What do you think happens after you die? Do you believe in an afterlife? Do you believe in heaven?
Or do you believe that after death we are just done, ceasing to exist?
If you don't believe there may be an afterlife or a place called heaven whatsoever, then I suppose that you stumbled here by mistake or by curiosity. You may be merely curious as to what the majority of Americans believe, and why. Whether you believe in heaven or not, you may still be interested in some of the facts here in this article.
A recent pew research report indicated that, as of the end of 2014, 67% of Americans still believe in heaven as a real place, regardless of what religion they identify with. However, there is much disagreement among this 67% of people about how to get to heaven.
Let's take a look at what Americans believe, and compare that with what the major world religions teach about heaven and how to get there:
Out of the 67% of Americans who believe in heaven:
45% say there are "many ways to heaven"; while
53% say that heaven is through Jesus Christ alone.
Then, when asked more specific questions:
41% said that people who have never heard of Jesus can still get to heaven; and
30% said that people will have another chance to follow God even after they die.
First, let me cut right to the chase.
I know what you may be wondering: "What does this writer believe? I can sense it coming. Is she going to tell us that Jesus is the only way to heaven? What a closed minded and potentially hate filled message!"
No. It is more complicated than that. So please allow me a few minutes so I can fully answer that loaded, complicated question.
This is a question that became very important to me during the years that I considered myself an agnostic person. See, I am not really the type of person who can approach spiritual topics with a “whatever” attitude. I am not able to just say, "Oh whatever. Some of those ideas are right; some are wrong, and we will never know.” I'm the type of person that wants to figure it out! I want to research and learn and make the best decision I can. And if possible, I want to know the truth! And if not possible, I want to make the best decision based on the potential rewards and potential consequences, and based on the most thorough research and information available.
I also believe that making decisions about spiritual things is important for everyone. Yet I also try to be respectful, and I don’t force others into discussions they do not wish to have.
So, do I believe Jesus is the only way to heaven?
My answer is a well researched response: When looking at all the options, all the major religious belief systems, and all the major philosophies that people follow in this world, there is only one that teaches an assured way to get to heaven.
I often hear people perpetuate this idea: "I think all religions lead to heaven." These people haven't done their research. There is only one religion that teaches a secure way to heaven. A more accurate statement would be,
"Many religions teach a method for attempting to get to heaven. Only one teaches an assured way, a certain way, to heaven."
Christianity is the only religion that teaches that there is an assured way. This is one reason why Christianity calls its message "the good news!" The gospel!
Later in this article, I will briefly outline the major belief systems of the world, and what each one teaches, or doesn't teach, about heaven and how to get there.
First, however, allow me to respond to another tough question that often arises: Do I believe that if a person doesn't accept Jesus before they die on earth, that he or she will go to hell?
My answer for that is this: not necessarily. The research here is not as clear cut, because I base my answer on research through Christian Scripture, and the Scripture doesn't say for certain nor with specificity that "anyone who dies on earth must believe in Jesus before they die their physical death, or they will go straight to hell." Paul, in the book of Hebrews writes that "It is appointed for man to die once, and then there is judgment." (Hebrews 9:27) However this statement is a bit obscure. He doesn't specifically say that the judgment mentioned in Hebrews 9 is a final judgment. Nor does it say that the judgment occurs immediately within seconds of dying. The Bible is also not 100% clear about whether there is one judgment or two judgments. Truthfully, as the pew research report discovered, there is much confusion and disagreement between Christians about what specifically happens after death.
Here is what we do know: Jesus didn't provide a detailed, step by step process about what happens after death. No flowcharts explaining the afterlife were provided.
Instead, Jesus just focused on what we need to do in the "here-and- now", in order to be assured of heaven in the here-and-now. Jesus didn't deal with questions about "what if this happens" or "what if that happens.” Jesus always "cut right to the chase" and emphatically told us what we really needed to know.
Here is what Jesus clearly taught:
· There is a heaven, an afterlife within a spiritual kingdom, the kingdom of God.
· There is a hell, which is an afterlife that is lived in eternal punishment, apart from the kingdom of God (Matthew 25:40-46).
