According to a 2003 poll by Dr. George Barna:
- 76% of Americans believe in heaven, and
- 64% believe they will go to heaven.
- 71% of Americans believe in hell, but
- only 0.5% believe they will go to hell.
As a Catholic in Parochial School, I had always relied on the promise that “Roman Catholicism was the ‘One True Church.’” I was firmly “in that club.” In fact, I was born into it. Of course – we had The Pope, and our clerics even wore white collars. No other religions did that. All of my peers harbored that same confidence.
We did have that little scare about venial sins and purgatory, but that was surmountable, and we still weren't really committing any mortal sins. Our eternal destiny seemed pretty much in the bag.
I remember, however, when I started to doubt my eternal security. It had been a while since I had attended mass, and in those quiet times at night, I recall worrying – look, your acceptable deeds certainly outweigh your evil deeds, so you should be good to go, and if there are some horrible acts, well...no sense in even thinking about that because you can always fall back the “One True Church” thing.
So, I went to confession.
“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned; it's been two years since my last confession”...I never got another word in. The confessional priest reamed me up one side and down the other. It started to feel like Rosemary's Baby. 40 years later, I'm still working off the penance.
But what does the Bible say about going to heaven?
Is man intrinsically good or evil?
According to Dr. Nigel Barber of Psychology Today, “Humans may be inherently good, but we have assembled a horrifyingly long rap sheet over the past five thousand years, and it is not getting any shorter.”
So psychologists believe that we are basically good but with some nasty baggage.
Yet, the Bible holds a different position - it claims that man is fundamentally evil, as Psalm 51:5 confirms, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin did my mother conceive me.” Paul, in Romans 3:23, emphasizes this by declaring, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God..." And Romans 3:10 crystallizes this position “There is no one righteous, not even one.”
Individuals who are even a little sinful can never inherit Heaven. In Revelation 21:22,27, John reveals this standard, “I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb (Jesus)...nothing unclean will ever enter it, nor anyone who does what is detestable or false, but only those who are written in the Lamb's book of life (saved).” God simply will not tolerate evil!
How, then, do we get into Heaven?
In John 3:2, a Pharisee named Nicodemus asks Jesus how to enter Heaven; in 3:5, “Jesus answers, “...unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.” He continues in 3:7, “Do not marvel that I said to you, ‘You must be born again’ The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit.” In 3:18-19, Jesus drives home even more truth “Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil.”
Christ defines the conditions surrounding admission to Heaven.
- Men already stand condemned
- because they love their evil.
- God requires faith alone in the Son of God alone;
- and we must become born again
- with Christ's righteousness, not our works,
- to enter the kingdom of God.
But wait – what about weighing our good and evil deeds? What about God loves everyone unconditionally? What about the club; the “one true church?” None of that is given as a condition. Nada. Jesus could have provided those conditions or others that we so often hear. “Be a good person.” “Just be religious.” “Join a church, any church.” “Ask God into your heart.” He offered not one of those as qualifiers to enter heaven.
There is a club; an exclusive group. In John 14:6, “Jesus said to him, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And in Acts 4:11-12, Luke notes, “This Jesus is the stone that was rejected by you...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.”
Mankind loves their evil; unfailingly, they hate any suggestion of a consequence of their wickedness, especially hell. That's why less than 1/2 of 1% believe they're going there, but they are deceived. And that's why Jesus warns in Matthew 7:21-23 “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven...Many will say to Me...‘in Your name did we not prophesy, and...cast out demons, and...do miracles?’ And then I will declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from Me, you who practice lawlessness.’”
But there is hope. And Titus 3:5 delivers the gospel offer, “He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.”