8 Things That Won’t Get You To Heaven

Just about everybody wants to go to heaven when they die. Granted, the definition of what “heaven” is varies from person to person, but here I’m talking about the Biblical heaven: a place of eternal, immensely fulfilling life in the presence of Jesus and all those who have had their sins forgiven by God. This is the place I will go to when I die. I know that for sure, and you can to.

Yet I fear that many people simply assume they will go to heaven when they die, when in fact many will not. Truth is, not everyone goes to “a better place” when their time is up. There is only one doorway into heaven, and there is very specific criteria for passing through it. The Bible says so clearly. One section of Scripture lays out 8 things that won’t get you into heaven, and one thing that will. The Apostle Paul says in Philippians 3:

[3] For we are the circumcision, who worship by the Spirit of God and glory in Christ Jesus and put no confidence in the flesh—[4] though I myself have reason for confidence in the flesh also. If anyone else thinks he has reason for confidence in the flesh, I have more: [5] circumcised on the eighth day, of the people of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews; as to the law, a Pharisee; [6] as to zeal, a persecutor of the church; as to righteousness under the law, blameless [7] But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. [8] Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ [9] and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—[10] that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, [11] that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead.

Here is what he is saying. By the standards of many, Paul is a prime candidate for heaven. He says that if anyone thinks he has confidence, Paul has reason for more. In fact, he specifically lists his qualifications. Yet at the end he counts them as “loss” and “rubbish”, meaning they are not enough to earn him forgiveness and therefore, heaven. What are these things that are not enough to earn him a spot in heaven?

  1. Religious rituals. Paul was “circumcised on the eighth day” (vs. 5). This was a Jewish tradition that was even commanded by God in the Old Testament. Some parallels for today might include baptism, praying the rosary, or taking communion. Yet when it comes to pleasing God with such things, they are “loss”. Religious rituals are not sufficient for one to gain heaven.
  2. Ethnicity. Paul is “of the people of Israel” (vs. 5), who, according to the Bible, are God’s chosen people. Yet this apparently does not make him immediately qualified for heaven. In fact, the Bible warns that “not all are children of Abraham because they are his offspring” (Romans 9:7). It is not enough to be descended from Abraham, the father of Israel. No one gets to heaven based on their race or ethnic heritage.
  3. Family affiliation. Verse 5 says that Paul is of the tribe of Benjamin, which is a clan of Israel. Just as race does not secure eternal life, neither does family background. The Benjamites were highly religious people and very devoted to God. Yet Paul was not granted heaven simply because he came from that kind of family. Similarly, no one today is guaranteed heaven because they come from a religious family. It just doesn’t work that way!
  4. Religious pedigree. Paul was in a class of people known as the Pharisees (vs. 6), who were the religious leaders of the day. In modern vernacular, we might consider Paul to be a Rabbi, Pastor, or Priest of the highest rank. You’d think that such a “holy man” would surely be destined for heaven! Perhaps, but certainly not based on a title or rank. Again, Paul calls it “loss”.
  5. Bible knowledge. As a Pharisee, Paul would have been very well-versed in the Scriptures. He would have had huge chunks of the Bible memorized, and if anyone had a question about God, they would go to him for answers. He knew his stuff! Yet, when it comes to earning him heaven, this was not sufficient.
  6. Religious zeal. Paul was so intense about his religious beliefs that he dedicated his life to shutting down opposing religions (vs. 6). In his case, it meant imprisoning and killing followers of Jesus, since Paul was a Jew (before converting to Christianity). His passion about fighting for God and eradicating false religions makes modern-day religious devotion look lame. Are you a religiously devout person? A faithful church attender? A generous giver? Compared to Paul, it’s pittance, and even his zeal is not good enough.
  7. Sincere faith. Paul, a persecutor of the Church, completely believed he was doing something good. He was convinced that his behaviour was God-approved. Yet it most certainly was not. The truth is that being sincere about your faith is not enough. You can be sincere all you want, but if you are sincerely wrong, it counts for naught.
  8. Morality. Paul says that when it comes to him obeying the law (the rules in the Old Testament), he was “blameless” (vs. 6). Can you say such a thing? That when it comes to keeping God’s rules you are virtually without fault? Yet even being a highly moral, keeper of God’s rules says that he counts it as “rubbish”. His good deeds and obedience are not enough to secure him a place in heaven.

Paul looks over his life, says that he has more reason than anyone to feel good about gaining heaven, yet all of this “gain” he considers to be “loss”. That’s his way of saying that what man sees as being impressive, God does not see as being all that impressive.

So What Does It Take?

The answer is so clear and simple. All of Paul’s impressive, religious resume he considers loss because of “the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (vs. 8). Having a personal relationship with Jesus makes all of Paul’s religious works look like a big pile of garbage (rubbish) by comparison. He explains further, saying in verse 9 that he gives up any attempt at pleasing God by his own works, in order to receive righteousness by faith in Jesus. Essentially, the deal is this: either you try to impress God with your own religiousness (which doesn’t do much), or you put your faith in Jesus and allow his holiness to count on your behalf.

Think of it this way. God is perfect, heaven is perfect, and therefore only perfect people can get in. No matter how impressive you are religiously (and Paul was right up there), it is not good enough. 99% holy doesn’t cut it. Only 100% is acceptable in God’s eyes. Yet no one can ever attain such a standard. So what is one to do?

The answer is allow Jesus to give you his righteousness. Jesus, the only sinless person who ever lived, died to take God’s wrath for our sin, and when we put our faith in him, his perfection gets transferred to us. It is a “righteousness…that comes through faith in Christ”. No one can ever earn heaven because of what they do. They can only receive heaven based on what Jesus has done. It is a free gift that can’t be worked for, but simply received.

My prayer is that, like Paul (and myself), you would consider your religious devotion insufficient for attaining heaven. Instead, put your faith in Jesus and allow his perfection to earn your place. Faith in him wipes all your sins away and counts his perfect life to your account, meaning that God sees you as holy and qualified for heaven. This is the only door to heaven!

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