FAQ: If Jesus died for everyone, why doesn’t everyone go to heaven?

heavenOne of the most significant objections to Christianity is the idea that ‘only Christians go to heaven’. Not only does this come across as incredibly intolerant, it’s also horrifying for all those who have not come to place their faith in Jesus to save them.

Many have asked why God can’t just take everyone to heaven the moment they die. And in response they’re often told that a Holy God can’t reconcile with sinful human beings unless a payment is made for sin.

Now this might explain the need for Jesus to die on the cross, but it still doesn’t explain why everyone can’t just go to heaven: Doesn’t God love everyone? Doesn’t the Bible teach that He wants all people to be saved? Didn’t Jesus die to pay for everyone’s sins? If so, why can’t everyone just go to heaven?

Here are three things to consider…

1. THE BIBLE IS CLEAR THAT FAITH IS A REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION

John 3:16-17 says… 
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” 

2. THE BIBLE DOESN’T EXPLAIN WHY FAITH IS A REQUIREMENT FOR SALVATION

Unfortunately the Bible doesn’t really say why faith is a requirement. And this can be very frustrating. But just because we don’t understand why something happens, doesn’t mean it’s not true. We experience this in science all the time.

Take Gravitational Force for example…

Gravity Formula

Scientists know that the Gravitational Force between two objects increases as the size of the masses increases. They also know that the Gravitational Force decreases as the distance between the masses increases. They’re even able to use the above formula to calculate the exact strength of the force in newtons.

But there are still many questions that remain: Why is Gravitational Force related to the amount of mass? Why does it decrease as the masses move further apart? Why is it so consistent? Why isn’t it affected by temperature, or volume, or density, or the type of matter? And why are we able to be so precise? It’s one thing to be able to notice a trend, it’s another thing entirely to be able to develop a formula that’s so precise we can use it to put a man on the moon.

Just because something is difficult to understand, doesn’t mean it’s not true.

3. HERE ARE SOME POSSIBLE EXPLANATIONS

A) Passover
In the Book of Exodus, we read the story of the Passover. God told the Israelites to cover their door posts with the blood of a lamb. When the Angel of Death saw the blood, He knew to ‘passover’ that particular house. It’s interesting though that it wasn’t enough for the blood to be shed. It had to be personally applied to each family’s door post.

In the same way, Jesus’ blood was shed for all humanity, but it has to be personally applied to each person’s life. This happens when we place our faith in Jesus to save us. His blood saves us from death.

B) Gift
Just because someone has bought us a gift, doesn’t mean we have actually received it.

In the same way, just because Jesus has bought us the gift of eternal life, doesn’t mean we have actually received it. We must receive it by faith.

C) Ransom
Just because the ransom has been paid, doesn’t mean the child has come home.

In the same way, just because Jesus laid his life down as a ransom for us, doesn’t mean we have come home to live with our heavenly Father.

D) Bridge
Just because the bridge has been built, doesn’t mean we’ve walked across it.

In the same way, just because the bridge between God and humanity has been built, doesn’t mean we’ve walked across it.

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ILLUSTRATION: Buying a House vs Being Rescued from a Fire

DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO BUY A HOUSE

When a person is deciding whether or not they’d like to buy a house, they rarely sign on the dotted line until they’ve made a thorough assessment. They walk up and down the hallways. They map out where they would place their furniture. They try and picture how they might use their house for entertaining guests. They basically weigh up whether or not they want to do life in the house.

DECIDING WHETHER OR NOT TO LIVE THE CHRISTIAN LIFE

In a similar way, when a person is deciding whether or not they’d like to become a Christian, they don’t just walk into a church a pray a prayer. Rather they often want to assess how their life would be different. They talk with other Christians. They try and determine if the benefits of following Jesus outweigh the costs. They basically weigh up whether or not they want to do life as a Christian.

As much as all this may sound right, and there may even be a hint of truth to it, there is one very significant problem with this whole approach…

WE’RE NOT WEIGHING UP WHETHER OR NOT WE WANT TO BUY A HOUSE. RATHER WE DESPERATELY NEED TO BE RESCUED FROM A FIRE!!!

firefighterWhen Jesus died on the cross, it wasn’t so that you and I could find meaning and purpose in life. When He was tortured, it wasn’t so that we could sort out our finances. When He was forsaken by His Father in Heaven, it wasn’t so that we could have a more intimate relationship with our spouse.

Although God does want us to have these things, they’re not the reason that Jesus was crucified. No, Jesus died on the cross so that we could escape the coming wrath…

ROMANS 5:9
“Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God’s wrath through him!”

