Will there be Italians in heaven? To answer this question, there is only one place we can go to find the answer – the Bible. The Bible is God’s Holy Word. His Word, the inspired scriptures, is divine knowledge and holds the key to all things that pertain to life and godliness. Jesus commanded his disciples to go into all the world and preach the gospel. “And He said to them, ‘Go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature. He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned.’” Mark 16:15-16 NKJV
The world is all nations, ethnicities, races and cultures. Our world would be our friends, neighbors, relatives…or simply our greatest place of influence. When I was presented with the Good News (the Gospel): Jesus Christ took my place on a cross and died for my sins so I could be saved, I did not immediately accept it nor did I reject it. However, it was only a few years later that I had come to a place of absolute emptiness and surrendered my life to Christ.
I vividly remember that even after I had given my heart to the Lord, a changed man, I grappled with the term – “saved”. You see, I had been raised in a devout Italian Catholic home. I went to a Catholic grade school and was an altar boy until the age of twelve years. In my mind, I was born in the Christian faith from childhood. I had all the religious elements: rosary, missal, scapular, St. Joseph medal, etc. I had the externals of a Christian religion but never the inner substance of actually knowing God – a personal, saving relationship with Christ. I can understand how my family and relatives initially reacted when I told them they need Jesus to be saved and not their religion. After all, I was the one who forsook tradition, dove headfirst into the ungodly music industry, and left the church to become a professional sinner. Now, I’m telling the ones who never forsook their church and faith that they need Jesus. Nevertheless, the fact remains, we must be saved if we’re to enter eternal life. “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” Acts 4:12 NKJV
Dear Reader, although I mention my religious upbringing, this message is not about Catholicism. Rather, it’s about anyone who puts their trust in a religious tradition believing they can get right with God and earn a place in heaven. If that is so, then Christ died for nothing! “…For if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!" Gal. 2:21 NIV
The first Gentile convert to Christianity was an Italian
“Now a Captain of the Italian Regiment, named Cornelius, was quartered at Caesarea. He was religious and God-fearing--and so was every member of his household. He was also liberal in his charities to the people, and continually offered prayer to God. About three o'clock one afternoon he had a vision, and distinctly saw an angel of God enter his house, who called him by name, saying, “Cornelius!” Looking steadily at him, and being much alarmed, he said, “What do you want, Sir?” “Your prayers and charities,” he replied, “have gone up and have been recorded before God. And now send to Jaffa and fetch Simon, surnamed Peter.” Acts 10:1-5 Weymouth Cornelius was a native Roman, an Italian. He was deeply religious, devout and God-fearing along with his family. He was a generous man given to prayer. Not only did he have a deeply held religious faith, he put his faith to practice in helping those in need. God heard his prayers and saw his faith in action but one thing Cornelius lacked, he needed to hear about Jesus. You see, none of those things that Cornelius did could save him, no matter how sincere he was in his beliefs, he needed to hear the Word of the Lord. Yet, he got God’s attention and was instructed to send for the Apostle Peter so he and his family could be presented with the gospel. Unbeknownst to Cornelius, God was dealing with Peter to prepare him for the divine appointment. “…Now therefore, we are all present before God, to hear all the words commanded you by God. Then Peter opened his mouth and said…how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit…Him God raised up on the third day…And He commanded us to preach to the people…through His name, whoever believes in Him will receive remission of sins. While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit fell upon all those who heard the word.” Acts 10:33,34,38,40,42,43,44 NKJV
Cornelius needed to hear how God sent Jesus to take his place and die for his sins. He needed to know he could be forgiven and pardoned by Jesus shedding His blood on the cross, paying his debt. He needed to realize that God raised up Jesus for his justification – making him right with God through faith in His name. You see, God sent Cornelius a preacher, because just like us, Cornelius was a sinner in need of a Savior.
I’m still amazed, even after 30 years in the ministry, how there are those who are offended by the preaching of the Word of God. “…The word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it.” Jer. 6:10 NIV They would rather die in their religion than listen to what God says about their eternal condition. Cornelius was not of this sort. He was not offended but eager for the truth. Cornelius had a ready heart to receive. When his name was called he obeyed. “…Send men to Joppa, and call for Simon whose surname is Peter, who will tell you words by which you and all your household will be saved.” Acts 11:13,14 NKJV
I can truly say that most Italian people are devout and have a deep reverence for God. They have a great honor and respect for the Lord Jesus Christ. However, many are ignorant of God’s Word and what the Bible says about salvation. Many are innocently unaware yet most are willfully ignorant. Many just follow the religious pattern they were taught from childhood. While others are afraid they would lose control of believing what they want to believe. In reality, they take the religious dogma in which they were raised, pick and choose what’s suitable to their lifestyle, and carve their own beliefs. “So these nations feared the Lord, and also served their graven images; their children likewise, and their children's children - as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” II Kings 17:41 RSV They form an image of their own god instead of being conformed to the image of His Son (Rom. 8:29). They put their trust in a religious mind-set over Biblical Christianity.
In this they deceive themselves that God accepts them. When in actuality, God gives them over to the delusion of their own hearts. These are the religious, irreligious and neo-spirituals who become instantly offended and defensive when presented with the truth. They are prone to amalgamate their theological recipe with the humanistic “Oprah” gospel: god is he, she, it or whatever you choose to believe. A god that only loves and does not judge. And when one passes away they automatically go to a “better place”. There is no sin…only choices. You are only accountable to yourself, your happiness…your own made up universe. They refuse to turn from their way to God’s way. “In the past God overlooked such ignorance, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent.” Acts 17:30 NIV
The Bible makes it very clear; you’re either lost or saved. We have an arch enemy of our souls, an adversary, the devil – the master deceiver. “He will completely fool those who are on their way to hell because they have said no to the Truth; they have refused to believe it and love it and let it save them, so God will allow them to believe lies with all their hearts.” II Thes. 2:10,11 TLB
Satan loves those who resist the truth letting them believe they can be secure in their own doctrine. Many would argue, “I’m not an atheist, I’m spiritual, I believe in God.” Believing in the existence of God is not saving faith. “You believe that there is one God. You do well. Evens the demons believe—and tremble!” James 2:19 NKJV Mere ‘believism’ is not the same as dying to self and putting your whole faith and trust in Jesus Christ. When a soul has called upon the Lord, denied himself, repented of his sins and has surrendered to the Lordship of Christ that dear one will ‘know that he knows’ that he is born again. His spirit changed – alive unto God. “Jesus answered and said to him, ‘Most assuredly, I say to you, unless one is born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God.’ ” John 3:3 NKJV
Yes, there will be Italians in heaven – and of every nationality that obeys the gospel of Christ. “After these things I looked, and behold, a great multitude which no one could number, of all nations, tribes, peoples, and tongues, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, with palm branches in their hands.” Rev. 7:9-10 NKJV When Cornelius was called, he did not say, “I’m good”. “Me and the man upstairs got an understanding”. Nor did he argue or resist the dealings of God. This devout Gentile embraced the truth and became born again.
Dear Reader, what will you do? Do you delight in the Word of the Lord? Do you hunger and thirst for His righteousness? Is God calling your name? Will you trust your eternal soul to a religious tradition or, like Cornelius and his family, act on the truth of the gospel? “…The faith and love that spring from the hope that is stored up for you in heaven and that you have already heard about in the word of truth, the gospel that has come to you.” Col 1:5,6 NIV