Imagine yourself in this scenario: There is one god who created heaven, earth, and hell. You know that life on earth is temporal but life in heaven or in hell is eternal. On that note, you know with great certainty that you will either enter heaven or be sent to hell once your time on earth has come to an end. Of course, you also know that you’re dang crappy yourself so hell is probably where you will end up.
But one day, you realized that deep within your history books, this god told your ancestors to follow a certain rule on a yearly basis so as to be counted righteous. That sort of righteousness that will allow you to join god in heaven. Sure, sounds like a dang good deal. So, you went along with it thinking that it will bring you to heaven. After all, this god did not say he wouldn’t, right?
But what if, you accidentally did something crappy that very evening after you completed all that is in the said rule… And this god decided that your time was up. Where will you go? Heaven? Or the dreaded hell?
The above scenario was written on the backdrop of monotheistic beliefs – a cluster of religions that is centred around the belief that a person will reunite with the one true God in ‘paradise’ when one’s time is up on earth. Without going deeper into the other doctrinal differences between religions within this cluster, I will centre this post around the road to ‘paradise’.
In other words, the question I am asking here is: “is there anything we can do to attain ‘righteousness’ to enter heaven?”
To answer this, we will need to consider the crappy human nature that we are born with. Sure, within the countries that we reside within, we are able to not break any law. But when we incorporate the ‘law’ that the Abrahamic God commands, things get a little tough. I mean, do not murder, do not steal, do not commit adultery, do not give false testimony, … Those are okay. But ‘do not covet’ (Exodus 20:17)? Surely, desiring or a certain yearning for something should not be a sin, right?
But let’s say it is (since God says so), and we keep committing it. So, this God list out a whole bunch of rules so that we can make atonement for all the bad stuff we have done in the past year so that we can be counted righteous before Him (see: Leviticus 16).
What a great time to die. Since we are now finally clean in God’s eyes, right? But no, you kept living. And because of human nature, we fall right back and begin breaking the commandments that God had given. Say, for example, we covet. With this, we are now counted unrighteous in His eyes and are deserving of hell. Okay. You might say that one can perform a sin offering (see: Leviticus 4) so as to have their sins forgiven and be counted righteous again. Sure, but since we cannot choose the time we lose our lives, what if we die before we can offer anything for our atonement (See: Luke 12:20)?
At this point, we can more or less conclude that any form of offering of atonement is practically useless since it has a limit in itself. We can make atonement for the past, but not the future. However, in this state of despair, you are suddenly reminded by God’s amazing promise to Abraham. He said that He will establish His covenant with Abraham as an everlasting covenant between Abraham and Himself (see: Genesis 17:1-8). If God is my God and He has made a covenant with me that cannot be broken, then on the basis of this covenant, I will surely be able to be with Him, right?
“There is absolutely nothing we can do to enter heaven. Nothing but through God’s foreknowledge and reservation, by grace.”
With this understanding, you are finally assured that you will have an eternal life with God after death. But hey, hang on, what about the multiple killings of the Israelites when they sinned against God? Remember the Golden Calf? Weren’t they God’s people who God had a covenant with? Will they go to heaven? (See: Exodus 32) What about the Israelites who bowed to Baal? (see: 1 King 18) Will they go to heaven? I doubt they did.
On this note, we can settle on the following conclusions:
- Offerings may not help us enter heaven.
- Being God’s chosen people by Abrahamic descent may not help us enter heaven.
- Following the law… Is impossible.
But amidst all the despair, the Holy Spirit opened the eyes of Paul to a solution. This is what he said:
Brothers and sisters, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for the Israelites is that they may be saved. For I can testify about them that they are zealous for God, but their zeal is not based on knowledge. Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.
I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means! I am an Israelite myself, a descendant of Abraham, from the tribe of Benjamin. God did not reject his people, whom he foreknew. Don’t you know what Scripture says in the passage about Elijah—how he appealed to God against Israel: “Lord, they have killed your prophets and torn down your altars; I am the only one left, and they are trying to kill me”? And what was God’s answer to him? “I have reserved for myself seven thousand who have not bowed the knee to Baal.” So too, at the present time, there is a remnant chosen by grace. And if by grace, then it cannot be based on works; if it were, grace would no longer be grace.
(Romans 10:1-4, 11:1-6, NIV)
So, the end of the matter is this: There is absolutely nothing we can do to enter heaven. Nothing but through God’s foreknowledge and reservation, by grace.