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:

III. JUSTIFICATION

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.

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13 Comments on “Is Sin the Only Thing That Keeps Us Out of Heaven?”

  1. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: When you write that Christ’s work on the Cross was NOT a complete atonement for mankind it makes me dumbfounded. I am going to answer this from another perspective and NOT the one you might think I would answer.
    The fact that Israel and it’s Theocracy during Christ’s earthly ministry held Jews and gentiles separate. The gentiles alien to the promises and covenants offered to Israel and still in place when he walked this earth. At the death of Christ the curtain in the Holy of Holies was rent, torn from the top to bottom. The blood sacrifice( that was a foreshadow) of animals was still used. It was maintained well after the Cross and ressurection. Why? God was still dealing with Israel, everything was still in place for Revelation to be completed. What happened to the idea that Christ told his disciples that they would see his return. Stephen still saw Christ standing at the right hand of God ready to return and set the kingdom of heaven on earth at his stoning. Announcement of John the Baptist, and( ie Lord’s prayer). Then what happened? NOTHING. Why? A change was in process, that the earthly kindom was going to change to a spiritual one and that a new creation was being started with the “Body of Christ” Led by the apostle Paul and that a new program was evolving. Finally the culmination of the destruction of Jeruselem in 70 A.D. the burning of the temple and the dispersion of the Jewish nation. That the special place that Israel enjoyed was no longer in place and that the offer of a more complete program one with Christ as the head was now offered not to Israel only but to all nations. For now there is no condemnation to them who are IN Christ Jesus who walk not after the flesh, but after the Spirit Romans 8:1
    Galations 2:20 I am crucified with Christ nevertheless I live yet not I, but CHRIST LIVETH IN ME AND THE LIFE WHICH I NOW LIVE IN THE FLESH I LIVE BY THE FAITH OF THE SON OF GOD WHO LOVED ME AND GAVE HIMSELF FOR ME.
    Now it says nothing to the fact that i need to do anything to maintain this position. I am sealed with this fact. I have sanctification, propitiation, justification, & atonement. And finally, Romans 3:24 Being justified freely by His grace thru the redemption that is IN Christ Jesus…………….no second sanctification, no works, to be acknowledged. Grace mixed with any law, or works isn’t grace, is it….

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Heavenbound,

      I am going to give you some short answers to your comment. Once again I don’t expect that you will agree with what I am going to write but it will let you know what I believe.

      I never said that I don’t believe the atonement was complete. The question is what did Christ’s death atone for? I say that Christ’s death completely, and for all persons, atoned for all of the sins of the world. So the atonement was unlimited. I still hold that in addition to our sins being forgiven that we must have perfect righteousness to have an eternal relationship with God (aka salvation). The only way that righteousness can be acquired is through faith alone in Christ alone.

      From much of the rest of your comment you believe in what is called supersessionism or replacement theology. I do not believe that Jehovah’s covenants with Israel in the Old Testament had enough wiggle room for Israel to be replaced by the Church. I reject replacement theology but I am not going to fight with you about it. If you are interested here is a link to an unsympathetic write up on replacement theology: WHAT IS REPLACEMENT THEOLOGY?

      I have no disagreement with your last paragraph. Salvation is by faith alone and that excludes works completely.

      Glenn

  2. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: I don’t believe in replacement theology either. Escatology has looked at many different views and given names to these points of views. I for one have only one view and that is my own. I just discovered the preterist view this week.
    Though some of what I have read sounds extremely interesting I would not attach a name other than universalist in my point of view. Though you have not said Christ’s atonement was not complete the implication of anything else added changes its completeness. Its like looking at a recipe and saying “even though the recipe doesn’t call for sugar, I am going to add it just the same” You can’t add any thing more to atonement, propitiation, sanctification. You also can’t add anything more to grace. Mixing law and grace nullifies grace, As Paul says.
    As far as the milllenial reign is concerned, why can’t God change the course of history? He did with the earthly ministry of Christ. He also changed the salvation offering to include Gentiles along with Jews. He changed the couse of history by bringing the flood to the surface of the earth. He changed his dealings with Israel to the point that he dispersed the Jews, destroyed their temple, and let the Romans sack Jeruselem. For 2000 years the Jews were dispersed. Which leads me to another point that there more jews living in the U.S. than in Israel. Had Europe chosen to take the Jews in right after W.W. II
    there still wouldn’t be an Israeli state. Israel today is not a God lead theocracy, that the Romans destroyed. No temple, no blood sacrifice, no special place set apart from gentiles. Finally my point is this. God changed the program to something better, from a physical litteral kingdom offer, to a spiritual non physical kingdom with the body of Christ. One that supercedes any kingdom that would be present for 1000 years.
    As we look at the facts about Revelation, we need to assess just what the book is saying, who is it giving information to and at what point in history. Look at the book from a Jewish point of view. Read it again and place it before the destruction of the temple, in 70 A.D. Allow yourself to open your mind up to the thought that maybe, just maybe, Christ’s return is eminent just like it says it is……..Peace in grace, Gary

