Carnal Christian? - by Albert N. MartinArticles on the Christian Walk, Systematic Theology and Practical Theology
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There is in our day a teaching that has become very popular, and this teaching nullifies in the minds of many the clear and unmistakable truth of 1 John 3 which is nothing but a systematic statement of what we find from Genesis to Revelation, namely, that a man saved by the grace of God will be a holy man. A man saved from the penalty of his sin will be a man who seeks day by day to walk from the defilement of sin. And yet there is a teaching in our day, which has negated the clear implications of 1 John 3.
I have found again and again when I would set forth the Biblical doctrine of holiness, biblical holiness, not an experience, but a walk in conformity to the will and law of God. Whenever I would set forth the Biblical doctrine, and lay out the truth that no man has a right to claim he is a Christian unless he is a holy man, immediately people would bring up this red flag and wave it in front of me. Do you know what that red flag has written on it? What about a Carnal Christian? I’ve had that question asked me I don’t know how many times. The moment the Spirit of God began to stab the consciences of men who were professing to know Jesus Christ but who were not pressing on in the path of holiness, immediately they sought to hide behind this popular doctrine, that for sake of a better term and one which will identify it in our minds, I will call the Carnal Christian Doctrine. I would rather use a stronger word, and call it the Carnal Christian Heresy for this is indeed what it is.
Now it is going to be my purpose to seek to examine this doctrine in the light of the word of God because I feel in my own heart that you and I have been brought up in a generation when this doctrine has been popularized and made very wide spread in our fundamental circles. Now this is my purpose, I feel that for the sake of your souls I must do this. And I am asking you as we come to the word of God to come with a teachable childlike spirit, come like the Bereans who will search the scriptures to see whether these things are so. And so shall we search these things in an attitude of prayer and ask God to help us as we embark upon this study which is not pleasant but which is absolutely necessary for our soul’s well being.
Let us pray: Our Father, we thank thee that thy word is truth. We praise thee that by comparing scripture with scripture, and that having an open heart and a teachable spirit, the Holy Spirit will lead us into truth. We pray as we seek to deal with this problem and this confusion that has wrought havoc in the church that the Holy Spirit himself shall be present to be our teacher and to cause us to see thy truth, and by thy grace to bow beneath it’s implication. We ask in Jesus’ name; Amen.
Now in order to think our way through this I want to, first of all, answer the question what is this doctrine called the Carnal Christian Doctrine? Some of you may say what am I talking about? You may not know it under that title but when I describe it you will recognize it. Then I want us to consider an exposure of this doctrine in the light of the scriptures. Now as we do this I don’t want us to do it academically, I don’t want us to do this from the standpoint of just gaining more information. I want you to do it from this standpoint. Supposed it was suddenly announced over all the radios in your area that a number of people in your area were afflicted with a dread disease, which was of such a nature that it would kill people within a month after contracting it. But the symptoms were so indiscernible to the average person that many people could be walking about, afflicted with this dread disease and not know it. What would your attitude be if suddenly they announced that in every school and every public building there will be lectures by competent medical men to explain the subtle symptoms of this disease that you might discover whether you may have it and take the proper remedy? If you went to such a meeting, how would you listen? You would not listen merely academically to learn something more about this disease. You would listen as a matter of life and death. You would listen with this attitude, I must see if these symptoms, which the doctor talks about are in any way, in any shape or form, present in my life. I must not give the disease the benefit of the doubt! I must at any cost discover if I’m inflicted with this disease and seek the proper remedy. You would not listen to this as a mere lecture on medical terms. You would listen to it as a matter of life and death. This is the kind of hearing that I beg of you in this study.
As we seek to expose this doctrine I’m not doing it from an academic standpoint. I do not want you to read this from the mere standpoint of gaining information. I am convinced that there are men and women, boys and girls, whose souls are in jeopardy because they have believed this heresy. And unless you allow the Holy Ghost to open your eyes some of you may perish and wake up in hell that thought you were going to wake up in heaven when you die. I am convinced of this! It is the only reason I am seeking by the enablement of God to deal with this subject. It is not enough that I pray for you and to cry out to God that the Holy Spirit would open the eyes of any who may be deceived about their soul salvation, it is my responsibility to preach the truth that will aid you to see your sin and to expose the error that would keep you from seeing your sin. Our Lord Jesus who preached positive truth and said I am the way also said beware of the doctrine of the Scribes and the Pharisees. He called it leaven. He warned people and he named it and he sought to keep his disciples from falling prey to it. This is the motive in which I speak to you, and I trust it will be kept before you constantly.
