What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?

Life is a journey. Life is a hike from our City of Destruction to the Celestial City. But no matter how the journey unfolds along the path, it has a beginning point. In Jesus’ imagery, the journey begins at the gate. In my imagery, the hike begins at the trailhead.

Everyone’s trailhead is a little different. For some, we started the journey on our mother’s knee at a young age. For others it starts after a difficult time in the teenage years, and perhaps in the midst of those difficult times you met a friend who started to walk with you. For others the trailhead is much later, after you have sampled life and found it lacking. Our trailheads can often look quite different.

However all of our trailheads have many things in common, and today I want to talk about what we all have in common. As you start your journey as a follower of Jesus, or if you are just thinking about it, or if you are walking with a new traveler, it is important that we have the same understanding of what the trailhead looks like; otherwise it will become confusing on down the path.

One of the defining moments in my life was when I was in graduate school. I was waiting for the bus, and a young coed asked if I was one of those “Divinity” students. (That’s what it is called in Scotland.) I said yes, and she asked if I were a Christian. I said yes, and she responded, “What is a Christian?” Much to my shame, I had never thought through a quick and decisive answer. I was working on a Ph.D. but had not thought through this most important of all questions. The bus came in two minutes and she got on.

I didn’t go to the office that day. I went back to the dorm and started reading and praying, working on an answer I could give in two minutes. I spent much of the next day looking for her on campus but never found her.


So what would you say? Remember, you know nothing about the person, and you can see the bus coming. You have two minutes. You don’t want to say too much, but you don’t want to say too little You want to say enough so that if she responds, either now or later, then she truly is a follower of Christ. But you don’t want to say too much and make the decision harder for her.

What would you say? Yes, the trailhead at the beginning of our spiritual journeys are all somewhat different, and yet there must be a common thread running through them. There must be the non-negotiables.

For example, John tells us that if you deny the reality of the Incarnation, that Jesus came in the flesh, you are the spirit of the antichrist (1 John 4:2-3). Does our two minute answer include the dual nature of Christ?

Jesus also says that we should count the cost of following him (Luke 14:26-28).

Paul says a person must “confess with  your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in  your heart that  God raised him from the dead” (Rom 10:6), and yet Jesus says there will be many at the judgment seat who did many miracles in his name and yet were not true followers (Matt 7:22ff.).

I made a nuisance of myself for several years by asking everyone I could, especially academics, “What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?”  It was always interesting to me which of my academic acquaintances could answer the question, and who couldn’t.

Some replied, “That is the wrong question.” My answer always was, “Someone you will never see again just asked you the question, and the bus will be there in two minutes. Go!”

Some would still respond, “It can’t be answered in two minutes. It is the wrong question.”

My response? “You now have less than two minutes.”

How would you respond? The question isn’t rhetorical or academic. It is life and death. How would you respond?

27 thoughts on “What is the minimum it takes to get into heaven?

  1. I’d tell them to confess Christ as Lord and Savior. Then encourage them to find a church and get plugged in to learn and grow, both doctrinally and relationally. I’d have to trust God to lead them down the path He wants them to walk, whether I have two minutes or two hundred years.

  2. I just read this post on Bill Mounce’s blog. If he wrote it, he should be acknowledged as the author here. If you wrote it, he should have cited you as the source on his blog.

  3. I can tell you “what” a Christian is easy in less than two minutes. BUT to tell a person “how” to be a Christian is different. Outside of my pulpit ministry, I have one on one witnessed to literally hundreds of people and I have seen little fruit from “drive by” or two minute witnesses. I have used “the Four Spiritual Laws”, the “Big Question” the “Roman Road” “Faith”; you name it, I’ve tried it. The overwhelming majority of those have turned out to be the 2nd or 3rd “soils” Jesus spoke about in His parable. As we all know, faith is only as good as the object we place our faith in. We have turned Acts 16:31 into an evangelical Shibboleth. When I have had time to explain the Gospel, spending time from “the fall” in Genesis 3 to the “great white throne” in Revelation 20, I have seen far more 4th soil results! Outside of Athens, name an encounter in Scripture where a “cold contact” witness can be seen; and remember, no church was planted in Athens. I am Reformed in my theology, so I believe God CAN save someone in less than two minutes, but He normally does not. So believing that God ordains BOTH the means and the ends, my confidence is not in my ability to “speak” or the lost persons ability to “hear” but in my God who will save ALL He desires. To Him be all praise and glory!

