Confusions about what qualifies us for heaven
Every day is 24 hours closer to eternity. How have we been preparing ourselves? Will our decisions on earth lead us to heaven? Will we arrive in heaven poor or rich? Are there things we need to get right on earth first? The Bible reminds us to fix our hearts on heaven and store our treasures there.
God has planted eternity in the human heart. This is why most faiths, including Islam, Hinduism, and Buddhism, talk about an afterlife that is determined by our conduct on earth. The idea of qualifying for heaven can cause some anxiety because we all know we are far from perfect. No amount of striving can truly guarantee one’s entry into heaven.
Ecclesiastes 3:11 ESV He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also, he has put eternity into man’s heart, yet so that he cannot find out what God has done from the beginning to the end.
Our entry into heaven cost God His Only and Perfect Son
There is only one Person qualified enough to guarantee our salvation and eternal life. That is Jesus, God’s perfect spotless Son who sacrificed Himself to pay the penalty for our sins. This is not because we have done anything to deserve this amazing free gift. In fact, it is quite the opposite. God sent His Son to die for us while we were still imperfect, disobedient, and slaves to our own selfish desires. God extended this free gift of salvation to all mankind purely because He is loving, merciful, and full of grace.
Ephesians 2:7-8 ESV so that in the coming ages he might show the immeasurable riches of his grace in kindness toward us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved through faith, and this not from yourselves; it is the gift of God,
The Bible makes it clear that there is no other way to heaven except through Jesus. And there is no higher name in heaven than Jesus’.
Acts 4:12 ESV And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Philippians 2:5-11 ESV … Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
What eternity with God will be like
Anyone who calls upon Jesus to be their Saviour and turns away from our sins can expect an amazing eternity with an amazing Heavenly Father.
- Heaven is filled with only good things | Revelation 22:3 ESV No longer will there be anything accursed, but the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him.
- There will be no evil | Revelation 21:27 NLT Nothing evil will be allowed to enter, nor anyone who practices shameful idolatry and dishonesty—but only those whose names are written in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
- There will be no sorrow, pain or death | Revelation 21:4 ESV He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.”
- There will be no darkness, God Himself will be our Light | Revelation 22:5 ESV And night will be no more. They will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.
- There will be a place prepared for each follower | John 14:2-3 ESV In my Father‘s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also.
- We will live with God | Revelation 21:3 ESV And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God.
- We will see God’s face and be marked with His name | Revelation 22:4 They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.
The only guarantee of our eternity in heaven
The only guarantee we have of an eternity in heaven with God is an active relationship with His Spirit as we continue to live on earth. Ephesians 1 shows that the Holy Spirit is God’s guarantee that He will give us our heavenly inheritance. We receive the Holy Spirit when we:
- accept Jesus Christ as our Saviour,
- repent of our sins,
- are baptised with water in Jesus’ name, and
- invite the Holy Spirit to live in us and give us His new life.
John 3:5 NLT Jesus replied, “I assure you, no one can enter the Kingdom of God without being born of water and the Spirit.
Ephesians 1:13-14 ESV In him you also, when you heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation, and believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, who is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory.
Colossians 2:12 NLT For you were buried with Christ when you were baptized. And with him you were raised to new life because you trusted the mighty power of God, who raised Christ from the dead.
The Holy Spirit comes to dwell inside us to guide us with God’s wisdom and truth, and discipline us by convicting our hearts of sin. The more we follow God’s Spirit, the more love, joy and peace we experience. The Holy Spirit gives us a foretaste of the goodness found in heaven.
John 16:15 NLT All that belongs to the Father is mine; this is why I said, ‘The Spirit will tell you whatever he receives from me.’
John 16:8 NLT And when he comes, he will convict the world of its sin, and of God’s righteousness, and of the coming judgment.