Now what is the doctrine? The doctrine is basically this, that there are three kinds of people in the world, and they generally take it from 1 Corinthians 2 and 3 where you find these three words occurring, natural man, carnal man and spiritual man. This is usually the way in which the doctrine is presented. People who have never received Jesus Christ are natural men. They are sinners by nature and by practice, they are dead in their sins and have no knowledge of God. This is true; this is the Bible doctrine of human depravity.
Then they say the next class of people is the carnal man. This is the man or woman who has received Jesus as his savior, he believes that Christ died on the cross for him, and believing that he has been made a child of God, but, (listen carefully), you never know he is a child of God because although he is saved by the blood of Jesus he lives just like natural man. He lives addicted to the flesh, to the world and to self. You cannot discern the fruit of the Spirit or any pursuit of holiness, but you must not ever call him an unregenerate unsaved man because he has accepted Jesus. He is a man who is saved from hell but who is not yet saved from himself. And so this is the carnal man, the man who is saved but still living like he was not saved.
Then there is the third man. He is the spiritual man, the one who has not only been saved, but the one who has received Christ as his Lord after he has received him as his Savior. He has learned how to walk in the Spirit and you can see real evidence of Jesus Christ living out his life in him. This is the spiritual man.
But when you ask them, well how about this carnal man? Suppose he should die? Oh well, he will be saved so as by fire, he will lose some rewards, but because he has accepted Jesus he’ll go to heaven. And then when they try to deal with this carnal man, here is the way that they deal with it, they say listen, it is not right for you to be carnal. Don’t you know you will be ashamed when Jesus comes? You ought to be a spiritual man. And they present holiness as a very nice thing, and as necessary if he is going to be a good testimony, and if he is going to have rewards. But holiness is not essential to his salvation. Holiness is not an essential proof that he is saved. And so this man called the carnal man is told he ought to be holy, but he really need not be holy. If he is not holy he might lose some rewards and lose some blessings here and now, but he will still sneak into the gate, and he will make it to glory. Now this is basically the Carnal Christian Doctrine. This, I believe, is an accurate portrayal of this doctrine, a man who is saved but still walks in the flesh.
Now what are the results from the wide spread teaching of this doctrine? Will you listen to me carefully? What have been the results of the preaching of this doctrine for a period of probably at least eight decades, about three generations of Christians in out fundamental circles?
Firstly, there are many who name the name of Christ in our fundamental churches who are convinced in their own thinking that they are the children of God but they are people who seem to be at home in the realm of sin. They will confess that there is sin and failure in their lives, but they do this without any grief. They glibly claim 1 John 1:9 in the promise of forgiveness to those who confess. But all of this is a cut and dried heartless sort of ritual that has very little meaning, perhaps not even as much as the sincere Romanist who confesses his sins to the priest. Now this first result is that of producing a people who make no bones and have no reservation in naming the name of Christ but who seem to be perfectly at home in the realm of sin, who claim to be saved from hell, but who give no evidence of being saved from the love and the practice of their sins.
The second result in the thinking of people, that has been a terrible thing, is that it has raised a generation of people who are convinced that holiness of character, life, thought and motive, though it is good and commendable, is something that is optional. They do not view holiness as an absolute essential to genuine Christian profession, but is something that may or may not be present according to the spiritual desire and whims of the individual.
