How Do I Get to Heaven? Unlocking the Bible.

Graphic:  newriversinternational(dot)org

How do I get to heaven? The story of the thief on the cross makes the answers to this question crystal clear—this man had no works to offer, either before or after his salvation. His salvation was only by grace of God. A. W. Pink asks:

What could he do? [The thief] could not walk in the paths of righteousness for there was a nail through either foot. He could not perform any good works for there was a nail through either hand. He could not turn over a new leaf and live a better life for he was dying.[i]

Truth can always be twisted by perverse people. The wonderful truth that God saves by grace, through faith and without works is no exception. A man said to Spurgeon, “If I believed that, I would carry on in a life of sin,” to which he replied, “Yes, you would!”[ii]

But the redeemed heart loves Christ. The forgiven sinner has a desire to please his Lord.

If the thief had been rescued from the cross and lived another 30 years, he would have lived a new and different life, but he did not have that opportunity. The fact that he entered paradise shows us with great clarity where our salvation lies.

Our salvation in Christ involves three marvelous gifts—justification, sanctification and glorification. Justification is the gift by which our sins are forgiven, sanctification is the gift by which we grow in the likeness of Christ, and glorification is the gift by which we enter into the everlasting joy of heaven. If you get that, you get the Christian life.

Graphic:  wordblessings(dot)com

Christ Justified Us

Now think about what happened to this man. He was justified and glorified on the same day! He completely bypassed sanctification! This man missed out on the entire Christian life—no battles with temptation, no struggles with prayer. He was not baptized, he never received communion, and he did not become a member of any church.

Let’s return to our question: How do I get to heaven? Here’s what this story tells us: Entrance to heaven comes through justification, not through sanctification. You enter heaven by forgiveness and through the righteousness that Jesus gives you. You do not enter into heaven by the Christian life.

The New Testament repeats this theme again and again:

A man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. (Galatians 2:16)

He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. (Titus 3:5)

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)

It’s always true that where faith is birthed, works will follow, but salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. This is the good news that your acceptance with God does not depend on your performance in the Christian life.

Where would you be if Christ said, “I forgive you, but I’ll be watching to see how you do from now on.” What kind of love is that? “I forgive you, but make sure you don’t mess up again.” When you read the words “not by works,” rejoice. If it wasn’t for this, you’d be sunk because your Christian life is not what you want it to be and neither is mine.

Christ Gives Complete Assurance

“Today, you will be with me in paradise.” (Luke 23:43)

Don’t you just hate the business of waiting for exam results? You do the test, hand in your paper, and then you have to wait. Can you imagine living your whole life waiting for the results? Imagine praying every day, serving every week, and then wondering, “Will I make it into heaven? Or will I spend eternity in hell?”

When the man says, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom,” Christ does not say, “We’ll have to wait and see.” He doesn’t say, “It’s rather late in the day for you to think about repentance now. Look at all the years you’ve wasted!” No, Jesus says, “Today, you will be with me in paradise!”

The Son of God brings the declaration of the last day forward for all who put their trust in him. Do you see how the gift of assurance flows from Christ saving us by grace, through faith, and without works? If our works were in any way involved in our gaining entrance into heaven, assurance would be impossible.

If salvation rested on our works in any way, all assurance would be arrogance because it would be saying “I’ve done the necessary works.” Salvation depends not on your works for Christ, but on Christ’s work for you. His work is finished. It’s perfect and complete. You can rest your life, death, and eternity on him with complete confidence.

Heaven Is Nearer Than You Think

Jesus says, “I tell you the truth, today you will be with me in paradise” (Luke 23:43). Christ is the Lord of paradise. He holds its keys. There can be no higher assurance than his promise. That’s why the apostle Paul says, “It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns?” (Romans 8:33-34).

Graphic: pinterest(dot)com

Death does not lead to a long period of unconsciousness. Nor does it lead, for the believer, to a long process of being prepared. For a Christian believer, death is an immediate translation into the joys of life at the right hand of God. To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord.

Christian, heaven is much nearer than you think. “Today you will be with me in paradise.”

[This post was adapted from Pastor Colin’s sermon, “Breakfast with the Devil, Supper with the Savior,” the second sermon in his series, 7 Words from the Cross.][Photo Credit: Unplash]
[i] A. W. Pink, “The Seven Sayings of the Savior from the Cross,” p. 34, Baker, 2005
[ii] C. H. Spurgeon sermon, “Election and Holiness” March 11, 1860

How Do I Get to Heaven? — Unlocking the Bible

Graphic:  thereshope(dot)org

Hat tip: Truth2Freedom’s Blog

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3 Responses to “How Do I Get to Heaven? Unlocking the Bible.”