ISAIAH 53:4-5
“Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed”

Becoming a Christian isn’t about deciding if you’d like to live the Christian life, it’s about recognizing that we need someone to save us from eternal death. 

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A Baby Born with Two Names

Nativity-VectorWhen Joseph found out that his fiancé Mary was pregnant, he assumed that she had cheated on him. So an angel came to Joseph and explained that Mary had become pregnant through the Holy Spirit. The angel went on to tell Joseph that this child would have two names: ‘Jesus’, which means ‘God saves’, and ‘Immanuel’ which means ‘God with us’.

If we are to understand Christianity, then we need to understand Jesus. And if we want to understand Jesus, then we need to understand these two names…

1. ‘JESUS’ means ‘GOD SAVES’.

Many people wrongly assume that a Christian is someone who is trying to save themselves. But actually a Christian is someone who has simply allowed God to save them.

2. ‘IMMANUEL’ means ‘GOD WITH US’.

Not only does Jesus want to save us, He also wants to be with us. As a result, when a person becomes a Christian, the Holy Spirit comes into their life and begins to transform them from the inside-out.

What is a Christian?

So a Christian is someone who let’s Jesus do what He came to do. He came to save us by dying on the cross to pay for our sin. And He came to be with us through His Spirit who wants to live in us and transform us.

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GUILT-FREE CHRISTIANITY: Why good people don’t go to heaven and bad people don’t go to hell

THE LADDERGuilt Free

Many people view practicing Christianity a little like trying to climb a ladder to get to God. They believe that it offers them a way to earn God’s forgiveness and earn their way to heaven.

Some try and climb by living a good life. They figure that as long as they treat people well and genuinely try and do the right thing throughout their life, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Others try and climb by being committed to God. They’ve made a promise to obey Jesus and live for Him. They believe that as long as they stay close to God and always try to obey Him, then God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Many people believe that they can climb the ladder by having the right heart. They know that they fail to obey God, but as long as they never deliberately sin, and are always repentant when they do, then they believe that God will forgive them and let them into heaven.

Some climb their way through religious rituals. Some do it by making radical sacrifices. Some even climb by trying to accumulate a number of spiritual experiences. Regardless, the one thing that all these approaches have in common is that they are never able to get us to the top of the ladder.

The problem with the ladder

Trying to climb the ladder is a nightmare. It will either turn you off Christianity, or it will create people who will turn you off Christianity.

It will turn you off Christianity by making you feel like you can never do enough. No matter how hard you try, no matter how committed, how consistent, how good your intentions, you always feel guilt and shame. The reason that so many people walk away from God and the church is because they are tired of climbing a ladder that can’t be climbed.

It will create people who will turn you off Christianity by producing self-righteous, judgemental people who feel like they’ve got a right to look down on others because they’ve made their way up a few rungs. According to the Barna Group, there’s an alarming number of church attenders who are still trying to climb the ladder. They work hard, they live good lives, they pray, they read the bible, they give generously. But they aren’t humble. They don’t have peace. They aren’t driven by joy. They don’t live the kind of lives that make you want to be a Christian.

Diagram 1

All this leads us to ask if there is some other way…

The real purpose of the ladder

It’s often been said that God would never ask us to do something we’re not able to do. But actually, the complete opposite is true. All throughout the Bible we find God calling people to do things that aren’t humanly possible. The same is true with God’s commands. We naturally assume that because God has given us a command, that He expects us to be able to obey. But what if there is something else going on? What if God knew from the beginning that we wouldn’t be able to climb high enough? What if God gave us commands for an entirely different reason?

The  Apostle Paul explains why God gave us the law… “I would not have known what sin was had it not been for the law. For I would not have known what coveting really was if the law had not said, “You shall not covet.” But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of coveting. For apart from the law, sin was dead. Once I was alive apart from the law; but when the commandment came, sin sprang to life and I died. I found that the very commandment that was intended to bring life actually brought death” (Romans 7:7-11).

God never expected us to be able to climb the ladder. The law was never given to make us holy. Rather the law was given so that we would realize that we are unholy. The law was given to condemn us, not to save us. The more we try and climb the ladder, the more we slip and we fall, the more we realize that we are sinful, the more we realize that we need a saviour.

So when we look at the ladder, there are really three responses. The first is to keep climbing. The second is to walk away from God altogether. But the third is to go running to Jesus.

Diagram 2

What Jesus wants to do for you

Once a person stops trying to climb the ladder and runs to Jesus as their saviour, God is faced with two very significant problems…

PROBLEM #1: THE CONSEQUENCES OF SIN

God has to punish our sin, but does not want to punish us.

