The Promise of Heaven Frees Us
Knowing that there are specific consequences to everything we say, think, and do provides plenty of reason to do good. It’s possible, however, for the promise of heaven alone to motivate us to want to be good. That God has promised you heaven means that He lovesyou. You couldn’t ask for a more concrete expression of love from your Maker than eternity in heaven. Plus, the promise of heaven means He believes in you. He’s trusted you with freedom here on earth and regardless of what you choose, He has chosen to spend the rest of His life with you in heaven. The more we perceive this love He has toward us and this trust He places in us, the more we can be inspired to live as He does: virtuously. In fact, nothing could be more motivating than having this heavenly dad pulling for us! Let’s think through the implications of His commitment to us.
Heaven Doesn’t Have To Be Earned
God has placed a safety net under your life here. No matter how bad you mess up, no matter how much you displease Him, you have a home to come to when life here is over. That’s an unconditional love we’re not normally accustomed to receiving. We are more accustomed to people pulling for us when we’re measuring up to their expectations, and withdrawing their support when they’re displeased with our performance. God, however, has promised His support no matter what our performance. He will not always spare us the consequences of our sins, but nothing can keep us from heaven – His home and ours. With this safety net you can give the high wire of life a real try. The confidence of knowing a fall won’t be disastrous allows you to focus less on falling and more on walking.
Remaining in doubt about whether or not you’re loved makes for a hard life. When you feel unloved you are constantly striving, and never sure if you’re achieving the love you crave. When you do feel loved, however, it brings a security to your life that allows you to be kind and selfless with others. You are secure because of the love that you know God has for you. You do not have to earn heaven – God has chosen freely to give it to you. Since you don’t have to earn it, you can stop the endless striving.
Heaven doesn’t have to be earned by anyone else either. When life here is over, all will be forgiven. There will be an accounting when we go to heaven, but it won’t require anyone to be kicked out. God can be offended, but He won’t stay mad forever. We need to remember this in all our dealings with others. If God doesn’t hold grudges, what right do we have to be unforgiving?
I know that people can do some pretty miserable things to each other. It’s possible that you yourself have been treated in some wrongful, or even unthinkably wrongful, way. But consider this: if you start shutting the door of heaven on people who’ve been mean, where are you going to stop? Have you ever been mean? I’m ashamed to say that I have. Who’s to say which meanness is forgivable and which isn’t? It’s hard to be a good judge when you’re personally involved. Since, however, God is willing to let rascals like you and me into heaven, we’d better start looking at everyone else with different eyes: eyes that see all people on their way to heaven.
There are rewards in heaven, but heaven itself isn’t a reward. It’s a present. Presents aren’t earned; they’re freely given. We don’t give children presents on their birthdays because of their goodness, but because of their very existence. God gives heaven for exactly the same reason: we need a place to live after we leave here. Once we realize we’re all house guests of the same Host, it causes us to have a better attitude toward each other – or at least it should.
Death Doesn’t Have To Be Feared
There is no longer any reason to be afraid of dying. Not that we want to rush things. We’ll go when it’s time. But like the end of summer camp, it’s not the end of the world. If we think this life is all there is, then the most important thing to us is extending it. Once we know, however, that there’s plenty more life where this first one came from, then we can focus on more important things – like love, integrity, and honor.
We should never lose a healthy fear of premature departure from the earth. We don’t want to leave here having failed to make sufficient positive impact. How many years will we have here? It’s hard for us to say. For Methuselah it was 969; for Jesus it was 33. Paul survived a stoning, but Stephen didn’t. There are lots of factors that determine our appropriate time. All other things being equal, though, do good and you’ll live longer. Just remember that the goal of living longer isn’t to live longer, but to do more good.
And while we’re shedding our fear of death, let’s shed it where others are concerned, too. Your loved ones who’ve died will be waiting for a reunion. You’ve only been parted from them for a time. This doesn’t mean it’s inappropriate to grieve when someone you care about has died, but know what you’re grieving about. You’re not grieving because they’ve ceased to exist and you’ll never see them again. You’re grieving because you won’t see them for a while. You’re grieving because the earth, including you, will miss the good they did. Or maybe you’re grieving because they lived terribly and brought death on themselves. There are all sorts of reasons you might grieve, but there is also a reason to hope through it all.