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Heavenbound,

      I suppose that we will have to agree to disagree about this (I did provide the information so you would know what I believe and not to convince you). You have defined atonement in a way that only a universalist like yourself can truly be said to believe in unlimited atonement. I, on the other hand, believe that Christ paid for all the world’s sins (how most Christians define unlimited atonement) but a person still must believe to be saved. FYI, unlike some Calvinists I do not believe that faith is a work.

      Does God change the course of history. Of course. Does God change the course of history in a way that contradicts His prophesy in scripture? Of course not. Throughout scripture God clarified and expanded on earlier prophesy but He never contradicts that earlier prophesy.

      I did a web search and found a little gem written by the Park Road Church of Christ titled “Is the Bible God’s Inspired Word?” At the bottom of the page are two short statements about tests for false prophets that I am going to quote:

      1. The prophet Isaiah rests God’s claim to Deity on His ability to predict the future and to bring it to pass and challenges the idols to do the same. Isaiah 41:1-8; 21-26; 44:6-8; 46:8-11.
      2. The test for a false prophet was if he predicted something and it didn’t happen proving that God didn’t send him-Deuteronomy 18:20-22 and Jeremiah 28:9.

      If God doesn’t fulfill every prophesy it makes Him a false prophet by His own standard. We both know that cannot happen.

      How a person interprets the Book of Revelation depends on how he interprets Old Testament passages like the ones I am posting about in this series. Since we disagree about those it is no surprise that our interpretations of the Book of Revelation are different.

      Glenn

  3. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: I bet from reading some things I have written you’re wondering if we are reading the same book. I remember in english class the teacher would ask us to analyze something we had read. I never seemed to see the same thing he saw.
    I have to tell you that graduating from a Mennonite college, spending most of my life in a baptist church and finally going into dispensationalism has given me a quite different perspective on reading the bible. After viewing the word of God in this light it has really placed me in a different camp. I accept the fact that Israel is the focus of the book with prophecy being totally Jewish. Christianity, primarily the Catholic church with their efforts to control has placed most Christians in an acceptance of tradition certain beliefs that the Catholics placed on its members. This focus on the earthly ministry of Christ has continued with less emphasis on Paul and what his message was. The protestants continued with the same emphasis. The simple truth is that these messages are totally different. An earthly ministry of Christ that was an culmination of prophecy. Now in no way were gentiles remotely included in any prophecy. But todays Christians constantly want to be included. They do this by searching the gospels trying to put us in a relationship we don’t belong in. Even Christ in his own words refers to Gentiles as dogs. Psalms 22 does the same thing. It is very plain to see how clear the earthly ministry of Christ in the gospels is dramatically different with the body of Christ that Paul preaches. Don’t you see the difference between the two?
    Why can’t you see that the possibility of prophecy being completed? One thing that Christians refuse to accept the fact that maybe, that the bible today has been manipulated to satisfy the desires of the Catholic church. If God was in control of the final book, his book being finished wouldn’t he have guarenteed that the church his church be protected also? I really think we place too much emphasis on what is man made and not enough emphasis on proper meaning of the words written. God inspired word yes, but the bible versions, well………
    that my friend is being debated vigorously. I for one use the King James Version. Grace to all that read this post.

    • Glenn Says:

      Hi Heavenbound,

      I agree with almost all of what you wrote. The one thing that I am sure that we will continue to disagree about is the fulfillment of prophesy. I do agree that much prophesy has been fulfilled (I have read that Christ fulfilled over 300 prophesies in the first advent) but I don’t believe that all Old Testament prophesy has been fulfilled. There are Old Testament prophesies that cannot be construed as having been fulfilled unless you turn them into allegory which I don’t buy.

