Many of us wonder if we’re really getting into heaven or into eternity. Sure, there are some people who simply don’t care, and live in blissful ignorance or outright denial of the reality that awaits them a few minutes, days, years, or decades from now when this life is over for them. But I think that most people do care about where they will end up, or at least admit it to themselves.
If you don’t call yourself a Christian, then it’s a different story. But if you are one of the millions (even billions) who say that they are a Christian, or at least that they believe in the One True God, then you have a serious question to ask yourself. Are you really a Christian? Are you really saved?
While I became a Christian at just a few years old, I often asked myself if I really was a Christian. I did believe that I was headed into the better place. This is because what I was taught was that as long as I believed in my heart in Jesus and that he died for my sins and rose again, then I could call myself a Christian and that I was going to heaven automatically. Since I did believe it with all my heart, I thought that settled it. I was wrong.
Unfortunately, many people who call themselves Christians are not headed where they think they are. The truth is that just a belief is not enough. Jesus said, “You believe that God is one; you do well. Even the demons believe—and shudder!” (James 2:19). Belief alone is not enough.
What then makes a Christian? What makes a person part of the family of God? Is salvation from hell totally free, or do we have some obligation? If so, what is that obligation? Are there a set of rules? Is our good weighed against the bad? Not quite.
Jesus Christ is certainly required for salvation.
Here is what we know for certain: no person can enter heaven or eternity or escape the fire of hell, without Jesus Christ, the Son of God, to pardon us for our sins. Why? Because even just one sin – anything, eternally separates us from God. Romans 6:23 says, “The wages of sin is death”, and James 2:10 says, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become guilty of all of it.”
This is why God sent His Son here to save us, because without Christ our guilt in the eyes of God would be complete. Thankfully, Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me” (John 14:6).
However, we also know that salvation is not an automatic thing nor is it without anything on our own part, because if it were, then everyone would have to be saved (which is not the case). If, for example as many churches teach, we were incapable of good on our own, then it would mean that God is a cruel God who simply chose some people to enter paradise and some people to go to hell, all for no reason, since no one is capable of doing anything.
We know that this is not true, because God is not a cruel God. God is perfectly just. I do not believe that God would just choose some people to go to hell, because this does not line up with the character of the God of the Bible.
Where are you headed?
So then, how do we know if we are a Christian – that is to say, how do we know that we are headed into paradise and not to hell?
It is definitely not belief alone which gifts you eternal life. It is also not because God just randomly picked out some people to go to heaven and some to go to hell. Therefore, there has to be some merit, and the churches who teach that there is nothing we can do are false teachers who are sending millions to hell.
So then, how do we know? It’s actually quite easy to see if you are on the right path – the narrow path; but it is not easy to admit. Most people live in blindness. Many pastors are themselves blind and leading people in blindness. It isn’t because they aren’t well-meaning. A well-meaning person can give a tourist bad directions.
The truth to see where you are headed can be seen in your reactions to negative circumstances. Ever since I began to realize the truth about the importance of good works on this world, my eyes have been opened and I have begun to see the reality of our broken state.
How does the Bible define a “good” person?
A good person is not the person who is kind to his friends and those he or she loves. Even the most evil people are occasionally kind to those they love. No, you can tell whether you are headed in the right direction by your reactions to being mistreated, stolen from, lied to, abused, injured, fired, burned, cut, wounded, or any other negative thing that anyone could do to you. How do you react to them?
After all, they are evil and demand reprisal, right? Wrong. If you are headed to hell, then you will reciprocate evil with evil. If you curse out someone because they cursed out you, it you get revenge because someone hurt you, if you hurt someone because they lied to you or harmed you in some way, then this is evidence of who you are and where you are headed.
The problem with modern “Christianity” is that it is not Christianity at all – belief is not the sole requirement. Sure, there is a same religion, a statement of faith in God and Jesus God’s Son. This is not faith though. If your actions do not reflect Christ, especially when the other person is really in the wrong or your enemy, then you have proven that despite what you say you believe, you do not truly believe, or you do not even know God.
