Surveys have consistently indicated that the majority of people in the USA believe there is a heaven. Most also believe that heaven is granted based on the good things done in this life. In a survey we conducted at the State University in our town, 53 of the 65 students who responded acknowledged belief in heaven and confidently expected to be welcomed there upon death. 37 of the 53 based their expectation on the kind of life they’ve lived on earth. Only 7 out of 65 professed belief in heaven but were uncertain about being welcomed there.
Consider some of their answers:
1. Do you believe you will go to heaven? Why? Or why not?
- Yes, I am really a loving and caring person and believe that I will go to heaven.
- Yes, everybody does.
- Yes, because I haven’t done anything really bad and everyone’s a sinner. If I’m going to Hell, then probably most people are.
- Yes, God forgives all of us. We make mistakes and learn from them. We’re not really bad people.
- First, purgatory, then eventually I will go to heaven. You must go to purgatory first and work your sins off.
- I’d like to think I will, but I don’t know if I’ve lived my life to deserve it.
- Yes, because I do my best to live by what I learned.
- Yes, I try to do what I feel is right.
- I hope so. I try to do good things in my life. I know I sin a lot. I try not to sin, though.
- I’d like to think so because I try to be a good person and I confess my sins to a priest.
- Yes, I believe that I try to do the right thing.
- I believe those people who try to do what they believe is right will go to heaven. Based on that, yes, I think I will.
- Yes, because I think I do what is right and I live my life as a good person.
- Yes, I am a good person and believe in God.
- Yes, though I am not a “good Christian” I believe that some of my personal values are like the Christian values. Since I hold these values very important, I have done the necessary things to receive passage to heaven.
Did you notice the repeated emphasis? Eternal life in heaven (according to the respondents), is given to those who deserve it for the way they’ve lived on earth. I suspect that most people would think this makes sense — especially if they come from a culture strongly committed to entitlement. I am really not too surprised by these responses. Their answers are consistent with all religious teaching outside of Biblical Christianity.
But the answers from these students are completely opposed to the gospel of Jesus Christ. God did not look down from heaven and say, “What a great group of humans! I think I’ll send my Son to die for them” (See also Romans 5:8). If being accepted with God could be accomplished by human law-keeping, Christ died needlessly! (see: Galatians 2:21). Emphatically, the apostle wrote: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done but according to His mercy He saved us” (Titus 3:5).
But having understood this important truth, consider another question:
- Is it possible that we (in evangelical churches) have so emphasized non-works salvation that we have failed to adequately appreciate the eternal significance of our good works? Asked differently, if we all get heaven as a free gift of God’s salvation, does it really matter how we live on earth? If it does, in what way? Is there eternal significance to our earthly lives?
Connecting earth and heaven:
The Bible makes a clear connection between earth and heaven in relation to the way we live on earth. And although the connection does not affect or influence the eternal security of our standing with God, we must never allow ourselves to think that it doesn’t matter in eternity whether we lived faithful and obedient lives on earth. Of course, faithfulness and obedience are the fruit of genuine conversion, but not all believers adequately understand their connection with eternity. To understand this connection we need to establish two basic points.
1. Future accountability to God – 2 Corinthians 5:8-10
“We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. So we make it our goal to please him, whether we are at home in the body or away from it. For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each of us may receive what is due us for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.”
This is the undeniable fact of future accountability before God (cf. Romans 14:7-12—where once again we find this emphasis on human accountability before God).
“To have the glorious hope of being transformed into the likeness of Christ at His appearing in no way absolves us from responsibility for the manner in which we conduct ourselves now. If our deepest longing is for that consummating moment when we shall at last be transfigured into His image, then it should be our present concern to progress daily, by the grace of God, towards the goal of Christlikeness. Love for the Master because of His matchless love for us should be sufficient incentive for us to follow devotedly in His steps. But there is a further consideration, to which the Apostle draws attention here, namely, that even for the Christian there is to be a day of reckoning. We must all, apostles and the rest, whether living or dead at Christ’s coming, be made manifest before the tribunal of Christ” (Philip Hughes, Second Corinthians, NICNT, 179-180).
