How Can We Know That We'll Go to Heaven?
In my book Heaven I explore the beauties, wonders and adventures of resurrected living with the resurrected Jesus on the New Earth. What lies ahead for the follower of Christ is fantastic and thrilling on a cosmic scale. But as I was writing, I thought how ironic and tragic it would be for some readers to get excited about Heaven, then end up assuming they’re going there when in fact they aren't.
A recent poll indicated that for every American who believes he's going to Hell, there are 120 who believe they're going to Heaven. This optimism stands in stark contrast to Christ’s words in Matthew 7:13-14: "Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it."
The truth is that according to the Bible, we don't automatically go to Heaven. In fact, Hell—not Heaven—is our default destination. Unless our sin problem is solved once and for all, we can't enter Heaven. That's the bad news. But once that's straight in our minds we're ready to hear the good news—the gospel of Jesus Christ. The good news is that Jesus took upon himself, on the cross, the Hell we deserve so that we could experience for eternity the Heaven we don't deserve.
There are two possible destinations when we die—Heaven or Hell. Can we really know in advance where we'll go? The apostle John said, "I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life" (I John 5:13). We can know for sure that we'll go to Heaven when we die.
To sin means to fall short of God's holy standards. Sin is what ended Eden's paradise. And all of us, like Adam and Eve, are sinners. You are a sinner. "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God" (Romans 3:23). Sin separates us from a relationship with God (Isaiah 59:2). Sin deceives us and makes us think that wrong is right and right is wrong (Proverbs 14:12). Sin has terrible consequences, but God has provided a solution: "The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 6:23). Jesus Christ, the Son of God, has loved us so much that he became a man to deliver us from our sin (John 3:16). He came to identify with us in our humanity and our weakness, but he did so without being tainted by our sin, self-deception, and moral failings (Hebrews 2:17-18; 4:15-16). Jesus died on the cross as the only one worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by the holiness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21). Being God and therefore all-powerful, Jesus Christ rose from the grave, defeating sin and conquering death (I Corinthians 15:3-4, 54-57).
When Christ died on the cross for us, he said, "It is finished" (John 19:30). The Greek word translated "it is finished" was commonly written across certificates of debt when they were canceled. It means "paid in full." Christ died so that the certificate of debt, consisting of all our sins, could once and for all be marked "paid in full."
Only when our sins are dealt with in Christ can we enter Heaven. We cannot pay our own way. Jesus said "No one comes to the Father except through me" (John 14:6). "Salvation is found in no one else [but Jesus], for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). Because of Jesus Christ’s sacrificial death on the cross on our behalf, God freely offers us forgiveness. “He does not treat us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our iniquities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).
To be forgiven, we must recognize and repent of our sins. “He who conceals his sins does not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them finds mercy” (Proverbs 28:13). Forgiveness is not automatic. It’s conditioned upon confession: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (I John 1:9). Christ offers to everyone the gifts of forgiveness, salvation, and eternal life. “Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
There’s no righteous deed we can do that will earn us a place in Heaven (Titus 3:5). We come to Christ empty-handed. We can take no credit for salvation. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9). This gift cannot be worked for, earned, or achieved. It’s not dependent on our merit or effort but solely on Christ’s generous sacrifice on our behalf.
You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person, and Heaven is the place. They are a package—they come together. You cannot get Heaven without Jesus or Jesus without Heaven.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). For all eternity you'll be glad you did.
If you understand what God has done to make forgiveness and eternal life possible for you, you may want to express it in words like these: “Dear Lord, I confess that I do not measure up to your perfect standard. Thank you for sending Jesus to die for my sins. I now place my trust in Him as my Savior. Thank you for your forgiveness and the gift of eternal life.”
The How Can We Know That We’ll Go to Heaven? tract can be purchased from EPM.
Photo by Will van Winderden via Unsplash