And Jesus said to His disciples, "Truly I say to you, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. "Again I say to you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle, than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God." When the disciples heard this, they were very astonished and said, "Then who can be saved?" And looking at them Jesus said to them, "With people this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Mat 19:23-26)
First of all, in response to the question of whether someone in the military can enter heaven, we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ (Eph 2:8). We are called to repent and believe on the Lord Jesus Christ. You must have faith in Christ to save you, and know that His work of atonement was done to pay the price for you. You must be born again.
Then we need to live out our faith until we reach heaven. That includes (but is not limited to) obedience, righteousness, holiness, truth, love, and total submission to the Lordship of Jesus Christ, as well as being led by the Holy Spirit. If one has true, "saving faith," then they will have deeds to show for it.
So if one meets the biblical standards to qualify for the prize, as Paul put it in 1 Cor 9:24-27, then they will one day reach the kingdom of God.
As for one's occupation, once we become a disciple of Christ, we must obey Him in all things, and that includes our purpose and calling. When I got saved, I was in the US Army infantry. And the soldier who led me to Christ had recently gotten saved also. So we were two soldiers that the Lord called out of darkness into light, while we were serving in the military. Once I gave my life to Christ, I sought to be a light to those around me, who may have never otherwise seen what a true, Christian soldier was like. I fell short of God's glory and His perfect standard, in attempting to do this, but God forgave me when I repented and I believe He used my witness. When my 3-year military service period was completed, I got out, since that was not my calling in life.
That being said, there are soldiers in the Bible who were saved, such as Joshua, Caleb, David, Gideon, Barak, Jephthah, and Cornelius (Heb 11:32; Acts 10). When a Roman centurion asked Jesus to simply say the word, so that his servant would be healed, Jesus did not tell him he needed to get out of the military. Rather He commended the man for his faith. "Now when Jesus heard this, He marveled and said to those who were following, 'Truly I say to you, I have not found such great faith with anyone in Israel.'" (Mat 8:10). Then He told the man to go, and it would be done for him just as he had believed. "And the servant was healed that very moment." (Mat 8:13b). Moreover, when some soldiers asked John the Baptist -- the greatest prophet ever to live until Christ came -- what they should do, he did not tell them to stop being soldiers. Rather, he said to them, "Do not take money from anyone by force, or accuse anyone falsely, and be content with your wages." (Luk 3:14b).
The Lord also used soldiers in the apostle Paul's life to help him. Roman soldiers rescued Paul from a mob of Jews who were beating and seeking to kill him (Ac 21:31-32; 23:27), and on another occasion, soldiers helped him safely escape from a plot to kill him (Ac 23:23,31-33). A Roman centurion treated Paul with consideration and allowed him to go to his friends and receive care (Act 27:3). The same centurion also kept his soldiers from killing Paul at sea, because he wanted to bring him safely through (Ac 27:42-44). In fact, through Paul's imprisonment, the gospel made progress among the whole Praetorian Guard (Phil 1:13), which was an elite armed force of bodyguards used by Roman emperors. This was a private force of soldiers chosen from among the ranks of the Army, and Paul's imprisonment for Christ was well know among them. Therefore, while I am not saying that all these soldiers in Paul's life made it to heaven, we do see in Scripture many positive things that God did in and through soldiers, but nothing at all about any requirement for these soldiers to leave their occupation.
There are also many different occupations within the military, including office clerks, cooks, photographers, truck drivers, doctors, nurses, electricians, etc, so not everyone is a combat infantry soldier like I was. Being a combatant has its own set of special challenges, since there are some very serious moral issues involved with taking human life, particularly if the war is not a just war, and one’s country calls upon him to fight in it. Down through history, governments have been notorious for engaging in unjust wars and using their military might to commit atrocities, and shed innocent blood, which obviously a Christian should never participate in. So this is why it can be even more challenging to be a military combatant soldier in any country. (Also see Bearing Arms).