You Don’t Have To Be Good
I may as well be as blunt as I can about it. You can be as bad as you want and still go to heaven. You can murder someone and still go to heaven. Moses did. You can commit adultery and still go to heaven. King David did. You can persecute people and still go to heaven. The apostle Paul did. Someone will say that these fellows all repented and thus God showed them His favor. Not quite. They recognized God’s favor and that’s why they repented. That’s actually a very big difference.
People don’t love God to get Him to love them in return. They love God because they recognize how much He already loves them. They know they are returning His love. If we love God first, then we are greater and more loving than He is. If we have to repent in order to get God to love us, then He is not much more loving than hard-hearted humans we know. God is the source of all love; He is love. Whatever love we have toward Him is but a harvest of what He’s already planted in us.
You see, God has this wild notion that people will respond to love and acceptance. He believes that such tender-heartedness will eventually melt the hardest of hearts. Recall that this notion of His is the founding principle of the whole creation: goodness will overcome evil, given enough time. Therefore He’s saying to all of us: “I will do good to you even if you do evil to Me.” It’s a powerful idea. And it’s been winning hearts since the beginning of time – but most especially since the crucifixion of Jesus Christ.
You Don’t Have To Live At All
Since you’re going to heaven, you could commit suicide and get there that much more quickly. But I hope that such a thought repulses you as much as it does me. It is no less wrong to take your own life than it is to take anyone else’s. Murder is murder even if you are your own victim. Nevertheless, I can sympathize with people who are so depressed that they see no value at all in living any longer on earth. There are difficult times in life and the pain that some people experience in the course of living is almost unimaginable.
But suicide is never a good decision. It proves beyond the shadow of a doubt that no life is an island. Suicide is only supposed to affect the one involved, but the rest of us feel rejected by it. Conversely, we feel encouraged when someone lives on in spite of terrible difficulties. Every time I see someone who struggles through adversity, I am encouraged to bear up under the hardships that I face. We all sympathize with the emotional torture that may lead you to contemplate ending your own life. But don’t go! We need you here! There is goodness in this life that only you can see the need for and perform. There are acts of kindness that only you can contribute. No one else can take your place; no one else can make exactly the difference that you can.
Even the great Bible heroes like Job, Elijah, and Jonah knew the despair of suicidal thoughts. Fortunately for the rest of us, they never gave in to them. They knew the One who stood on the other side of death. They didn’t want to face Him with blood on their hands. Though your life here may be hellish right now, don’t you want your homecoming in heaven to be an entirely joyous one? Why mar it with an act that hurts the rest of us? Since you are going to heaven, a suicide will hurt those left behind far more than it will hurt you. Stay here and prove that the human spirit was designed to withstand the fire. You’ll not only overcome your current problems, you’ll be eternally glad you didn’t give up.
Consider the tragedy of Judas Iscariot. He was one of Jesus’ twelve apostles, and the one who ultimately betrayed Him. For thirty pieces of silver Judas informed the authorities of Jesus’ whereabouts in the garden of Gethsemane the night before He died. Once Judas realized the wrong he had done, he was filled with remorse and threw the money back at those who’d paid him. Completely hopeless, he committed suicide. How might Judas’ life on earth have turned out differently? Consider his fellow apostle Peter.
The same night that Judas was betraying Jesus, Peter was denying Him. On three separate occasions Peter was asked if he was an associate of Jesus. On each occasion, Peter denied that he even knew Him. There can’t be that much difference in one count of betrayal and three counts of denial. While they differ in degree, both failings were awful. Both men were thoroughly ashamed and humiliated. Yet Peter stuck it out, and look what came from his life after his moral debacle! He told the world the good news of salvation. He wrote two letters of the New Testament. And he encourages millions of people who can hear his story and identify with his weaknesses. You can go to heaven the way of Judas or the way of Peter. The choice is yours.
Our Response to Freedom
Having been freed from the fear of death, the fear of hell, and the fear of rejection from God, how will you choose to live? All of heaven is waiting to see. As you recognize this, you can not only be freed from these fears – you can be inspired to higher motives of living.