Gaining Heaven and Avoiding Hell
Jack seems to think you get to heaven by being good. The Bible says otherwise.

Jack asks: Can non-Christians go to heaven? What happens to someone like Ghandi or Socrates? My brother keeps bugging me about this.
Question about A General Question: Who goes to heaven?
Motivation - Curiosity: Discussion with friends
Bible view - A religious guide - [question 2, Friday, 20-May-2011]

There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways of death.
- Proverbs 14:12 [KJV]

If you are like most people, Jack, you believe that God lets people into heaven based on their good deeds. This is a very common belief because, for the most part, this is how the world operates. If you do a good job at work, you get a raise. If you don't do a good job, you don't get a raise, or worse. God, however, does not operate the way mankind operates. The verse from Proverbs (box at left) says this explicitly. Just because something seems right, does not mean it is right. Listen to the prophet Isaiah as he describes the difference between God and man:

For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, saith the LORD. [Isaiah 55:8]

To answer Jack's question, we will first look at Islam, which teaches a very rationale approach to heaven and hell similar to Jack's thinking. After that, we will look at the Bible, which teaches something quite different. Instead of being good to get to heaven, the Bible emphasizes believing good. We will explain.

Heaven and Hell in Islam

scales of good and bad deeds
According to Islam and many other religions, God weighs good and bad deeds. This is very rationale and normal, since this is how much of human life works. The Bible says otherwise.

There are many strong parallels between Islam and Christianity. Both, for instance, believe Jesus was born to a virgin, and both believe there is an afterlife with heaven or hell as the only destinations. But there is a marked difference between Islam and Christianity concerning how a person gets to heaven and avoids hell. This difference leads to completely different motivations for Muslim living and Christian living, so it is important not only in the afterlife, but in this life as well.

AFTB is admittedly ill-equipped to handle the broad scope of Islamic belief, but our own study, plus research at IslamiCity.com, equips us to quote this important verse in the Qu'ran, the holy book of Islam:

Then those whose balance (of good deeds) is heavy,- they will attain salvation: But those whose balance is light, will be those who have lost their souls, in Hell will they abide [Surah 23:102ff]

The Qu'ran indicates that God keeps a record of good deeds and bad deeds, and then weighs them in a balance to determine passage to heaven (salvation) or hell (lost souls). You can read this verse in its context at this IslamiCity translation of the Qu'ran.

What, then, is a good deed and what is a bad deed? In his question Jack indicates that Ghandi and Socrates probably did a lot of good deeds, and Jack is probably correct. But to sort good from bad, one needs a code of ethics established by a high authority. Islam has a code of ethics, and so does the Bible. The Bible's code of ethics is the Ten Commanements (Exodus 20). The main trouble with such codes is that no one lives up to them completely. Not only that, the power they impart to their administrators is easily abused.

Living by Codes of Ethics

At its very outset the Bible demonstrates that human beings are powerless to fully comply with codes of ethics. We all know this, because we have all broken some rules somewhere along our ways, but, to be clear, the Bible starts with the easiest possible code and then concludes that we cannot completely fulfill it.

You probably know the story. In Genesis 2:16, God imposes and extremely simple code of ethics on Adam in the Garden of Eden:

And the LORD God commanded the man, saying, Of every tree of the garden thou mayest freely eat: But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.
- Genesis 2:16 [KJV]

So the code of ethics was this:

- Good: Do anything your heart desires
- Bad: Just refrain from eating from one tree

Later codes of ethics, like the Ten Commandments, are much more involved than this one, but, sure enough, Adam breaks the only rule God gives him.

And when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree to be desired to make one wise, she took of the fruit thereof, and did eat, and gave also unto her husband with her; and he did eat. [Genesis 3:6, KJV]

You may not believe that Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden ever happened, but it is difficult to miss the Bible's point about the sinfulness of mankind. Sin is breaking God's rules, and that is what Adam and Eve did, and that is what everyone else does, right down to the present time. In fact, the Bible asserts that everyone has broken God's rules. If a person thinks he or she is personally exempt, the Bible differs with that opinion.

Adam and Eve's sin in in the Garden of Eden is only the beginning of a long, continuous biblical account of people not living up to God's requirements. Human shortcomings fill the Old Testament and the New Testament. No one is exempt. As measured by the Ten Commandments, people do bad things all the time, even Ghandi and Socrates, Moses and Peter, you and me. In the book of the Psalms, King David notes:

The LORD looked down from heaven upon the children of men, to see if there were any that did understand, and seek God. They are all gone aside, they are all together become filthy: there is none that doeth good, no, not one. [Psalms 14:2ff]

and the prophet Isaiah sums it up poetically with this observation:

All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way;
- Isaiah 53:6 [KJV]

The Holiness of God

For I am the LORD your God; sanctify yourselves therefore, and be ye holy; for I am holy; neither shall ye defile yourselves with any manner of swarming thing that moveth upon the earth.
- Leviticus 11:44 [JPS]

Nothing in the discourse above is shocking. Nothing goes against our human experience. The prevalence of sin in the world, that is, the breaking of the Ten Commandments, is well known and few would argue that mankind is free of sin when sin is defined in this way. You can read the Ten Commandments in Exodus chapter 20, Deuteronomy chapter 5, and Matthew chapters 5, 6, and 7. The text in Matthew (in the New Testament) records Jesus' Sermon on the Mount, wherein He ratifies and strengthens the Ten Commandments and applies them to everyday modern life.

