Michio Kaku tells the story of a scientist who once trained a flea to jump whenever he rang a bell.
Using a microscope, the scientist then anesthetized one of the flea’s legs and rang the bell again. The flea still jumped. He then anesthetized another leg and rang the bell. The flea still jumped.
The scientist anesthetized more legs, each time ringing the bell and each time recording that the flea continued to jump.
Finally, the scientist anesthetized the final leg and rang the bell. He was amazed to note that the flea no longer jumped. So he declared his conclusion, based on what he thought was irrefutable scientific data – fleas hear through their legs!
The reason you’re smiling is because you know that you’re smarter than that scientist. You understand where he made his mistake, don’t you? He accepted a false premise. Either he forgot or was too ignorant to realize that fleas are not capable of jumping on anesthetized legs, even if they try.
False premises and flawed logic almost always make for wrong conclusions.
Over 30 years of ministry have convinced me that many people draw dangerously wrong conclusions about how to get to heaven because of two false premises:
1. Some folks are apparently under the impression that a person can osmose his way into God’s favor – that if you have gone to church since childhood, if your grandmother was a Christian, or if you have never deliberately rejected God, then at some point you have just automatically become a beneficiary of God’s saving grace.
But the Bible exposes that as a false premise. Psalm 139 says that humans are sinful, not saved, by birth. Jesus once said, “Unless you repent, every one of you is going to perish.” John 1:12 indicates that only if an individual specifically, personally receives Christ as savior will that person be given the right to become a child of God. The Apostle Paul emphasizes the importance of actually calling upon the name of the Lord.
2. Many other people seem to believe that God grades on a curve – that if you’re better than some and as good as most, you’re probably going to be OK on Judgment Day.
But again, that’s not what God says in the Bible. According to Scripture, we’re all going to be judged on a pass-fail basis, and apart from Christ we’ll all be judged failures. Why? Because “none of us are righteous” and “the soul that sins will die.”
Accepting the false premise that human performance, not God’s grace, qualifies a person for heaven will lead to fatally flawed conclusions.
Some folks may turn away in hopelessness because of their sordid past. Others may harbor false hope about being good enough to satisfy God when, in fact, there is no “good enough.” None of us is able to perform to God’s perfect standard. If that were possible, why would there need to be a sacrifice for sin? Why would Jesus have died on a cross? Why would there be any need for grace?
There’s the story of a man who dies and goes to heaven where St. Peter meets him at the pearly gates and says, “Look, here’s how this works. You need 100 points to get in here. You tell me all the good things you’ve done and I’ll give you a certain number of points for each item, depending on how good it was. When you reach 100 points, you’re in.”
“OK,” the man says. “For starters, I was married to the same woman for 50 years and never cheated on her, even in my heart.”
“That’s wonderful,” says St. Peter. “That’s worth three points!”
“Only three points?” the man says. “Well, I attended church all my life and faithfully supported its ministry with my tithes.”
“Terrific,” says Peter. “That’s certainly worth a point.”
“One point? Only one point? Well, how about this? I once started a soup kitchen in my city and worked in a shelter for homeless veterans for 15 years.”
“Fantastic,” says Peter. “That’s certainly good for two more points.”
“Just two points!” the man cried. “At this rate the only way I’m ever going to get into this place is by the grace of God!”
Whereupon Peter says, “Come on in!”
The Bible makes it clear that salvation is a gift of God’s grace, to be received through faith alone. That’s a premise on which one can build a truthful conclusion as well as a hopeful eternity.
The Rev. Daryl E. Witmer is founder and director of the AIIA Institute, a national apologetics ministry, and associate pastor of the Monson Community Church. He may be reached via AIIAInstitute@aol.com or through ChristianAnswers.Net/AIIA. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.