As a hospital chaplain I am frequently around families at the bedside of their dying loved one. When they die, it is very common to hear family comfort one another by saying that their loved one is now in Heaven and out of pain.
While it is encouraging for the family to find comfort in this thought, my mind tends to go down a different track of thought, although I always affirm their want for comfort and would never say anything to contradict their beliefs.
This scenario takes place so often that it can seem as if everyone assumes that people automatically go straight to Heaven. Of course, everyone doesn’t go to Heaven and I am going to share with you here why that is actually a good thing.
There is a reason that in Genesis 3:24 we read that the Lord placed angels with flaming swords to prevent man from eating from the tree of life after they sinned. The Lord did not want man to live endlessly in a sinful state that goes from “bad to worse” (2 Timothy 3:13 NIV). In the same way, we don’t want to spend eternity with people who have sinful, evil, and unrighteous characters.
Remember, at the resurrection, when Jesus returns “the dead in Christ rise first” (1 Thessalonians 4:16 NIV) and at that moment “the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed. For the perishable must clothe itself with the imperishable, and the mortal with immortality” (1 Corinthians 15:52-53 NIV).
This immortal life is the result of “whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). Those who live here believing in Jesus Christ will have eternal life there, in Heaven. And that immortal life is not going to be undone, reversed, or withdrawn when we are Heaven.
This is why we don’t want unbelieving people to go to Heaven with us. We don’t want neighbors for all eternity who are unconverted because that would make Heaven another fallen Earth. This is precisely why the plan of redemption is taking as long as it is because when the earth is made new and Heaven is our home, mankind will have had the perfect opportunity to believe in Christ or to reject Christ. Sin will not rise up a second time (Nahum 1:9).
Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ and following Him is the work of our heart. Our flesh wars against our better wants to do what is righteous and forsake unrighteousness, but the intention of our heart ought to gravitate toward the Savior. A saved man may fall, but his hunger for righteousness (Matthew 5:6) moves him to confess his sins and receive forgiveness (1 John 1:9).
Those whom Scripture says won’t be in Heaven are those who have rejected the saving grace of Jesus Christ, they are those who have chosen their own will over God’s, their own way over Christ’s, and their own sinfulness over the convicting power offered by the Holy Spirit.
Scripture tells us in 1 Corinthians 6:9-10 that “wrongdoers will not inherit the kingdom of God…Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor men who have sex with men nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God” (NIV). Revelation 21:8 adds that “the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars” (NIV) will be allowed into Heaven.
In Galatians 5 the Apostle Paul gives the contrast between the character we’ll find in Heaven and the character we won’t find in Heaven. He first states that “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God” (Galatians 5:19-21 NIV).
Then he states that the character we gain in following the Lord is marked by “love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control” (Galatians 5:22-23 NIV) and this is the character we’ll take into Heaven.
One last thought on this topic that I wish to address and that is the reliance on a belief that we will all be changed into a different Christ-like person when we get to Heaven, so our character here doesn’t matter. To this I say, Don’t count on it. We have mention of changing related to physical bodies in both 1 Thessalonians 4 and 1 Corinthians 15 but not to our character.
I do suspect that their may be some degree of divine change upon our character because we are translating from mortal to immortal and from sinful nature to righteous nature. However, I don’t think God is going to change someone beyond their willful desire to become someone they don’t want to become.
The Bible often refers to death as sleep, and if you think of it, when we wake from our sleep our character hasn’t changed but picks up right where it was when we fell asleep. I think the judgment of God is going to grant all mankind exactly what they want, and force no one into Heaven.
A few other principles to consider from the record of the Bible is from both the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 and the resurrection of Jesus, that their character was unchanged afterward. We would also need to question why the message of Jesus and the Bible is a continuous call to repent and change if that was going to automatically happen in the afterlife anyway?
When Jesus said, “by their fruits ye shall know them” (Matthew 7:20) He was saying that a man’s character is evident in their behavior. All the behaviors referenced above in 1 Corinthians 6, Revelation 21, and Galatians 5 like “sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions” are fruits that give evidence of unrighteous character.
Yes, we may wish that all men come to the saving knowledge of knowing Jesus as their personal Savior, but the sad fact is that many men and women have rejected Him. Trust me when I say, we don’t want sin to rise up again in Heaven.