Summary: Objections to "Ticket Theology": 1. It trivializes the Christian life. 2. It misses the point of the Christian life. 3. It reduces the Christian life to a formula.
A man in Kiev, Ukraine wanted to be a modern day Daniel. He went to the zoo in Kiev earlier this month and lowered himself by a rope into a den of lions. The lion enclosure is on an isolated “animal island” surrounded by thick concrete blocks to protect people from the lions. The zoo was packed with visitors when the man took of his shoes and went up to the lions shouting, “God will save me, if he exists” A zoo official said, “A lioness went straight for him, knocked him down and severed his carotid artery.” He was killed almost instantly.
This Ukranian man evidently had read the story of Daniel and the lion’s den, but he had failed to read Christian history where Christians faced lions in the Roman coliseums and lost their lives — much to the pleasure of the emperor and citizens of Rome. I think there are many people who have a very naive and simplistic concept of God and the Christian life. It is easy to get caught up in idealism and miss the real message of Scripture, not to mention the meaning of the Christian life. The message of Scripture always has both feet planted firmly on the ground. It is people who misread and misunderstand the message that is there. And the reason is that it is easier to believe in the simplistic ideas, that people like our friend from Kiev had, than to live out what it means to know God and live the life he has set out for us. The Christian life is not about trying to prove God exists, or even believing he exists, it is about being a new person.
It is dangerous thing to test God, either by doing something foolish to see if he will rescue you, or by living your life going against everything that he has said, and think that as long as you shoot up a prayer before you gasp your last breath everything will be just fine. It’s what I call “ticket theology.” Ticket theology says, “Being a Christian is all about being ‘saved’ and getting your ticket to heaven. It doesn’t matter if you don’t live like a Christian. If you believe the right things, or you are saved that is all that matters. After all, if you are saved you are always saved, so don’t worry if your life is messed up, you’re still going to heaven.” People with ticket theology think that the only thing that is important in the Christian life is salvation — whether or not they are forgiven and are on their way to heaven. They rarely think about real discipleship and taking the Sermon on the Mount seriously as a lifestyle, they just want their ticket. They want to avoid hell and go to heaven without ever considering whether they will be happy in heaven. I might say that if you don’t like living for God here, you’re going to really hate it there.
I have some basic objections to ticket theology, and the first is: It trivializes the Christian life. This kind of thinking reduces the Christian life down to some kind of spiritual fire insurance. It turns the Christian experience into a recipe: “Say this and you will be saved,” or “Pray this prayer and you will be forgiven.” Now, I am not minimizing the importance of that, or the fact that we are saved by grace. The Bible does say, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.” But many people stop reading there and forget the next verse: “ For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Ephesians 2:8-10). We cannot save ourselves by our good works, and whenever we think God owes us heaven because we have been better than most people, then we are in trouble. But there is more to the Christian life than just being “saved by grace.”
This week Angel Maturino Resendiz, known as the “Railroad Killer,” was executed. He was an extremely cruel and brutal serial killer. Just before his execution he mumbled a prayer, saying “Lord, forgive me. Lord, forgive me.” He turned to the families of his victims who were watching through a window in another room and said, “I want to ask if it is in your heart to forgive me.” I don’t know what was really going on in the heart of this man. I do know that it was too bad that he could not have been repentant before he committed the crimes. It is remarkable that he wanted mercy when he showed no mercy to his victims. I’m not saying he could not be forgiven, but what horrors could have been prevented, and how different his own life would have been if he had not waited until the last moment to try and “make things right” with God and other people. This same scenario is played out in many people’s lives on a lesser scale. They avoid God their whole life and then want a ticket to heaven at the last minute. They have no use for the Christian life, but for some reason still want to go to heaven. It is a trivialization and gross misunderstanding of what it means to be a Christian. Ticket Christianity has nothing to do with actually knowing God and living for him.