For much of my adult life, I pursued the Christian life as if I were preparing for some kind of heavenly game show. I spent countless hours studying the Bible, theology, apologetics, Church history, etc…like my eternal life depended on it. I felt that if I knew enough information about Jesus and Christianity, I could prove that I was a Christian and thus assure my entry into heaven. It was almost like I thought St. Peter would have a Jeopardy-style quiz show set up outside the “Pearly Gates” and if I could answer enough rapid-fire questions about the Bible then it would confirm that I was truly a Christian, and I would be allowed entrance into heaven. [“He can list all the kings of Israel and Judah in order? Well, he must be one of us. Open the gates and let him in!”].
Other people have equally odd conceptions of what may be awaiting them at the “Pearly Gates”. A lot of the “old school” Christians I know seem to think there’s going to be some kind of “Breathalyzer” and urine test given just outside the gates that will detect the precise amounts of alcohol and illicit drugs that you ingested during your lifetime. According to this school of thought, if your lifetime consumption exceeds some yet-to-be-revealed threshold, then things might not go so well for you in eternity.
Then there are a lot of (primarily) younger or liberal Christians who tend to think that there’s going to be an IRS-like audit of all your charitable contributions (& good deeds) to determine whether you should gain entrance into the “Celestial City”.
Still others seem to believe that Heaven’s gate will have an optical scanner on it for the purpose of inserting a log of all your church attendance during your lifetime. The line of reasoning being, “If you went to church a lot, then it’s proof positive that you belong in heaven.”
Mercifully we don’t have to worry about any such nasty surprises when we die. While it’s awesome to study the Bible daily, maintain sobriety fully, give generously and worship regularly, none of these are required benchmarks for gaining entrance into God’s renewed creation.
8For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9not by works, so that no one can boast. 10For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:8-10)
13Having believed, you were marked in him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, 14who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession. (Ephesians 1:13b-14a)
From first to last, we are saved by grace (through faith), regardless of theological knowledge, sobriety, generosity or church attendance (etc…). The “created in Christ Jesus to do good works” comes only after the “saved by grace”.
How can we be sure that we won’t be surprised by a pop quiz or Breathalyzer test when we die? “You were marked…” (past tense!) “…guaranteeing our inheritance” (which is eternal life in God’s Kingdom). It’s an already “done deal” with a guaranteed outcome! No need to waste time fretting about the past or worrying about unpleasant surprises after death. The real need is to press forward (now) in following Jesus and continuing with some of those “good works” we were created to do, without feeling like we have a quota to meet in order to save our souls.
Worship – Grow – Serve