HOW TO GET TO HEAVEN
I was born into a Christian home. I’ve been to church all my life, and I was raised to believe in God and to love Jesus. But at one point in my childhood, I remember hearing that not everyone goes to heaven when they die. Not even everyone who goes to church goes to heaven. The Bible said the same thing. I was pretty scared, because even though I was a pretty good kid, I knew I did things wrong sometimes. My father and I talked about it, and it was then that I had a life-changing experience. Since that time, I’ve been able to live with confidence that I am on good terms with God. I know that I have the assurance of eternal life, and I am sure that if I died today, I would go to heaven.
The Bible tells how you, too, can have that confidence. It’s not just a matter of joining a church, saying a prayer, or participating in a ceremony. There are a lot of ways to explain the gospel, the “good news” about Jesus Christ. I believe these are the essential things to understand:
1. God deserves our worship and service.
There is one God, and He really does exist. He is the Creator and Ruler of everything–the whole universe and each one of us. He alone knows everything and is able to do anything He wants. But not only is God powerful, He is also good. This means, for one thing, that God is holy. He is righteous in all that He does, and He rewards good and punishes evil. God’s goodness also means that He is loving, merciful, and gracious. God cares about us, and every good thing we have comes from Him. God has even revealed to us many things about Himself and how we can know Him. In former times He spoke through prophets, and we have His words preserved for us today as the Bible.
The Bible tells us that God created us for His glory. That means that He desires us to give Him all our worship and praise, and to live our lives for His purposes. As our Creator, this is His right, and surely He is worthy of our worship and service. It is astonishing that God would even bother with mortal beings like us. But He gave us the ability to serve Him by our choice, and to know Him personally.
2. We deserve God’s judgment.
God also made us moral beings–the things we do are right or wrong, and we are accountable to God for our decisions. It is a sobering thought that God is just, because justice for us means a penalty must be paid for the wrong things we have done. God calls our moral failures sins, and every one of us has committed sins. We all want to go to heaven, but God cannot allow sin into heaven. The Bible reveals that the penalty for sin is eternal punishment. One reason that talking about God makes so many people uncomfortable is that we can’t measure up to His perfect standard. We know that if we were to stand before Him on our own, we would have nothing to say in our defense.
3. God offers us forgiveness.
The good news is that God has provided a way to forgive sins and allow people into heaven anyway. Even though He was not obligated to, God sent His Son, Jesus, to live in the world. Jesus took upon Himself a human nature and lived among us. While He was on earth, Jesus lived a life without any sin at all, and He willingly died to pay the whole penalty for all the sins of anyone who would believe on Him. On the third day after that, God raised Jesus from the dead, and Jesus appeared to many people. This was proof that Jesus was truly God’s Son, the Christ, and it was a promise that those who believe on Jesus do not need to fear death. Before Jesus returned to heaven, He gave His believers a mission to tell this good news to all people.
4. We must offer God our lives.
What does it mean to “believe on Jesus”? It is more than just believing that He exists, and feeling good about Him. The Bible uses two words to describe the act of belief: faith and repentance. Faith is embracing God’s testimony about Christ and salvation. It is when I see my sin the way God sees it–as my rebellion against Him and His ways, deserving of punishment–and when I see the mercy God demonstrated when Jesus paid for my sin. By faith I believe that Jesus is the Son of God, raised from the dead. Faith is not just mental assent; I embrace these facts as excellent and precious, and that faith moves me toward repentance. Repentance is when I turn from living life my own, sinful way, and start living for God, pursuing obedience to His will. God invites all people everywhere to have faith and to repent, and He promises salvation to everyone who does. Even so, it is nothing we do that earns our salvation. All this is provided for us graciously by God.
The Benefits of Salvation
What we are saved from is God’s judgment. From the moment we believe on Jesus, we can know that our sins are paid for, and God, as judge, considers us “not guilty.” We are now friends of God, rather than enemies. As a believer, I have access to God through prayer, and I can trust Him to provide for me and protect me.
I also look at life differently than if I had not believed. Faith and repentance are themselves gifts from God. God’s Holy Spirit changed my heart; before, I was in slavery to sin, but now I am set free and inclined to follow God. I am a new person, and this is what the Bible calls being “born again.” The Holy Spirit continues to work in my life, so that I am better able to overcome temptations to sin, and can live a righteous life. The name Christian reminds me that the goal of God’s work is to make me like Jesus Christ in my character, although that will not be perfectly accomplished until I am in heaven.
The Holy Spirit also lives in me, to comfort and encourage me, to guide me in finding and doing God’s will, and to allow me to accept the things the Bible teaches. The Spirit produces a godly character in me–love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, meekness, and self-control. The Spirit gives me a greater love for God and man, a greater reverence for Jesus and the Bible, a commitment to truth, and a caution about sin and temptation. When I see the effects of the Holy Spirit in me, it serves as confirmation that I am truly saved. He has promised to keep me from ever permanently falling away from my commitment.
We don’t have to go through the Christian life alone. Other believers are there to encourage us, and as we serve God we also serve one another and provide for one another’s needs. A Christian can find compassion and acceptance in a good church. I have found that there is a special bond between believers–even those who don’t know each other.
The greatest benefit of all is that I will spend eternity with God. The Bible teaches that when believers die, their spirits go to heaven to be with Jesus. Some day, in God’s timing, Jesus will return from heaven and reunite us with our bodies, which will be raised and fitted for eternity. We will be with Him forever in His new creation. The Bible also promises rewards in eternity for the good things believers do on earth.
The Cost of Salvation
While we live in this world, it will sometimes be difficult to live as a believer. There are many personal and social pressures on us to sin, and many people resent us for being Christians at all. We face temptation, hatred, and even persecution. Sinful habits that we established before we believed may be difficult to break. But God gives us the strength to stand firm in our faith, and promises the greatest eternal rewards for those who hold up under trials.
We also struggle with the fact that God sometimes asks us to do things we would prefer not to. This is our failure, not His, since we know that His plan is always best. Our American culture has taught us to live our own lives, and it takes a strong trust to rely on what we cannot yet see. This is where prayer comes in handy, since we not only make our requests known to God, but we can ask Him for the wisdom to see things His way, and for the humility to submit to His will. When we speak of God as Lord, we mean that we serve Him as our master.
God does not promise freedom from life’s everyday difficulties and occasional traumas. But He does provide the joy of knowing Him, and any Christian will tell you that the benefits of being a believer far outweigh the costs. I urge you to consider both in your decision, since it is a serious and lifelong surrender to Jesus as Lord.
What Do I Do Now?
We don’t immediately go to heaven when we believe, because God has things for us to do here on earth. When we speak of “living the Christian life,” or “doing the will of God,” we are talking about a day-by-day commitment to worship and serve God.
In prayer you can communicate with God. The Bible is God’s word and is essential to being Christian in our beliefs and behavior. Christians often have a daily “devotional” or “quiet time” set aside for time in prayer and Bible reading.