Yesterday morning I saw a news report about former New York City mayor Michael Bloomberg, which quoted him as saying, “I am telling you if there is a God, when I get to heaven I’m not stopping to be interviewed. I am heading straight in. I have earned my place in heaven.”
I think this is a pretty clear expression of most Americans’ thoughts about heaven. It’s not based on any particular religion (Bloomberg doesn’t even sound sure that God exists). But there’s a general sense that God is nice and will let people into heaven because they volunteered or donated money or did political work meant to help people or just were a nice person.
I wish it were that simple, but it’s not. One does not simply walk into heaven. To do that you would need to be perfect, and we aren’t. And if God simply overlooked the things we did wrong, it would violate His justice and make heaven less perfect in the process.
I can relate to the thought process that Bloomberg used. I thought more or less the same way when I was younger. At the time, I wasn’t really focused on getting to heaven. But I desperately wanted to know that God was pleased with me, and I thought that was something I can earn.
Do you think God is pleased with you? Maybe you’re certain that you’ve done enough good things to make God happy. Or maybe you’re thinking, “No, God isn’t pleased with me.” Maybe you’ve done something terrible in the past and you just can’t forget it. Or maybe you haven’t done anything really bad, but you know you’re not good enough. I fell into that last category.
I was always a “good girl.” I didn’t do drugs or steal or do anything that’s usually considered really bad. But I knew I didn’t measure up to what God wanted.
I sometimes argued with my brother or my parents. Occasionally I lied to teachers about whether I’d done my homework. I grew up going to church, so I knew God wanted me to be loving and friendly. But I was really shy, so I avoided my classmates instead.
These may seem like little things, but I felt terrible about them. They showed that inside, I wasn’t as good as I wanted to be. At church, I kept committing to follow God, and I kept falling short. I was convinced that God was disappointed in me because I was disappointed in myself. I also wasn’t sure I had really been forgiven because I knew that receiving God’s forgiveness should change my life, and my life wasn’t changing.
Finally, when I was 14, I went to a church camp. They told me the news I had heard so many times before: That Jesus had died for me and taken the punishment I deserved for my sins. He rose from the dead and now offered me forgiveness. I just had to receive it.
I prayed and told God that I couldn’t live a good life on my own. As good as I might have looked on the outside, I was really messed up inside. I asked Him to forgive and change me.
That was when I finally realized that God doesn’t save us because of good things we’ve done or because He knows we’ll do good things in the future. He saves us just because He loves us.
After I asked God to change me, He did. I began to want to pray and read the Bible. I became more patient and loving, and I gradually stopped being so shy. But the best thing is knowing that God is pleased with me. And I can be sure that when I die I can simply walk into heaven. But it’s not because I’ve earned it. It’s because Jesus earned it for me.