Who Will Be in Heaven?

Heaven is as real as potatoes. I’m as sure there’s a heaven as I am that the sun will come up tomorrow. Heaven is wonderful beyond human imagination and will fulfill our deepest longings. It will surpass the beauty of earth because it is new and unspoiled, an uncontaminated Eden without pollution or destruction. We will have perfect, imperishable bodies untouched by sickness or deformity. No one will experience sadness, pain, or loss because blight and evil are altogether unknown. Above all, Heaven lasts forever because our host is God, Himself. Heaven is his and it is pure as He is pure.

The older I get, the more I long for Heaven. William Wordsworth famously complained that “the world is too much with us,” and I couldn’t agree more. It isn’t just that I’m older and weaker, although I am that. My heart aches for right in a world that seems overwhelmed by wrong. I crave kindness, love, and gentleness, but the world seems to praise the rude, arrogant, and godless. I’m weary of headlines brimming with murder and crime, and I’m so done with our society’s ridicule of what is wholesome and pure.

Could those of us who long for heaven be simply creating a dream world? Are our ideas merely the result of poor education and lack of sophistication, the hillbilly concepts of backwoods snake handlers? After all, on every hand brilliant scientists with their astute minds pooh-pooh the existence of God. How can I integrate my belief in Heaven with that? And—can my belief in an exclusive heaven survive alongside the teachings of the world’s other religions? Is heaven even real?

The Bible Teaches Heaven

Yes, Heaven is real. I make that claim because that’s what the Bible teaches. It’s important, though, to understand if what we believe about heaven is what the Bible actually does teach. What many people today believe about heaven is a conglomeration of the Bible, popular culture, superstition, and even other religions. What is it you believe?

The idea of an afterlife seems to have been around as long as the human race. People are fascinated with it. The spark of human personality is so compelling that we cannot imagine this short life will end it. The afterlife is invariably linked to our understanding of the soul, that part of us that surpasses the physical and sustains the human spirit beyond the grave. Common among various religions is the idea that eternity is a place where we will pay for our sins or be rewarded for our goodness. Many eastern religions understand the afterlife as a place where one is in transition from one life to another or as a condition in which we continue to improve or regress.

Most religions teach, in one way or another, that people die in various stages of readiness for the hereafter.

  • Hinduism teaches that you have to achieve perfection to earn heaven. Reincarnation gives each person endless chances to “keep trying” to get it right. This can go on forever.
  • Buddhism teaches that each person can ultimately achieve Nirvana, but that It is neither justifiable or reasonable to believe in an eternal heaven or hell. Meditation, good works, and kindness help each person find inner peace and transcendence from the physical world.  “The wise man makes his own heaven while the foolish man creates his own hell here and hereafter.”[1]
  • Islam teaches that a physically rewarding heaven and horrible hell are real. Allah will compensate the faithful for what they did, or did not do, on earth. The virtuous will go to heaven; those who don’t measure up to the Quran’s teachings, to hell. In other words, going to heaven depends on what you do.
  • Mormons believe everyone will go to some level of heaven, and even that marriage will continue (for those who were wed in a Mormon Temple.)

Fake Heavens

 Today many people prefer to create a heaven with which they are comfortable. The recent flood of books and films that describe near death experiences and visions of heaven have clouded biblical teaching. Rob Bell, who famously founded the Mars Hill Bible Church later said that his book, Love Wins, led to a fallout with the congregation and forced him on a “search for a more forgiving faith.”[2] He now believes everyone will be saved and that orthodox Christianity is unpalatable.

He’s not the first—or the last—of a swelling number of Christians who are moving away from any idea of hell. God is perceived as “too loving” to send people to hell. Besides, any teaching that claims any lifestyle or habit is right or wrong is politically incorrect. I allege that a significant percentage of Christians have utterly abandoned any concept of living a holy lifestyle different from the lifestyles of non-Christians. Their “OMG” lifestyle contains just as much alcoholism, adultery, pornography, and self-indulgence as the rest of society. They ignore or explain away New Testament teaching that clearly labels sin for what it is. Is it any wonder that Christians like this readily follow the idea that what is “justifiable” or “reasonable” takes precedence over what scripture teaches about being a Christ follower? Such believers cannot imagine that they, their children, or loved ones might be excluded from heaven for any reason. They have therefore created a God who overlooks sin. But if God overlooks sin, Calvary was totally unnecessary.

What did Jesus teach?

Jesus said told Martha after Lazarus died, “I am the resurrection and the life. Anyone who believes in me will live, even after dying.  [John 11:25}. He told his disciples that he was going to prepare a place for them so that they could live with him in his father’s house [John 14:1].

 So far, so good. But Jesus also told Martha, “Everyone who lives in me and believes in me will never ever die.” To the disciples he added, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can come to the Father except through me. [John 14:6]. He also warns us, “On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness’” [Matthew 7:22-23] And that is a warning not just for ourselves, lest we deceive ourselves into thinking we are following Christ when we are not. It is also a warning that we not be sentimental as though everybody who is a good person who died is going to be in Heaven.[3]

Here’s the real issue: sin. Neither good works nor being a good person erase sin. Meditation is useful and can bring a more serene lifestyle, but by itself does not take care of the sin problem. God’s heaven is exclusively for the sinless. This is not snobbishness or saying that Christ followers are better than other people. Christ provides a way through his sacrifice. “When we were utterly helpless, Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation” [Romans 5:6-9]. God is just and merciful. His overwhelming love sent His sinless son, Jesus Christ, to forgive our sins. Who could be more forgiving than that? But hear this: rejecting this last and best option will keep you out of heaven.

“If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by openly declaring your faith that you are saved” (Romans 10:9-10 NLT).

Ultimately, I agree with C. S. Lewis, who said in The Great Divorce, “If we insist on keeping Hell (or even earth) we shall not see Heaven: if we accept Heaven we shall not be able to retain even the smallest and most intimate souvenirs of Hell…. There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says, in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’ All that are in Hell, choose it.

 

[1] https://www.budsas.org/ebud/whatbudbeliev/303.htm

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Rob_Bell

[3] From an interview with John Piper https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/can-loved-ones-in-heaven-look-down-on-me

Culture Death and Dying Eternal Life Faith Journey Heaven and Hell Hope

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David Shultz enjoys mountain views in Arizona where he lives with his wife and two dogs, Molly and Maggie.

1 Comment Leave a comment

  1. Dave…I just got around to reading this. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!! My feelings and beliefs exactly! It is just what I need right now. Praise God !!

    Like

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