Friday, April 19, 2019

How Do I Get to Heaven?

What do you think you have to do to go to heaven? Do you feel like you deserve to be there when you die? That’s a trick question, as I intend to show. Sadly, many people spend their whole lives trying to answer it. If that describes you, stop. The first thing we need to know, the first element of salvation, is knowing that we cannot achieve it. Nothing you can do will get you there, and you can never deserve the blessings of God (Rom. 3:23).

Our Attempts to Overcome Sin

We all sin, and I am convinced we all know it. I am not saying we know each and every one of our sins, or that we cannot ignore our consciences. But everyone knows that something is wrong with the world, and each of us knows that we have done things to add to the damage.

This is not the place to prove it. I am just going to assume it, because I know I can. At some point, we all realize this truth and we want to try to make things right. God tells us that we cannot. All our attempts are tainted (Is. 64:6). We cannot hope to match His perfection. You cannot earn His love, and you cannot earn His forgiveness. But forgiveness is exactly what we need, or else we have no way to enter His kingdom.

So what are the things you have been trying to do in order to purchase your entrance past the “pearly gates?” Do you spend hours in prayer every day? That won’t do it. Do you give to every charity you come across? That doesn’t pay the price. Do you volunteer your time in service to the poor? Fight for the causes of the oppressed? Join the military to protect the freedoms of your fellow citizens? No, no, and no. None of these things, no good thing you can think of, will make you acceptable to God. You simply cannot match His goodness, which is what He requires to enter His presence.

God's Answer to Sin

This is where a lot of people despair. Some might get part of the way through my explanation and give up because it is so hopeless. If you are reading this, then you stuck around, and I appreciate it. Let me tell you that my goal is not to induce hopelessness. It is simply to suggest honesty. When you come face to face with your insufficiency, that is where you can find your answers. Knowing you are not enough allows you to lean on someone else, which is exactly what we have to do.

Christianity is not about following rules to get to heaven. It is about following Christ. It is knowing that He alone lived a sinless life, but that He was unjustly executed anyway. This death fulfilled His own predictions, as well as prophecies that had been written centuries before His birth (Matt. 20:17–19; Ps. 22:1, 6–8, 14–18; Is. 52:13–53:12). Rather than being His defeat, it became the ultimate victory. Jesus’ death was undeserved, but He submitted to it so that He could be the price for the sins of the world (Matt. 20:28; Rom. 3:25; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Pet. 3:18).

And how do we know that it was victory? Because Jesus did not remain dead. He was raised back to life, showing His power as God and proving that His work as the sacrifice for us was as effective as He said (John 10:17–18). With His resurrection, He opened the way eternal life.

That is the answer, then. You cannot do anything to go to heaven. You cannot earn it, you do not deserve it. But you can receive it. If you believe in Jesus Christ, accepting His death on your behalf and trusting in His life that lasts forever, then you will be forgiven (John 17:3; Acts. 10:43; 16:30–31; Rom. 6:23; 10:9–10). There is nothing else you have to do because there is nothing else that could possibly rise to the level of what He has done for you. That is what we celebrate this time every year. It is what Christians celebrate every day (or should), and it is what I always feel compelled to say (as can be seen in just about everything I write). What else could be so important?

I used a lot of scriptural references here, even more than I usually do. I know that can make reading a bit awkward, especially if you are not used to them. But I think it is necessary, especially in this conversation, to show that I am not speaking from my own authority. These things are not in my imagination. They are part of history, and they are part of the message that God has delivered to us. In fact, they are the most important part of history and His message. Know that and you will find life. It is the only way to get where you will want to be. So here is one more, which is maybe the simplest way to say it all.

“These are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:31).

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