· The only way to have present assurance that you will go to God’s kingdom in heaven, is through believing in Jesus.
There is no doubt that Jesus taught those three things. The gospels are clear on those three basic points.
I do believe that Jesus is the only way to God's kingdom in heaven. I do believe that everyone who goes to heaven will enter by the way of the Spirit of Christ. However, I do not know what that process is going to look like for every individual soul. Furthermore, it's not my place to decide – nor is it anyone’s place to try to decide for another individual what their fate is going to be.
I'm not going to even waste time trying to hypothesize "what if this" or "what if that." I'm just going to cut to the chase and tell you what various religions teach and what Christian Scripture clearly says and does not say. You can draw your own conclusions from there. (Meanwhile, I will pray that God's spirit draws you to His truth as you are deciding things out for yourself.)
Do I think that some people who follow other religions while on earth will be saved and ultimately go to God's kingdom in heaven? Yes I think it is possible that some, and possibly many, will go to heaven. It is God through Jesus who will ultimately judge that person's soul and decide. He is the judge for ALL and that is why He is the only way. (John 5:21-23). It may be a last minute, "death bed," recognition of who He is. Also, there are some scriptures that may lightly suggest (emphasis on the word lightly is important) that there may even be some sort "passing through" second chance period, or that there may be some type of chance for forgiveness after death. (Matthew 12:32). However, there is no clear assurance anywhere in the Christian Bible, that there will be a second chance for everyone or anyone after death.
Is a second chance after death possible? Yes.
Is it probable? We do not know. Personally I don’t think it is worth the risk.
Is a second chance certainly guaranteed? No.
Jesus said, "I am the way, the truth and the life, no one comes to the Father but through me." But, notice carefully that Jesus did not say that "You must believe in me for a certain period of time, with obedience, while on earth in order to be able to go to the Father, and if you don't meet those requirements you are certainly going to eternal punishment." He never said anything close to that. It seems that some Christians think that is what He said. Or even more accurately, some Christians act as if that is what Jesus said.
In fact, the parable of the servants and their pay clearly suggests that those who accept Christ late in life will receive the same reward as those who accept him early in their lives. (Matthew 20:1-16)
Jesus said, "For God so loved the world, He sent His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him will not perish, but will have eternal life." That is the famous John 3:16 verse. These words aren't just a verse in the Bible. These aren't the words of Paul, whose teachings are so oftentimes controversial these days. These words are the very words of Jesus himself! These words provide assurance of salvation and going to heaven, God’s spiritual kingdom, based on belief in Jesus.
Might you be able to go to heaven another way?
However a person gets to God's kingdom in heaven, it ultimately will be through Jesus. You may be on a different path for most of your life. But if you then end up in God’s kingdom, it is because your path diverted along the way and you ultimately ended up in heaven through God’s grace through Jesus.
Do you have to make the decision right now in order to go to heaven?
The truth is, if you are still alive and haven't met your judgment day, then you still have some time to figure this out. Of course, no one is guaranteed a tomorrow (but we don't like to think about that, do we?)
Do you have to make the decision before you die a physical death?
The Bible isn't 100% clear on this. Personally, I wouldn't recommend waiting to find out. Such an experiment is too risky. Why would anyone risk it? Are earthly sinful pleasures worth risking it? Is one's pride, or one's fear of being wrong or of being mocked, worth risking it?
I would say it's not worth the risk -- but the important question is -- do you think it is worth the risk?
And from the rational, logical perspective, that is the question that everyone who doesn't believe in Christ or in the afterlife must answer for themselves: If you are not on the path towards Christ, then is the path you are on worth the risk of what you could lose if you are wrong about spiritual things?
I can't answer that for you. It’s a personal decision, but you may want to mull over it for awhile.
I know there are many different personalities in this world. I know there are many people who would read this and say, "I'm going to risk it! I'm going to bet that I am going to get a second chance later; so I'm going to put this sort of deep-thinking off for now. I'm busy." Yes, some people are going to hear the message and they are going to take a risk that, if Jesus is true, they will get another opportunity at a later date to make up their mind. However, they have no present assurance of going to heaven. They may go there through Christ eventually, but there is no present assurance for them.
