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Hotel California- What Must I Do to Be Saved?

By Raul Rivera

When pastoring a church in Florida, I often counseled a church member. She was tormented by a persistent, troubling thought and suffered from distressing dreams. She felt an acute sense of vexation, doubting whether our church was the one God intended for her. She harbored a deep-seated fear that attending the wrong church would lead to eternal damnation in the searing flames of hell.

Consequently, I found myself, two to three times a year, reminding her of the poignant inquiry of the Philippian jailer in Acts 16, "Sirs, what must I do to be saved?" I would reassure her that the choice of church did not dictate her salvation or condemnation. The key to salvation was straightforward: "Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ." These discussions seemed to coax her back from the brink of her abyss, providing solace for about three to four months before her doubts would resurface.

One day, as I deeply pondered her anguish, I was struck by a profound realization. The most fitting analogy that sprang to mind was summarized in the haunting lyrics of a song that frequently fills the air as ambient music in restaurants: "This could be Heaven, or this could be Hell" from "Hotel California." My thoughts momentarily soared. In her perception, our church was teetering between being her heaven or her hell.

I, as her pastor, was perceived to be either a man of God or an unwitting agent of Satan. It’s astonishing, then, that she ever sought my guidance. Would anyone, trusting their instincts, ever seek advice from someone whose moral compass was uncertain to them? It was then that I understood the root of her problem.

Her persistent doubts were not rooted in questioning the church’s validity but were symptomatic of a widespread issue I observe among many churchgoers: a deficiency in scriptural understanding. We have all heard the admonition from Hosea 4:6, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge.” Yet, often overlooked is the latter part of that Scripture, which delineates the exact nature of the lack of knowledge: "Because you have forgotten the law of your God.”

It wasn’t merely a lapse; God’s people collectively relegated His Word from their priority, leading to its absence from their consciousness—they simply let it slip away. The truth about knowledge is unforgiving; it fades from memory if it’s not consistently revisited.

Soak In It

Romans 10:17 employs a phrase emphasizing how faith in Jesus is cultivated through soaking. Paul writes, “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God,” He borrowed from the Old Testament phraseology, “By hearing you shall hear,” which is a way of saying that you must constantly keep before you the thing you want most to remember.

In Mark 4, on a day that Jesus spoke many parables on the Word of God being like a seed, he pauses to make a parenthetical remark about hearing.  In Mark 4:24, he says:

24 Take heed what you hear. With the same measure you use, it will be measured to you; and to you who hear, more will be given.

This verse echoes my experiences in the 10th-grade geometry class with Mr. Dechaume, who frequently prompted, “Raul, are you listening?” He recognized that the level of attention I devoted to listening was directly proportional to my comprehension of geometry.

Jesus warns us to take heed. You will only get from God to the degree that you heed what you hear. It’s a warning to the casual listener (soaker). Some study the bible every once in a while, and there are many that casually listen in church.  Some attend church every Sunday but never read the bible for themselves. To those that do not heed, he says,

25but whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken away from him.”

The Word can quietly drift from one's grasp, unnoticed. My friend was sincere in her journey to find God, but she tried to do it without the one thing she needed most. She didn’t know what God said about her because she did not heed His Word. She would never consciously admit or acknowledge this thought. Yet, despite the Biblical clarity on salvation in Acts 16:31, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ," she would fixate on her perceived transgressions of the week, convincing herself that such misdeeds rendered her beyond redemption.

No matter how frequently I emphasized the singular requirement for salvation, she would circle back, troubled, confessing, "I know that is what the Bible says, but I don't feel saved." She was entrenched in the belief that she had to do something to save herself or that somehow attendance at another church would do the trick. The grace and peace she yearned for are found solely through knowing the Word of God, which comes only with persistent soaking. It's not a one-off reading or an occasional glance but a consistent presence in our lives of what we must remember.

To conclude, I offer you a passage from 2nd Peter 1:2-4. This uplifting scripture pledges to erase the dark reverberations of 'Hotel California' that once troubled my dear sister in Christ, who was unaware of the promises made to her. The keywords have been bolded for clarity.

2Grace and peace be multiplied to you in the knowledge of God and of Jesus our Lord,
3 as His divine power has given to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue,
4 by which have been given to us exceedingly great and precious promises, that through these you may be partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world through lust.

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