The essence of the Good News of the Gospel as taught by Jesus is very simple and can be understood by even a child. The purpose of life is to have good and fulfilling relationships with other people and the larger community of life.
Jesus saved us, not through his death, but by showing us how to live our lives. His entire life on earth was about overcoming evils and temptations, and his death was the conclusion of that struggle. Just as we are faced with evils and temptations in our lives, Jesus struggled against those same temptations as a human. In overcoming them, He taught us the way to live. It is only by so doing that we can be truly happy. Salvation is the product of developing a genuine love for other people and for God. We reject salvation if we choose not to love others like God loves us. Salvation is not dependent on the doctrinal specifics of the religion you have followed on earth. The choices that we make on a daily basis are what determine whether we end up in heaven or hell.
God gives everyone the freedom to choose their beliefs and live their lives accordingly. Salvation is available for people of all religions. All religions have goodness in them. There are many paths to heaven. The requirements for salvation are simple: live well, believe rightly, and you will be saved. Truth is love in action. Actions performed out of love are genuine expressions in a physical form of what love means. All people who live good lives, no matter what their religion, have a place in heaven and the Kingdom of God here on earth.
Real “salvation” is found in the practice of certain principles Jesus taught that still apply today, such as the Great Commandment, the Sermon on the Mount, and his parables. We need to focus on what Jesus said in the Gospels rather than the theological musings of early Church leaders who never met Jesus personally, such as Paul. Jesus told us that the kingdom of God is found within us. That means we don’t have to die to go to heaven. We create heaven on earth by living out the teachings of Jesus. The core of his teaching is following the radical grace of his Great Commandment – “Love God and Love one another” rather than Pharisee-style legalism or having the “correct beliefs” (please refer to the Good Samaritan parable which discusses this principle).
God does not judge us. We judge ourselves by what we love and how we live. Salvation is granted to all people who love God and try to live a good life according to what they believe is right. We play an active role in our salvation every day of our lives. When we look to the Divine and live according to what we believe is right, we move closer towards heaven. If we shun good, we move closer to hell. Thus, salvation and freedom of choice are inseparable from each other.
We learn about the teachings of Jesus in the Bible. The Bible is a very complex compilation of books that are far too rich to be limited to literal interpretation or viewed as “inerrant” or “infallible”. The Bible is not a history or science textbook. When using the Bible, we need to know the relative value of each book in the Bible. The Gospels relate some of the actual teachings of Jesus, as well as some of the mythos which built up about him based upon some of the rival pagan mystery cults that were prevalent at that time. The Old Testament relates the tribal and cultural myths of the Hebrew peoples which set the stage for the prophetic and messianic expectations that were prevalent during the time of Jesus. The rest of the New Testament, such as the letters of Paul, Acts of the Apostles, and the Book of Revelation, relate the theological presumptions and bias of some of the early Church leaders who were influenced by their historical and cultural environment. Just as Jesus taught through the use of parables, we can find useful insights in various stories of the Bible by viewing them as allegories and metaphors for our own spiritual journey and growth process, from the Garden of Eden to the Heavenly City, which can be applied to our everyday lives. It then becomes our story.
In one of the most defining moments of his ministry, Jesus was asked which commandment was the greatest. Matthew 22:36-39 “[Jesus], which is the great commandment in the law?” And he said to him, ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it, You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the law and the prophets.”
In the Gospel of John, he reclarified the Great Commandment. Jesus said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34). Or as I like to put it – Love God through loving service to others.
This teaching of the Great Commandment of Jesus fulfills the intent of the Golden Rule and surpasses it with the higher intent of love. By following the Great Commandment, we can order our Ruling Loves in a Heavenly manner – Love of God, Love of Others before Love of the World (Power, Money, Prestige, etc.) and Love of Self. Obviously Hellish Ruling Loves would be in an inverse order. Heaven and hell are often states of consciousness that we choose by what we love.
God is Love and nothing but what is good can come from Him. By following the core teachings of Jesus, we can become the children of God by becoming that radical love. As we live, we choose what kind of love we will be. We may choose to be egocentric and regard ourselves as the only reality where our own needs, desires, and feelings are all important. Or we may choose to focus on others. In the former instance, we shrink in spirit, allowing a part of our potential as loving beings to atrophy. In the latter instance, we grow spiritually, heightening our awareness of the nature of love and thus also of the nature of ourselves and God.
Loving service to others is the way love works. True happiness is not possible unless it is in accordance with being of use to others. The spiritual life involves the active development of a useful and meaningful life in service to the betterment of the world as a whole. Whereas the religious life often connotes withdrawal from the world and life, active participation in the world is a commitment to actualizing faith and charity. The life of charity and faith parallel the union of love and truth which is the essence of God. As we increase compassion, integrity, understanding, and healing in our lives, we are helping God create a “new Heaven and a new Earth.” It is the responsibility of all people to develop their own beliefs and live their lives accordingly.
If there is an afterlife, it is likely that we continues to live in a heavenly life or a hellish one, based on the quality of life choices made here. Heaven and hell are not rewards or punishments distributed on judgment day but the present inner experience we freely choose. We may choose to enjoy peace and openness, or to close ourselves in fear. We can discover the highest joy of a loving life by giving to others, or the loneliness of self-centeredness. We may choose to enjoy peace and openness, or to close ourselves in fear. Life is an opportunity for learning and spiritual growth. As we choose between giving and taking, loving and hating, right and wrong, we participate in the creation of our own spiritual character. To become an angel, reject self-centered longings, do what is good, and love God.
Heaven is for everyone who wants to live there. The only reason someone would go to hell is because they have chosen to go there of their own volition. Those who choose hell are people who put themselves above all else, repeatedly indulging in things which are hurtful to others. The only reason hell exists is to preserve the freedom of choice which God grants to all His people.
The Gospel is a powerful vehicle for inner and societal transformation. Inner transformation results from connecting to something larger than the ego. By settling down and heeding the promptings of the Spirit, we can connect to God as that interconnectedness or ground of being underlying all things, especially living beings, in the Universe. This divine connection through Christ then transforms how we behave when we are mindful of this interconnectedness by helping us to see Christ in others and prompting us to live out the values within the Sermon on the Mount. Our changed behaviors cause different responses from others which can lead to communal and societal transformation through the power of the Gospel. When we view this interdependence as love then we tend to get the same back from it. From this foundation, we should try as much as possible to extend loving-kindness to all other living beings which is the primary point of the Great Commandment of Jesus.
We create unnecessary suffering when we forget about the profound interrelatedness of all things. How we treat each other, other living beings, and our environment should be based upon this understanding. The ethic of reciprocity, commonly known as the Golden Rule, is a good, general ethical guideline for daily living, but the radical nature of love which Jesus calls us to goes far beyond mere ethical reciprocity. It is important that we consider the needs of others, especially the less fortunate, before our own wants and desires.