Sadly, many of us have lost loved ones in recent times. Often, when I speak to people grieving, the subject of a loved one going to heaven invariably comes up, especially for those who believe in life after death. For some, it’s a hope rather than an expectation that the loved one makes it to heaven. On reflection, it occurred to me that it would be unlike God to leave us guessing as to where we’ll spend eternity. It also struck me that none of the writers of the New Testament expressed doubt about their eternal destination. Why was that? Is it possible to be certain about going to heaven after death? If so, how can we be certain for ourselves?
Before delving into that question, it’s worth exploring what heaven is. Besides being a place of unimaginable beauty, where there’s no more pain, suffering or death, Scripture also tells us that heaven is where God’s throne is [Psalm 11:4]. So, it’s a place where God reigns as Lord and King. Consequently, it’s a place where His will is done at all times. Many of us like to determine for ourselves what we do and when, but in heaven, that option won’t exist. We’ll neither get a vote nor an opinion there. We might find that difficult to accept now, but that’s because we don’t truly know God. When we do and grasp that His will is always the best possible outcome in any situation, we’ll want nothing more than to do His will. That said, do you actively seek to know and do God’s will now? If not, it might be worth reflecting on why you don’t.
So, having established that God doesn’t permit anything that isn’t His will to happen in heaven, do you still want to go there and become subject to His will for eternity? One of the things we’re told about heaven is that the awareness of God’s presence is inescapable because He’s the very light that illuminates heaven [Revelation 21:23]. That’s great if, like David, God’s presence is your foremost desire. But that isn’t the case for many of us. Sadly, many of us prioritise the pursuits of other things over God’s presence. If God’s presence isn’t our foremost desire now, it’s worth asking ourselves why we’d want to go to heaven? Is it simply because heaven is preferable to hell? Or are we, like Paul, yearning to be with the Lord [Philippians 1:23]?
Having briefly explored what heaven is, what happens there and our reasons for wanting to end up there, how can anyone be sure they’ll make it to heaven? Thankfully, the Bible provides an unequivocal answer to God’s prerequisite for salvation. First, I must confess with my mouth that Jesus is Lord. Second, I must believe in my heart that God raised Him from the dead [Romans 10:9-10]. For most of my life, I worried about whether I would make it to heaven. But with the understanding I now have, I can see that God never intended for me to live with such anxiety. If I desire life after death, I must believe that God has made it possible by overcoming death.
The challenge, however, is that while many of us claim to believe in Jesus, we don’t genuinely accept Him as our Lord. We want what He has to offer, but on our terms. This is most evident in how we live, just as Jesus said it would be [John 7:16,20]. Simply put, if Jesus is our Lord, we’ll do what He says [John 14:21-24]. Conversely, if we don’t do what Jesus says, can we call Him Lord? Obviously, no one obeys Jesus perfectly, but there’s a world of difference between someone who is trying to obey Him and someone who doesn’t bother. The latter can’t legitimately claim to be under the lordship of Jesus.
Additionally, acknowledging Jesus as Lord also means acknowledging Him as the owner of everything, which He is because He made it [Psalm 24:1, John 1:3]. So, even the air we breathe isn’t ours. We might struggle with the implication of this truth, but in heaven, no one does. Anyone who fully grasps this truth has one overriding response: worship. Consequently, everyone in heaven is voluntarily preoccupied with worshipping God, including the angels [Revelation 4 & 5]. So, is Jesus your Lord? Do you desire to live in His kingdom and worship Him [Psalm 73:25]?
Ultimately, whether we make it to heaven isn’t a lottery. It’s a result of a conscious, life-orienting decision triggered by a revelation of who God is [Hebrews 1:2-3], who we are [Ephesian 2:1-3] and what God has done for us [John 3:16, Ephesians 2:4-6]. It’s also a decision birthed from a desire to have a relationship with God once we understand the lengths, He has gone to make a relationship with us possible. This is what Jesus called eternal life [John 17:3]. It’s accessible right now to anyone who wants it [Acts 2:38, Acts 16:31].
God’s desire is for every person to spend eternity with Him [2 Peter 3:9]. Nevertheless, He won’t compel us into a relationship with Him because that’s antithetical to love. Heaven is simply a consequence of our relationship with God. So, if you have a relationship with Jesus where He’s Lord, meaning you submit to what He says and do it, then heaven is guaranteed for you.
One last thought, and I was surprised when I discovered this. Heaven isn’t our ultimate destination, earth is. At the culmination of history, God will come down to dwell with us on the new earth [Revelation 21:1-3]. So, the question isn’t will I make heaven or not? The real question is, how desperate are we to have a relationship with God? If we truly want it, He will make it happen [John 6:37].