The Bible calls us to welcome the Holy Spirit’s guidance and discipline, and not behave like “illegitimate children.” We are to die to our former lives and “set our minds on the things of heaven, not the things of earth.” Those who live to please the Holy Spirit will be rewarded with eternal life, as we “pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness” on earth. Godliness and preparation for heaven do not happen by accident, they take discipline and intentionality.
Hebrews 12:5-8 ESV And have you forgotten the exhortation that addresses you as sons? “My son, do not regard lightly the discipline of the Lord, nor be weary when reproved by him. For the Lord disciplines the one he loves, and chastises every son whom he receives.” It is for discipline that you have to endure. God is treating you as sons. For what son is there whom his father does not discipline? If you are left without discipline, in which all have participated, then you are illegitimate children and not sons.
Colossians 3:1-3 NLT Since you have been raised to new life with Christ, set your sights on the realities of heaven, where Christ sits in the place of honor at God’s right hand. Think about the things of heaven, not the things of earth. For you died to this life, and your real life is hidden with Christ in God.
Galatians 6:8 NLT Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.
1 Timothy 6:11-12 ESV But as for you, O man of God, flee these things. Pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called and about which you made the good confession in the presence of many witnesses.
The Bible contrasts this with the “sons of disobedience.” God’s Word uses this term to refer to those who choose to live in sin and follow the devil, just like the rest of the world.
Ephesians 2:1-3 ESV And you were dead in the trespasses and sins in which you once walked, following the course of this world, following the prince of the power of the air, the spirit that is now at work in the sons of disobedience—among whom we all once lived in the passions of our flesh, carrying out the desires of the body and the mind, and were by nature children of wrath, like the rest of mankind.
Can we lose our guarantee of heaven? Yes.
The Bible shows that, contrary to some teachings in churches, we can lose the guarantee of eternal life and entering heaven. If we keep on ignoring the counsel of the Holy Spirit and behave like “sons of disobedience,” we will eventually extinguish, or snuff out, the Holy Spirit in our lives. The Bible calls this, quenching the Spirit.
1 Thessalonians 5:19 ESV Do not quench the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit’s presence is often likened to “fire.” Once a fire is completely doused and extinguished, it is dead. It takes renewed effort all over again to rekindle it. Often, we need someone to come to admonish, pray for, and guide us back to God’s truth (James 5:19-20) so that our souls are saved from eternal death.
Acts 2:3-4 ESV And divided tongues as of fire appeared to them and rested on each one of them. And they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit gave them utterance.
Luke 3:16 ESV John answered them all, saying, “I baptize you with water, but he who is mightier than I is coming, the strap of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.
James 5:19-20 ESV My brothers, if anyone among you wanders from the truth and someone brings him back, let him know that whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.
If we continue to live only to satisfy our own sinful nature and keep rejecting the Holy Spirit’s discipline and counsel, we will forfeit our promise of salvation altogether – even if we have experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in the past. Just as any human relationship can be damaged beyond reconciliation, so can our relationship with God’s Spirit. All human relationship need to have healthy boundaries. God has His boundaries too.
Galatians 6:8 NLT Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit.
Hebrews 6:4-6 ESV For it is impossible, in the case of those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, and have shared in the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the age to come, and then have fallen away, to restore them again to repentance, since they are crucifying once again the Son of God to their own harm and holding him up to contempt.
Common confusions about what qualifies us for heaven
No one is foolish enough to give our entire inheritance to people who don’t respect our values or care to listen to our wishes. We will pass on our inheritance to those that do. It is the same with God.
James 4:5 shows that God is passionate about His Spirit that He has placed within us and will not tolerate those who prove to be unfaithful to Him. Otherwise, we will become “adulterous” and God’s enemies. He does not allow enemies into heaven.
James 4:4-5 ESV You adulterous people! Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? Therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God. Or do you suppose it is to no purpose that the Scripture says, “He yearns jealously over the spirit that he has made to dwell in us”?
1 John 2:24-25 ESV So you must remain faithful to what you have been taught from the beginning. If you do, you will remain in fellowship with the Son and with the Father. And in this fellowship we enjoy the eternal life he promised us.
