Atheist illusionist Penn Jillette once said, “I don’t respect people who don’t proselytize. I don’t respect that at all. If you believe that there’s a heaven and hell and people could be going to hell or not getting eternal life or whatever, and you think that it’s not really worth telling them this because it would make it socially awkward…how much do you have to hate somebody to believe that everlasting life is possible and not tell them that?”
I remember watching him say this on a YouTube video a few years ago and thinking to myself, “Why does it take an atheist to convict me, a Christian, about my lack of interest in telling people about Jesus, heaven, and hell?” It was humbling.
One of the implications of calling ourselves ‘Christians’ is that we agree to believe what Jesus believes. After all, it wouldn’t make a whole lot of sense to disagree with Jesus and still call myself a Christian. Jesus believes there’s a hell (Matt. 5:21-30; 10:28; 18:9; 23:33). Jesus believes there’s a heaven (Matt. 5:3; 5:10; 5:12; 5:20; 6:19-20; 7:21). So which one are you heading towards? Since none of us have ever received a guarantee of how many years we’ll have, it’s probably worth thinking about.
How would I know if I’m heading for hell?
There are numerous responses one could give to this question. Let me list a few:
1) If I believe being a good person will get me into heaven, I’m heading for hell.
Why? Question: how good is good enough? Can you take me to a place in God’s Word where it gives us a quantifiable measure of “goodness” we have to reach in order to get into heaven? How would you know you’ve reached that milestone? Can you point me to a place in God’s Word where it says “as long as you’re a good person, you’ll go to heaven?” It actually says the opposite.
“There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one” (Rom. 3:10-11).
Every one of us is much worse than we imagine ourselves to be. In fact, Jesus himself says, “no one is good except God alone” (Mark 10:18). I’m not even good…at all!
2) If my life is largely characterized by sin, I’m heading for hell.
The apostle Paul writes, "Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (1 Cor. 6:9-10).
I look at this list and think, "no one is going to heaven! I’m guilty of idolatry! I’ve battled lust! I’m prone to be greedy!” When reading these two verses within the context of the entire letter of 1 Corinthians, it becomes clearer. This isn’t just a matter of whether or not I’m guilty of doing one of these things in my life at some point. The issue is whether or not there has been change in my life since becoming a Christ-follower. In the very next verse, Paul goes on to say this list described what they once were. But something has changed. One sign of being a genuine Christian is that you’re seeing progress in your growth in holiness. Growth in holiness is evidence of being on a heavenward path.
3) If my attitude towards Jesus is indifferent, I’m heading for hell.
Definitions are important. The word “indifferent” means: having no particular interest. It’s a stretch for someone to be indifferent towards Jesus and be a Christian. In fact, it’s not a stretch. It’s flat out impossible. Why?
Let’s do a quick thought-experiment. Let’s say you’re married. If your spouse was “indifferent” to you what would that look like? If I had no particular interest in my wife, conversation would likely be sparse. I probably wouldn’t think too often about her. I likely wouldn’t look for ways to help her or serve her. I would also have no desire to know her better than I already do.
Translate this to indifference towards Jesus. Having no particular interest in Jesus would lead to little or no prayer life. My thoughts wouldn’t drift towards contemplating Jesus. I likely wouldn’t look for ways to serve like Jesus served nor would I have much of a desire to know him more than I already do.
Being a Christian and being indifferent towards Jesus doesn’t mesh. Part of being a genuine Christian means Jesus is second to nothing (Luke 18:18-30). Not only would I not be indifferent towards Jesus, I actually would be quite consumed with Jesus.
How would I know if I’m heading for heaven?
1) If I believe I’m deeply sinful and can be saved only by God’s grace, I might be headed for heaven.
The reason for the change of verbiage is simple. Any one of the above puts us on the road to hell. Meanwhile, all of the following need to be true to put us on the road to heaven.
A lot of people believe that if at the end of their lives the good outweighs the bad, they’ll make it into heaven. I’ve already shown why that’s not the case. But here is more:
"For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). We are not saved by our good deeds. We aren’t capable of having enough of them.
I might be heading for heaven, if I believe my “good life” is insufficient to merit salvation.
2) If I believe Jesus’ life and death are the grounds for salvation, I might be headed for heaven.
The following verse is very important to understand what Christianity is really about: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21).
To put it differently, “Jesus lived the life I should have lived and died the death I should have died.” Let’s break this down:
“Jesus lived the life I should have lived.” That is, Jesus lived a perfect life. The standard to get into heaven is a perfect life, not a good life. Obviously, I have failed to live a perfect life.
“Jesus died the death I should have died.” Because I failed to live a perfect life, justice must be done. I should pay the consequences for failing to live a perfect life. But Jesus did that for me on the cross.
If my faith and trust is NOT in the “good” life I’m trying to live, but in the perfect life Jesus did live and the death he died for me, I might be headed for heaven.
3) If my behavior demonstrates supreme love for Jesus, I might be headed for heaven.
In the New Testament book of Luke, there’s a story of a wealthy man who asks Jesus the “million dollar” question: “What must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus tells him to obey the Ten Commandments. The man says, “I have.” Then Jesus tells this man he still lacks one thing. He needs to sell his possessions, give them to the poor, then come follow him. When the man heard this, he walked away from Jesus very sad. He couldn’t do it.
Not every belief and practice is compatible with being a genuine Christian. There are some beliefs and practices Jesus will ask us to leave behind if we want to get on the road that leads to heaven. In other words, there is a cost to being a genuine Christian. The passage from 1 Corinthians 6 above outlines some beliefs and practices that aren’t compatible with being a genuine Christian.
However, when we see evidence that Jesus has become our supreme love, we can certainly be encouraged, we are on the narrow road that leads to eternal life.
While this isn’t an exhaustive list, it’s enough to get a lot of us thinking deeply about a very important subject.