Please Show Your Get Out of Hell Card
Can Christians go to hell?
I recently read a story about a man, well-respected and a self-professed Christian.
He went to church most Sundays, put money in the offering plate, donated to charitable causes, obeyed the laws, was kind, mild-tempered and rarely (if ever) used swear words.
He read the Bible. He prayed. In fact, many years ago this man had accepted Christ as his Savior.
Surely, this man was bound for heaven.
Yet, this man also accommodated his sins. He allowed them to continue, never trying in earnest to turn from them. He rationalized his behavior:
Okay, so maybe it’s a sin. But it’s not like it’s illegal.
It’s not really hurting anybody anyway.
At least I’m not as bad as THAT guy.
In some cases, he even entertained his sins—he didn’t want them to stop. He just wanted them to be forgiven. And to remain hidden.
He would indulge his sins, then run to God and beg for forgiveness. I’m sorry God, I’m sorry. Please forgive me!
He’d indulge his sins again and again run to God for forgiveness. Hurry, go get your forgiveness and wipe the slate clean, he would say to himself. You don’t want that following you around.
Like a broken record playing the same tune over and over again, he would sin and run to God, sin and run to God, sin and run to God.
There is confession and there is repenting. Confession says, “This is what I did and I am sorry.” Repenting doesn’t stop there. Repent means “to turn from” and go the other direction.
The man in the story willingly confessed, but did not repent. He didn’t want to turn from his sin; he wanted God to do the turning. As in, “please look away while I keep doing what I’m doing.”
So, in this condition, unrepentant, would this man go to heaven?
The Bible says:
If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. (1 John 1:9)
If you declare with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. (Romans 10:9 NIV)
Confess your sins, declare that Jesus is Lord and believe it in your heart. If you do this, you will be saved. That’s pretty clear.
And, that’s about as far as many Christians go in their walk with God. We want salvation but we don’t want to give up our sin. It’s not about gaining heaven so much as it is about avoiding hell.
Salvation becomes a Get Out of Hell card. Keep this with you at all times. Don’t leave earth without it!
Sanctification And Justification Are Not The Same
Maybe it’s because we don’t understand the difference between justification and sanctification.
When we confess our sins and declare that Jesus is Lord, God forgives us. That is justification. We are justified (made righteous) and it is instantaneous. Through Christ’s death on the cross, the penalty of our sin is canceled.
Sanctification, on the other hand, is the process of becoming more Christ-like. Justification happens in a moment, but sanctification takes time. We are changed from the inside out.
It starts by understanding that God’s saving grace is not a license to remain in sin. Consider Paul’s letter to the Romans:
What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? For we know that our old self was crucified with him so that the body ruled by sin might be done away with, that we should no longer be slaves to sin. (Romans 6:1,6 NIV)
He wrote a similar message to the church in Corinth:
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! (2 Corinthians 5:17 NIV)
When a snake sheds its dead skin, it does not try to crawl back into it. Likewise, when we truly shed our worldly skin we do not put it back on.
That man in the story I told you was me and the story is from my journal. Thankfully, that man has died to sin.
Let me be clear: I still have a sinful nature. I still sin. But, when I do I repent. I don’t run to God to ask for forgiveness. I run to him to confess and ask him to help me to not do it again.
I’ll ask again: If a person who confesses his sin yet remains in his sin, is he really a Christian, a Christ-follower? If he doesn’t repent, is he going to heaven?
What Jesus Says
Jesus had much to say about this. For starters,
“If you love Me, you will keep My commandments.” (John 14:15 NASB)
Do you love Jesus? Do you love him enough to keep his commandments?
He also said,
“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.” (Matthew 7:21 NIV)
When you see Jesus face to face and you acknowledge him as Lord, are you confident that he will in turn acknowledge you?
Jesus cursed a fig tree for being a fake and it died. He told a chilling story about Ten Virgins that should make us tremble.
Here’s the thing: Jesus really, really, really loves you. But he is not just your confessor, not just your savior and not just your friend. He is also your judge.
And, some day we will each give an accounting of our lives.
We can’t simply flash a Get Out of Hell Card.
Sanctification is the perfecting of holiness within us. It is an issue of the heart. We will turn from sin when we love Jesus more than we love our own life. We will turn from sin when our desire to please God is greater than our desire for empty pleasure.
When I began to see God not just as the ultimate judge, but also as a loving father who willingly sacrificed his only son so that we could have life—what father does such a thing?—it changed everything for me. When I think about what Jesus suffered on the cross, when I truly meditate on it, I am reduced to tears. When I think about what my sin does to God, my heart truly aches.
Every day I am tempted and every day I sin. But, I am no longer a slave to it. If you ask God to help you, he promises to do so. The Bible says,
No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to mankind. And God is faithful; he will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, he will also provide a way out so that you can endure it. (1 Corinthians 10:13 NIV)
I occasionally think about that period in my life when I used to wallow in my sin, when I chose cheap indulgence over loving Jesus, when I thought I could live with one foot in the Kingdom and one foot in the world. Compared to what I have now, that life was so empty.
Invite God to change your heart. Ask him to help you truly repent. Ask him to sanctify you. He is faithful to do it, and believe me, your life will be amazing!