Here are some common misconceptions about what qualifies us for heaven
1. “Once I accept Jesus, I automatically qualify for heaven.”
This is a statement that appears to be true for the criminal who hung crucified next to Jesus. As he recognised his own sins and humbly turned his heart towards God with his dying breath, Jesus promised that he would be together with Him in heaven that very day. For those of us who are not facing imminent death on this day, God will judge us for what we do for the rest of our lives on this earth. He promises to give eternal life to those who faithfully follow Him and seek to do all things for His glory. At the same time, He will turn away those who refuse to obey His truth – even if we call ourselves Christians. God does not follow the labels we give ourselves. He looks at our hearts.
Luke 23:39-43 ESV One of the criminals who were hanged railed at him, saying, “Are you not the Christ? Save yourself and us!” But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are receiving the due reward of our deeds; but this man has done nothing wrong.” And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Romans 2:6-8 NLT He will judge everyone according to what they have done. He will give eternal life to those who keep on doing good, seeking after the glory and honor and immortality that God offers. But he will pour out his anger and wrath on those who live for themselves, who refuse to obey the truth and instead live lives of wickedness.
2. “I move in spiritual gifts so that must mean I have been accepted by God and go to heaven.”
In Matthew 7, Jesus said that not everyone who has prophesied, cast out demons or performed miracles in His name will be entitled to enter heaven. Only those who obey their Heavenly Father will.
Matthew 7:21-23 ESV “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’
This is not because God will not reward those who do “mighty works in His name” that bring Him glory. It is because not everyone who claims to represent God is actually being led by the Holy Spirit. God’s Word warns us against a false spirit in the world, the spirit of the antichrist, that is active amongst Christians and churches today. It spreads deceptive teachings in Jesus’ name that are in fact, “lies so clever they sound like the truth” and performs false signs and wonders.
1 John 4:1-6 ESV Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world. By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God. This is the spirit of the antichrist, which you heard was coming and now is in the world already. Little children, you are from God and have overcome them, for he who is in you is greater than he who is in the world. They are from the world; therefore they speak from the world, and the world listens to them. We are from God. Whoever knows God listens to us; whoever is not from God does not listen to us. By this we know the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error.
2 Thessalonians 2:9 ESV The coming of the lawless one is by the activity of Satan with all power and false signs and wonders, and with all wicked deception for those who are perishing, because they refused to love the truth and so be saved.
Jeremiah 23:21-22 ESV “I did not send the prophets, yet they ran; I did not speak to them, yet they prophesied. But if they had stood in my council, then they would have proclaimed my words to my people, and they would have turned them from their evil way, and from the evil of their deeds.
Not everyone who moves in spiritual gifts is being led by the Holy Spirit. We are called to mature in our faith and always test the spirits, and not believe every spirit, every teaching, or every sign and wonder. Satan uses spiritual power to deceive too.
Ephesians 4:14 NLT Then we will no longer be immature like children. We won’t be tossed and blown about by every wind of new teaching. We will not be influenced when people try to trick us with lies so clever they sound like the truth.
3. “God will accept me into heaven because I contributed to the church.”
Contributing financially or doing good works in Jesus’ name with the hope of “buying” a guaranteed entry into heaven goes directly against God’s Word. Rather worryingly, there are even some churches that promote this teaching.
God has said that there is no other way into heaven except through His Son; we are to believe in Jesus with all our hearts and obey all that He tells us to do. God’s greatest commandments are to love Him and to love people sacrificially, as He does. Doing anything with the hope of profiting ourselves is not done out of love, it is done with selfish ambition.
Matthew 22:36-40 ESV “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
Acts 4:11-12 ESV This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you, the builders, which has become the cornerstone. And there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.”
Philippians 2:3-7 ESV Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.
4. “There is no sin that is eternally unforgiveable.”
