…which was the topic of a great blog post I read today, how do YOU feel when you think about heaven? When you think about crossing the bridge from temporal to eternal? When faced with the potentially immediate possibility of earthly death?
I can’t answer for you. But I can – and am about to – answer for myself.
I had to come to terms with my own mortality quite a number of years ago when I developed cardiovascular disease. That first ambulance ride was an eye-opener, and the following hospitalization gave me 5 days to think seriously about it between tests. I was a Christian then, and had been for nearly 20 years, but I had never considered imminent death, only that someday I would die but would have plenty of time to get used to the idea. Now all of that time had shrunk down to days, or even hours, in my mind.
The first place to turn during this wake-up call was the Word. I needed assurance that the prayer I’d prayed 2 decades ago was still good, and if I died it would still get me admittance to heaven. I had some ideas of what heaven would be like, mostly things like the whole no pain or tears idea which sounded good…being reunited with people I loved that were already there was a big attraction to me, and that whole banquet thing – wow! Who doesn’t love a good spread? I also wondered if I’d be able to fly.
Then the Word – God’s own answers to the questions I had – lit me up with a few surprises! First, where was that part about saying a prayer and from then on having a free pass? Try as I might, I couldn’t find it! I did find a lot of places talking about repenting1 – as in turning away – for my sins; I had asked to be forgiven for them on that night 20 years ago but had I truly turned away from them? Was I still turned away? Secondly I noticed that repentance was mentioned hand-in-hand with following Jesus2. The accounts of Him calling men, just people like me, away from what they were doing to do His work instead was telling; was I living differently from before? Was I changed from a believer to a follower? What – whose – work was I doing? And thirdly, why did the Bible keep linking believing with obeying? Nobody said anything about that part. Nobody told me that there were rules! But there they were, in every book, things that I was told I needed to do – or not do – in order to be obedient3. And what was this? Without obedience my belief didn’t count? Certainly that couldn’t be!
The road since that time has had some rocky places, many things of which I’ve needed to repent over and above asking for forgiveness, and even sins I’d be ashamed to admit now. But I will say this: It is only now that I’m able to have confidence that, should I take my last breath today, my eternity with Jesus is assured. Over the intervening years God’s own Spirit has opened my eyes and my heart to the realities of grace and adoption, and what following Jesus, every minute of every day, means. And what heaven means. It isn’t about eating or flying or some grand reunion in the sky. It is about Jesus Himself, the Lamb who was slain to gain my admittance, so that I can spend forever with Him, in praise and in love and in beauty. Anything less just wouldn’t be heaven.
Following are a few of the verses used for reference; I couldn’t possibly share them all here. But I urge you to look them up, read the context of each, and then follow the references – we used to call them chain references back in the day – to find more Scripture on each topic. No single verse ever tells the whole story – and trust me, you do want the whole story!
1Repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out. Acts 3:19
Just so, I tell you, there is joy before the angels of God over one sinner who repents. Luke 15:10
2Then Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.” Matthew 16:24
For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. 1Peter 2:21
3“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven…” Matthew 7:21
And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments. Whoever says “I know him” but does not keep his commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him… John 2:3-4
Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever. 1John 2:15-17