Recently, as I was traveling with my daughter in West Virginia, we had opportunity to meet some really nice folks at a park in the mountains. We were purchasing some souvenirs and asked about an item that we had purchased there before to see if they had it this trip.
The attendant was very kind and we struck up a conversation about "why" we were there in the area a few times a year. I answered that we were there because I was preaching a Gospel Meeting (Revival in that area) a few towns over. This young man proceeded to tell me about his faith and his "current" belief system of worshiping God in his own way at home because of some hurtful things that had happened in the organization in which he identified as a member.
As we listened, we both (my daughter and I) cordially replied to some of his thoughts and tried to encourage him to do a couple of things for us. 1. Come and visit us at the meeting. 2. Purchase a copy of Muscle and a Shovel, read it, and then call me when he had.
Although he agreed, I am not convinced that he will accomplish #2, and he did not accomplish #1. This conversation had merit. We actually were possibly opening a door to a study with this young man...and then it happened....
"It really doesn't matter where you go to church at, or what you believe...we're all going to the same place!" I had to look to my right to see who had very loudly proclaimed this. It was his co-worker. She appeared to be much older. A lady with a very loud and scratchy voice, large rimmed glasses and a look of disgust on her face. I am not trying to be unkind in my description, just trying to paint a mental picture for my readers.
My daughter looked at me and I scrolled my eyes back to this young man in hopes that I had not lost his attention with the interruption. He thanked us for being so kind in discussion with him and told us that he would read Muscle and a Shovel and call me and thanked me so kindly for giving him my name and phone number.
Now...to the heart of the blog...and the question of the hour...
"We're all going to the same place...aren't we?"
Such an interesting thought. The question does come up in discussion from time to time in different elements. So, what is the answer? We need to look at some Bible passages to better understand the premise of the question to begin with...so...you ready? Let's open our Bibles and study this together!
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16 ESV
Okay...so Jesus Himself tells us that there is eternal life. He also tells us that those that "believe" in Him shall HAVE eternal life. Right? So that settles it! Wait, not so fast.
First off, context would define for us that there is much more to just believing in Jesus to find eternal life. This text is quoted in the same chapter that Nicodemus was told what he must do to find eternity. He was told that he must be "born again". Also, in remote context, we have to apply the brakes in the text of James that tells us that even the devil believes...so, that can't be the sole answer to the question. It is certainly part of the answer, but not the whole.
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. Eph 2:8-9 ESV
Here is another passage to take into consideration in our question. So, by the grace of God, we are saved THROUGH faith and not as a result of works. Alright...so now we are shaping this puzzle up a bit. We must believe; yet, we also must have the GIFT from God through faith in order to find eternity...not by our own works that we can boast of. But, again to quote James, "faith without works is dead!" How does that balance? We won't be able to cover the entirety of this thought in this particular blog, but we will add this thought to our search for an answer. So, now we have belief in the One who gave us the gift of grace through faith that takes us into eternity.
Now...about those "works"....
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, ... Matt 25:31-46
Jesus explains the "separation" of persons (souls) for us in this passage. Here is where we can see in part a clear definition that "we are not all going to the same place" and part of the reason why is given. You see, we can't just believe and have faith, we also need grace, and we need to exhibit good works. Works of righteousness, not of merit. This is where so many get confused it seems in placing immersion as a work. Immersion is not a work any more than believing is a work, or having faith is a work, or acting Christ-like in righteous works as listed...is a work. Immersion is obedience.
So, now we have faith (belief), grace, good works, and obedience. That is what is shown to determine that one has lived a life pointing toward heaven as their eternal home. However, there is a bit more.
For if we go on sinning deliberately after receiving the knowledge of the truth, there no longer remains a sacrifice for sins, but a fearful expectation of judgment, and a fury of fire that will consume the adversaries. Anyone who has set aside the law of Moses dies without mercy on the evidence of two or three witnesses. How much worse punishment, do you think, will be deserved by the one who has spurned the Son of God, and has profaned the blood of the covenant by which he was sanctified, and has outraged the Spirit of grace? For we know him who said, “Vengeance is mine; I will repay.” And again, “The Lord will judge his people.” ... Heb 10:26-31 ESV
Now we can start to see a bigger thought process throughout the Bible in our home for eternity. The Judgment day will be the final separation of the sheep (good) and the goats (bad). An eternity in heaven for those found worthy and faithful by the gift of grace through their faith, repentance, confession....yes that is there too (Rom 10:9-10), obedience, and living a life of good righteous works (fruits); and an eternity in hell - yes the one that is real - the fiery pit as described throughout the Bible where weeping and gnashing of teeth are prevalent and the soul never dies but torments for eternity for those that are labeled as "goats".
And someone said to him, “Lord, will those who are saved be few?” And he said to them, “Strive to enter through the narrow door. For many, I tell you, will seek to enter and will not be able. When once the master of the house has risen and shut the door, and you begin to stand outside and to knock at the door, saying, ‘Lord, open to us,’ then he will answer you, ‘I do not know where you come from.’ Then you will begin to say, ‘We ate and drank in your presence, and you taught in our streets.’ But he will say, ‘I tell you, I do not know where you come from. Depart from me, all you workers of evil!’ ... Luke 13:23-30
Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of my Father who is in heaven. On that day many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness.’ Mat 7:21-23
You see, when we search the Bible for answers, we have to understand that the answers are there. They always have been. Although it would be a glorious thought that "we all go to the same place" when we die....if it is a heavenly eternity....we must also realize that Jesus has said that few will find that reward due to their own accord.
In reality, we all really deserve to go to the same place when we die in our sinful lives, yet, our Father has seen fit to allow us to overcome sin through His Son, the propitiation of our sins, the Lion and the Lamb, the Prince of Peace that died for the sins of the world through His magnificent grace! Won't we all consider His grace and be obedient unto Him and remain faithful so that you and I can hear those beautiful words one day "Enter in thou good and faithful servant!" I hope you will. I know I will do all I can do to make sure I am there!
Rock Hill church of Christ