One day, my college women’s bible study decided to meet in the lounge of my dorm, where I happened to be studying. Their topic for that week was on Heaven and Hell. As I eavesdropped, I heard one of the students say, “I think I’m good enough to get into Heaven.” The rest of the students gave a little chuckle. But, I was deeply disturbed. Did not one of these young women know about grace and that you cannot work your way into Heaven? Should I interrupt and explain to them what the Bible actually says on this issue? Sadly, I did not. Instead, I “chickened out” and left a dozen or so young women carry on a discussion inconsistent with biblical truth about Heaven, hell and salvation. Years later, I still regret not asserting myself into the discussion.
Ephesians 2:8-9 says, “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast.” I grieve the reality that many people, including Christians, believe that they must perform good deeds or “works” to earn the gift of salvation and Heaven, escaping hell. To me, this seems like a miserable way to live, with the questions that would plague your life daily: What does “good” even mean? How good is “good enough” for Heaven, 51%, 66%, 99.5%? Does one significant sin (like adultery) disqualify us from Heaven? What kind of God would torment us with this state of eternal uncertainty?
So, what does Scripture says on this subject? First, it is not possible for anyone to be “good enough” for Heaven because even one sin is enough to separate us from God. Romans 6: 23 says, “For the wages of sin is death...” However, the verse does not stop there, “…but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” Scripture does NOT say, “For the wages of very very bad sin (like murder) is death, but the wages of sin (alone) is death. Furthermore, Romans 2:23 tells us, “all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” We are all in this boat together. We all need the saving power of Christ and nothing else to get the free gift of salvation and Heaven. (For a more in-depth discussion on Heaven, I recommend the book Heaven by Randy Alcorn).
Certainly, Scripture addresses the importance of good works, primarily in the book of James. The Bible is riddled with commandments for good works, including visiting, caring for, and/or defending the orphans, foreigners, widows, and prisoners. And, the second most important commandment according to Christ himself is “love your neighbor as yourself” (Mark 12:30-31). Indeed, my family and I would not have survived the past 19 months of fighting cancer without the kindness and good deeds of so many people, from all different faith backgrounds. Scripture teaches us that our obligation to conduct good works is a result of our salvation, not that we must earn salvation through our works. (Ephesians 2;10).
While we would like to think that everyone goes to Heaven, this is not what Scripture teaches. Christ is the one and only source of our salvation. “Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.’” (John 14:6). Because God also gives us free will, people who do not accept the free gift of salvation in Christ do not go to Heaven. I know this may sound offensive and arrogant to many, but I feel the greater disservice is to withhold this critical knowledge I have acquired.
Additionally, we know Hell is a real place. One of the most tragic stories in the Bible is the story of the Rich Man and Lazarus (Luke 16:19-31). The rich man in Hell desperately begs God to send Lazarus to warn his brothers to they “will not also come to this place of torment.” This story also tells us that after death, we cannot change our minds and accept Christ. In other words, “wait and see” is not an option. Verse 16 in this story says, “And besides all this, between us and you a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who want to go from here to you cannot, nor can anyone cross over from there to us."
When we accept Christ as our one and only salvation, the death sentence for sin is lifted, and our hearts are changed, so that we want to perform good works and tell others about Him. Not that we perform perfectly all the time; we certainly don’t. Even the Apostle Paul struggled daily with sin: “For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do. And if I do what I do not want to do, I agree that the law is good. As it is, it is no longer I myself who do it, but it is sin living in me. For I know that good itself does not dwell in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out.” (Romans 7:15-18). The good news is that there is NO sin that can disqualify us from the free gift of Christ's salvation, if we choose to accept it. “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)
Herein lies the challenge: If you have already accepted Christ as your personal Lord and Savior, but feel you must work your way into Heaven, first know that it is not your fault that you have been mislead. Misconceptions about the sufficiency of grace abound in churches today. If blame is to be placed, its on the church (little ‘c’) and Christians in general. If you are in this position, don’t just take my word for it. I encourage you to read the New Testament yourself.
Of course, none of this will prove anything to you if you do not believe in the veracity of the Scriptures or in the existence of God, or if you are uncertain that Jesus is God. In this case, I encourage you to pray to God and ask him to reveal himself to you in a way only He can, so that you would have no doubt. I believe He will. After all, it can’t hurt, can it?
Finally, I hope you will consider the importance of seeking spiritual Truth as soon as possible. I never expected to be diagnosed with a grade 4 Glioblastoma brain tumor at age 35, with only a 10% change of living past two years, but when I did, I was grateful I have worked out my theology. Before my brain surgery, I had the peace of knowing that if something were to go wrong, I would be in Heaven with Christ. As a side note, I’m now at 19 months post-diagnosis, and doing very well. Thanks to the healing power of Christ and the support and love of many friends and family.