“Are you 100% certain that if you were to die today you would go to heaven?”
I cannot tell you how many times I have heard that line. I’ve heard it in sermons, witnessing studies, Ray Comfort videos, and real life situations. Only one problem.
This is just a bad way to share the Gospel.
Why? Because there is no such thing as 100% certainty for human beings.
“But Caleb,” you say, “doesn’t the Bible tell us that we can know we have eternal life, and doesn’t it reassure us with shall and will?”
Of course it does. But alas, knowledge is not the same as 100% certainty. If you believe something is true, and it is true, and you believe it rather confidently for the right reasons, you know it.
“But surely you don’t know something unless you have certainty?”
I would agree for the most part, but even certainty isn’t the same as 100% certainty. Certainty is simply beyond all reasonable doubt, while 100% certainty would be beyond any and all possible doubt. This is impossible. Disagree? I think it is proved fairly easily.
To start, let’s take something you probably think you know with 100% certainty. How do you know that the words you are reading are actually on your screen.
“I see them, of course.”
But I ask, then, how do you know that what you see is real?
“Well, I can’t know it by myself since I could be hallucinating, I can ask someone else, and they can confirm it.”
How, then, are you supposed to know that you are not also hallucinating the other person?
“Um… I can go touch them?”
But then you are pushed to another question, namely how you know that you are really touching someone and not just imagining it. See, in the end, there is no way to prove, either with logic or empirical evidence, that anything you see or experience is real. This is relevant to the question of salvation, because if you cannot eliminate the possibility that everything you’ve ever experienced is basically a dream, then you cannot have 100% certainty of anything you experience.
You may have an answer, though. You tell me, “Ah, wait, but salvation is a matter of God’s Word. Scripture is infallible, even if I’m uncertain of my experiences.”
Yet in this, the assumption remains that Scripture exists and you have read it. But if you cannot prove your experiences are real, you also cannot be sure that the words of Scripture have actually ever been written anywhere. They could also be in your imagination. And in this case you cannot know with 100% certainty anything about God or Jesus or salvation.
“But Caleb, surely we can know God’s truth with 100% certainty? Can’t God enable us to know this directly through the Holy Spirit?”
Maybe He could, but I would instead argue that we are not made that way. God did not make us to know things without any possibility of doubt or question, because to do that He would have needed to make us infinite in understanding, but instead He made us finite. We are limited by our human nature so that there is always some uncertainty.
Why would God do this? (This is also about why this matters.) I cannot claim to know the wisdom of God, but I suspect it goes into faith. Faith is not about certainty, but about believing and living under Christ even when we’re not certain about this life. You do not have faith in what you know for sure; you have faith in what you trust despite the possibility of being wrong.
To take this back to my original point, the problem with saying, “Are you 100% certain you’re going to heaven?” is that it places the emphasis on your knowledge, your belief, and about getting to heaven, not to mention placing a huge stumbling block in the way of skeptics who think philosophically. The Christian life is about following Christ in the uncertainty that faith disrupts, pursuing Jesus through the fog because even though you can’t see anything, you trust that He will lead you to glory.