Now I firmly hold the Biblical truth that was brought into clear focus in the Reformation, having been lying buried for a number of years because of the teaching of Rome; that a man is not saved by his works. If we could somehow live a perfect life for a billion years this would not add one ounce of merit to the infinite merit to our Lord Jesus Christ, and to the absolute sufficiency of his death on our behalf. We are absolutely saved by grace. But the same Bible that teaches that we are saved by grace also teaches that when a man receives the gift of grace he is transformed by the Holy Spirit from a lover of sin to a lover of righteousness. So that the same scripture that says by grace ye are saved through faith and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not of works lest any man should boast. Also states, that without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
We must never hold the doctrine that we are justified by grace through faith at the expense, or hold it in such a way, that we will not face the clear implications of the biblical doctrine of holiness. For the Bible says that except a man be born again he can not enter the Kingdom of Heaven also states very clearly without holiness no man shall see the Lord.
What have been the results of separating these doctrines? First of all there have been some drastic results in the pew. There are many in the pews convinced that they are saved but they have never been transformed. They have managed to somehow deceive themselves into believing that you can receive Jesus without undergoing a moral reformation. That it is possible to have the Eternal Son of God dwell in your bosom by faith and still not experience what the Bible calls a new creation. Multitudes in their thinking have come to believe this.
It has had drastic results in the pulpit. I know of men who preach on Bible Conference platforms across our nation who are afraid to preach on 1 John 3. The results of this doctrine of the Carnal Christian being believed have shut the mouths of preachers because they are afraid to set out the fruits and the marks of a true Christian, and to tell men if they do not produce the fruits of repentance they have never been born again. They are afraid to do it! And this doctrine preached, believed and embraced is an easy one because it’s the natural heart that loves it and has produced these results in our fundamental churches. Dear ones, I would rather die crying out against this doctrine and be called a fool and die a failure in the eyes of my generation than to ever preach that a man can enter into heaven who loves his sin. I don’t care if I ever see a convert. It is truth! And oh dear ones my heart yearns for some of you reading this, because you have heard this doctrine, and you believe it and cling to it. And you are never going to get saved until you are ready to relinquish it, and God will meet you.
Now secondly, we want to examine this doctrine in the light of scripture. We have presented what this doctrine is, the three classes of people, the natural man, the carnal man and the spiritual man. We have seen some of the results of this doctrine in the thinking of people and in the actual experience in the pew and in the pulpit. Now we want to seek to expose this doctrine in the light of the scriptures. And as we do, let’s keep before us constantly two principles, they ought to act as guide rails for us.
Whenever you come to deal with a problem in the scriptures keep these two principles before you. Number one; there is no contradiction within the scriptures. In other words Paul can’t say something that will contradict James because the same Holy Ghost who spoke through Paul speaks through James. Right? The same Holy Ghost who spoke through John spoke through Paul; so that we can never receive one portion of the scripture in such a way that it makes us shut our eyes to another portion of scripture. The truth of God is a unit, now we may not be able to reconcile everything this side of glory, in fact there are a lot of questions that I have, and I’ve tried to reconcile them and wrestled with them until my brain was about to break. And I just had to say, Lord I see through a glass darkly, I thank you I’ve seen, but I sure see darkly. But though we can’t reconcile everything we should never hold one truth so that it makes us embarrassed when we face another truth. If you are embarrassed by reading any portion of scripture then you are not rightly understanding another portion of scripture. Let’s keep that principle before us. In other words, whatever Paul says about those people at Corinth being carnal, he certainly can’t contradict what John said in 1 John 3 that he that is born of God does not practice sin. Whatever he is saying, he can’t contradict this clear statement!
The second principle flows right out of this. You always interpret an obscure passage in the light of a clear passage. If you have a problem about a thing that is taught in 1 John check your cross references and you look over and you say here is another verse that deals with this, this is as clear as the nose on my face! John says he that is born of God does not practice sin, his seed remaineth in him. Now that is kind of obscure, what is that seed? So we turn to James and Peter, which says that the seed is the Word of God. So we brought the clear passages to the obscure passage and we got some light! Now we are going to do the same with this matter of the Carnal Christian.
The passage in 1 Corinthians 3 is not a doctrinal passage. It’s a passage dealing with a particular problem at Corinth. Now if we are to understand what Paul is teaching in 1 Corinthians 3 let’s first of all find out what Paul taught when he dealt with the great doctrines of holiness, sanctification and justification. Let’s find where he is giving a doctrinal lecture. And whatever he says there let’s interpret this other passage in the light of these.
