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: ABC

simpleWE CAN BE SURE THAT WE’RE GOING TO HEAVEN BEFORE WE DIE

One of the best things about Christianity is that it teaches us that we can be sure we’re going to heaven before we die.

At the crucifixion, Jesus was placed on a cross between two criminals. One of these criminals became a Christian just before he died. Here’s what happened…

LUKE 23:39-43
One of the criminals who hung there hurled insults at him: “Aren’t you the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

But the other criminal rebuked him. “Don’t you fear God,” he said, “since you are under the same sentence? We are punished justly, for we are getting what our deeds deserve. But this man has done nothing wrong.”

Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.”

Jesus answered him, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in paradise.”

HOW TO BE SURE THAT YOU’RE GOING TO HEAVEN

The criminal was assured a place in heaven because he placed his faith in Jesus to save him. Here are the three things he did…

(A) ACKNOWLEDGE: He acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved punishment.
> He did not promise to make up for his past sin. He certainly would not have been able to.
> He did not promise to never sin again. It was irrelevant. He was about to die. He could offer God nothing.
> He simply acknowledged that he was a sinner who’d done the wrong thing and deserved judgement.

(B) BELIEVE: He believed that Jesus was able to save him.
> He did not believe the whole Bible. It hadn’t even been completed yet.
> He did not necessarily understand a lot of theology.
> He did not even understand how Jesus could save him. He just believed that he could.

(C) CAST: He cast his entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands.
> He did not promise to live for Jesus. He was about to die.
> He did not promise to obey. Again, he was about to die.
> He simply bet his life and eternity on Jesus. He had no other option. Everything rested on Jesus.

So just like the criminal, we too can be sure that we’re going to heaven. All we need to do is ‘ACKNOWLEDGE that we are sinners who deserve judgement’, ‘BELIEVE that Jesus is able to save us’ & ‘CAST our entire life & eternity into Jesus’ hands’.

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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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MISUNDERSTANDING: The relationship between faith and good works

One way to consider the relationship between faith and good works is to try and construct a maths equation.

SUPPOSE YOU ARE GIVEN THE FOLLOWING NINE CARDS TO USE…

Picture1

Each card can be used to construct the formula.
S stands for Salvation
F stands for Faith
GW stands for Good Works

MANY OF US WOULD NATURALLY CONSTRUCT THE FORMULA LIKE THIS…

FAITH plus GOOD WORKS leads to SALVATION.

Picture2

The problem with this equation is that the Bible explicitly states that we are saved by faith alone: “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).

AS A RESULT, WE NEED TO ELIMINATE ‘GOOD WORKS’ FROM OUR EQUATION, AND BE LEFT WITH SOMETHING LIKE THIS…

FAITH (ALONE) leads to SALVATION

Picture3

Although this is correct, it doesn’t really give the full story. The Bible goes onto say that once we are saved, we will find that we have a desire to do good works: “For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do” (Eph 2:10).

SO PUTTING IT ALL TOGETHER, WE ARE NOT SAVED BY GOOD WORKS, BUT ONCE WE ARE SAVED, WE WILL HAVE A DESIRE TO DO GOOD WORKS. OUR EQUATION SHOULD LOOK LIKE THIS…

FAITH (ALONE) leads to SALVATION which leads to GOOD WORKS

Picture4

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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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