      All humans try and twist God and truth to align with what we want, it is a consequence of our being sinful. I do agree that the Roman Catholic church has twisted scripture and so have many protestants. The only reliable source for truth is God’s word (the Bible) and I have to trust that God Himself is able to make that truth shine through to me in spite of problems with translations. If God cannot accurately speak to His creation then we are truly lost.

      Glenn

  4. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: In my study about the topic you have written on I have come across some notes that I would like to share. When the apostle Paul was given devine knowledge from our risen Lord. He was instructed about changes in the offering of salvation. I might add that in all the letters he wrote to Christians not once did he mention sheol, hades or hell. Care to comment?

    • Glenn Says:

      7 and [to reward] with rest you who are afflicted, along with us. [This will take place] at the revelation of the Lord Jesus from heaven with His powerful angels,
      8 taking vengeance with flaming fire on those who don’t know God and on those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.
      9 These will pay the penalty of everlasting destruction, away from the Lord’s presence and from His glorious strength,

      2 Thessalonians 1:7-9 an epistle of Paul

      Like I said before if prophesies made don’t come true it makes that person a false prophet. Jesus said that there would be a hell (Greek word Gehenna).

      Glenn

  5. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: Mentioning Gehenna is a particular place where the Jews sacrificed children to Molech……

    • Glenn Says:

      And it is a place of burning human flesh. It is one of the words translated as hell in our English bibles. Read the Gospel passages at the link. They are not speaking of something in the past but of the future.

  6. heavenbound Says:

    Glenn: Paul is not talking about Hell he is talking about the tribulation that will take place that would include Jews that didn’t obey the new gospel he was preaching. Again Paul thought he was going to see Christ’s earthly return in his lifetime. This doesn’t convey any significant reference to hell at all. Look at the quote you stated in the above comments read the chapter and you will see he was talking about the kingdom of Heaven

    • Glenn Says:

      Since when is the Tribulation everlasting? 1 Thessalonians 1:9 says that those who don’t obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus (faith alone in Christ alone) will suffer the penalty of everlasting (eternal) destruction.

      Once again I don’t expect you to be convinced but I see no way that Paul isn’t speaking of hell. A good reference on this topic for anyone who might be interested is Arnold Fruchtenbaum’s “The Place of the Dead” which goes through all of the terms used in scripture for both Heaven and Hell.

      Heavenbound, I will let you have the last word.

      Glenn

  7. heavenbound Says:

    Ok Glenn: First of all I truely enjoy our discourse. It has allowed me to dig deeper and deeper into the scriptures furthering my resolve that my understanding of grace is accurate. God has established that there is none righteous no not one.
    God has also established that man is but filthy rags. God has also said that He is not a respector of persons and what Christ did he did for all. That the law was abolished thru the finished work on the cross. That the law establishes guilt and sin rightfully placed on Mankind. The one thing that is often missed is the faith OF Christ himself. That what took place on the Cross was enough in the eyes of God. It was and where we have Christ’s faith that his work was final, complete and it satisfied what God required. Notice I didn’t mention man.
    Why, because he was the recipient of the gift. Not the giver of the gift, or the tradesman earning the gift, just the recipient or the receiver of what, now this is extremely important that you understand what I am about to say, That Christ’s faith His faith in the completion of the act of taking on the wage of sin, was the fulfillment of the required task. As a result of His act, we are now complete in him. God has sanctified us in Christ, God has given us justification, in his completed work. In God’s eyes we are now perfect in his sight. This act nullifies everything up to the Cross. Destroys everything. The law, the separation of Jew and Gentile, It destroys all the temple worship, it destroys all evil, No sin past, present and future.
    To add anything, to grace nullifies it all. Paul says Christ is faithful where we are faithless, he cannot deny himself. He can’t deny and God can’t deny all that is given to us in this Ultimate act of Love.
    Its my opinion that this is overlooked by so many who claim him as their savior and refuse to look at the true face of God and that my friend is LOVE.
    Love that conquered all things, things below the earth, things on the earth and things above the earth. We are made complete and when God sees me, he sees Chist and Christ’s faith in His act of love, mercy and grace, unmerited favor.
    Finally how do we know this? Not spending time in the gospels, these truths are not there. Not in the old testament either. Where we find out this information is thru the Pauline truth, his letters, his revelation given him by the risen lord. No forgiveness of sin apart from the cross, no completion of what the finished work on the cross meant. Found only in one place, the Pauline epistles…….This revelation about the cross given first and foremost to Paul.


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