A medical article was shared recently with a story about a woman with Alzheimer’s whom they called Ms. Jane. The main point of that article is moot in regards to this writing but there was one key part of the story that struck a chord. The writer, who was a medical provider that was introduced to Ms. Jane well past the point of her having the cognitive ability to share her testimony, was confident that when Ms. Jane died she went to heaven. It’s one of those all too common mistakes that we make as Christians. Instead of feeling comfortable admitting that can’t know what was in someone’s heart, it’s easier to say they went to heaven. After all, the article described Ms. Jane as a good mother and a sweet woman who was a member of a religious family. How can someone like that not end up in heaven? The truth is folks, some of the nicest people in the world aren’t heading to heaven. Confidence in the works of your flesh is a dangerous thing.
Denominationalism can have a similar problem. They see membership as the deciding factor. You’ve probably heard it before. “I was raised Lutheran.” “He was a devout Baptist.” “Or he was a member of the Catholic Church.” People don’t want to think that someone who was a member of “their church” might not be in heaven.
Unfortunately, those who appear to be the most religious are often those most in need of saving. Luke 18:9-14 tells the story of the Pharisee and the publican. The Pharisee would have been a member of a Jewish sect who held a strict observance to the traditional and written law. They would have been the most religious of their time. The publican would have been a tax collector for the Roman empire. They were often the most despised. In this parable, the Pharisee has confidence in his own ability to be righteous whereas the publican, admitting he was a sinner, couldn’t even look up to heaven when he prayed. In verse 14 Jesus says of the publican, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”
Just as being religious won’t get you into heaven, being born into a family isn’t the answer either. 1 Corinthians 1:26 tells us that “not many noble are called.” It’s easy to see that verse as only applying to royalty but the same applies to any familial connection. You can’t simply be born into a destiny in heaven. That can be a tough pill to swallow: that moment when you realize that you don’t know for sure (about a loved one who has already passed). That moment when you realize that being born into a certain denomination, and following their traditions, wasn’t enough for your salvation, so you can’t be sure about those who’ve come before you.
It brings me back to Ms. Jane. If her dedication to the traditions of her church and her being born into a religious family wasn’t enough, surely her good works should allow us to feel confident that she went to heaven. We see from the passage below, though, that good works only bring about debt.
4 Now to him that worketh is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt.
5 But to him that worketh not, but believeth on him that justifieth the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness.
Grace by definition is being given something that you don’t deserve. Ephesians 2:8-9 tell us it is a gift. A gift isn’t a gift if you have to earn it. Then it’s a wage. Don’t try to work for your ticket to heaven. When you do so you’re really trying to tell God that He owes you something, which He doesn’t. Just put faith in the finished work of the cross. Believe that Jesus died to pay for your sins and just like he was raised and lives today, so too can you.
So, what ever did happen to Ms. Jane? Did she go to heaven? Well, I couldn’t say. The point is, neither could that medical provider. What we do know is there is only two options; either heaven or hell. The best way to be sure is to ask someone while they’re still with us. Don’t just assume. Ask them if they know what will happen to them when they die. Heaven is real, and not everyone gets to go there. We can never know for sure what is in someone’s heart, only God can, but we can always ask.
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