SOLUTION #1: THE CROSS

In order to solve the first problem, God had to figure out a way to punish our sin without punishing us. So 2,000 years ago, He sent His Son Jesus to die on a cross.

A lot of people believe that Jesus’ death serves as an example of sacrifice for us to follow. Others see the cross and a great demonstration of God’s love for people. Although both these perspectives are true, the reason Jesus died on the cross was to cop the punishment for our sin.

The Bible says that “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (1 Corinthians 5:21).

All our past sin, present sin, future sin, accidental sin, and deliberate sin was cast upon Jesus while He was on the cross. God poured out His wrath upon Jesus. Jesus was condemned so that we can become uncondemnable.

At the same time, all of Jesus’ righteousness was cast upon us. So that every good thing that Jesus ever did is credited into our account. So although we are still sinful, God now treats us as if we live the perfect, holy, and pure lives.

Cross Diagram

For this reason, we can be 100% sure that we are forgiven. We can be 100% sure that we are going to heaven. Not because we are good, or committed or have good intentions, but because Jesus paid for all our sin in full.

Diagram 3

So the obvious question is this: Can we go on sinning and still go to heaven? This brings us to God’s second problem…

PROBLEM #2: THE POWER OF SIN

God wants us to do good works, but telling us to be good doesn’t work

SOLUTION #2: THE HOLY SPIRIT

In order to solve the second problem, God had to figure out a way to transform us from the inside out. So when a person runs to Jesus to save them, they don’t just get all their sin paid for, they also receive the Holy Spirit.

Bill Bright said: “The Christian life is not difficult – it is impossible… Only one person has ever lived the Christian life, and that was Jesus Christ. Today He desires to go on living His life through Christians whom He indwells”.

In other words, the Spirit of Jesus, also known as the Holy Spirit, comes and lives in us and through us.

So, spiritually speaking, there are really three kinds of people in the world…

1. Unbeliever

Here we find a person who has not placed their faith in Jesus. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) is not in their life, and the person sits on the throne (or driver’s seat) of their life.
Holy Spirit Diagram 3

2. Spirit-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. The Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life and is on the throne (or driver’s seat). He is giving them the motivation and power to live like Jesus. They still stuggle with sin, but they are no longer dominated by it.

Holy Spirit Diagram 4

3. Self-Controlled Christian

Here we find a person who has placed their faith in Jesus. Their life is no longer their own. They now belong to God. But they are not experiencing all that God wants to do in their life. Although the Holy Spirit (H.S.) has come into their life, they have placed themselves back on the throne (or driver’s seat). God is definitely at work in their life, but their life is still dominated by sin.

Holy Spirit Diagram 5

SUMMARY

So for those of us who have STOPPED TRYING TO CLIMB THE LADDER and have RUN TO JESUS to save them, we can be confident of two things…

1. Because Jesus died on THE CROSS to PAY FOR OUR SINS, we have ETERNAL LIFE

2. Because the HOLY SPIRIT gives us the POWER TO OVERCOME SIN, we have a NEW LIFE

Diagram 4

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ILLUSTRATION: Book of Sin

(This is based on an illustration from ‘Christianity Explained’ by Michael Bennett)

STEP #1 – Hold out your right hand with your palm facing upward towards the ceiling…

Book Illustration #1

Let your right hand represent yourself, and the ceiling represent God.

STEP #2 – Now take a book and place it on your right hand…

Book Illustration #2

Suppose this book contains a record of every sin you have ever committed, every sin you are committing now, and every sin you are going to commit in the future. It contains a record of every accidental sin, and every deliberate sin. All the sins you know you committed, all the sins you didn’t even realize you committed. So in effect, the book contains a record of you past, present, future, accidental, deliberate, known and unknown sins.

So now my sin stands between me and God. And the Bible teaches that because God is holy, there is something about Him that He can’t just ignore my sin. He can’t just turn a blind eye. He can’t overlook it. There is something in God that has to punish sin. And the punishment for sin is an eternity separated from Him.

So now God has a problem. He created me to live with Him forever. He doesn’t want to punish me, but He has to punish my sin. So how does God solve His problem? How does God punish my sin, without punishing me? 

STEP #3 – Now hold out your left hand with your palm facing upward towards the ceiling…

Book Illustration #3

Let your left hand represent Jesus. Because Jesus never sinned, there is nothing standing between Him and God.

Now because God has to punish my sin, but doesn’t want to punish me, Jesus offers to take my sin upon Himself.