Now, will you turn to Romans 8, and I want you to follow closely when you read verses 1 through 14. And I want you to notice two or three words that occur constantly. “There is therefore now no condemnation to them that who are in Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh but after the spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus made me free from the law of sin and of death. For what the law could not do, in that it was weak through the flesh, God, sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, condemned sin in the flesh: that the righteousness of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit. For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. To be carnally minded is death; to be spiritually minded is life and peace: the carnal mind is enmity against God; it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can it be: so then they that are in the flesh cannot please God. But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his. And if Christ be in you, the body is dead because of sin; but the spirit is life because of righteousness. But if the Spirit of him that raised up Jesus from the dead dwell in you, he that raised up Christ Jesus from the dead shall give life also to your mortal bodies by his Spirit that dwelleth in you. Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh: for if ye live after the flesh, (ye shall lose some rewards?) ye shall die; but if through the Spirit ye do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live. For as many as are led by the Spirit of God, they are (Spiritual Christians? No, they are what?) sons of God.”
Now in this doctrinal passage in the book of Romans, in which Paul is setting forth the great doctrines of the grace of God and the work of the Spirit; I want you to notice in Romans 8. He contrasts two things constantly, the realm of the flesh and the realm of the Spirit. The carnal mind and the spiritual mind, and notice what he says. These two are mutually exclusive. Lets look now at verse 5. They that are after the flesh, they mind the things of the flesh, fleshly desire, fleshly longings. Those that are after the Spirit, the things of the Spirit. Carnally minded, death, a man who is given over to his baser appetites and to the flesh, the end of that is death. The end of the Spiritually minded man, life and peace. The carnal mind is at warfare with God, it is not subject to God, it cannot be. They that are in the flesh cannot please God. But you say, ‘Pastor? That’s referring to the man who is saved but who is still living in the flesh, and he can’t please God in that state.’ Is it? Look at verse 9, “But ye are not in the flesh but in the Spirit, if so be that the Spirit of God dwell in you. But if any man hath not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of his.”
Do you know what Paul is saying? Get this now! He says a man who is living in the realm of the flesh cannot please God. If his basic desires and interests are this life and this flesh he can’t please God. But Paul says this isn’t true of you IF the Holy Ghost dwells in you, and when you got saved he came to dwell in you. And if he hasn’t come to dwell in you, you are none of his. But he has come, you have been basically taken out of the realm of flesh and you have been put in the realm of Spirit, See? I don’t know if you do, but this thrills me. Two spheres, two, not three, carnally minded – death, spiritually minded -life. And then he moves on in verse 13, if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die. ‘Oh, that means the sin unto death!’ Does it? The most spiritual people I know die, this is not speaking about physical death. It is talking about spiritual death! If you live after the flesh ye shall die. But if by the Spirit ye do mortify, or put to death the deeds of the flesh ye shall live. (For) as many as are led by the Spirit of God they (and only they) are the sons of God.
Ah, but you say, ‘pastor, you mean a Christian never stumbles?’ Wait a minute now we are going to deal with that problem. But let’s get this first. Don’t jump ahead of me. Do you see what he is saying? We have two spheres of existence, flesh – Spirit. We have two destinies, life – death, not three, two, degrees within them, yes, but only two spheres. Study this chapter, read it over till the Spirit of God opens your eyes on this.
Go to Galatians 5 for a moment. Paul is dealing again with the two spheres of activity and interest. Now here is a doctrinal passage. We are going to interpret the obscure in the light of the clear. We are going to interpret in the light of the fact that there is no contradiction of what God says. Now beginning with verse 16. “This I say then, Walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfill the lust of the flesh. For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other: so that ye cannot do the things that ye would. But if ye be led of the Spirit, ye are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are manifest, which are these; Adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, Idolatry, witchcraft, (So far we can all breathe easy, but notice the next ones.) hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, Envyings, murders, drunkenness, revellings, and such like:” Anything that comes under the category of disobedience to the revealed will of God, that’s the works of the flesh, Paul says. Now what is he saying? Notice carefully. Of the which I tell you before, as I have also told you in time past, that they which do such things shall (lose some rewards? No, what is it saying?) They shall not inherit the kingdom of God! Now Paul says, I made this clear to you. I told you this when I was with you before, and I will tell it to you again. Those who are given over to the flesh shall not inherit the Kingdom of God.
