How Does Anyone Get To Heaven?
In another article, we made this statement:
Heaven is a perfect place, and only those who are perfect will make it. It's a place of no suffering, no sin, and no evil. If God were to let in people who had less than perfect records, heaven would become as bad as earth. God would basically be saying that a little bit of evil doesn't matter.
In this article, we'll look closely at the "problem" God had, and the solution he came up with. We'll also see just where good works fit in. And, we'll see how grace makes it possible for everyone and anyone to get to heaven.
Love and Justice
God always does what's right. He never cheats. He never falls for bribes. And He's always concerned with justice. This means that when it comes to heaven and evil, he won't compromise one bit. There will never be any evil in heaven.
On the other hand, God cares deeply about every person who has ever lived. He loves everyone regardless of what they have done, or not done. And He wants everyone to be in heaven. But to get to heaven, people have to be perfect.
So how do people with sin, get into heaven, a place without sin?
We've already seen that doing enough good works won't get anyone into heaven. The only way for any of us to make it there, is if God takes away our sin. We can't do that ourselves. But if God comes up with a plan to remove our sin, then we're fully qualified to go to heaven. The only way that we can have our sin taken away is if it's transferred to someone else.
If you have the debt of a house mortgage, you only become debt-free when your debt is transferred to someone else. If you pay off your home loan, you transfer your debt to the bank, and you become debt-free. If you sell your home to someone else, the proceeds of the sale enable you to pay back the money you owe to the bank. Again, you become debt-free. When your sin is transferred to someone else, you become sin-free.
God offers us this plan: if we trust that he alone has the solution to this problem, then he will transfer our sin onto his son Jesus. Jesus is in effect a substitute in our place. Jesus qualifies for this job for three reasons:
Jesus is completely human, just like us. In any substitution, the substitute needs to be of the same kind.
Jesus is completely God. He has committed no sin of his own. Because he has no sin of his own to worry about, he can take the sin of others.
Jesus is an infinite Person. This is important, because it means he can have the sin of any number of people transferred onto him. If you had never sinned, you would still only be able to substitute for one other person. But Jesus can substitute for everyone.
All God asks is that we accept that no amount of good works can ever get us into heaven. If we come to that point, then we can accept his offer to transfer our sin to Jesus. Once our sin is transferred to Him, our standing before God is "sin-free". It's a legal transfer. God declares that legally, we are in right standing before him. There is no longer anything preventing us from getting to heaven.
This double-transfer is free to us, and without any conditions. Our sin is taken away. Jesus' good standing before God is transferred to us. We give this transfer the name grace. Grace is when we get something good that we don't deserve. Grace is not a wage, or the result of us doing any kind of works. If that were the case, grace would no longer be grace!
No, grace is the completely undeserved good favour from God. God offers grace to everyone and anyone. Grace is what makes Christianity different from any other spiritual path. All other spiritual paths require us to do something to earn our way to heaven. God requires us to simply accept his solution, and trust in him alone.
What About Good Works?
Good works are still an important part of Christianity, but as we've seen, they will never get us a ticket to heaven. Good works should stem from a person's thankfulness to God. If we were in jail, and someone paid the bail to release us, we would be grateful! We would realise that nothing we had done contributed to our release. But, no doubt we would want to show our appreciation to that person in any way we could.
Good works are simply our way of showing our appreciation to God. God is concerned about justice in the world, about the poor, the homeless, the hungry, orphans, and those who cannot defend themselves. When we take on His concerns, we show that we want to join with God in addressing his concerns. This true story shows how God cares about both justice and love.
One day during the Great Depression, police hauled a frightened old man before the magistrate in a New York City night court. They charged him with petty larceny; he was starving and had stolen a loaf of bread. By coincidence, the mayor himself, Fiorello LaGuardia, was presiding over the court that night. LaGuardia sometimes sat in for judges as a way of keeping close to the citizens of the city. LaGuardia fined the old man $10. "The law is the law, and cannot be broken" the mayor pointed out. At the same time, he took a $10 bill out of his own pocket, and told the man he would pay the fine for him. Then LaGuardia turned to the others in the courtroom and "cited" each of them for living in a city that did not reach out and help its poor and elderly, tempting them unduly to steal. The mayor fined everyone in the audience 50c each, passed around his famous fedora to collect the fines, and turned over its contents to the amazed defendant. The hat contained almost $50. The old man left the courtroom with tears in his eyes.
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