Summary: Among Christians there is a universal belief that the only way we can get to heaven is by believing in Jesus Christ. If this is all that’s needed to be saved then all Christians will go to heaven, yet, all Christian faiths teach very different doctrines from one another about salvation and what it means to believe in Christ. Therefore, it appears there must be more to salvation than just mere belief, otherwise it doesn’t matter what we believe about the things Jesus taught. This article examines what it takes for us to live in heaven with God.
During Christ’s last supper on earth he told the eleven apostles who were with him that he was going to go away. Thomas, one of the apostles “saith unto him, Lord, we know not with thou goest; and how can we know the way? Jesus saith unto him, I am the way, the truth, and the life. No man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:5,6).
Among Christians there is a universal belief that the only way we can get to heaven is by believing in Jesus Christ, however not everyone agrees on what it means to believe in Christ. The most prevalent teaching is that if we will merely accept Christ as our personal Savior that out of the goodness of his heart he will let us come live with him in heaven forever. And to accept Christ all a person has to do is simply confess with their mouth and believe in their heart that Jesus is the Son of God, that he died for our sins, and that God raised him from the dead. (Romans 10:9,10).
However, the devils also believe the same thing and they even tremble at that knowledge (James 2:19) but obviously they will not be saved in the kingdom of God, so it appears that there must be more to entering heaven than merely confessing a belief in Christ. Furthermore, if this is all that’s needed to be saved then all Christians will go to heaven, including Catholics – both Roman and Greek – every Protestant denomination, Jehovah Witnesses, Mormons, Seventh-day Adventists, as well as many cult religious who all teach a belief in Jesus Christ. Yet, all of these faiths teach very different doctrines from one another about salvation. Therefore, if it is true that all that’s needed to get into heaven is to accept Christ as our Savior then we would have to say that it doesn’t matter what we believe about the things Jesus taught.
This has lead a great many people who believe in Christ to think that as long as they live a fairly good life where they haven’t done anything terribly wrong, and have some sort of a belief in Jesus that God will let them into heaven. However, others strongly believe that salvation is not based on how good a life we’ve lived but on how sincerely we’ve accepted Christ as our Savior.
For this reason there are others who say that we must demonstrate our acceptance of Christ by keeping his commandments. In fact, it was Jesus himself who said, “Why call ye me Lord, Lord, and do not the things which I say?” (Luke 6:46). Jesus illustrated this point when he explained that when he comes again in his glory he will separate the sheep from the goats and he shall say to the sheep “Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And why will they inherit the kingdom of heaven? Because they cared for others (see Matthew 25:31-46).
Then there are those who will argue that none of us can live a life worthy of getting into heaven so God lets us spend eternity with him, not because of anything we’ve done to deserve being there, but simply as an act of grace. These people also believe that those who don’t accept Christ will spend eternity suffering unimaginable pain and torture in a place called hell.
Yet there are many others who can’t accept the idea of a God who loves the world so much that he allowed his only begotten Son to die for our sins who would send anyone to hell forever. This becomes even more evident when we consider that during the many centuries man has lived on this earth, both before and after the time of Christ, there have been hundreds of millions of people who have lived and died who have never heard of the name of Jesus Christ, let alone had the opportunity to accept him as their Savior.
The apostle Paul said that faith in Christ comes by hearing the word of God being preached to them (Romans 10:17) but there are many places on the earth today where the name of Jesus Christ is not allowed to be mentioned, let alone have his gospel taught. For example, in communist countries, such as China, it is a criminal offense to preach about Christ, and anyone caught having a Bible can be arrested and sent to prison doing hard labor. Under conditions like that people are afraid just to listen to anyone tell them about Christ, and the same was true in Communist Russia.
In the Middle Eastern countries where Islam is the predominate religion, both Christians and Jews are considered as infidels and therefore anyone caught trying to convert someone from Islam to Christianity is automatically found guilty of blasphemy and sentenced to death. As a result of these conditions, nearly half today’s world population is prevented from hearing about Jesus Christ, and even if they do hear about him they risk losing their life if they accept him.