Others are not going to want to risk it; they have such a personality that they cannot risk it! They are going to decide either right now or very soon that they are going to accept Jesus and what He taught.
Others, like myself - have had such a personal testimony and a personal revelation of Jesus -- that we become evangelistic. We believe this decision is the most important any soul can make because it has eternal, spiritual consequences. We are the ones who are going to teach, and preach, and blog, and write about this very issue -- so that all may have the opportunity to know the good news: that there is a way to be assured of heaven.
Some preachers still do scare unbelievers. They want unbelievers to make the decision immediately, "Right now" they say, "lest you die in a car accident on the way home." But Jesus didn’t scare people like that. Jesus explained spiritual truths. Then he just moved along to the next crowd or the next town. His methods were genuine and respectful.
So here are three basic generalizations on heaven, gathered from a review of all the major world religions and belief systems:
1)Out of all the religious wisdom and reported spiritual revelation in all of human history -- there are many ways that are taught by which a person can attempt to get to heaven.
2) Out of all the religious wisdom and reported spiritual revelation in all of human history -- there is only one that reveals an assured way to heaven.
3) That assured way is this: Recognizing and admitting that Jesus Christ is who He said He was. The Son of God. The Way to God.
I consider myself an open minded person. With that said, I do not believe that scientific knowledge is the only true knowledge. I believe, for example, that philosophical knowledge, historical knowledge, and knowledge gained through logical reasoning are just as valuable as scientific knowledge in learning what truth is. So, if millions of people in this world are believing and teaching, "You must accept Muhammad and his teachings or you have no chance of heaven;" and if millions more teach "Follow the ways of Buddha to reach Nirvana," I'm going to at least explore what they say. I’m not just going to assume that I am right and they are wrong. I'm going to at least read what Muhammad and the Islam religion actually says. I'm at least going to research and learn about the basic teachings of Buddhism.
I'm going to research it for myself. I'm not going to say, "Well, my parents say that Muhammad is false, so that is what I believe." I'm not going to think, "Well, Buddhism originated in the sixth century B.C so it must be an ancient fable -- no more to see here!" Likewise, I'm not going to think, "There is a recent book published by a prominent atheist that says God is a delusion, so that must be true. " After all, for every book written that says “there is no God;” there are at least a thousand that say, “There is a God; and He gives good news!” No, I recognize that each belief system is an opinion based on a limited selection of facts and knowledge, and I want to know – are all of them true? Is one of them true? And if so, what are the implications?
But I've also discovered that I am unusual. I'm weird because things like television shows bore me; and instead, I stay up late and ponder these things. Most people aren't as critical or as skeptical as I am. They will just believe whatever their friends believe, whatever their parents believe, whatever their favorite celebrity believes, or whatever their favorite scientist believes. Or most of the time, they will just believe what they want to believe, based on their thinking over the issues for less than an hour or two. Because we are all busy, right?
So, once again, do I believe Jesus is the only way? Yes; however, I'm not sure what that is going to look like for each individual. I do believe that whether you choose to believe Christ, or Christ chooses to choose you (John 5:21-23), then ultimately, yes He is the only assured way. The Bible tells us that genuine belief in Jesus is the assured way.
All other religions and philosophies do not provide an assured way.
What, you ask?
Don't Buddhists and Hindus and Muslims all have their own assurance of heaven too? No, they don’t. So don’t tell me that all religions lead to heaven, if those religions themselves don’t teach a certain way to heaven.
Let's look at what other belief systems teach:
Athiesm - Yes, atheism is a belief system in itself. Atheists generally do not believe in God or an afterlife. They believe that humans are nothing more than a physical system (no spiritual parts, no soul, no eternal consciousness). Atheists believe that when you die, you and all your thoughts merely cease to exist. Obviously then, there is no assurance of heaven in Atheism. (By the way, science has now practically proven that consciousness continues to exist after physical death, but that is another post for another day.)
Buddhism - Buddhism generally teaches that you have to master a set of precepts of "understanding the universe," as well as rightful living and right intentions. By doing so you can reach a state called "Nirvana” which is a state of being reunited with God. There is no assurance to any Buddhist, however, that this state of "Nirvana" will ever be reached.
