“…forgive the sinful, and never despise his low estate, for none knoweth what his own end shall be.” ~ Baha’u’llah
Over the years, the idea of personal salvation has become a very important teaching for Christians. For Baha’is, it is important to understand the context from which personal salvation came about. The debate on whether Christians had to live a good life, or just to accept Jesus, has raged for centuries. Many have asked, ‘does faith stand alone, or do we need good works to get into heaven?’ Today’s debate stems from the day Martin Luther rebelled against the Catholic Church. He rebelled because he felt the Church had become corrupted from the sale of indulgences that were ‘get out of hell tickets.’ Martin Luther felt that this meant only the wealthy and powerful could afford to get out of hell, and that this was not just. Therefore, he proclaimed that people only needed faith to get out of hell.
The debate went further when a man named John Calvin thought about the whole idea and felt that if a person only needed faith, then they had no incentive to live a good life. Therefore he came up with the idea that it was predestined before we were born that we were either damned or saved, and the only way we found out if we were going to hell or to heaven was whether we lived a productive and righteous life, or whether we lived a life of debauchery and sin. Therefore, he believed he could look around and see the saved and damned people around him by just looking at their actions.
Baha’is turn to the Bible when it comes to this debate. Baha’is do believe that faith is needed first, before all things, and that without faith, all good works are brought to naught. The Báb wrote that “We are cognizant of thy righteous deeds, though they shall avail thee nothing; for the whole object of such righteousness is but recognition of God, thy Lord, and undoubted faith in the Words revealed by Him.” (SWB pg. 34). But Baha’is also believe that once personal faith is attained, good deeds are the way we prove our faith. As in the Bible it says “for as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.” (James 2:26), and it says that a Christian should “let your light shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.” (Matthew 5:16).
A Baha’i could never tell you that he or she is saved. Baha’is believes that they never know until our last breath whether they will end their days on earth with faith or not. A Baha’i knows it is a constant struggle to keep faith alive in their hearts. And it is a struggle we pray daily for the strength to endure and continue. A Baha’i believes that God alone decides by His Grace who has been faithful or not. A person can do a million good works, but be performing those works for egotistical, self-righteous, or maniacal motivations. For Baha’is, therefore, it is their intentions that are important. And they must watch their intentions carefully, even to their last breath on earth. As Baha’u’llah says, a true believer “should forgive the sinful, and never despise his low estate, for none knoweth what his own end shall be. How often hath a sinner attained, at the hour of death, to the essence of faith, and, quaffing the immortal draught, hath taken his flight unto the Concourse on high! And how often hath a devout believer, at the hour of his soul’s ascension, been so changed as to fall into the nethermost fire!” (KI p. 194)
For Baha’is, the most important aspect of developing an eternal soul is their faith in God. Why is this? Baha’is believe that the eternal aspect of their lives is the worship we offer our Eternal God. As Baha’u’llah wrote in a prayer addressing God, “Every man endued with insight among Thy servants is persuaded that my self liveth eternally and can never perish, inasmuch as remembrance of Thee is eternal and will endure so long as Thine own Self endureth, and Thy praise is everlasting and will last as long as Thine own sovereignty will last. By its means Thou art glorified by such of Thy chosen ones as call upon Thee and by the sincere among Thy servants.” (PM, p. 127).