1 John 3:6 says, “Whosoever abideth in him sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him.”
Does this mean that just because you cursed out that person or intentionally lied about that thing that you’ve never known God? That is exactly what the Bible says. For a long time I had a hard time believing this. But the truth is, that if you had really known God – not just known about Him but really known Him – then you would not behave like that.
Do Christians have to be perfect?
Does that mean that a Christian should never sin? Jesus does say that we should be perfect as Christians. People will be up in arms about this, but that is just because people like to deny responsibility for their actions. It is time to realize that we are accountable for our actions, in this life and the life to come. God requires obedience.
Jesus said, “Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). Does that mean you need to be 100% perfect? What if you make a mistake? Does that mean you are going to hell? Not necessarily. You need to forgive others if you want to be forgiven for your mistakes.
Jesus said, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14). If you want to be forgiven for your own mistakes, you better forgive others. In case it was not clear enough, Jesus follows with, “But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Matthew 6:15).
Forgiving others is critical for Christians.
Jesus’ blood does not automatically cover your sins. If it did, there would be no reason for Jesus to say that you will not be forgiven if you do not forgive. Clearly, there is a prerequisite to forgiveness – you forgiving others.
This is why it is so critical that a Christian forgive. Not only this, but you cannot love without forgiveness. If you say that you love someone, but the moment they wrong you, you remember it and seek ways to get them back, or yell at them, or curse at them, or threaten them, or do anything in retaliation, then you are not loving them. 1 Corinthians 13:5 says that love “is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil”.
If you do not forgive others when they did you wrong, then you are not a Christian and are headed to hell. It is a harsh truth, but if you do not accept it and do not forgive others, then you will be in for a huge surprise when on that great Judgment Day, God says, “depart from me, you workers of lawlessness” (Matthew 7:23 ESV).
Many proclaimed Christians will not receive eternal life.
Jesus said, “Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? And in thy name have cast out devils? And in thy name done many wonderful works? And then will I profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity” (Matthew 7:22-23 KJV).
The next time someone does something that hurts you, take a look at your attitude. How do you react? What do you do? Do you smile and graciously forgive them, even if they don’t deserve it? Do you do something kind in return for their evil? If you do, then you are a true child of God and headed in the right direction.
If on the contrary you react to someone who does you evil with hate, spite, malice, seeking to get revenge and destroy them, “how DARE you have the audacity to hurt ME! Don’t you know who I am? You’re going to regret this!” If you react with anger, rage, revenge, malice, unforgiveness, then you know where you are headed – hell.
It’s not too late – run the race.
It isn’t too late though, but it will take some great effort to overcome. Fortunately we do have a helper, the Holy Spirit who will help us to overcome really bad habits of malice and anger and hate for our enemies. It is not easy, but we do have the strength, and when we are weak God can give us strength if we ask. Do not be fooled though, you are not weak.
God did not make us weak and incapable. Forget everything you learned in church, you are not helpless children incapable of choosing good. It does, however, take true faith, love, and a lot of willpower to choose good over evil. Certainly, spending more time with God in prayer and reading of the Bible will help you to become more like God and less like you once were. But it does take a choice, and not just one choice but daily choices to continue to follow the way of God.
Paul related it to a race in which you never give up; and to run as if to win. “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it” (1 Corinthians 9:24). Why run if we just have it automatically? Of course, salvation is not an automatic thing. We do have to achieve, it is not by belief alone. It is by faith that we are saved; but without works, there is no faith (James 2:17).
Belief alone is not faith.
Do not be fooled, “belief” is not faith. Do the demons have faith? Certainly not, yet they believe in God, and shudder. Just because you say that you believe, or even if you do believe, if you have no works, you are lost.
The works as evidence of faith is not merely volunteering to be a greeter at church, doing good to the people you really care about, but then cursing out the waiter because she messed up your order. No, the type of works that are truly evidence of faith is smiling at the waiter who got the wrong order and waiting longer for a replacement or just accepting the mistake, maybe even tipping her bigger because clearly she is stressed out about something.