  1. christinewjc Says:

    My comment at Truth2Freedom’s blog:

    This is one of the best posts I’ve ever read! I posted it on my blog (with hat tip to yours) and have printed it out to share with my 94 yr. old mother during an upcoming visit. She lives in another state. She recently has become depressed (despite meds to help her with bi-polar disorder) and had stated to my brother, “I’m ready for the Lord to take me.” She has become so upset over all the vitriol she is seeing on the “news” on TV.

    She is a life-long Catholic, however I did share the gospel with her several times over the years. Lately, it has become increasingly difficult for her to comprehend many words while someone is speaking to her. She loves reading my letters that I have been sending her in the snail mail, because she also can’t hear me very well on the phone anymore. [I highly recommend old-fashioned letter writing to the elderly. She is thrilled to get them and can take her time to read what is typed. She also enjoys reading them over and over again.]

    Thank you, for this awesome post! I have been seeking out a way to share the gospel with her again and I think that this post is the best!



  2. GMpilot Says:

    “You’re taking it out of context!” That’s what I’m often told in matters like this.

    Maybe it’s just me, but we do have another perspective on that story. Matthew also describes the executions of that day, and he makes no mention of the repentant thief. Indeed, according to him, both the thieves mocked Jesus as they were all crucified.
    Only Luke tells the ‘nice’ story; Matthew describes something quite different:

    The thieves also, which were crucified with him, cast the same in his teeth. Matthew 27:44

    Mark concurs:

    And they that were crucified with him reviled him. Mark 15:32

    It appears to me that another contribution to the legend of Jesus was being built in Luke’s story. He was the one who places Jesus’ birth in a stable, rather than a house/inn, to emphasize the Savior’s humble origins. Now, at the moment of his death at the hands of the Romans, he is beseeched by yet another sinner, and assures the man that he too will know the joys of heaven.
    We know which of the two accounts Christians prefer, but which one is true? Or are you going to tell us that there’s a Higher Truth that supersedes such discrepancies?


    • christinewjc Says:

      Both Matthew and Mark’s accounts are true – aren’t they? Both thieves did revile Christ while hanging on the cross. They were hanging there for hours. Apparently, the one thief, hearing all that was said and especially Jesus saying, “Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do” had a profound, life-changing, heart challenging, spiritually moving affect on him.

      Here, we can read more detail:

      Luk 23:32

      ¶There were also two others, criminals, led with Him to be put to death.

      Luk 23:33

      And when they had come to the place called Calvary, there they crucified Him, and the criminals, one on the right hand and the other on the left.

      Luk 23:34

      Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they do.”[fn] And they divided His garments and cast lots.

      Luk 23:35

      And the people stood looking on. But even the rulers with them sneered, saying, “He saved others; let Him save Himself if He is the Christ, the chosen of God.”

      Luk 23:36

      ¶The soldiers also mocked Him, coming and offering Him sour wine,

      Luk 23:37

      and saying, “If You are the King of the Jews, save Yourself.”

      Luk 23:38

      And an inscription also was written over Him in letters of Greek, Latin, and Hebrew:[fn]


      Luk 23:39

      ¶Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ,[fn] save Yourself and us.”

      Luk 23:40

      ¶But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Do you not even fear God, seeing you are under the same condemnation?

      Luk 23:41

      “And we indeed justly, for we receive the due reward of our deeds; but this Man has done nothing wrong.”

      Luk 23:42

      Then he said to Jesus, “Lord,[fn] remember me when You come into Your kingdom.”

      Luk 23:43

      ¶And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.”

      The following commentary portion from Matthew Henry’s commentary informs us further:

      2. The conversion of the thief upon the cross, which is an illustrious instance of Christ’s triumphing over principalities and powers even when he seemed to be triumphed over by them. Christ was crucified between two thieves, and in them were represented the different effects which the cross of Christ would have upon the children of men, to whom it would be brought near in the preaching of the gospel. They were all malefactors, all guilty before God. Now the cross of Christ is to some a savour of life unto life, to others of death unto death. To them that perish it is foolishness, but to them that are saved it is the wisdom of God and the power of God. (1.) Here was one of these malefactors that was hardened to the last. Near to the cross of Christ, he railed on him, as others did (v. 39): he said, If thou be the Christ, as they say thou art, save thyself and us. Though he was now in pain and agony, and in the valley of the shadow of death, yet this did not humble his proud spirit, nor teach him to give good language, no, not to his fellow-sufferer. Though thou bray a fool in a mortar, yet will not his foolishness depart from him. No troubles will of themselves work a change in a wicked heart, but sometimes they irritate the corruption which one would think they should mortify. He challenges Christ to save both himself and them. Note, There are some that have the impudence to rail at Christ, and yet the confidence to expect to be saved by him; nay, and to conclude that, if he do not save them, he is not to be looked upon as the Saviour.