What is shocking is God's response to sin, as described in the Bible. Unlike the Qu'ran, as well as other religious teachings, the Bible asserts that God requires perfection in abstaining from sin. This is completely unreasonable to our way of thinking, because we are used to graduated scales of good and bad. The Bible, however, says that one small sin is enough to outweigh every possible good deed.

Leviticus 11:44 (in the box above) is a good place to start a biblical understanding of holy living. Holiness is the opposite of sinfulness. Every Jew, and by extenstion every Christian and every person who would heed the Bible message, is bidden to be holy. In Pentateuch and Haftorahs (second edition, Dr. J. H. Hertz editor, 1962), the commentary on Leviticus 11:44 quotes Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair as saying: 'Heedfulness leads to cleanness; cleanness to purity; purity to holiness; holiness to humility; humility to dread of sin; dread of sin to saintliness; saintliness to the possession of the Holy Spirit.'

Leviticus 11:44 and the many other biblical passages related to it (Leviticus 10:3, 19:2, 20:7, 20:26; Exodus 19:6; Deuteronomy 14:2; 1 Samuel 6:20; Psalms 99:5, 99:9; Isaiah 6:3-5; Amos 3:3; Matthew 5:48; 1 Thesselonians 4:7; 1 Peter 1:15-16, 2:9; Revelation 22:11) culminate in the observation of James in the New Testament that biblical law is a unit -- break it in one point, and you are guilty of all:

For whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. [James 2:10, KJV]

The God of the Bible does not weigh good deeds and bad deeds in a balance. He concludes, instead, that everyone is a sinner, expelled from heaven and bound for hell.

But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away. [Isaiah 64:6, KJV]

The wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God. [Psalms 9:17, KJV]

The Sin Problem

no balance of good and bad deeds
The God of the Bible does not use scales. Instead He concludes all are sinners. Many people think this is outrageous, or, at a minimum, unfair.

The Bible teaches, as outlined in the prior section, that all mankind is sinful and destined for hell. This answers Jack's question about Ghandi and Socrates. The normal response to this shocking conclusion usually takes one of three forms:

(1) Who cares? I cannot conceive of a God who rewards and punishes his creatures (Albert Einstein).

(2) Wait. God would not ask me to keep His commandments without giving me the power to do so.

(3) Help! How can I solve my sin problem?

Response (1) is certainly understandable in human terms, and many people agree with Albert Einstein. The Bible does not address this response directly, so we will not belabor it here.

As for response (2), the wording of Leviticus 44:11 (be ye holy, for I am holy) can be coupled with Genesis 1:27 (man made in the image of God) to conclude that God could give people power to keep His commandments as a derivative of His own holy character. However, AFTB knows of no biblical passage that explicitly states the precept that God never asks people to do impossible things. Even though this seems plausible in human terms, there are no chapter-and-verse references that support it directly. On the other hand, there are several references that say the opposite (James 2:10, Isaiah 64:6 above, Lazarus, come forth! and similar related references). There is an excellent, extended treatment of this difficult subject in an article titled What Will Happen To Those Who Have Never Heard The Gospel? at AnswersFromTheBook.org.

In general, conservative believers quickly acknowledge response (3), but more liberal-minded individuals pursue response (2). The controversy between these two has raged for centuries, so there is no point espousing one or the other here, nor is it necessary to resolve this argument in order to answer Jack's question about Ghandi and Socrates. With either choice (2) or (3), the conclusion that Ghandi, Socrates, you, and I fall short of God's high standards is plainly evident, and no Islam-like balance of good and bad deeds appears in the Bible. What, then, is the biblical solution to the sin problem? Sinners cannot go to heaven.

God's Gracious Provision

For the life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you upon the altar to make atonement for your souls; for it is the blood that maketh atonement by reason of the life.
- Leviticus 17:11 [JPS]

Again from its very beginning, in the Garden of Eden in Genesis, and continuing to its very end in the book of Revelation, the Bible presents one and only one anecdote for sin: the shedding of innocent blood. Both Jews and Christians have been heavily criticized for adhering to such blood and guts religion, but this is what the Bible teaches. We turn again to Leviticus to see this spelled out in specific detail. Leviticus 17:11 (in the box at the left) addresses God's dietary law and leaves no room for interpretation: blood is special, it is used to make atonement for sin.