No matter what a person's job is in the military, they must never compromise their faith in Christ, in order to carry out the mission or to obey their leaders. This is critical. They must stand strong for Christ in a wicked and perverse generation. They must be a light to those around them. They must perform their service with love and integrity. Everything must be done as unto the Lord, in the name of Jesus, for the glory of God, and with thanks.
Having served in the military myself during the cold war of the 1980's, I understand the serious challenges of being a disciple of Christ in that environment. That's why I would not counsel a Christian person to join the military. But in some countries, it is required for every young man to serve in the military for a certain number of years, such as 2 yrs. South Korea has such a requirement. In that case, they don't have much choice. But if they have a choice, I do not advise it, unless God is specifically calling them to that arena. There will be many temptations and challenges to face, which could prove to be too much for a weak believer to overcome. If you are considering enlistment or reenlistment in the military, then before you decide, please read Before You Join the Military and Reaching the Military for Christ.
Likewise, if someone is already serving a tour of duty that they have committed to, and they are a Christian, they should not assume they are supposed to remain in that career for life, or assume they are supposed to return to being a civilian. They should pray and ask the Lord what He wants them to do, and whether He wants them to continue serving, or accept an honorable discharge when their period of service ends and the time comes to renew their commitment for another term of service.
So one must be led by the Holy Spirit and obey the Lord. If the Lord calls you to serve in the military, then obey Him. If God calls you to be a preacher, then you would have to stoop to be a king.
If you are a Christian serving in the military, one way that I would like to offer to serve you is by pointing you to some resources that will encourage you in your walk with Christ. One of those is my collection of Christian articles at Writing for the Master. In particular, I recommend Eternal Destinations, Seeking the Lord, Working God's Way, and Be Fruitful and Multiply. Another way I can assist you is with our discipleship school, which is an online, three-year, distance education opportunity called Doulos Training School. Please have a look at it and prayerfully consider whether that is something the Lord would have you do. If you are a Christian woman serving in the military, please read Women in the Military.
And if you are serving in the military, but are not a follower of Christ, or you are gone astray from the Lord (backslidden), I want to tell you that He loves you and died for you. He shed his blood for you on the cross, and is calling you to follow Him. Repent and turn to Him now! I recommend reading my testimony of how I came to know Christ in the military, in my article, The Truth Set Me Free! There are also several other excellent testimonies at Testimonies from Budapest and Eternal Destinations. Below you will find an invitation to know Him personally as Lord and Savior.
Attribution notice: Scripture quotations taken from the NASB. The "Not Alone" painting © 2012 Danny Hahlbohm, all rights reserved by the artist. His artwork is available at inspired-art.
Author's Note: I also recommend reading Before You Join the Military, Reaching the Military for Christ, Keeping a Good Conscience, Bearing Arms, The Evil Spirit of Alcohol, Alcohol and Cigarettes -- Ten Divine Revelations, Tattoos and Body Piercing, Drifting Away, Carrying Your Cross or Cross Dressing?, The Lord Healed My Backsliding, Sins That Will Keep You From Heaven, The Cost of Discipleship, Costly Grace, The Origin of Sin, Satan, and Secular Music, The Kingdom of Darkness, Ask for the Ancient Paths, Is Obedience Optional?, Restored Truth, Aim for Perfection, The Straight and Narrow Path, Women in the Military, Rock, Rap, and Reggae Music -- Six Divine Revelations, and Unselfish Hearts. You are invited to view my collection of blogs at Writing for the Master.
Do You Want to Know Him?
If you want to know Jesus personally, you can. It all begins when you repent and believe in Jesus. Do you know what God's Word, the Bible says?
“Jesus came into Galilee, preaching the gospel of God, and saying, ‘The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand; repent and believe in the gospel.’” (Mar 1:14b-15). He preached that we must repent and believe.
Please see my explanation of this in my post called "Do You Want to Know Jesus?"
Len Lacroix is the founder of Doulos Missions International. He was based in Eastern Europe for four years, making disciples, as well as helping leaders to be more effective at making disciples who multiply, developing leaders who multiply, with the ultimate goal of planting churches that multiply. His ministry is now based in the United States with the same goal of helping fulfill the Great Commission. www.dmiworld.org.