There are people who have heard the gospel preached to them and didn’t accept it at first but years later, after hearing it preached on several different occasions, they were finally ready to accept it. This is a fairly common situation, but what about those who heard the gospel preached only once and died before having had any other opportunity to accept Christ?
If Christ came to save sinners (and we are all sinners) and he is a God of love, justice, mercy, and fairness, then some feel it is cruel and unfair to consign people to everlasting torment for not accepting Christ when they never a real opportunity to do so. To them, the only fair and merciful thing is to let people into heaven based on how good they behaved in this life.
But while we argue of how we get to heaven, that’s only half of the story. The other half is, what will we be doing in heaven once we get there? If our goal is to get to heaven, the question we need to concern ourselves with is why do we want to go there? The answer that most people would give is that the alternative is going to hell. Also, heaven is thought of as being a place that is full of happiness, love, and joyful bliss therefore most people would say that they want to go to heaven so they can be happy forever. But why will we be happy there? In other words, what will life be like there that will cause us to be happy?
If God is perfect, will we be happy living in a perfect realm and associating with perfect beings such as the angels? Most of us here on earth would no doubt feel very uncomfortable living under those kinds of conditions. Some have said that when we get to heaven God will change our sinful nature into a heavenly nature in the twinkling of an eye so that we will be very comfortable living in a world of perfect righteousness, but if that is so, then why doesn’t God change us now? Why must he wait to do that until we get to heaven?
Furthermore, if God is going to transform us into a perfect being once we get to heaven then there is no reason for us or God to try and improve us now. Yet all of nature shows that God does his work through a gradual process and that is certainly true when it comes to our growth in living a Christian life. All Christian faiths believe that Christ is indeed changing us a little at a time to become more like him on a daily basis and the evidence of that is clearly visible for everyone to see. Therefore, the idea that we will be suddenly changed into a sinless being once we get into heaven doesn’t fit with reality.
And what will we be doing in heaven that will bring us happiness? The common image people have is that we will spend all of eternity sitting on clouds and strumming harps as we do nothing else but sing praises to God, thanking him for allowing us miserable sinners to live with a sinless God, but is this what will truly make us happy?
The scriptures tell us that when we get to heaven we will have a great reward waiting for us (Matthew 5:12) and the Lord has told us to lay up our treasure in heaven (Matthew 6:20). When we get to heaven what will our reward be and what treasures await us that we ourselves have laid up in store for our arrival? The scriptures also tell us that if we are faithful to the end we will receive a “crown of life” that is promised to those who love the Lord (Revelation 2:10; James 1:12).
Are these crowns literal or are they symbolic? Are they our reward and our treasure, and if so what significance do they have for us? Do people who have a “crown of life” enjoy greater privileges in heaven than those who don’t, and if so, what are those extra privileges?
Jesus further revealed that those who endure to the end will sit with him on his throne (Revelation 3:21) and shall be made priests and kings to reign on the earth (Revelation 5:10). That seems to indicate that some in heaven will literally wear crowns and sit on thrones and rule with Christ as kings, but over whom will they rule and what will they be doing as kings? Hardly any Christian believer has an explanation of what these scriptures mean and how it relates to what we will be doing in heaven, and yet everyone is anxious to get to a place they know nothing about.
But there is yet another important question for us to consider which is, why does God want us to be with him in heaven? He had a purpose in creating us in the first place so he must have a purpose for wanting us to live with him in heaven. Is that purpose simply to have people singing praises to him throughout all of eternity? And if so, then why does he need so many of us humans singing praises to him? Doesn’t he have enough angels who can do that?
All of scripture and nature shows God as being someone who is extremely wise and intelligent and who has a grand, marvelous design to all that he does. Furthermore, the scriptures tell us that God designed our salvation before the earth was even created (Ephesians 1:4; 1 Peter 1:20), therefore God must have a grand, marvelous reason for wanting us to spend eternity with him. In fact, this plan was so important to him that he sent his only begotten Son to die in order to save us into his kingdom. So, the real question is, what is God’s plan for us once we get to heaven?