STEP #4 – Transfer the book from your right hand to your left hand… 

Book Illustration #4

So if I allow Jesus to take my sin upon Himself, my sin now stands between Jesus and God. As a result, Jesus cops the punishment for my sin. This is what was happening to Jesus when He was on the cross. Jesus paid for all my past, present, future, accidental, deliberate, known and unknown sins. He was condemned so that I could become uncondemnable.

Because I allowed Jesus to pay for my sin, it no longer stands between me and God. I have escaped judgement. The Bible says that there is “no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1). I am completely loved and accepted. I am free to enjoy a relationship with God. I can be 100% confident that I will spend eternity with Him.

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ILLUSTRATION: Exam Swap

642559_89524063Suppose that you are just a few weeks from completing your university degree. In order to graduate, you need to sit one final exam. So you clear your schedule, take leave from work, and study harder than you’ve ever studied in your life. The day arrives and you could not have been more prepared. But just a few minutes into the exam, you begin to feel extremely anxious. There is not single question that makes sense to you. You frantically work through the questions as best you possibly can, but it doesn’t look good. In fact, it is a complete disaster. You have not answered any of the questions correctly.

Now suppose you have a friend who is sitting beside you during the exam. For whatever reason, they have aced every question. They are on their way to achieving 100%. And they can tell that you have failed. So in some sort of crazy, unheard of, incredibly selfless move, just before the exams are handed in, they take your exam paper and swap it for theirs. They write their name on yours, and your name on theirs. As a result, you will be awarded a grade of 100%, they will be awarded a grade of 0%.

Now all this is incredibly unfair. But it is not unlike what Jesus did for us.

Our life is like one big exam. In order to become part of God’s family and be given a place in heaven, we need to get 100%. But the fact is, we all fail miserably. We do not love as we should love. We fail to forgive those who hurt us. We are often driven by greed and pride. Even when we do good to others, there is nearly always a hint of selfish motivation hidden beneath the surface. The Bible says: “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…there is no one who does good, not even one” (Romans 1:10-12).

The good news is that Jesus lived the perfect life. Though we completely fail the test, Jesus achieved 100%. Not only that, but He offers to swap his grade for ours. So that if a person places their faith in Jesus to save them, God treats them as if they received 100%. They are assured that they are part of God’s family and have a place in heaven because Jesus passed the exam on their behalf. At the same time, God treats Jesus as if He received 0%. Jesus copped the punishment that we deserved. This is what was happening when Jesus was dying on the cross.

Now again, none of this is at all fair. It is completely ridiculous for Jesus to do such a crazy, selfless thing. But this is how much He loves us.

“God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

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ILLUSTRATION: Birthday Cake

tumblr_m74l4yO4jN1rrh9gto1_500Suppose this year for your spouse’s birthday you want to do something really special. So you decide to make a birthday cake unlike anything your spouse has ever seen. You do the research. You bake some ‘practice cakes’. And then finally after weeks of preparation, the cake is ready for the big occasion.

On the day of the birthday party I come around to your house early to help set everything up. I see the cake and think that it looks amazing. It is by far the most impressive cake I’ve ever seen. In fact, I’m so overwhelmed with how good it is, that I take it upon myself to add my own finishing touches.

I grab some whipped cream and pour it all over the cake. I then carefully place marshmallows all over the top. Then I finish it off by pouring out three large packets of m&m’s onto the cake.

Now of course this whole thing is a disaster. Firstly, it is incredibly rude for me to look at the amazing cake that you’ve made and feel like I’ve got to add to it. Secondly, the cake now looks terrible. In my attempt to add to what you have done, I have actually destroyed what you have done.

The same thing happens when we try to add to what Jesus has done on our behalf.

A lot of people believe that Jesus died on the cross to pay for our sin, but they don’t believe that His work is complete. They feel that they need to add to what Jesus did to make us righteous before a Holy God. So they end up trusting in a combination of Jesus’ work plus their own works to get them to heaven.

And again, this whole thing is a disaster. In the same way that it’s incredibly offensive for me to look at your amazing birthday cake and feel like I’ve got to somehow add to it, it’s also incredibly offensive for us to look at Jesus’ perfect sacrifice and feel like we’ve got to somehow add to it. And just as my attempt to add to your perfect cake actually destroyed it, any attempt we make to add to Jesus’ perfect sacrifice actually destroys His work on our behalf.

There is nothing wrong with doing good works. Christians are called to do good works in response to what Jesus has done for them. But it’s an entirely different thing again to look at the perfect Son of God and His work on the cross and conclude that it’s not enough to save us.

Jesus said: “It it finished”. We need to rest in that.

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