Christianity - Christianity is the only religion or belief system that provides assurance of heaven. Christianity teaches that all humans are sinful, and therefore, incapable of ever being fully reunited with God on their own. Christianity teaches that there is nothing man can do to reach heaven on his own. Christianity believes that God sent Jesus to us to teach us about God, His Kingdom, and about the afterlife. We can be assured of our salvation, and assured of going to heaven, by believing Jesus. We can trust Jesus is who He says He is; because He demonstrated His God-given power and authority through numerous miracles and through His resurrection from death, after which he appeared to many people and ultimately sent the Holy Spirit to us. Once we believe in Christ, our souls are invaded by the essence of the Spirit of God. We are changed internally; and, if given enough time on earth, we will become more Christ like in our thoughts and actions over time. The change to becoming more Christ-like is never mastered in this lifetime. (This is why we Christians so often look like a bunch of hypocrites.) Most of us experience this internal change, usually, as a very slow process over a number of decades. However, Christians trust that our experiences in life are ordered by God in such a way to teach us spiritual lessons, so that we ultimately desire to be more like Jesus.
Hinduism - Hinduism is similar to Buddhism. You have to rid yourself of all bad intent (bad karma) in order to be joined with God. Again, there is no assurance you will ever be able to do this, so therefore there is no assurance of heaven.
Islam - Muslims believe that they must obey Allah (their God); and that their good works must outweigh their bad works in order to go to heaven. They engage in daily religious prayers, go on religious fasts, go on pilgrimages, and other traditions, believing that those practices will help to outweigh their bad works. In general, Muslims do not have assurance of heaven or hell. They don't know where they are going until they are judged by Allah. However, Muslims do believe that there is one assured way for them to get to heaven: by dying as a martyr for Allah.
Judaism - Jews teach about "being reconciled to God" through repentance of sins, through devotion to God, and through doing good deeds. Judaism doesn't have any clear teachings on heaven or an afterlife, so there is really no concept of "assurance of heaven" in Judaism.
Roman Catholicism - Catholics are Christians, although many do not identify as such. Traditional Catholicism teaches that a person's soul must have faith in Christ, and they must complete certain acts to be purified in order to enter heaven. If a person dies without completing the process of purification, then they go to a temporary place called purgatory, where they will go through a process of further purification. Once fully purified, their soul will go to heaven. In Catholicism, if a person rejects Christ in their soul, they will go to hell. I personally do believe that Catholics are Christians and are saved and do have assurance of heaven; because the essential requirement of belief and acceptance of Jesus has been met for them.
Agnosticism - Agnosticism isn't a religion in itself. It is a belief system that basically says, "I don't know. I'm not sure. I haven't made my final decision yet.” Usually, agnostics are leaning towards atheism at the time that they profess agnosticism. I actually really like most agnostics. I was agnostic for about three years. These people, whether they realize it or not, are still doing "soul-work." Many agnostics who do the research and do become Christians end up becoming great earthly leaders for Christianity, because they have researched and know the answers and have responses for the toughest questions and the greatest criticisms of the faith.
There are also more religions and philosophies, such as Wicca, Unitarianism, New Age beliefs, and Scientology. Again, none of them offer an assured way to heaven.
Personally, if the assurance of heaven could be available to me, I want to know about it. I want assurance of heaven, and if I can have assurance during this lifetime, then I want it! I don't want to risk it by trying to take any other path or philosophy to get to heaven, especially since none of the other ways actually provide any assurance. None of the other philosophies teach that the essence of God himself came down to earth in the form of a man, in order to give us hope and assurance that we are saved for eternity.
So why would anyone believe that "all religions teach that being a good person will certainly get you to heaven." None of the other religious thought systems even claim that for themselves!
In other words, how can anyone say that "all religions lead to heaven;" when the actual teachings of all the other religions don't even guarantee entrance into heaven?
So after that very lengthy explanation, my answer again is definitely this:
Yes – out of all the world religions and philosophies, Jesus is the only way that has been revealed as an assured way to heaven.
And for the logical, rational, seeking person – that is what this weekend, Easter weekend, is truly all about.