Jesus commanded us to “be ye therefore perfect even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:49) but what did he mean by that? Paul explained that we are to be perfect in holiness (2 Corinthians 7:1). The scriptures tell that God is holy, that Christ is holy, that the angles are holy, that the apostles and prophets are holy, and that the law of God is holy. God determined before the foundation of the world was ever laid that we too should become “holy and without blame before him in love” (Ephesians1:4). Furthermore, the apostle Paul told us that we should strive to present our bodies “a living sacrifice, holy [and] acceptable unto God” (Romans 12:1).
To become perfect means to become holy, which is another term for being righteous. Therefore, God’s plan for us is to become as holy as Christ and the angels so that we can join “the general assembly and church of the firstborn… and the spirits of [all the other] just men [who were] made perfect” (Hebrews 12:23). The very purpose why Christ established his church with prophets, apostles, evangelists, pastors, and teachers is “for the perfecting of the saints” (Ephesians 4:12) so that every man may become perfect in Christ (Colossians 1:28).
But how do we become perfect? Paul said that we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and the spirit and in this way we will perfect our holiness before God (2 Corinthians 7:1). He further said that “whoso keepeth his word, in him is the love of God perfected [and] hereby [we] know that we are in him” (1 John 3:24). The apostle John wrote that “if we love one another, God dwelleth in us and his love is perfected in us” (1 John 4:12). The author of Hebrews tells us that the God of peace, who brought the Lord Jesus from the dead shall “make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight” (Hebrews 13:21,21).
If God, Christ, and the angels are all perfect and holy then the only way we can live with them is to become as perfect and holy as they are. Thus, this was God’s plan for us from the beginning and he does that by helping us eliminate all filthiness from our thoughts and behavior, and we learn how to do that by keeping his word. This is why Jesus said, “If you love me, keep my commandments” (John 14:15). It’s obvious that if we want to live in heaven with Jesus then we have to want to be with him, and to do that we have to first love him. And the way we show that we love him is by doing what he asks of us.
Paul said that he had not attained perfection but that he was following after it in the hope of apprehending it (Philippians 3:12). As a result of his desire to follow after Christ he looked forward to being in heaven. But those who have just a casual belief in Jesus, or no belief at all in him, will not find living in heaven to be a very pleasant experience. Only those who have gained a close, personal relationship with Christ and have come to love him to the point where they want to do whatever he asks of them will find true joy and happiness living with him forever.
Perhaps we can understand this principle by looking at a familiar situation. There are people who work at a job where they make good money but they hate what they do. Every morning they dread getting up and going to work but they do it because of the money they make, and they eagerly look forward to the weekends and holidays just so that they don’t have to go in to work. Yet, even though they hate their job, they can’t quit because they can’t make as much money working anywhere else. In a situation like this they are miserable.
Now imagine if they had to work at this job 24 hours a day, every day for the rest of their life with no weekends or holidays off. Now further imagine that everyone they work with is happy being there. That would make them feel even worse. That’s what living in heaven would be like for those who don’t have a deep love and commitment to Christ. They don’t want to live in hell but they are miserable living in heaven.
Christ has paid the penalty for the sins of every man, woman, and child who has ever lived on earth or who will ever live on earth. That means all of us have had our sins forgiven, but that doesn’t mean that any of us are ready yet to live in heaven. So that we can be prepared to live there, Christ offers to help us to become perfect and holy as he is, but we must be willing to let him help us. The way we do that is by striving to keep the commandments he gives us, and when we sincerely strive to do that is when we find ourselves gradually becoming more and more like Christ. When people like that get to heaven they may not be totally and completely holy and perfect but they will still find joy in continuing to grow in becoming more and more righteous.
