The Bible describes God and Heaven as ‘Holy’. ‘Holy’ just means ‘perfect’. Now it’s really important to understand that God can’t let anything imperfect in to Heaven, otherwise it just wouldn’t be Heaven.
The Bible also says that all of us have a body and a soul. At death, our body is either buried or cremated, but our soul – which is the real you – lives on forever, either in Heaven or Hell.
From beginning to end the Bible cries out with God’s love for us. Right back in Genesis we are told how God made us in His own image and breathed His own breath of life into us. The Old Testament is full of stories of God giving chance after chance to his beloved people, despite their continual betrayal, because He longed for relationship with them. Then comes the New Testament and God makes the ultimate move to draw all people to Him.
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 (John 3:16)
We are left in little doubt that God wants us with Him in Heaven. Unfortunately, we’ve got a bit of a problem, because the Bible says that if we’ve broken just one of God’s laws – for example if we’ve lied once, cheated once, hated once, just once (like we all have, let’s be honest!) – then our soul becomes imperfect and we cannot enter Heaven.
Do you know anyone who has never broken any of God’s laws? The answer is obviously ‘no’. So here’s our problem. All people have broken God’s laws; therefore all people have imperfect souls. So, if at death your soul could either go to Heaven or Hell – but to get to Heaven you must have a perfect record, and none of us have one – then sadly all of us must be headed for Hell!
That might seem harsh, and you might ask the question, ‘How could a loving God create a place like Hell, let alone send someone there?
Let’s look at it this way: think of someone you love very much. Now imagine that person is brutally murdered. The police catch the murderer and the murderer pleads guilty in court. But to your horror, the judge says, ‘this is a really bad thing you’ve done. But, because I’m a loving judge I’m just going to let you off.’ You would be very angry wouldn’t you? Why? Because you know that when someone has broken the law, they must be punished, otherwise there is no ‘justice’. So you see Hell is not a love issue, it’s a justice issue.
Let’s consider three questions to help us understand why there’s got to be this place called Hell.
Have you ever told a lie in your life?
The answer is surely ‘yes’, even if only a so-called ‘white lie’. If you’ve lied once, then you’re guilty of being a liar.
Have you ever taken anything that’s not yours?
For example, have you ever gone to work late or left early and got paid for it? Have you ever used the boss’ telephone or photocopier without asking permission, or knowingly taken an office pencil home? This is stealing of course. Most people have taken something that’s not theirs, which makes them guilty of being a thief.
Now, do you think that God is going to let a bunch of thieving liars like us into heaven? Not likely, because if He did, He would be the same as the unjust judge who failed to punish the murderer of the one you love. We can’t have it both ways!
But many people say, ‘Wait a minute, I’m a “good person” and there’s a big difference between lying and stealing and murder – I’ve never murdered anyone!’ But, what’s interesting is the way Jesus redefined murder. He said that if you’ve hated a person in your heart, you’ve murdered them in your heart. So here’s the last question:
Have you ever hated anyone?
The truth is that most people have felt anger or hatred in their heart towards another, which in God’s eyes makes us guilty of murder!
So you see this is the bad news. For the sake of justice there has to be a place called Hell. But there is good news. This is where Jesus Christ comes in.
The most significant thing that distinguishes Jesus from everyone else is that He is perfect. Unlike us, He has not broken any of God’s laws so He has a perfect record, a ‘perfect soul’.
Picture the scene before Jesus came to earth 2000 years ago. Jesus looked forward in time and saw you here today. He turned to God the Father, and asked Him, ‘Father, I love the people in the world, and I don’t want them to go to Hell for breaking your laws. Is there a way for them to be forgiven?’ God the Father looked at His Son and said, ‘Jesus, there is one way. Go to earth and become a human being, but live a perfect life. Then die a cruel death on a cross to take the punishment that the people in the world justly deserve for breaking my laws. When you do this, I can make it possible for them to be forgiven the day when they ask you to exchange their imperfect record for your perfect record.’