  4. I have recently discovered this site, and I like it! I too have seminary training and therefore a propensity to get lost in the weeds of all the cool stuff I’ve learned, to the detriment, at times, of my poor uninitiated hearers. This “I’ve got a few moments to share the gospel with an obviously openhearted person” kind of experience has happened to me (minus the looming bus) countless times over the last three decades. “What is a Christian, and how do I become one?” My 10-second answer: “A Christian is someone who has received the love of Jesus and then responded by loving Jesus in return.” My more thorough, though very incomplete, two-minute answer: “A Christian is a person who, first of all, believes what Jesus said about Himself is true. Jesus said He’s God, and Savior, and Lord. And a Christian is someone who entrusts him(her)self to Jesus as the divine Rescuer and King who came from heaven to earth to suffer and die on a cross as payment for our sins so that we could become forgiven children of God… so that our hearts and lives could be changed forever. Jesus conquered death by rising from the grave three days after His crucifixion, and He promised to come again someday. He is waiting for you to cry out to Him, to embrace Him and His payment for your sins, to let Him love you. He wants to make you His own, give you a fresh start, do some major changes inside of you, and give you the free gift of eternal life. As you get on that bus, please talk to Jesus about these things. Please give Him your heart. Maybe I’ll see you again…”

    1. I find your answer interesting. You are one of the few who went the more relational/gospel route than the more typical propositional/Pauline route. –Bill

  5. Just a baby Christian here …

    1. Why would you want to do the minimum?

    2. Jesus already said (Mat 19:16-22).

    3. In the situation described, the girl at the bus stop isn’t asking about getting into heaven, she’s asking about being a Christian. In a previous post Bill asks why Jesus asked (Mat 20:32), “What do you want me to do?” In that case Bill thinks it’s obvious that the blind beggars wanted to be healed. Although what they get is an opportunity to follow Him.

    1. 1. Because I only had two minutes to hopefully plant a seed.

      2. She genuinely wanted to know what Christianity is about, and given the opportunity I could think of nothing better than to not only answer her obvious question but the implicit one. Darrell Bock shared with me that Christianity is about God taking the initiative in Christ to mend the broken relationship between us and himself. That is an answer, and it leaves me 1 minute and 50 seconds to talk about how we are called to respond to this good news.

      1. 2… I like that; my baby Christian experience in a nutshell is about God so mending my personal broken relationship with Him. My experience is: God forgives me; therefore I must forgive myself, and therefrom I can (must) go forward. Thank you for the word.

        ” ‘Believe’ is a difficult word today”, for sure. I like to think of the Biblical sense as “commit” because it’s more deliberate, how does that strike you? (One responds to the call.)

        In English “belief” is always transitive towards some propositional content which doesn’t seem to me quite the right flavor… eg, the intransitive use in Romans 1:16; is this typical Greek usage?

  6. “What is a Christian?” is either an invitation to theological inter-mural debate, or a genuine, though lightly-veiled attempt to discover some sliver of a chance that there is more out there, and perhaps even a God who has provided a way to live, and to continue to live beyond the grave…

    I’m going with an answer to the latter…

    A Christian is a person who has placed his/her trust in the substitutionary death that was endured on his/her behalf by Jesus Christ, as He Himself described the purpose of His death, so that he/she will not face the judgment of God for his/her sins, but is instead immediately deemed as pardoned, and received as a beloved member of God’s family.

