Can You Know You're Going to Heaven?
Soon you will read in the newspaper that I am dead. Don’t believe it for a moment. I will be more alive than ever before. — D. L. Moody
Earth recedes. . . . Heaven opens before me! — D. L. Moody (on his deathbed)
Ancient cities kept rolls of their citizens. Guards were posted at the city gates to keep out criminals and enemies by checking their names against the list. This is the context for Revelation 21:27: “Nothing impure will ever enter [the city], nor will anyone who does what is shameful or deceitful, but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s book of life.”
Ruthanna Metzgar, a professional singer, tells a story that illustrates the importance of having our names written in the book. Several years ago, she was asked to sing at the wedding of a very wealthy man. According to the invitation, the reception would be held on the top two floors of Seattle’s Columbia Tower, the Northwest’s tallest skyscraper. She and her husband, Roy, were excited about attending.
At the reception, waiters in tuxedos offered luscious hors d’oeuvres and exotic beverages. The bride and groom approached a beautiful glass and brass staircase that led to the top floor. Someone ceremoniously cut a satin ribbon draped across the bottom of the stairs. They announced the wedding feast was about to begin. Bride and groom ascended the stairs, followed by their guests.
At the top of the stairs, a maitre d’ with a bound book greeted the guests outside the doors.
“May I have your name please?”
“I am Ruthanna Metzgar and this is my husband, Roy.”
He searched the M’s. “I’m not finding it. Would you spell it please?”
Ruthanna spelled her name slowly. After searching the book, the maitre d’ looked up and said,
“I’m sorry, but your name isn’t here.”
“There must be some mistake,” Ruthanna replied. “I’m the singer. I sang for this wedding!”
The gentleman answered, “It doesn’t matter who you are or what you did. Without your name in the book you cannot attend the banquet.”
He motioned to a waiter and said, “Show these people to the service elevator, please.”
The Metzgars followed the waiter past beautifully decorated tables laden with shrimp, whole smoked salmon, and magnificent carved ice sculptures. Adjacent to the banquet area, an orchestra was preparing to perform, the musicians all dressed in dazzling white tuxedos.
The waiter led Ruthanna and Roy to the service elevator, ushered them in, and pushed G for the parking garage.
After locating their car and driving several miles in silence, Roy reached over and put his hand on Ruthanna’s arm. “Sweetheart, what happened?”
“When the invitation arrived, I was busy,” Ruthanna replied. “I never bothered to RSVP. Besides, I was the singer. Surely I could go to the reception without returning the RSVP!”
Ruthanna started to weep—not only because she had missed the most lavish banquet she’d ever been invited to, but also because she suddenly had a small taste of what it will be like someday for people as they stand before Christ and find their names are not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Throughout the ages, countless people have been too busy to respond to Christ’s invitation to his wedding banquet. Many assume that the good they’ve done—perhaps attending church, being baptized, singing in the choir, or helping in a soup kitchen—will be enough to gain entry to Heaven. But people who do not respond to Christ’s invitation to forgive their sins are people whose names aren’t written in the Lamb’s Book of Life. To be denied entrance to Heaven’s wedding banquet will not just mean going down the service elevator to the garage. It will mean being cast outside into Hell, forever.
In that day, no explanation or excuse will count. All that will matter is whether our names are written in the book. If they’re not, we’ll be turned away.
Have you said yes to Christ’s invitation to join him at the wedding feast and spend eternity with him in his house? If so, you have reason to rejoice—Heaven’s gates will be open to you.
If you have been putting off your response, your RSVP, or if you presume that you can enter Heaven without responding to Christ’s invitation, one day you will deeply regret it.
Preparing for the Journey
An Indiana cemetery has a tombstone, more than one hundred years old, with the following epitaph:
Pause, stranger, when you pass me by:
As you are now, so once was I.
As I am now, so you will be.
So prepare for death and follow me.
An unknown passerby scratched these additional words on the tombstone:
To follow you I’m not content,
Until I know which way you went.
Can we really know in advance where we’re going when we die? The apostle John, the same one who wrote about the new heavens and New Earth, said in one of his letters, “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” (1 John 5:13, emphasis added). We can know for sure that we have eternal life. We can know for sure that we will go to Heaven when we die.
People who want to get to Florida don’t simply get in the car and start driving, hoping the road will somehow get them there. Instead, they look at a map and chart their course. They do this in advance, rather than waiting until they arrive at the wrong destination or discover they’ve spent three days driving the wrong direction. If you want to get somewhere, guesswork is a poor strategy. The goal of getting to Heaven is worthy of greater advanced planning than we would give to any other journey—yet some people spend far more time preparing for a trip to Disney World. Many books on Heaven seem to assume every reader is Heaven-bound. The Bible says otherwise. I owe it to all my readers to share with them God’s map to Heaven and offer them his Good News.
What You Need to Know and Do
To sin is 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. That’s the first thing you need to know.
Sin deceives us and makes us think that wrong is right and right is wrong (Proverbs 14:12).
Sin has consequences, but God has provided a solution for our sin: “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, 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).
We’re told that “God made him [Christ] who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21). This means that even though we are under God’s wrath for our sins, Jesus died on the cross as our representative, our substitute. God then poured out his wrath on Christ instead of on us. Christ, who stood in our place, conveyed his righteousness to us so that we are declared innocent of all our sins and declared righteous, so we may enter the very presence of God in Heaven and be at home with him there.
