At the heart of the Gospel message is the resurrection of Christ and the promise of eternal life in Him (cf. 1 Corinthians 15:1-20).
The concept of an eternal heavenly home is a powerful one, and obtaining this home should be of paramount importance to every man, woman and child alive, making most other matters relatively inconsequential. As Jesus noted on one occasion: “What does it profit a man to gain the whole world and lose his soul? What will a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Matthew 16:26) When one considers that our lives here on earth are temporal, but heaven is forever, we should indeed want to do what is necessary to be there.
Many take for granted that most people will be in heaven. A doctrine of universalism, that is, that God will simply, in the end, save everyone, is quite popular, and a good number of people, even if they do not openly espouse such a doctrine, live as if they believe it. Likewise, and relatedly, many people seem to place their trust, in matters of salvation, in things other than what Jesus told them to place their trust in.
Let us consider briefly, three things that will not, of themselves, get you into heaven.
Firstly, your nationality will not get you into heaven. The Jews of Jesus day had fallen into this trap. They assumed that being a descendant of Abraham was a guarantee of their standing with God, though God had repeatedly warned them otherwise. John the Baptist, as he was preparing the Jewish people for the coming of Christ, preached boldly, “Do not think to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. … Therefore every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:8-10; NKJV)
Several years later, upon another occasion, the apostle Peter would preach the same thing: “God shows no partiality. But in every nation, whoever fears Him and works righteousness is accepted by Him.” (Acts 10:34b-35; NKJV). It does not matter where you are born, or what your pedigree is; God cares how you believe, how you behave, and whether or not you are doing what He has commanded you to do.
Secondly, how religious you are is not a guarantee of heaven. The Bible is full of religious individuals whose religion simply served to anger God. In the book of Amos, the titular prophet was sent to preach to a nation which was very religious. They offered sacrifices to God regularly and had many feast days and religious celebrations. Concerning such worship, God had this to say: “I hate, I despise your feast days, and I do not savor your sacred assemblies. Though you offer Me burnt offerings and your grain offerings, I will not accept them. … But let justice run down like water, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” (Amos 5:21-22, 24; NKJV)
Religion was no substitute for obedience, humility and righteousness. This point is stressed throughout the scriptures (1 Samuel 15:22; Matthew 15:9). God wants us to be religious, but our religion needs to conform to His will, otherwise it is a false religion. Jesus warned the very religious scribes and Pharisees of His day that they were, in their refusal to follow Him, refusing to actually enter heaven, and their rejection and doctrines would keep others out as well. (cf. Matthew 23:13, 15)
Thirdly, how many “good deeds,” you do does not win you a spot in heaven. Make no mistake, God’s saved should, and must, be doing good, having been created, in Christ for that very thing (cf. Ephesians 2:10), but no man can do enough to merit a heavenly reward (cf. Ephesians 2:8-9; Luke 17:10). And when we factor in the weighty consequences of sin into the equation (cf. Romans 3:23, 6:23) we understand why we need forgiveness before ever we can reach heaven. This forgiveness is the gift of God in Christ,; apart from Christ there is no salvation (cf. Acts 4:12; John 14:6). Good deeds, done outside of a relationship with Christ, have no ability to save.
Again and again, God warns us to not rely on ourselves or are feelings to save us, but instead to trust Him in humility, obedience and righteousness. The question we should ask ourselves relative to our eternal destination is whether or not God is actually pleased with us. Too often people assume the answer to be yes, without actually examining what God says on the matter.
At the church of Christ, we strive to study God’s word so that our assurance of salvation is grounded in God’s opinion, not our own. We invite you to join us at 234 Chapel Drive, Gallipolis.
Jonathan McAnulty is minister of Chapel Hill Church of Christ.