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How can I make sure I go to heaven when I die?

How can I make sure I go to heaven when I die?

By Canon Robert F. Haskell
May 27, 2018

A friend of mine once asked me to visit his aunt in the hospital. I said I would be happy to see her and went to the hospital the next day. She was lying in bed. No one was with her. I asked her why she was in the hospital. She said she had a brain tumor and the doctors had given her a month to live. I said I was sorry to hear that, and what did she think would happen after she died. She said she was not worried. She was sure she was going to heaven. I said, "that is wonderful. So few people have the confidence that you do. But tell me, why are you so sure?" "Oh," she said, "it is because I deserve to go to heaven. I have lived a good life."

She is not alone in her confidence that she is going to heaven. According to a Harris poll, it turns out that about two-thirds of the people in the US believe they are going to heaven. But is her confidence reasonable? Should she expect to go to heaven and will it be because she has lived a good life? Can a person show up at the gates of heaven and say, "I deserve to be here?" Jesus had some things to say about this. A man once came up to him and said, "Lord, will those who are saved by few?" (Luke 13:23) That is an interesting question. Look over at Matthew 7:14 for Jesus' answer. "The gate is narrow and the way is hard that leads to life, and those who find it are few." The gate is 'narrow.' Those who find it are 'few.' Heaven will not fall into our laps. We have to work hard to find it.

A man once told me that getting into heaven was like flying from New York to Chicago. Some people take American Airlines; some people take United; some take US Airways; but everyone gets there. But that's not what Jesus says. He says, "Those who find it are few." Not everyone is going to get there. Nevertheless, Jesus doesn't want us to give up. He says, "Strive to enter by the narrow door." (Luke 13:24)

So, what do we have to do? Look at what Jesus says about the people who are not going to get in to heaven: "I never knew you: depart from me, you evildoers." (Matthew 7:23) What we want Jesus to say to us is the opposite of what he says here. We want him to say, "I know you. Come on in."

The key to getting into heaven is for him to know you, and for you and him to be best friends. Not just you being friendly to him or having good feelings about him but being best friends. His command to "strive" applies to making friends with him. It means to do more than what comes easily. So you may like Jesus and say prayers of thanks when good things happen and prayers for help when you are stuck but 'striving' to know Jesus means that you have to plan things to do with him.

Think about when you were dating your wife or husband. You would plan ahead to get closer to them. 'Maybe I could ask my boyfriend to go to a party with me.' 'Maybe I could ask my girlfriend to go for a walk with me.' It is the same thing with striving to know Jesus. "I will sing to Jesus while I am driving to work." "I will read a paragraph from the gospels and write a letter to Jesus after I do it."

Or, think about how you get to know anyone. Call them up. Have lunch with them. Ask them questions. Listen to them. We can do the same when we get to know Jesus. I know a man who has a watch that buzzes every ten minutes to remind him to talk to Jesus. Or you can use places to remind you to talk and listen to Jesus. I talk to him when I am pumping gas. At the end of the day, you need to be able to say, "I put some effort into getting closer to Jesus today."

You say, "Wait a minute. I thought working hard to get into heaven was wrong. I thought all I needed was faith." Here's the story. You can never be good enough to meet the standard of goodness for getting into heaven. Jesus says, "Be perfect as your Father in heaven is perfect." (Matthew 5:48) No one is perfect. People who are hoping they will get into heaven because they are harmless, friendly people are fooling themselves. You get into heaven because of Jesus. You need to attach yourself to Jesus. Then, his perfection rubs off on you. His death on the cross pays for all the things you have done wrong. But you have to work hard to be a friend of Jesus. Heaven is free for us. Jesus did the work. But we have to do things to get close to Jesus.

Last year I bought a ream of paper at Staples. The cashier told me there was a rebate, and if I followed the directions, the paper would be free. I had to cut the UPC barcode off the package, put it in an envelope together with the receipt, and mail it to the address on the package. The rebate I received a month later covered the cost of the paper. So the paper was free. But there were things I had had to do.

Going to heaven is free, too. Jesus paid the admission price when he died on the cross. But there are things I have to do for the price to be paid to my account. Committing my life to Jesus. Following him. Trusting in him. Talking to him. Spending time with him. Obeying him. Do everything you can to build a relationship with Jesus and he will take care of you, both in this life and in heaven.

This article first appeared in the Albany Episcopalian. It is reproduced with permission. The Rev. Robert F. Haskell is Canon to the Ordinary, Diocese of Albany

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