      (2.) Here was the other of them that was softened at the last. It as said in Matthew and Mark that the thieves, even they that were crucified with him, reviled him, which some think is by a figure put for one of them, but others think that they both reviled him at first, till the heart of one of them was wonderfully changed, and with it his language on a sudden. This malefactor, when just ready to fall into the hands of Satan, was snatched as a brand out of the burning, and made a monument of divine mercy and grace, and Satan was left to roar as a lion disappointed of his prey. This gives no encouragement to any to put off their repentance to their death-bed, or to hope that then they shall find mercy; for, though it is certain that true repentance is never too late, it is as certain that late repentance is seldom true. None can be sure that they shall have time to repent at death, but every man may be sure that he cannot have the advantages that this penitent thief had, whose case was altogether extraordinary. He never had any offer of Christ, nor day of grace, before how: he was designed to be made a singular instance of the power of Christ’s grace now at a time when he was crucified in weakness. Christ, having conquered Satan in the destruction of Judas and the preservation of Peter, erects this further trophy of his victory over him in the conversion of this malefactor, as a specimen of what he would do. We shall see the case to be extraordinary if we observe, [1.] The extraordinary operations of God’s grace upon him, which appeared in what he said. Here were so many evidences given in a short time of a blessed change wrought in him that more could not have been given in so little a compass. First, See what he said to the other malefactor, v. 40, 41. 1. He reproved him for railing at Christ, as destitute of the fear of God, and having no sense at all of religion: Dost not thou fear God? This implies that it was the fear of God which restrained him from following the multitude to do this evil. “I fear God, and therefore dare not do it; and dost not thou?’ All that have their eyes opened see this to be at the bottom of the wickedness of the wicked, that they have not the fear of God before their eyes. “If thou hadst any humanity in thee, thou wouldest not insult over one that is thy fellow-sufferer; thou art in the same condition; thou art a dying man too, and therefore, whatever these wicked people do, it ill becomes thee to abuse a dying man.’
      2. He owns that he deserves what was done to him: We indeed justly. It is probable that they both suffered for one and the same crime, and therefore he spoke with the more assurance, We received the due reward of our deeds. This magnifies divine grace, as acting in a distinguishing way. These two have been comrades in sin and suffering, and yet one is saved and the other perishes; two that had gone together all along hitherto, and yet now one taken and the other left. He does not say, Thou indeed justly, but We. Note, True penitents acknowledge the justice of God in all the punishments of their sin. God has done right, but we have done wickedly.

      3. He believes Christ to have suffered wrongfully. Though he was condemned in two courts, and run upon as if he had been the worst of malefactors, yet this penitent thief is convinced, by his conduct in his sufferings, that he has done nothing amiss, ouden atopon-nothing absurd, or unbecoming his character. The chief priests would have him crucified between the malefactors, as one of them; but this thief has more sense than they, and owns he is not one of them. Whether he had before heard of Christ and of his wonderous works does not appear, but the Spirit of grace enlightened him with this knowledge, and enabled him to say, This man has done nothing amiss.

      Secondly, See what he said to our Lord Jesus: Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom, v. 42. This is the prayer of a dying sinner to a dying Saviour. It was the honour of Christ to be thus prayed to, though he was upon the cross reproached and reviled. It was the happiness of the thief thus to pray; perhaps he never prayed before, and yet now was heard, and saved at the last gasp. While there is life there is hope, and while there is hope there is room for prayer.