Now, he is going to draw a contrast. “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, gentleness, goodness, faith, Meekness, temperance: against such there is no law.” Now you’ll be stopped there, and the preacher tenderly says, ‘now dear Carnal Christian, you are saved, you are born again, but you have given over to nothing but the flesh and you would be so much better if the fruit of the Spirit were in your life. Now yield to Jesus as your Lord and begin to manifest the fruit of the Spirit in your life, and you will get some rewards.’ That isn’t what Paul says. Notice the next verse. After giving us two spheres, the works of the flesh and what they are like, then the fruit of the Spirit and what it’s like, now notice verse 24. “And they that are Christ’s have (past tense) crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts.” He does not say only those that are spiritual. All who belong to Jesus have basically severed themselves from the realm of the flesh. Not perfectly, not completely. That is why he says in the next verse: “If we live in the Spirit, let us also walk in the Spirit.” But basically he says those that belong to Jesus have crucified the flesh with the affections and the lusts thereof.
Now beloved, either these verses mean what they seem to teach, and the doctrine of the Carnal Christian is a damning heresy, or I have to rip out page after page from my Bible and twist the obvious meaning of Holy Scripture. This I will not do, and this you dare not do. Are you Christ’s? Do you belong to him? Then demonstrate that the flesh and the affections have been basically crucified, and that the fruit of the Spirit is manifest.
But oh, sometimes in my life I know it is hard, nubby fruit. At times there is even some rotten apples hanging on the tree. Beloved, if there is nothing but rotten apples on the tree of your life then you need to hear what Jesus said. Make the tree good and it’s fruit good, or the tree corrupt and the fruit corrupt for a tree is known by it’s what? By it’s fruit.
I am taking this time because this thing is so deeply ingrained I feel there is nothing but the sheer authority of the Word of God, reading it, looking at it, that will expunge it from our minds. Turn please to Romans 6 where again Paul is dealing in this doctrinal book with the basic issues of our allegiance, where it lies. Notice now what he says in verse 15. “What then? Shall we sin, because we are not under the law, but under grace? God forbid. Know ye not, that to whom ye yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants ye are to whom ye obey; whether of sin unto death, or of obedience unto righteousness?” Notice now, two spheres, sin unto death – obedience unto righteousness. But then he says, “But God be thanked, that ye were the servants of sin, but ye have obeyed from the heart that form of doctrine which was delivered you.” That is just another way of saying you’ve committed yourself to Christ as he was offered in the Gospel, and what happened? “Being then made free from sin, ye became the servants of righteousness,” from the mastery and dominion of sin as your lord that you loved and obeyed and served. You are basically severed from it, and you became the servants of righteousness. “I speak after the manner of men because of the infirmity of your flesh: for as ye have yielded your members servants to uncleanness and to iniquity unto iniquity; even so now yield your members servants to righteousness unto holiness. For when ye were the servants of sin, ye were free from righteousness. What fruit had ye then in those things whereof ye are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now being made free from sin, and become servants to God, (that’s conversion) ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life.”
Get that verse and get it now. Conversion is a change of masters. I exchange the master, sin, for the new master Christ who will work out in me the path of righteousness. What is the fruit? The fruit is unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. No man gets everlasting life but in the pathway of holiness, and no man can be holy until he is converted and has a change of masters by the grace of God. Isn’t that what the book says? But we’ve read it this way. ‘But I accepted Jesus, even though I am serving the flesh, and I have my fruit unto Carnal Christianity, and in the end the loss of a few rewards.’ I am not going to butcher my Bible beloved! I am going to let God say what he says and preach it the way it is written. And preach it by his grace.