Because Jesus became perfect, “he became the author of eternal salvation unto all them that obey him” (Hebrew 5:9). Jesus also taught his disciples to pray to the Father saying “They kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matthew 6:10). In heaven, whatever God says he wants done is immediately carried out. Jesus came to earth and did nothing except that which his Father told him to do. In other words, he was totally obedient to his father, and he will grant eternal salvation to all those who likewise are willing to obey him.
In heaven the angels never hesitate to do what they are told, and if we want to live in heaven then that’s what will be expected of us we well. Those who are not willing to do God’s will here on earth as it is done in heaven will quickly find that living in heaven will not be a very pleasant experience, and the scriptures are replete with stories of what God’s wrath is like towards those who disobey him.
But what will we be doing when we get to heaven? Paul wrote that “love is the fulfilling of the law” (Romans 13:10). As has already been discussed, those whom Jesus will take with him into heaven are those who have clothed the naked, comforted the sick, visited those in prison, and cared for the widows. It is those who have given their life in the service of others. Jesus taught that all the commandments can be summed up into one of two categories – love God with all of your heart, and love your neighbor as yourself (Matthew 22:37, 39,40).
To live in heaven we must not only love God with all of our heart but we must also love others as God does. But that love towards both God and man doesn’t apply just to our life here on earth. It is unimaginable that once we get to heaven that we will no longer need to love our fellowman. God isn’t teaching us to love as he does only to have it become meaningless once we get to heaven. Therefore, it is obvious that we are being prepared for something more glorious once we get to heaven, and love must be a very important part of what we will be doing there.
Jesus talked about the “kingdom of God” and every kingdom has to have a king. As has already been pointed out, the scriptures say that we will wear a crown of life and that we will be made kings and priests unto Christ and sit with him on his throne to reign with him. Jesus is a king but he is a kind and merciful king. If we are to become kings ourselves and reign with him then we too must learn to rule in kindness and mercy.
The scriptures don’t tell us who we will be ruling over but the scriptures do tell us that the time will come when this earth will pass away and there will be a new heaven and a new earth wherein the righteous will dwell (2 Peter 3:13). Will that be the end of God’s work with man or will he start a new project where man will play a significant role in it? Without further revelation as found in the Bible we can only speculate about that, but we know that God isn’t preparing man to live in heaven just so he can sit around forever doing nothing. Everything we know about God tells us that he designs great, magnificent plans and there is no reason to believe that he will ever stop doing that once we get to heaven.
But there is another reason why it is absolutely crucial to believe in Christ in order to get into heaven. Paul explained, “For whether we live, we live unto the Lord; and whether we die, we die unto the Lord: whether we live therefore, or die, we are the Lord’s. For to this end Christ both died, and rose, and revived, that he might be Lord both of the dead and living. But why dost thou judge thy brother? or why dost thou set at nought thy brother? for we shall all stand before the judgment seat of Christ. For it is written, As I live, saith the Lord, every knee shall bow to me, and every tongue shall confess to God” (Romans 14:8-11).
Whether we live or die we are the Lord’s, meaning that he owns us. The reason why Christ died and rose from the dead is so that he may be the Lord, Master, and King over everyone, and that includes both the living and the dead. In the end, every knee will bow before him and every tongue will confess that he is their king, but for that to happen everyone will have to have the opportunity at some point, whether it’s in this life or in the life after death, to either accept Christ and pledge their allegiance and loyalty to him or to reject his offer.
But just because everyone will acknowledge Christ as their king doesn’t mean that everyone will be obedient to him. A person can grudgingly recognize the authority of a king without being willing to obey him. Living a morally clean life, being kind to others, donating time and money to worthy causes and even attending church are all good character traits but only those whose desire is to serve Christ will be worthy of going to heaven. It takes having so much love for him that we are willing to voluntarily submit our will to his and devote our life to doing whatever he asks of us for all of eternity.
These are the type of people who will be going to heaven.
Related articles can be found at The Nature of Salvation