Dictionary.com defines atonement as satisfaction or reparation for a wrong or injury. So blood shed on an altar satisfies the wrongdoing of sin in a person's life. This, again, is grusome, offensive, and shocking -- Islamic scales are much easier to stomach -- but this is what the Bible teaches.

There are hundreds of Bible verses which play out this theme. In ancient Israel, focal point of the Old Testament and predecessor of today's Jews, thousands and thousands of innocent animals were killed at the sacrificial altar to make atonement for the people's sin. An example verse appears in Leviticus 4:23

Or if his sin, wherein he hath sinned, come to his knowledge; he shall bring his offering, a kid of the goats, a male without blemish: And he shall lay his hand upon the head of the goat, and kill it in the place where they kill the burnt offering before the LORD: it is a sin offering.
- Leviticus 4:23ff [KJV]

The biblical institution of substituting one victim for another says that an innocent animal bears the penalty for a guilty man's sin. It is a matter of pure grace (loving, unmerited favor) on the part of God. While we can accept that God put the law of sacrifice into effect, we need not understand why He put it into effect. The Apostle Paul marvels at God's gracious provision in the New Testament:

For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God:
- Ephesians 2:8 [KJV]

Paul further underscores the fact that good and bad deeds, that is, our works, have nothing to do with this salvation when he writes, in the next phrase:

Not of works, lest any man should boast. [Ephesians 2:9, KJV]

The words saved or salvation are New Testament words that are often rendered propitiation or expiation in the Old Testament. These words all mean, roughly, attaining a 'not guilty' verdict in the courtroom of a just God. Our sins are forgiven and removed based on a substitutionary shedding of blood.

The Answer: Ghandi, Socrates, You and Me

To answer Jack's question explicitly now, the Bible says that neither Ghandi, Socrates, you, or I can attain heaven unless our sins are eradicated by blood sacrifice. How, precisely, does this happen? Both the Old and New Testaments describe the process. To be effective for a specific individual, the individual must:

(1) repent of the sin he or she commits, with full admission of guilt, heartfelt sorrow, and abstaining from continuing in sin,

(2) have a priest offer the blood sacrifice on his or her behalf, and

(3) believe in his or her heart that repentance, coupled with the shedding of innocent blood, has God-ordained power to eradicate sin.

These three steps appear to be virtually impossible for some people, while others embrace them and build their lives on them. We can know for ourselves whether or not we meet these three criteria in our own lives, but we cannot know this for Ghandi or Socrates. Only God knows. If they have not been applied, the Bible provides no other remedy for sin, and sin condemns to hell.

The verses cited below, two from the Old Testament and two from the New Testament, are only four of many verses that show repentance and God's sacrificial law, wrapped together in a believing heart, are the keys to God's pardon and, therefore, entrance to heaven.

If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land. [2 Chronicles 7:14, KJV]

Seek ye the LORD while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near: Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the LORD, and he will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon. [Isaiah 55:6ff]

Then opened he their understanding, that they might understand the scriptures, And said unto them, Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day: And that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem. [Luke 24:45ff]

for whatsoever is not of faith is sin. [Romans 14;23b]

Animal Sacrifice and Monotheism

The Jewish commentary on Leviticus says 'The existence of animal sacrifice as a virtually universal custom of mankind from times immemorial proves that the expression of religious feeling in this form is a element of man's nature and, therefore, implanted in him by his Creator. To spiritualize this form of worship, free it from cruel practices and unholy associations, and so regulate the sacrificial cult that it makes for a life of righteousness and holiness, was the task of monotheism.'

The three great monotheistic (one god) systems in the world today are Islam, Judaism, and Christianity. These systems agree on many points, but on the institution of blood sacrifice, they disagree substantially.

Islam has discarded the entire concept of substitutionary atonement by diluting the biblical record and replacing it with the Qu'ran, which has no such concept:

We made animals subject to you, that ye may be grateful. It is not their meat nor their blood, that reaches Allah. it is your piety that reaches Him [Surah 22:36ff]

Judaism has suspended, or at least postponed, animal sacrifice after their centralized religious focus, the Temple in Jerusalem, was destroyed in 70 AD by the Romans. Some Jews long for the day when the Temple is re-built and the sacrificial system re-instated. Until then the widespread network of synagogues support repentance, prayer, and good works as solutions to the sin problem. See Judaism 101 for a thorough explanation.

Christianity adheres to the literal and spiritual fulfilment of Abraham's prophecy in Genesis 22:8, which says God will provide Himself the lamb for a burnt-offering (JPS). This happened when God took on a body and shed His own innocent blood upon the altar of a Roman cross in the person of Jesus Christ. Speaking of Jesus, the New Testament says:

Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world. [John 1:29, KJV]

For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [John 3:16, KJV]

This question is not so much about Ghandi or Socrates, but about you and me. Are you going to heaven? That is the important question.

by Paul Richards

Mon, 26-Jun-2017 03:44:24 GMT, unknown: 642318 ABGy8aniwK.uo
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