand
Just remember, I’m a human, and humans forget,
so, remind me remind me dear Lord.”
One reason why people really do believe they are good enough to go to heaven when they die, is because of the natural arrogance of the heart. Jesus illustrated this truth in a parable saying, “Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted” (Luke 18:10-14).
A second reason as to why so many people believe they will go to heaven when they die, regardless of the life they have lived, is because there is a distorted emphasis in the modern presentation of the gospel.
The Church is viewed as a place to help people help themselves be “all they are meant to be” without any call to humility, discipleship, repentance, sorrow, and reformation. The love of God accepting people “just as you are” is endlessly repeated.
The message is received. “I do not have to be different. I am free to be me!” Gone are the days when the gospel tells people the good news that “if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature: old things are passed away; behold, all things are become new” (2 Cor. 5:17).
A motivational presentation of the gospel, which is very popular, is far different from the centrality of the cross of Christ being preached. Paul gloried in the Cross. “But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world” (Gal. 6:14). The reason why Paul gloried in the Cross was because he understood that sin was judged in Christ on the Cross. The Cross was an emblem of shame but it became the gateway to heaven. Therefore, the Church loves to sing about the Old Rugged Cross.
“On a hill far away stood an old rugged cross,
the emblem of suffering and shame;
and I love that old cross where the dearest and best
for a world of lost sinners was slain.
So, I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,
till my trophies at last I lay down;
I will cling to the old rugged cross,
and exchange it some day for a crown.
O that old rugged cross, so despised by the world,
has a wondrous attraction for me;
for the dear Lamb of God left his glory above
to bear it to dark Calvary.
In that old rugged cross, stained with blood so divine,
a wondrous beauty I see,
for ’twas on that old cross Jesus suffered and died,
to pardon and sanctify me.
To that old rugged cross I will ever be true,
its shame and reproach gladly bear;
then he’ll call me some day to my home far away,
where his glory forever I’ll share.”