Can I Be Sure I'm Going to Heaven?

A few people have recently asked me for my thoughts on the afterlife. Each question is specific to a life story, but the common thread is that people are searching for some certainty for what will happen they will go when they leave this world.

I confess I have no seminary training—instead I represent an “everyman who has been with Jesus” as Luke describes in Acts 4:13. I offer my thoughts because I believe it is the responsibility of every Christ follower to describe the reasoning for their hope. I've also worked through the question myself. More than once.

Doubt is a very real thing that we have all experienced in one form or another—even those people that seem to be rock solid. Part of the trick to having certainty is learning to be comfortable with your doubt and not let it shake you too deeply. The wisdom in Proverbs is to "lean not on your own understanding, but in all your ways, acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight." It can be tempting to put too much confidence in your own ability to understand at the expense of otherwise healthy reasoning and common sense.

Deconstructing your faith is very natural and helpful. I believe this is what the scripture calls "working out your salvation". It is one thing to discover the beautiful hope of the gospel of Christ, accept it, go deeper, and then begin to serve in God's kingdom. But someday you will hit a wall, or a crisis of faith, where things just don't work anymore. That is a pivotal point in your faith, and there is an important process to get through it in a psychologically healthy way—even if that means you turn away from what you now believe.

If you are deconstructing right now, I have some hope to offer. It wasn't many years ago that I went through this, and I'm grateful for the help extended to me.

  1. Understand that you're not alone—many people have encountered what you are going through.

  2. The subject matter of your crisis is one-of-a-kind. No one has your life story—you're running a universal faith system through your personal world. So you are the only person who can walk this road.

  3. You will be forced to rely on knowledge you already have and what you REALLY believe. Not what you were taught, not what you thought you believed, but what really sunk down to the core of who you are.

  4. Resist the "ideological shopping spree" mentality. At first it may seem wise to gather many sources of intelligence in order to discover the truth. But when you are in crisis mode, you need to rely on people that you love and trust to filter your input. Otherwise it's very possible to experience an internal divorce from who you actually were meant to be.

  5. Know that deconstruction is healthy and means that you have a profound intelligence that is trying to make sense of a cosmic-sized reality.

Okay so how do I know where I'm going?

If you truly believe that Jesus is the only path to God and eternal life (what most people mean by "heaven"), then be reminded that God says we are measured by Jesus' perfect life—not by our own victories or failures. It's counter-intuitive, and we need to be reminded of this often because we really want to be able to control our own destinies. But if heaven were truly as good as we want it to be, we wouldn't be able to control getting there. Heaven is a gift that is only given to those who are worthy of receiving it.

The word religion means to bind. We naturally feel that this responsibility of binding is ours, that we must "appease" God by committing ourselves to his laws of right living. While a commitment to right living is definitely something God asks (even requires) of us, it does not define our path in the afterlife—Jesus already defined that with his life/death/resurrection.

And if you are reading this and have never been convinced of Jesus being this path (he claims he is "the way, the truth, the life, and no one comes to the father but through [him]") then let me share the essence of Christianity:

We were created to be in relational harmony with the perfect Creator of the universe. But we chose disharmony, or to stray from that relationship (sin). Since perfection by definition can't be compromised, the harmony was broken. The Old Testament is a series of stories, shortcomings, and pain, illustrating just how futile our attempts are at restoring that harmony with God. So God sent his spirit in a man, Jesus, to restore this harmony by solving God's need for absolute perfection. Just as harmony was ruined by one man, so it is restored by one man.

This is mind blowing, and mind bending. But when you realize how far each of us are from absolute perfection, you begin to realize that there has to be some miraculous way that it's satisfied.

But how do I know for me? What if I somehow don't believe the right thing?

I once heard that God loves us so much that if there is any possible way for you to be in heaven, he'll make sure you're there. While that is not exactly scripture, it does reflect the heart of our father and I think it reminds us that if we trust Jesus as our savior, we'll be there. Yes, there is much more to the Christian faith than that. And he also does say the way is narrow. But that is for another day: God wants you to know that he first loved us, he first loved you. He will walk with you righteousness when you are first able to walk in his love.

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