I pass a reader board on my way to the office each day. It generally has a pithy phrase that is banal and forgettable. It often reminds me of cotton candy–sweet and tasty, but with no nutritional value. The current saying, however, is one that provokes me because it is a half-truth that leads to the wrong conclusion.
The board reads,
The only road to heaven is the road of service.
The second half of the statement is certainly true. The apostle Paul exhorted his readers to use their freedom to “serve one another” and that “the whole law is fulfilled in one word: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.'” (Galatians 5:13b-14). Jesus told the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) to illustrate what it meant to be a good neighbor and how to love one another. In fact, Jesus said that a life of service is why he came to earth. “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve” (Mark 10:45).
While the reader board is half true, it is also half wrong.
Jesus goes on to finish his statement by saying, “For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Jesus came to lay down his life for us. His ultimate act of service was to die for our sins. In so doing, he provided the way to heaven. He said so in John 14:6, “Jesus stated, ‘I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
While service will not get us into heaven, it demonstrates we are on the right path. Paul explains in Ephesians 2:8-10 that we are saved through faith in Jesus Christ, which then results in good works.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
Based on the statements of Jesus and Paul, to say “the only road to heaven is a life of service” is not just a half truth, it is a whole lie. Yes, we are called to serve. But our service will not get us into heaven. Only Jesus and his sacrificial death on the cross can do that.