“All the implications and consequences of being made manifest before the judgment-seat of Christ will not be known until the day itself arrives; but meanwhile the Christian is left in no doubt that he is regarded by God as fully answerable for the quality of his present life in the body” (Hughes, 182-183).
Although all the implications and consequences of our future appearance before Christ’s tribunal are not known, Scripture is not silent about it:
2. The nature of future accountability to God
Second Corinthians five not only establishes the fact of accountability, it also sheds light on the nature of that accountability. In these verses, we learn of a future evaluation of our present lives and the focus is on “the deeds of the body.” These deeds will prove to be either “good” or “bad” (bad means “worthless” or “of no enduring value”). This will happen at our “appearing” or “being made manifest” before Christ’s judgment seat. But what does this involve?
“To be made manifest means not just to appear, but to be laid bare, stripped of every outward façade of respectability, and openly revealed in the full and true reality of one’s character. All our hypocrisies and concealments, all our secret, intimate sins of thought and deed, will be open to the scrutiny of Christ…for it is only the divine gaze which penetrates to the very essence of our personality: ‘man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7). The conduct of our lives should constantly be influenced by the solemn remembrance that ‘there is no creature that is not manifest in God’s sight, but all things are naked and laid open before the eyes of Him with whom we have to do’ (Hebrews 4:13; cf. 1 Corinthians 4:5). In that day of manifestation both the hypocritical and the hypercritical will be shown for what they really are.”
“’Because much is required of those to whom much has been given,’ comments Tasker, ‘the thought of the judgment seat of Christ has for the Christian a peculiar solemnity. It is not meant to cloud his prospect of future blessedness, but to act as a stimulus.’ The incentive is to Christian living that is marked throughout by complete integrity, both in what is apparent and in what is not apparent to one’s fellow-men, so that the outward, instead of concealing the inward person, corresponds to it. It is only in Christ, through the gracious operation of the Holy Spirit, that this wholeness of being, free from division and dissimulation, can be realized. ‘Let us then imagine Christ’s judgment-seat to be present now,’ urges Chrysostom, ‘and reckon each one of us with his own conscience, and account the Judge to be already present, and everything to be revealed and brought forth. For we must not merely stand, but also be manifested. Do you not blush? Are you not dismayed?’” (Hughes)
“In the light of the ultimate realities of which he has been speaking every genuine follower of Christ should apply himself earnestly to ‘the perfecting of holiness in the fear of God’ (7:1). By ‘the fear of the Lord,’ then, the Apostle does not mean that terror (A. V., Ambrose, Herveius, Beza) which the ungodly will experience when they stand before God’s judgment throne (cf. Rev. 6:15ff), but that reverential awe which the Christian should feel towards the Master whom he loves and serves and at whose hands he will receive ‘the things done in the body’” (cf. 1 Peter 1:17-19) (Hughes).
Relate this emphasis to Matthew 6:19-20: “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moths and vermin destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moths and vermin do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal.”
In Matthew 6:1-18 (giving – vv. 2-4; praying – vv. 5-6; fasting – vv. 16-18), Jesus contrasted those who prostituted sacred acts of righteousness to promote themselves with those who did things in secret as being seen and rewarded by the Father. Motives of the heart appear to be the criteria for judgment. This aligns with I Corinthians 4:5- “…wait until the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of the heart. At that time each will receive their praise from God.” The One who knows the motives of men’s hearts will expose them, and it will be very personal—“at that time each will receive his praise from God.” Yet some also will “suffer loss” as their works prove to be “worthless” (i.e. of no enduring value). (cf. Hebrews 4:12) Perhaps 1 John 2:28 relates to this category. This might also help to explain the difference between categories of “gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw” (I Corinthians 3:10-15).
So in heaven, there will evidently be reward and loss of reward in relation to our earthly lives (i.e. “our acts of righteousness” or “deeds done in the body”). Some of what we’ve done will be of the quality that endures (done for the Lord in secret); some will disappear like fire consuming wood, hay or straw.
Reflecting on 1 Corinthians 3:10-15.