Jesus willingly agreed, and 2000 years ago He came to lay down His life for us, to pay the price for all of God’s laws that we have broken – and there is no greater love than when someone lays down their life for another. But there is still something that we must do to be forgiven.
There are three major events in everyone’s life. There’s birth and death – ultimately we have no control over these – but the third major event is the day when we can ask Jesus to forgive us; when we ask Jesus to give us His perfect record. There are some popular misconceptions about this, but in the Bible God’s gift of forgiveness is clear. We’re not forgiven by being Christened or baptised, or confirmed; not even by praying occasionally or going to church, or by believing in God, or by trying to be good. These are all good things, but none of them give us forgiveness. Jesus said that there are two things that we must do to be forgiven. The first is that we must be willing to turn away from anything we know is wrong in our life and say sorry to Jesus. Notice the word ‘willing’. There may be some things in your life that you feel powerless to give up in your own strength, like addictions, habits or other complicated things. That’s OK, because God will help us, as long as we are willing and want to turn away from those things and say sorry.
The second thing we must do is surrender to Jesus. Surrender means this: if God made you, and the entire universe that surrounds you, don’t you think He deserves to be the central person in your life? Surrendering to Jesus is when we acknowledge Him as our Saviour, and humble our lives to Him in service.
When you were born it is as though God opened a book about your life. Now bear in mind that God sees everything you do. He knows every attitude, every thought, every motive and every action. Every time we break just one of God’s laws it’s written down in that book. You can imagine that by the end of our lives there’s a whole library written against us.
But when you turn and surrender to Jesus something incredible happens. It’s like Jesus takes your book and stands at the top of a cliff and tears out all the pages, the whole record of the things you have done wrong, and He throws them into the deepest sea. He promises to never remember those things again.
Jesus then takes a copy of His perfect record, which you’ve asked Him to give you, and He places it inside the cover of your book with your name on the spine. That book is then stored like a precious library book in heaven.
The miracle is that your book is not touched again between the point that you ask Jesus to forgive you and death – even though in that time you may make mistakes and break God’s laws again. Becoming a Christian doesn’t instantly make you perfect, nor does it mean you can say a quick prayer and return to your old ways. Remember, God forgave you ‘for ever’ when you asked for Jesus’ perfect record. All he asks is that you surrender everything to him and let him daily refine you from your wrongdoing.
When you die, you will go before God on judgement day, and God will command His angels to get your book. He will look inside that book and say, ‘This person was perfect!’ You will probably say to Him, ‘No I wasn’t, I broke your laws. Don’t I justly deserve to go to Hell?’ And Jesus will say to you, ‘For the sake of justice, you do deserve to go to Hell. You did break my laws, and some you broke many times. But you, my beautiful child, have my perfect record, which I gave to you when you turned and surrendered to me on earth and I forgave you. Welcome to heaven!’
That is why Jesus is so amazing. He made it possible for everyone in the world, regardless of what mistakes we have made, to be forgiven and to one day enter heaven.
But say you never turned and surrendered. Think about what would happen. When you die, you will go before God at judgement, and God will say to you, ‘I’m sorry, I can’t let you enter Heaven. I have to send you to Hell. You never asked me to forgive you. I loved you so much that I tried six ways to get through to you. First, my Son Jesus died on the cross to take your punishment. Second, someone explained to you in a simple way that you could be forgiven. Third, there were churches throughout the world – some were good and some I was ashamed of. You could have found the good ones. Fourth, I gave you a conscience, so you could tell right from wrong. Fifth, I created a world around you that was so awesome, how could you not wonder about me? And finally, my Son rose from the dead to prove that I was God and that everything I said was true – but you still did nothing. I’m sorry I can’t let you enter Heaven. I have to send you to Hell.’
So how about you? If you die tonight, where will you go?
Remember, to get to Heaven you need a perfect record, which you could never have unless you ask Jesus to give you His. To receive this free gift you only have to do two things: First, be willing to turn away from the wrong in your life and, secondly, surrender to Jesus. Unless you do these two things it’s impossible to be forgiven and at death it’s impossible to get to Heaven – which is so sad because this is the very reason Jesus died for you!