No other prophet or religious figure—only Jesus, the Son of God—is worthy to pay the penalty for our sins demanded by God’s holiness (Revelation 5:4-5, 9-10). Only when our sins are dealt with in Christ can we enter Heaven. We cannot pay our own way. “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).
Being himself God and therefore all-powerful, Jesus Christ rose from the grave, defeating sin and conquering death (1 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 meant “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.”
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. . . . As far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our transgressions from us” (Psalm 103:10-12).
Forgiveness is not automatic. If we want 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 established by our confession: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).
Christ offers to everyone the gift 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 in any sense. It’s not dependent on our merit or effort but solely on Christ’s generous and sufficient sacrifice on our behalf.
Ultimately, God’s greatest gift is himself. We don’t just need salvation, we need Jesus the Savior. It is the person, God, who graciously gives us the place, Heaven.
Joining the Body of Christ: the Church
You may think that you don’t deserve forgiveness after all you’ve done. That’s exactly right. No one deserves forgiveness. If we deserved it, we wouldn’t need it. That’s the point of grace. On the cross, Jesus experienced the Hell we deserve, so that for eternity we can experience the Heaven we don’t deserve.
Once forgiven, we can look forward to spending eternity in Heaven with Christ and our spiritual family (John 14:1-3; Revelation 20:11-22:6). We need never fear that God will find a skeleton in our closet and say, “If I’d known you did that, I wouldn’t have let you into Heaven.” Every sin is covered under the blood of Christ. Moreover, God is all-knowing. He has seen us at our worst and still loves us. No sin is bigger than the Savior. If God wasn’t willing to forgive sin on the basis of Christ’s sacrifice, Heaven would be empty.
Jesus said, “Watch out that no one deceives you” (Matthew 24:4). There are countless groups, religious and secular, that will assure you Heaven is your automatic destination or that it can be attained by your hard work and abstention from certain sins. This is false—there is no salvation except by Jesus and his redemptive work.
False teachers can be attractive and persuasive, often quoting the Bible out of context. But they should be rejected because they contradict God’s Word (Acts 17:11). False doctrine is one reason the Christian life should not and cannot be lived in isolation. We must become part of a family of Christians called a church, where God’s Word is believed and taught. You may feel self-conscious around other Christians because of your past. You shouldn’t. A Christ-centered church is not a showcase for saints but a hospital for sinners. The people you’re joining are human, imperfect, and needy. Most church people aren’t self-righteous. Those who are should be pitied, because they don’t understand God’s grace.
A good church will teach God’s Word and provide love, help, and support. If you have further questions about Jesus and about Heaven, you can find answers there. (If you’re looking for such a church in your area but can’t find one, use the address at the end of this book to contact our organization, and we’ll gladly help you.)
To those who presumed they would go to Heaven because they were religious, Jesus said, “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of Heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’ Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you. Away from me, you evildoers!’” (Matthew 7:21-23). Those who assume their religious activities alone will get them to Heaven have a terrible surprise ahead.
Do not merely assume that you are a Christian and are going to Heaven. Make the conscious decision to accept Christ’s sacrificial death on your behalf. When you choose to accept Christ and surrender control of your life to him, you can be certain that your name is written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
Water for the Thirsty
After showing us the new heavens and New Earth, Jesus says near the end of the Bible, “I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To him who is thirsty I will give to drink without cost from the spring of the water of life” (Revelation 21:6). But then Jesus adds these sobering words: “He who overcomes will inherit all this, and I will be his God and he will be my son. But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—their place will be in the fiery lake of burning sulfur” (Revelation 21:7-8).
For those who know Christ, their place is Heaven. For those who do not know Christ, their place is Hell. Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” (John 14:6). There is no middle ground. Either you are a follower of Jesus or you are not. Christ said, “He who is not with me is against me” (Luke 11:23).
The Bible ends with yet one more invitation, suggesting that God wants to give every reader one last chance: “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17). It is Jesus—and Heaven—we thirst for. Jesus and Heaven are offered to us at no cost because he already paid the price for us.
God invites you to come. The church invites you to come. As a follower of Jesus, I invite you to come.
Why would you not come? What reason could be good enough to turn away from Jesus and from eternal life in the new heavens and New Earth? In the words of C. S. Lewis, “All your life an unattainable ecstasy has hovered just beyond the grasp of your consciousness. The day is coming when you will wake to find, beyond all hope, that you have attained it, or else, that it was within your reach and you have lost it forever.”
You are made for a person and a place. Jesus is the person. Heaven is the place. They are a package—you cannot get Heaven without Jesus or Jesus without Heaven. We will explore Heaven’s joys and wonders throughout this book. But we dare not presume we can enter Heaven apart from Christ.
“Seek the Lord while he may be found; call on him while he is near” (Isaiah 55:6). Have you confessed your sins? asked Christ to forgive you? placed your trust in Christ’s death and resurrection on your behalf? asked Jesus to be your Lord and empower you to follow him? Wouldn’t it be tragic to read about the wonders of Heaven, and not end up going there?
For more information on the subject of Heaven, see Randy Alcorn’s book Heaven.
See also: Can EPM recommend any churches near me?