      1. Observe his faith in this prayer. In his confession of sin (v. 41) he discovered repentance towards God. In this petition he discovered faith towards our Lord Jesus Christ. He owns him to be Lord, and to have a kingdom, and that he was going to that kingdom, that he should have authority in that kingdom, and that those should be happy whom he favoured; and to believe and confess all this was a great thing at this time of day. Christ was now in the depth of disgrace, deserted by his own disciples, reviled by his own nation, suffering as a pretender, and not delivered by his Father He made this profession before those prodigies happened which put honour upon his sufferings, and which startled the centurion; yet verily we have not found so great faith, no, not in Israel. He believed another life after this, and desired to be happy in that life, not as the other thief, to be saved from the cross, but to be well provided for when the cross had done its worst.

      2. Observe his humility in this prayer. All his request is, Lord, remember me. He does not pray, Lord, prefer me (as they did, Mt. 20:21), though, having the honour as none of the disciples had to drink of Christ’s cup and to be baptized with his baptism either on his right hand or on his left in his sufferings when his own disciples had deserted him he might have had some colour to ask as they did to sit on his right hand and on his left in his kingdom. Acquaintance in sufferings has sometimes gained such a point, Jer. 52:31, 32. But he is far from the thought of it. All he begs is, Lord, remember me, referring himself to Christ in what way to remember him. It is a request like that of Joseph to the chief butler, Think on me (Gen. 40:14), and it sped better; the chief butler forgot Joseph, but Christ remembered this thief.

      3. There is an air of importunity and fervency in this prayer. He does, as it were, breathe out his soul in it: “Lord, remember me, and I have enough; I desire no more; into thy hands I commit my case.’ Note, To be remembered by Christ, now that he is in his kingdom, is what we should earnestly desire and pray for, and it will be enough to secure our welfare living and dying. Christ is in his kingdom, interceding. “Lord, remember me, and intercede for me.’ He is there ruling. “Lord, remember me, and rule in me by thy Spirit.’ He is there preparing places for those that are his. “Lord, remember me, and prepare a place for me; remember me at death, remember me in the resurrection.’ See Job 14:13.

      [2.] The extraordinary grants of Christ’s favour to him: Jesus said unto him, in answer to his prayer, “Verily I say unto thee, I the Amen, the faithful Witness, I say Amen to this prayer, put my fiat to it: nay, thou shalt have more than thou didst ask, This day thou shalt be with me in paradise,’ v. 43. Observe, First, To whom this was spoken: to the penitent thief, to him, and not to his companion. Christ upon the cross is like Christ upon the throne; for now is the judgment of this world: one departs with a curse, the other with a blessing. Though Christ himself was now in the greatest struggle and agony, yet he had a word of comfort to speak to a poor penitent that committed himself to him. Note, Even great sinners, if they be true penitents, shall, through Christ, obtain not only the pardon of their sins, but a place in the paradise of God, Heb. 9:15. This magnifies the riches of free grace, that rebels and traitors shall not only be pardoned, but preferred, thus preferred.

      Secondly, By whom this was spoken. This was another mediatorial word which Christ spoke, though upon a particular occasion, yet with a general intention to explain the true intent and meaning of his sufferings; as he died to purchase the forgiveness of sins for us (v. 34), so also to purchase eternal life for us. By this word we are given to understand that Jesus Christ died to open the kingdom of heaven to all penitent obedient believers.

      1. Christ here lets us know that he was going to paradise himself, to hades-the invisible world. His human soul was removing to the place of separate souls; not to the place of the damned, but to paradise, the place of the blessed. By this he assures us that his satisfaction was accepted, and the Father was well pleased in him, else he had not gone to paradise; that was the beginning of the joy set before him, with the prospect of which he comforted himself. He went by the cross to the crown, and we must not think of going any other way, or of being perfected but by sufferings.

      2. He lets all penitent believers know that when they die they shall go to be with him there. He was now, as a priest, purchasing this happiness for them, and is ready, as a king, to confer it upon them when they are prepared and made ready for it. See here how the happiness of heaven is set forth to us.

      (1.) It is paradise, a garden of pleasure, the paradise of God (Rev. 2:7), alluding to the garden of Eden, in which our first parents were placed when they were innocent. In the second Adam we are restored to all we lost in the first Adam, and more, to a heavenly paradise instead of an earthly one.

      (2.) It is being with Christ there. That is the happiness of heaven, to see Christ, and sit with him, and share in his glory, Jn. 17:24.

      (3.) It is immediate upon death: This day shalt thou be with me, to-night, before to-morrow. Thou souls of the faithful, after they are delivered from the burden of the flesh, immediately are in joy and felicity; the spirits of just men are immediately made perfect. Lazarus departs, and is immediately comforted; Paul departs, and is immediately with Christ, Phil. 1:23


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