“Every believer is building upon the one foundation that has been laid, namely, Jesus Christ; upon this foundation he is secure for all eternity; but he is to take heed how he builds on this foundation, that is, the day of Christ’s tribunal. The picture used is that of a trial by fire, and the materials envisaged are such as are either destroyed by fire (wood, hay, stubble) or resistant to and indeed purified by fire (gold, silver, precious stones). The Christian whose work abides after the test will receive a reward, whereas he whose work is consumed will suffer loss—‘but he himself shall be saved’ (1 Corinthians 3:10-15).” (cf. Revelation 1:14-17a)
“The declaration of Christ’s judgment-seat is not the ultimate of salvation or damnation; for it is the redeemed alone who stand before it, and their doing so results either, on the one hand, in their hearing the Lord’s ‘well done’ and the receiving of a reward, or, on the other hand, in their suffering loss, that is, through failing to receive a reward. The rewards themselves vary in proportion to the faithfulness and diligence of each individual (cf. Luke 19:16ff).” (Hughes)
Life and service for our Lord is an accountable stewardship of various talents, gifts, opportunities, and abilities. The Lord’s parables stress this truth. Reward and loss are a certainty but their exact nature is not as clear. Evidently, the quality of each person’s work is either temporal or enduring. Acts of devotion done for temporal glory will have no eternal significance. But there will be awareness of loss. I Corinthians 3:10-15 is most likely a reference to efforts at building Christ’s Church. Do we build based on worldly wisdom or Christ and His teaching? In verse 15, it’s the man’s work (evidently in building the church) that could be burned up, while the man himself is spared.
This is “one of the most significant passages in the New Testament that warn—and encourage—those responsible for “building” the church of Christ. In the final analysis, of course, this includes all believers, but it has particular relevance, following so closely as it does vv. 5-9, to those with teaching/leadership responsibilities. Paul’s point is unquestionably warning. It is unfortunately possible for people to attempt to build the church out of every imaginable human system predicated on merely worldly wisdom, be it philosophy, ‘pop’ psychology, managerial techniques, relational ‘good feelings,’ or what have you. But at the final judgment, all such building (and perhaps countless other forms, where systems have become more important than the gospel itself) will be shown for what it is: something merely human, with no character of Christ or his gospel in it. Often, of course, the test may come this side of the final one, and in such an hour of stress that which has been built of modern forms of sophia usually comes tumbling down.” (Gordon Fee, First Corinthians, NICNT,) (cf. the seven churches in Revelation 2/3)
Prayerfully reflect on these Scriptures:
Colossians 3:23-24- “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.”
Psalm 19:14 “Let the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight.”
Final word to those who think heaven is gained by good deeds on earth:
If you have been expecting to be received into heaven based on human effort you have been mistaken—seriously mistaken! Such a thought must be seen as an offense against Jesus Christ. He came and gave His life for our salvation precisely because we were helpless sinners who are unable to rescue ourselves! What have I said? Good works, the deeds done in this life could never be adequate to purchase our eternal salvation—only the blood of Christ accomplished this for us.
So if you thought it was possible for you to make yourself acceptable before God, confess to Him your sin of thinking more highly of yourself than you ought to think. Confess your need of Christ alone to save you from your sins and the eternal judgment your sins deserve. Don’t be blinded by pride and religion! Flee to Christ for salvation!
Final word to believers about connecting earth and heaven:
We Christians, who know very well that good works do not accomplish our salvation, must take the connection between this life and heaven seriously. Do you see the importance of 2 Corinthians 5:9-10? Memorize these verses along with Hebrews 6:10; 10:24-25. Do you anticipate God saying to you: “Well done, good and faithful servant?” The great puritan Richard Baxter wrote, “Live now as you would wish you had done at death and judgment.”
Footnote: On degrees of reward, see Dan. 12:2; Matt. 6:20-21; 19:21; Luke 6:22-23; 12:18-21, 32, 42-48; 14:13-14; 1 Cor. 3:8; 9:18; 13:3; 15:19, 29-32, 58; Gal. 6:9-10; Eph. 6:7-8; Col. 3:23-24; 1 Tim. 6:18; Heb. 10:34-35; 11:10, 14-16, 26, 35; 1 Peter 1:4; 2 John 8; Rev. 11:18; 22:12; cf. also Matt. 5:46; 6:2-6, 16-18, 24; Luke 6:35; 19:17-19.