Steven Waldman Interviews Rick Warren
Rick Warren, pastor of Saddleback Church and author of "The Purpose of Christmas," spoke with Beliefnet Editor-in-Chief Steven Waldman at the offices of our partner, The Wall Street Journal.
BY: Steven Waldman
Well we get very mixed messages on this because we are taught about grace. On the other hand, we are also taught that if you do bad things you are going to hell. Why are we getting these mixed messages?
Well actually I don’t think it’s a bunch of bad things that send us to hell. I think it is rejection of God’s grace. I had a guy one time [say], “Rick, will smoking send me to hell?” I said “no—it will make you smell like you’ve been there. But it’s not gonna send you to hell.”
The fundamental issue is, people often ask me, “What’s the worst sin?” They expect me to say adultery, or taking drugs or something. The Bible clearly states, in the book of Isaiah, it’s pride. It’s pride. It was pride as Isaiah talks about Satan to get kicked out of heaven. And the middle letter of sin is “I” and the middle letter of pride is “I.” It’s this attitude of ‘I’m gonna run my life, I’m gonna be my own God, and to me that’s the thing that keeps us out of heaven. It’s refusing to accept God’s rightful rule in my life.
Now when you talk about, “well what about all these things we are supposed to do?” Those things are not the root of our salvation, they are the fruit of our salvation. In other words, they’re the results. Jesus said “by your fruit you’ll know them.” But the fruit isn’t the apple tree, it’s the result of the apple tree. It’s the root that gives that apple tree its apple-ness. So, it can be a confusing message. It really can be. Because on one, on the one hand, we’re talking about “it’s all a gift, it’s a free gift.” And on the other hand, then, once you accept it, it should change your behavior.
-The other part that’s always been confusing or challenging to people is you’re saying that part of this great gift is that God has already forgiven you for, as you put it, everything you have done and will do. And when you reach heaven you are already forgiven for any sin. But in a way it’s not any sin – it’s any sin except one sin, which is the sin or the mistake of not believing in Him. Why if he forgives us for murdering or raping would he not forgive us for believing in Him?
Well that’s a good question and to me, my thoughts about this are: God has a right to tell me what’s the entrance fee. If it’s his house, I mean if he wanted to say anything else he could. And why he set it up this system, in this system where it’s not a “something that I do” it means I can’t brag about it. It means if you could earn your way to heaven, there would be a lot of bragging in heaven. “Well I got here cause I gave the United Way” and “Well let me top that one, I got in…” and it would be miserable being there.
Now the Bible tells us that heaven is a perfect place. There is no suffering, no sin, no sorrow, no sadness, no sickness, all these things. Heaven is a perfect place. I am not a perfect person. I stopped being a perfect about day two ok. Nobody bats a thousand and what most people, the biggest misconception in America, is the idea that God grades on a curve, that some people are better than others and so they’re gonna have a better chance of getting in. And we all want to think we are good enough to get to heaven but we’re bad enough to be fun. We want that combination. We don’t want to be Puritan prudes but we want to be good enough to get there. Well the difference, the problem is, heaven’s perfect and if God let perfect people into heaven IMPERFECT people, it wouldn’t be perfect anymore. It’d be like…it’d be like earth.
So why wouldn’t he if we get to the gates of heaven and say “I didn’t believe in you. Boy do I have egg on my face,” as it were. “It was a horrible mistake.” Why wouldn’t he forgive that too?
I think that it’s not just a matter of knowledge. I think God’s gonna take care of a matter of… I don’t know about people who don’t know. I really don’t know. I know that the Bible says that Jesus is the way to heaven. I do, I do know that.
The only way?
I do believe that. You know, the truth is, Steve, everybody’s betting their life on something. A Buddhist is betting that Buddha was right. A Muslim is believing, is betting that Mohammed was right. I’m betting my life that Jesus Christ was not a liar. I’m betting my life that when he said “I’m the way to heaven. I’m the way to heaven.” If I’m wrong, I still have lived a good life ok. In other words, I still had meaning and purpose and forgiveness and I didn’t care much about guilt and grief and stuff like that.
But there’s not just that, there’s the personal, inside of me, that the-what I call the ‘witness of the spirit’ where I sense his presence. I talk to God all the time. I talk to him just like I’m talking to you. In fact I talked to him just before I got in here. I said “ Lord help me to know what to say to Steve” and I’ve been a friend of God’s for now over 40 years and it’s like really talking to anybody. That is an intimacy you don’t develop overnight. It’s nothing special, it’s nothing supernatural, it’s just a simple thing of, I can sense Him in my life and the more you grow spiritually, the more your alert you are to that and I can hear him speak.
Now God has never shouted out to me. I’ve never heard God speak audibly. He doesn’t have too. I mean if God can send a phone thru a-a cell phone, and I can’t see it, if he can send a picture through the air and it come out on the TV, he can certainly send a thought directly to my mind without having to say it aloud or write it in the sky. And we believe that when God speaks to us that’s called inspiration. When Satan speaks to us that’s called temptation. And when I’m talking to myself and I think it’s God, that’s delusion.
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|The Purpose of Christmas|
By Rick Warren