A few months ago I presented a paper on Gal 5:21 at a meeting of Bible scholars in Kansas City, Missouri. During the question and answer time after my presentation, a striking question was raised. I had suggested in my paper that failure in the Christian life will result in loss of kingdom rewards, not exclusion from the kingdom. The question was thus raised, if liars, murderers, adulterers and the like will get into heaven, then wouldn’t heaven be hellish?
What is it about the idea that there will be those in heaven (i.e., in the kingdom) who in this life were liars, murderers, adulterers and the like that makes heaven hellish?
My questioner didn’t come up with a clear answer.
I pointed out that we of the Free Grace perspective do not believe that anyone with glorified bodies will sin in eternity. Thus those persons in question will be sinless in the kingdom, though they were carnal in their Christian experience.
That still didn’t satisfy my interrogator. He felt that it would be impossible to enjoy heaven knowing that some of our cohorts had been terrible people in their pre-glorification.
Frankly I don’t get it. If sinners can’t participate in God’s kingdom, then there won’t be any human being, other than the Lord Jesus, in it.
If some level of sinfulness disqualifies a person from kingdom entrance, then salvation is by merit through works, not by grace through faith. Such a system would likely produce pride and boastfulness in this life. Indeed this is exactly what we find in the case of the self-righteous Pharisee in the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14). Of course, it is instructive to note that the boastful, self-righteous Pharisee is identified by Lord as being unsaved.
And why did Jesus need to die on the Cross if we must add something to what He did? Didn’t the Lord Jesus say that with men salvation is impossible? Didn’t Paul say that salvation is not of works (pre- or post-salvation) lest anyone should boast?
If carnal believers go to hell then Solomon will be there, for he ended his life as an idolator (1 Kings 11). Even his father, King David, would have to be considered suspect since after he was justified (Rom 4:6-8) he committed adultery and murder. What, too, about Peter who denied even knowing Christ three times on the night in which He was betrayed and who later contradicted the Gospel by withdrawing from Gentile believers in Antioch (Galatians 2)?
No, we of the Free Grace message do not turn heaven into hell. Rather, we hold forth the only hope of eternal life: faith alone in Christ alone! He did it all. “Nothing in our hands we bring. Simply to the Cross we cling.”
This issue and discussion has prompted me to write a poem with which I close.
Heaven for Sinners
If we don’t pay, how is it bought?
The blood of Jesus, could that be the price? If it is, that would suffice.
A place for me in the City of Gold?
Can it be? Am I not too bold?
Yet if He paid it all, what’s left for me?
Only to accept that gift so free.
Whoever believes in Him will not perish.
That’s a promise I can cherish!
Not of works, it’s absolutely free.
Yes, heaven is even for me!
What a Savior! What a plan!
That saves an undeserving man.
Thank you Lord! I have no merit;
The praise is Yours and none can share it.