You ask, pastor, what does 1 Corinthians 3 teach? We will take that up in the next lesson. So I am going to close with this exhortation. Regardless of what it teaches, It can not contradict 1 john 3 where John says he that is born of God does not make a practice of sin, he is never at home in the realm of sin. Why? Because the Divine Seed is at work within him, and if he is in sin as a child of God, if he stumbles he feels unclean and disturbed until he is back in the way of holiness. He has an advocate with the Father if he stumbles, yes, John said. If any man sin we have an advocate with the Father Jesus Christ the Righteous, but that is for the man whose basic desire is to walk in the Light, walk in obedience and in all these other birthmarks that John gave us. Whatever Paul teaches us in 1 Cor. 3 he can’t contradict 1 John 3. He said he wouldn’t even contradict himself in Romans 8 where he said there are only two spheres, flesh and Spirit, two destinies, life and death. The child of God is one indwelt by the Spirit, and that indwelling severs him from the flesh. He can’t contradict Galatians 5 where he says the works of the flesh will have no inheritance in the kingdom of God.
Those possessing the fruit of the Spirit, those who belong to Jesus, are basically committed to this. By whatever he says in 1 Cor. 3, I’m not going to contradict what he says anywhere else. Will you dare to do it? I could number many passages, which sets this truth forward.
I plead with you, young man and young woman, father and mother, if you are not pressing on in the path of holiness, if you are content with your present measure of grace, you’ve better beware. Listen to me parents, your children made a decision back when they were little children. Yet you don’t see any evidence of the new birth, yet you have been breathing kind of easy and say, ‘oh well, they aren’t going on as they ought but they have accepted Jesus.’ Is this true of you? Some of you parents listen to me. If your children die today and they wake up in hell, and you’re not concerned about them, and you are not pleading to God for them because you believe this damnable heresy that they are saved but they are just carnal, why? Why?
I want my son to grow up knowing that until he is in the way of holiness he is not a Christian. I want him to know he cannot get in that way until he is born again, I want him to know that it is by grace, I want him to know that. But I don’t want to raise a child who thinks he is saved because he has nodded his head to what his daddy believes and preaches. I want a boy who knows by the revelation of the Holy Ghost and faithful preaching of the Word, that until the Holy Ghost has sanctified his heart and has given him a heart that is holy he has no ground to claim he is saved. Oh, may God have mercy on some of you parents.
Some of you believe this ignorantly, I’m not scolding you. It is what you have been taught. But now you have no further reason to believe it. Some of you have believed it willingly because you’ve deceived yourself, and if you know that if your children don’t have the real thing, then you are going to have to confess you don’t have it because you don’t have any more than they’ve got. That’s why some of you parents believe this. You dare not say your children aren’t saved because they bear as much fruit as you do. Does this strike fear to your heart? It does mine.
I have to give an account for you dear ones to whom God has sent me. Will you go on believing and confessing you are a Christian while you are at home in the realm of sin? Will you? Will you go on professing to know Jesus Christ as your savior, though you have never bowed to him as your Lord? Then my friend, unless God awakens you and turns you from that course you will go right on believing those things and go right on to judgment and out into eternity a lost soul. God grant that today, recognizing the error of your way, you might cry out unto God for mercy. It’s a terrible thing for a man or woman to die having never heard the message of Christ and to go out into eternity. It is a terrible thing for a person to hear the message and never believe and go out into eternity. It’s thrice terrible for a person to hear the message and believe a false truth about that message, or believe in a false doctrine that lets them be at home in their sins while they profess to belong to Jesus, and then go out into eternity. I think hell will be more tolerable for the demons than for such people who turn the grace of God into a license for their sins, and turn the blood of Jesus into an excuse to carry out their rebellion against God without any fear of punishment. Oh, may God awaken you, and God disturb you. Beloved this is a sobering thing; I am not talking about something that is out in right field in China somewhere. This is right here.
Let us bow in prayer, soberly reflect upon our own hearts and ask ourselves this question. Am I at home in the realm of sin? Am I at ease in my present state? Having made a trip to an alter five or ten years ago, have I breathed easy ever since I’ve done the ritual? Have I made my almighty decision, therefore God must take me to heaven? Oh dear one what a lie.