After the dinner dishes were done and they were sitting down to a leisurely evening of coffee, cards, and friendly discussion, the topic turned to religion and eventually someone asked her, “do you think you’ll go to heaven?” “Well, I’m basically a good person.” she responded. “I try to be nice to people and do good. I go to church and give to charity. So, I suppose if there is a heaven, I’ll go there.”....
On occasion within the Armenian community one may hear a conversation like the one described above. Perhaps you have been present during such an exchange. This article will address two different understandings people have about how to get to heaven and analyze them from a biblical perspective.
Scripture addresses two distinct views on how to get to heaven. The first view is that people can do enough good works to merit entrance into heaven. The second view is that people are unable to do works which will make them worthy enough to enter heaven; and for this reason their entrance to heaven must be accomplished by an act of God. Let’s examine what the Bible says about these two views.
You Get What You Deserve
When some people are asked whether or not they will go to heaven they immediately begin to take stock of their lives. They weigh the good and bad that they have done. Upon review, they conclude that the good they have done outweighs the bad and therefore they deserve to go to heaven. Indeed they believe that they merit entrance to heaven.
The Bible discusses how meritorious one must be in order to enter heaven.
From a biblical standpoint, heaven is the dwelling place of God. Therefore to enter into heaven means to enter into God’s home. In one of the most descriptive passages of heaven in the Bible, St. John speaks of certain qualities of heaven and certain prerequisites for entering heaven. In the Book of Revelation we read, And the city (heaven) has no need of sun or moon to shine upon it, for the glory of God is its light, and its lamp is the Lamb. By its light shall the nations walk; and the kings of the earth shall bring their glory into it, and its gates shall never be shut by day -- and there shall be no night there; they shall bring into it the glory and the honor of the nations. But nothing unclean shall enter it, nor any one who practices abomination or falsehood, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life. (Rev 21:23-27 )
The preceding passage illustrates a common view expounded through biblical literature, that is to say, that one must be pure in order to enter heaven. Indeed in the above passage the author does not merely say one must have done more good than bad things. Rather, he says in order to enter heaven one must be ‘clean’ (a.k.a. sinless), and without ‘abomination or falsehood.’ There is no tolerance for sin in heaven. In order to enter one must be holy.
Since the bible tells us total spiritual cleanliness is necessary to enter heaven, we can deduce that even if someone is only ‘slightly’ sinful, he or she will be unable to enter heaven. Therefore the ‘take stock of oneself and determine if one has done more good than bad method’ some people use to determine if they merit entrance to heaven, is seen to contradict the bible. The biblical position is that even if someone carries with them a small sin they are unworthy to enter the eternal habitation of the Lord. Therefore anyone with any sin is unclean or stained and does not deserve to go to heaven.
Bleach for the Soul
When the disciples heard Jesus’ teaching of the necessity for total spiritual perfection in order to enter heaven, they were overwhelmed with the tremendous requirement the Lord was placing before them. The disciples reaction is recorded in Matthew. When the disciples heard this they were greatly astonished, saying, "Who then can be saved?" But Jesus looked at them and said to them, "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible." (Mat 19:25-26)
Jesus’ response to the disciples illustrates the inability of humans to sufficiently sanctify themselves in order to appear holy and blameless before the Lord. Yet, at the same time Jesus assures the disciples that entrance to heaven is still possible for them by divine intervention. Only God has the capacity to cleanse us fully of our sins, and according to the Bible this is just what he intends to do, and is doing, in and through his holy church. Yet God’s capacity and desire to cleanse us and renew us does not guarantee us renewal and cleansing. It is only when we ask for his cleansing that we receive it, it is only when we put our faith in him and place our total trust in him for our salvation that he makes us clean. We who are unjust are made just and good and righteous, not by our own actions, but by his action. Therefore the Bible tells us that it is only when we put our faith in God that he ‘justifies’ us. St. Paul illustrates the futility of trying to do works good enough to deserve entrance to heaven while explaining the means by which we might be made ‘just’ in his second letter to the Galatians, (We) ... know that a man is not justified by works of the law but through faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, in order to be justified by faith in Christ, and not by works of the law, because by works of the law shall no one be justified. (Gal 2:15-16 ) Jesus too spoke of the necessity of faith, explaining that the primary ‘work’ requirement for Christians was to live a life of belief in the Son of God. In the gospel of Jesus Christ according to John, we read, Then (the disciples) said to him, "What must we do, to be doing the works of God?" Jesus answered them, "This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent." (John 6:28-29 )
We are not saved by works, but by faith. Our primary job (or, one could say our primary work), is to remain faithful to Jesus. Through placing our faith in him and dedicating ourselves to living our lives according to His teachings, we come to receive spiritual cleansing. From this new life flows a constant expression of love; for by receiving Christ in faith we are receiving Love Himself. We become conduits for the love of Christ, and naturally engage in works pleasing to our savior. God wants to be with us. When we faithfully receive his son into our hearts he cleanses us, and makes us worthy to enter heaven.
In summary, there are two views of how to get to heaven. The first is that we can get there by doing good works alone. This view is rejected by the Bible. The second view, which is the biblical view, is that in order to get to heaven we must put our faith in Jesus and live according to his teachings. Have you put your faith in Jesus for spiritual cleansing? There is no time like the present to dedicate yourself to the Lord. Why not take a moment now to dedicate, or rededicate yourself, to Jesus as your savior; so that the next time conversation arises as to what one must do to get to heaven, you can respond with confidence that faith in Jesus is of paramount importance for salvation; for the glory of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ together with His Father and Holy Spirit.