Before we can begin to understand the fundamentals of Christianity we first need to undo a misconception that is so prevalent in our society.
That misconception is the idea that we get into heaven via a judgement that determines if we are good enough. The movie or cartoon image presented so often is a long stairway leading up to heaven. At the top is St. Peter standing at the gate with a large book in which is written everything you have ever done, good or bad. A determination is made to see if you have “been good enough to make it in”.
There is a judgment at the end of the age [when Jesus returns] and the Bible has many verses that speak of this judgment. It is a judgment based on what we do but this judgment does not determine our final destiny.
For example: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that each one may receive what is due him for the things done while in the body, whether good or bad.” [2 Corinthians 5:10]
Adding to this misconception are the many Scripture verses throughout the New Testament where Christians are urged to live a good, even exemplary life.
For example, one of many: “Dear friends, I urge you, as aliens and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” [1 Peter 2:11, 12]
For many, this is all they see of the Gospel. We get to heaven by being good, and Christians cannot really be Christians if sin is present in their lives. How many times have you heard “the church is full of hypocrites”? This is all a result of this misconception!
There is definitely a judgement, a judgement based on what people have done or not done, but that judgment does not determine our final destiny. The Bible specifically rejects the misconception that we get into heaven by what we do. We cannot earn our way into heaven by “being good enough” or keeping the commandments. Rather, Scripture makes it plain that rather our entrance into heaven or being justified is based on faith.
“Where, then, is boasting? It is excluded. On what principle? On that of observing the law? No, but on that of faith. For we maintain that a man is justified by faith apart from observing the law.” [Romans 3:27, 28]
“For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast.” [Ephesians 2:8, 9]
The Bible instead talks of heaven [eternal life] as a free gift, and explains that a true gift is not earned.
“For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.” [Romans 6:23]
“Now when a man works, his wages are not credited to him as a gift, but as an obligation. However, to the man who does not work but trusts God who justifies the wicked, his faith is credited as righteousness.” [Romans 4:4, 5]
So, beyond doubt we will all be judged, and judged according to what we have done; and every Christian must strive to live a life that exemplifies Christian values.
But these things do not determine our final destiny. All people sin, including all Christians. What happens with these sins at the judgement? Christ paid the penalty for our sins on the cross, and received all the wrath those sins deserved from God.
“He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed.” [1 Peter 2: 24]
Now when we repent of our sins and ask for forgiveness it is freely given. We are washed clean.
“If we confess our sins, He [God] is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” [1 John 1: 9]
Faith is a difficult thing to measure in us. How do we know we will be ushered into heaven when we die or on the last day? We can have confidence in our salvation because when we were baptized or when we believed we received the Holy Spirit as a free gift from God. “Peter replied, “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.” [Acts 2:38]
“Having believed, you were marked in Him with a seal, the promised Holy Spirit, who is a deposit guaranteeing our inheritance until the redemption of those who are God’s possession – to the praise of his glory.” [Ephesians 1:13b, 14]
So, as Christians, we have the Holy Spirit within us. That Holy Spirit is the guarantee of our entrance into heaven.
So, yes, there is a judgement of all men at the end of the age. But Christians need have no fear of the judgement. Jesus Christ has died the death we all deserve for our sin in our place. We now have the Holy Spirit in us to guide and lead us here on earth and to ensure we will be received into heaven. God only needs to look at us to see if the Holy Spirit is in us, it is obvious to Him.