Being a good person is not simply performing well at work and minding your own business. It is not just sharing your food with your friend, although that’s a start. It is not just volunteering at the soup kitchen on Fridays or being an usher at church.
If you do many good things but then the first time someone wrongs you, you turn on them like a rabid dog, then it is that which has revealed the true nature of your heart. The wrath a person feels and or if they react with unholy anger and malice when someone wrongs them, this reveals a heart infected by darkness and evil, and is evidence this person is on the path to hell.
The words that malicious person said in church to accept Jesus one day long ago, and even the volunteering as a greeter or usher at church, is not going to save them from their wickedness, because those words they said in church were meaningless when there is no evidence of it in their lives. Then again, the person with such wickedness that they act evil in response to evil is unlikely to been seen helping out at church or the local food pantry; although it is indeed possible they could do these things while still having a wicked heart.
How a person act or reacts when the pressure is on and a circumstance has reached a boiling point will show the truth about their character and the truth about what is really in their heart. Don’t try to think about what other people are like that, think only of if you are like that. Remember, “For in the same way you judge others, you will be judged, and with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matthew 7:2).
Why do self-proclaimed Christians act evil sometimes?
There is another powerful question to ask. Where does this darkness and evil festering in the heart of most people come from? It comes through many means. Influence of evil and angry parents is one major thing that causes a person to grow up with darkness and bad behavior. Another major factor is what a person lets into their mind through music and television.
If you do not guard your heard from evil through music, television, the internet, and even many modern video games, then you are at grave risk because evil will corrupt you and, without you realizing it, you will begin to behave in a similar manner. Your mind is corrupted by that which you let into your mind.
All in all, if you truly seek salvation and truly seek to have fellowship with God and attain eternal life, then you must recognize that your actions have a direct impact on where you will end up. Moreover, especially in situations and circumstances that are unfair and where you have been mistreated, your responses to these situations reveal the truth about the current state of your heart.
There are eternal consequences for a wicked life.
It would be really nice if the churches were right who teach that living a sinful life has no eternal consequences because we are “covered by the blood of Jesus”, and that good works are merely optional. However, the Bible clearly shows that that is completely wrong. In truth, breaking the law on Earth has earthly consequences, and breaking the law of God has eternal consequences. God demands obedience. “Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God?” (1 Corinthians 6:9).
If you really want to be a Christian, you must behave like one – not just in good circumstances, but most especially in evil and unfair circumstances. If you do not behave like a Christian, then the harsh truth is that you are not one. If you are not behaving like a true Christian today, then it is time to turn your life around, before it’s too late.
The day you breathe your last breath, at that final moment it will be too late. It could be a hundred years from now, or it could be 5 minutes from now. No one knows the day of their death, but everyone knows that death is inevitable. So, while you still have a chance, it is time to start being the kind of person that God wants to have with Him in eternity.
Be holy as God commands if you want to be saved.
Of course, Jesus is the prerequisite for salvation above all. After accepting Jesus, you still have a requirement to pursue holiness and put away sin. Be good, be holy, be righteous. Be without reproach. Let no person have any valid reason to speak evil of you because your works show the light of God. Eliminate sin from your life. Stop lying, stealing, hurting, cursing; stop treating your enemies with contempt and malice, stop hating, stop being evil, stop doing wrong and stop doing evil to others even if they deserve it.
Jesus said, “Love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good to them that hate you, and pray for them which despitefully use you, and persecute you” (Matthew 5:45).
Forgive others of all things, search your heart for any unforgiveness and forgive, and forgive everyone for each indiscretion even if (and especially when) they do not deserve it. If you do, then you also will be forgiven for your indiscretions, for Jesus said, “For if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you” (Matthew 6:14).
Start having daily fellowship with God. Start praying devotedly to God daily. Start reading the Bible and studying it as if your soul depended on it – because it does. And once you are a good testimony, share the good news of salvation, which is good news but not easy to live by, with everyone whom the Lord puts in your path to share. Surely, then you will have a place in eternity.