    1. I like how you combined relational and theological aspects. In my own way of thinking, we need both. To say it another way, we need to have both Jesus and Paul. I have been struck the last ten years how Jesus’ invitation was, “Follow me.” That’s the relational part. Paul says, “Believe and confess.” That’s the propositional part. Now, I know that is a simplification, but generally true.

      1. Thanks! I’m with you on that… I wonder if the word “believe,” as it is presently much-used in our culture, might set us up for that separation between relationship and proposition, and if we might be better understood if we erred on the relational side of the equation with a definition that leaned toward or demanded propositional acceptance…. that’s why I’ve used the word “trust” more than in the past to describe the nature of a saving relationship with Christ. A person trusts things he/she knows a bit about…and so must believe something about those things in order to trust them….
        Open for your thoughts on that!

        1. “Believe” is a difficult word today. I agree. “Spiritual” people believe lots of things, regardless of the object. I can’t dump it since it is a biblical word, but I have not found it helpful in preaching to a diverse audience.

  7. John 1:12 and John 3:15-16 both say virutally the same thing: the minimum requirement to be a Christian is to believe in Jesus Christ. Paul echoes this to the Philippian jailer when he is about to commit suicide. However, this belief cannot be just “head knowledge”, it has to be “heart knowledge.” James tells us that even the demons believe there is a God (head knowledge). Jesus also said that there will be those who say “Lord, Lord” but will not get into heaven because of only head knowledge. Heart knowledge is the belief that Jesus Christ is the Son of God, died for our sins, and it is through God’s grace through Jesus’ death that we are saved. Grace sounds so simple (which it is) that many people can’t accept it. But the answer is clear: Believe in Jesus Christ and you will be saved.

  8. What is the MINIMUM Requirement to enter Heaven?

    ACKNOWLEDGE We are guilty of sin and turn from it, BELIEVE that Christ is God and became flesh here on earth among us, and TRUST His sacrifice ALONE for our Salvation and Eternal life; that He died, was buried, and rose on the 3rd day.

    “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” Acts 16:31

    (Western Seminary Grad, 1991)

  9. A true Christian is a person that has been enlightened by the Holy Spirit that there is sin in his life and consequentially not perfect. God has revealed that He is sinless, perfect and holy. He asks us to be the same. But there is no way we can be perfect because we have already sinned. Being the best person we can be does not cover the past sins and all the other sins we are currently doing and will do. In the past, God required blood to be shed as atonement or forgiveness of sin. The blood of an unblemished animal like a lamb was offered to cover the sins of the people. But the blood of an animal doesn’t cover the sins of man completely. This needed to be done by a man.
    He sent the perfect sacrifice, Jesus who was a man and the Christ. He lived the perfect life as a human, was killed on a cursed tree and died. Since He was a perfect sacrifice for our sins, he was raised back to life. A Christian then is putting their trust in the blood that Jesus shed on the cross for the forgiveness of their sins. The Holy Spirit now takes up residence in us to make us into a person with the qualities of Jesus, who is God in the flesh. To His glory, this was all done by the Father, Son and Spirit. Are you burdened by sin in your life?

  10. There are at least 2 questions being posed/answered; How would you describe a Christian? And, what is the minimum requirement to become a Christian? I think the first one has been answered adequately but it seems that the second has not. One comment asked, “Why would you want to do the minimum?” I think this is loaded because it assumes you can do more than the minimum to become a Christian. The problem is that if the minimum requirement has been satisfied by Christ adding to that minimum nullifies grace altogether. You can’t add one work to a gospel of grace and still have a gospel of grace.

    I’m going to stop calling it the minimum since that may carry the idea that more is better.

    Why add “confess” to the requirement to accept God’s gift of grace? Did every NT writer (following the inspiration of the Spirit) leave his reader unsaved since only Paul (and only in Romans) added this “requirement”? Or, is it possible there’s a reason this phrase has been added and doesn’t add to the requirement for receiving God’s gift?

    This doesn’t seem like a casual discussion to me. I agree with the original poster – this is life and death.
    I’m no seminary student so I could be far off the path. I’m sure you can help me back on!

