A movie from several years back declared that “all dogs go to heaven,” but what about people? Do all humans make it to heaven when they die? This is a question many would rather avoid, but the serious student of scripture must be willing to wrestle with this question. Heaven is a beautiful comfort and blessing to be reminded of when facing the end of life, or when grieving the loss of a family member. It is a hope that Jesus and other New Testament writers spoke of to be taken seriously.
So how can we know if we are going to heaven? Many people speak as if everyone will make it to heaven. There is a prevailing though that all you have to do is be born, and then die, and you will be admitted to into paradise. A popular Christian pastor and author declared a few years back that love wins in the end, and that no one actually goes to hell. We all get into heaven. Is this true? Or is this just a twisted lie?
Who should we believe when it comes to this important doctrine? Should we go with our own gut and instincts? We don’t like the doctrine of eternal punishment, so maybe we just can dismiss it. Perhaps you have adopted the beliefs of your family or friends, or a favorite author, speaker, or pastor. Well, what if we listened to Jesus and the testimony of scripture?
Do you believe what Jesus has to say? Do you respect the authority of scripture? Many people in our day and time start with their emotions first and not with the word of God. You can let your emotions dictate your approach to scripture, or you can let scripture dictate your emotions. It may not feel right in your opinion for God to judge someone for their sin for all eternity. It may not seem loving to you, and so we may want to reinterpret scripture and redefine Jesus in light of our personal preference. All of us to some extent seek to create Jesus in our own image. We want him to be like we want Him to be. The truth is that Jesus is just fine the way He really is.
The Jesus of scripture believed he came to rescue people from eternal judgment for their sin. The Jesus of scripture believed that heaven was not necessarily the default destination for all humanity. Christ came to save us, forgive us, and rescue us from the punishment of our sin. Jesus spoke much of love, but he believed that we humans need a very healthy fear (respect) for God. He said, “Do not fear those who kill the body and after that have no more that they can do. But I will warn you whom to fear. Fear him who, after he has killed has the power to cast into hell” (Luke 12:4-5).
Hey, I may not like it, but it seemed Jesus was warning us of our need to repent and seek God’s mercy. The first century Jews had a belief about hell. It was a place of punishment after judgment. It was described in imagery of fire and darkness. It was a place of never-ending judgment. Jesus described hell in these exact same ways. Jesus seemed to believe it was a real place to be avoided.
This is a big part of the reason of why he came. There is an urgency for us to trust Christ. Sin is not a joke to God, but is a serious offense to a holy and just God. God’s forgiveness is real. His grace is real, but we cannot twist it to suit our tastes. His love does not make the reality of hell go away. His love, however, can save us and forgive us when we trust Jesus Christ to be the Lord of our life. We undermine the depth of Christ’s great love when we ignore the peril of judgment. Jesus didn’t come to save us from nothing. He came to save us from judgment. Have you truly trusted Christ? Do you know for sure you have the promise of heaven in Christ? And that’s the Word.
The Rev. David Yarborough is pastor of St. Simons Community Church. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org or 912-634-2960.