Jesus has said that all sins can be forgiven, except for blasphemy against the Holy Spirit. That is an eternal sin that is unpardonable. It is a sin that will keep us out of heaven forever.
Mark 3:28-30 ESV “Truly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the children of man, and whatever blasphemies they utter, but whoever blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is guilty of an eternal sin”— for they were saying, “He has an unclean spirit.”
5. “Baptism qualifies me for heaven.”
Baptism is an important part of starting off as a new creation in Christ. Similar to Jesus’ death and resurrection, we choose to bury our sinful spiritual state and resurrect to new spiritual life through the power of the Holy Spirit. This act alone, however, does not lead to eternity in heaven. After baptism, we are to pursue a Holy Spirit-led life filled with His “righteousness, godliness, faith, love, steadfastness, and gentleness.” That is the true evidence of our eternal salvation.
Romans 6:4,22-23 ESV We were buried therefore with him by baptism into death, in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead by the glory of the Father, we too might walk in newness of life. But now that you have been set free from sin and have become slaves of God, the fruit you get leads to sanctification and its end, eternal life. For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.
James 2:17-18 ESV So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead. But someone will say, “You have faith and I have works.” Show me your faith apart from your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.
6. “Bible knowledge and good works qualify me for heaven.”
Both Bible knowledge and good works are part of growing in our faith and becoming more like Jesus. But let us also remember that any atheist can do both of these things very well too. Without submission to God as Lord and King of our hearts, both these activities lead to nothing of eternal value. God is much more interested in our hearts, then mere works or knowledge.
John 5:39-40 ESV You search the Scriptures because you think that in them you have eternal life; and it is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.
John 3:36 ESV Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
7. “I can turn to Jesus just before I die so I go to heaven. In the meantime, I can do whatever I like.”
Advancements in medicine may give us the (false) notion that we can control our physical resilience and prolong our lives.
God is the One who has determined the number of days of our lives. No no knows our lifespans except God. We can only faithfully live out in honour of God’s will and plans for us day by day.
Psalm 139:16 ESV Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them.
Thinking that we can decide later to turn to Jesus is possibly the biggest gamble we can take on our eternities – one that we cannot turn back from. As Jesus illustrated through the parable in Luke 12, our time on earth may end in 24 hours. Let us not be like the fool who stored up earthly wealth but did not have a rich relationship with God.
Luke 12:19-21 ESV And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”’ But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’ So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.”
How to test if we have a relationship with the Holy Spirit
As long as we live on this earth, we will struggle with sin. The difference is that when we have an active relationship with the Holy Spirit, we will increasingly overcome our fleshly natures and become more like Jesus. We will also live lives that are filled with the fruit of the Holy Spirit; love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control.
Galatians 5:22-23 ESV But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law.
Signs of an absence of a relationship with the Holy Spirit could include some or all of the following:
- A deep sense of loneliness and separation from God
- A lack of joy, peace, and hope
- Inability to have day-to-day conversations with God
- Prayers that don’t seem to “reach” God
- Lots of restlessness, striving, and anxiety in our hearts
- High intellectualism about God, but no real power in relationship with Him
Preparing for eternity with thankfulness
God promises us an incredible “Forever Home” that is filled with goodness and love. Let us ensure we hold on to our guarantee of eternity in heaven, the Holy Spirit, and not quench Him. Instead, let us be thankful and worship God with holy fear and awe, as Hebrews 12 reminds us to. We have a place and a crown of life waiting for us in heaven if we are faithful till the very end.
Psalm 144:4 ESV Man is like a breath; his days are like a passing shadow.
James 4:13-14 ESV Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”— yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.
Hebrews 12:28-29 ESV Since we are receiving a Kingdom that is unshakable, let us be thankful and please God by worshiping him with holy fear and awe. For our God is a devouring fire.
James 1:12 Blessed is the man who remains steadfast under trial, for when he has stood the test he will receive the crown of life, which God has promised to those who love him.
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