    1. I use the word “minimum” since it gets people’s attention. Sometimes I think we add too much to our gospel presentation. How many of the options given above can be understood by a child? And I keep coming back to Jesus saying, Follow me.

      1. Bill, I respect your knowledge greatly. I would really like to understand Rom. 10:9-10 better – that’s really why I mentioned it above. I’ve been reading everything I can get a hold of (and I work at a Christian bookstore!) and scholars seem to be in 1 of about 3 camps on how to handle “confess.” Would you shed some light on this for me? I would be fine with getting this via email if you would prefer to keep it from this thread. Thanks, Link.

    2. The Gospel of John was written in order for readers to believe that Jesus is the Christ, and that by believing they would have eternal life (see John 20:30-31). Various forms of the Greek word for “belief” are given in this gospel, and is the only condition which appears. Again, belief or the conviction (certainty) that Jesus alone provides eternal life is the only condition given for justification in John and elsewhere (see Acts 16:31; Gal. 2:16). To “confess” in Romans 10 is not for salvation, since Paul says that with our hearts we believe unto “justification.” Confession is the commitment of an obedient and loyal believer who experiences God’s “salvation” or deliverance in this life from sin’s tyranny (Rom. 10:9-10). I am to follow Christ, but the following is not what justifies me before God. I am called to enter a relationship with Christ, but the process of entering or continuing is not what justifies me. So, believe or trust Christ alone for eternal life, and enter into the process of following him and becoming like him.

  11. All I can say in two minutes is about – The reason why I am a Christian is because I wanted to follow Jesus Christ, his teaching, philosophy, influence, his demonstration of love, peace and sacrifice. I can say that there is none on earth like this man. All generations have encountered him, talked about him, told stories about him and many followed him. He is the philosopher of all time, his teaching is so unique that even you will wonder.

    Where can we find information about this man? You can find him in your books on history, philosophy, true stories, commentaries, famous people, encyclopedias, blogs and even the calendars tells something about him. He is the most influential person of all time, only few people doesn’t know him while others doesn’t care.

    And if you want to know him personally, grab a Bible and read the new testament. If you need help to understand on what you’re reading, just text me and we will help you know this person whose name is Jesus.

    1. “A christian therefore is the one who follows Christ.”

      we can also say,

      “A Christian simply means Christ’s follower.”

  12. Thanks Bill for such a thought provoking blog.

    This same quesion was posed (different context) by one of my profs in a leadership class at a Bible College that I graduated from. In a room of a dozen or so christians there turned out to be that many different answers. Now to be fair, some of the answers meant the same thing they were just worded differently.

    But there were some answers that were given the shocked me. In another class I was explaining the context of giving using 1corinthians 16:1-2 and a grad student blurtted out “why should context matter.”

    In anohthe seperate class, the prof was explaining what the “missional church” is. There came a point in the lecture were it was opened up to classroom discussion, I began to talk about the necessity of at some point in doing good deeds there needs to be a presentaion of the Gopel.Well to my shock and chagrin I was amazed at the different definations that were given to explain what the GoGopel is.

    I began to talk about the Gospel in terms of “grace and faith,” repentance and confession,” you would of thought that I hasd two heads (well, my one is ugly enough), but you get the point.

    Thank you Bill that you took the time to follow Paul’e advice in1 Peter 3:15 (New International Version)

    ” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be PREPARED to give an ANSWER to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, ”

    P.S. I started a blog site, come and take a peek, tell me what you think: http://christianmusings-brian.blogspot.com/

  13. Since Bill Mounce mentioned Darrell Bock, I thought I’d go ahead and mention his book on the gospel, Recovering the Real Lost Gospel. I am learning a great deal about the gospel from Bock’s book. I used to think that Jesus’ death and resurrection is all there is to the gospel content. IMO, every Christian needs to read this very helpful book.

      1. Thanks, Marc, for sharing that! I just now finished reading your review. I agree with what you like about the book.

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