Is Sin the Only Thing That Keeps Us Out of Heaven?
I am publishing my weekly post a little early this week. I will be spending the rest of the week at my in-law’s home eating and being lazy. I will try to get back on schedule starting next week.
In my series on the Invisible War (see my archive here) I have kept touching on the theme that I believe that this is a terribly important doctrine for Christians to understand because it is a superior explanation to why evil exists in the world. Most Christians don’t have a very good answer to that question. One of my frequent commenters (hello Heavenbound) believes that this question is moot due to Christ’s work on the cross. If Christ paid for everyone’s sins on the cross (and we both agree that He did) then, in the end, the question of why evil exists isn’t that important. Here is a partial quote from one of his comments:
What the bible contends is that the war still rages for the souls of humans. I don’t find any credance to that thought. The human condition is what we are left with. Christ’s sin debt being paid ended the so called fight for the souls of mankind.
Heavenbound and I disagree on this point but I have decided that it might be a good idea to outline what I believe on the subject of what gets us into heaven. I believe that the forgiveness of sins accomplished by Christ’s work on the cross removes the barrier between mankind and God (which makes salvation available to us) but does not automatically get us into heaven. We also need perfect righteousness which is given to us when we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as our savior.
I have tracked down several online references that I would like to quote from. The first is a web page is titled “Why A Moral Life Won’t Get Us to Heaven” and it lays out some of the issues very well. The author of the article does make a statement that “Christ’s death in our place will keep us out of hell” which I don’t agree with, I do believe that there are only two options for us: heaven or hell. If we don’t go to heaven we will live for eternity in the lake of fire (hell). However, I still believe that the author makes some valid points:
While morality and human goodness are to be commended, God makes it clear from the very outset that no one, through his own efforts, possesses the ability to make himself presentable before God. It was Charles Haddon Spurgeon who said, “Man is basically a silkworm. A spinner and a weaver … trying to clothe himself … but the silkworm’s activity spins it a shroud. So it is with man.” Adam and Eve are classic examples.
Our problem is not only that we have fallen short of God’s standard (Romans 3:23), by sinning; we also lack something. We not only need the removal of personal sin through blood sacrifice to satisfy divine justice; we need something further to make us fit for heaven and the divine presence of God. In other words, Christ’s death in our place will keep us out of hell–but we still have the problem of getting into heaven. Isaiah spoke of this when he said, “For all of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are as filthy rags.” (Isaiah 64:6). Not our sins, but our good deeds! We need not only atonement for our sins, we also need righteousness to enter heaven! But it has to be a certain kind of righteousness.
Then a little farther along he uses the language that I learned to use as a young Christian:
Let’s think of these two righteousnesses in mathematical terms. Let’s call God’s righteousness “+R” and human righteousness “-R.” The first righteousness is absolute, while the second is relative. Over a lifetme, a human being can accumulate a huge pile of -R, but added up, it still totals -R. To do business with God in heaven, we must deal with Him in the only “currency” honored and accepted by Him, and that is +R. It is futile to try to negotiate with God on the basis of relative, human goodness. We need +R.
Where do we get such “currency?” It is given to us as a gift if we will accept it–the perfect righteousness of Jesus Christ. The yardstick God uses to measure everyone is His Son. This +R righteousness is ours only in Christ: “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit” (Titus 3:5).
This gracious provision is a radical departure from all other religious ideas humans have ever conceived or set forth. It is so radical that human beings would never have thought of it.
The point that I would like to stress is that having our sins forgiven is not enough to gain us entry to heaven. Even with Christ judged for our sins we cannot gain entry into heaven. We must have perfect righteousness (+R) in order to enter heaven.
I would also like to quote from the article “Our Righteous Standing”:
THE IMPUTATION OF RIGHTEOUSNESS
He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him. (2 Corinthians 5:21).
In this single verse, Paul pictures two different aspects of the work of Christ on our behalf.
1. The Imputation of our sins upon Christ.
Jesus became sin on our behalf. This does not mean that He actually became a sinner or that He began to sin. He has lived through all eternity without sin and He will always be perfect in His righteous character.
How did He become sin on our behalf? What really happened on the cross? Our sins were put to His account. He was credited with our sins. While He was on the cross, God the Father treated Him as though He were a guilty sinner. Jesus was judged in our place. The wrath of God was poured out on Him. In the midst of this condemnation, He cried out, “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?”
The sinless Son of God was judged as though He had committed all of the sins which have ever taken place throughout the entire history of mankind. He was judged in our place. Our sins were imputed or credited to Him. But this is not all.
2. The Imputation of Christ’s Righteousness Toward Us.
Just as our sins were put to His account while He was on the cross, so in the same way, the righteousness of Christ is put to our account when we believe in Him.
We are credited with the righteousness of Christ. We are reckoned to be righteous. On this basis, we are justified – declared to be righteous. And for all eternity, God will treat us as though we were as righteous as Jesus Christ.
Now, this does not mean that I actually BECOME righteous when I believe in Christ. If that were true, then no believer would ever sin and this just is not the case. Rather, I am legally credited with the righteousness of Christ so that I can be legally declared to be righteous.
I suppose I am beating this to death but, since I did the research, I have decided to include one more reference. The web page “More Than Forgiven!” provides details on eight different Bible doctrines which bear on our salvation. From the section on justification we read:
Justification means to be pronounced righteous. It is the legal and judicial act where God declares the believer righteous in Jesus Christ. It is not only the taking away of the believer’s guilt, but also the imputation of Christ’s righteousness in its place. The believer is not righteous in himself but only in Christ.
A. The Two Aspects Of Justification
There are two distinct aspects of justification:
a. The forgiveness, remission, and taking away of the believer’s sins.
b. The imputation (see Imputation) of the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
1. As mentioned before, man generally thinks of salvation in terms of forgiveness or pardon. God, however, knew man needed much more than just his sins forgiven. If salvation only meant forgiveness, the believer would still be bound to his sin nature and unable to quit sinning. He would be forgiven for his sins but still hold the position of a sinner in God’s sight. God did not want such a weak and practically useless salvation for believers. He devised one that not only takes the sins away but also puts righteousness in their place—both imputed and imparted righteousness. When He looks on a believer, He does not see someone who is still a sinner and only forgiven, or someone who is just innocent of the guilt of sin. He sees that saint completely justified with the righteousness of His son Jesus Christ (Romans 3:22-26, 10:3-4; 2 Corinthians 5:21; Colossians 1:22-23).
2. The term justification in itself only speaks of God imputing righteousness to the believer’s account. However, the Christian not only has righteousness reckoned to him (see Imputation), he also has it IN him. It is one of the characteristics of the “divine nature” he received the moment he believed (2 Peter 1:4; see Regeneration). This imparted righteousness can also be found under the doctrine, Sanctification.
In a nutshell I believe that not only must our sins be forgiven but that we must also must be imputed the righteousness of God before we can be saved. That is a controversial statement. Not only will Heavenbound disagree with that but so will anyone who believes that Christ did not die for everyone on the cross (aka limited atonement).
Heavenbound may not be convinced but this should help explain why I don’t believe that Christ’s work on the cross provides for universal salvation of the human race while also believing that He did pay the price for everyone’s sins.