A lot of assumptions are found in this statement: “When I die, I’ll go to Heaven.” What’s missing? No mention is made of how you live from now until death, and no mention is made of the eternity-defining event between death and Heaven, Judgment Day. Our eternity will depend more on living than dying. The time between death and Heaven will focus on rendering a judgment on this life, which will determine our riches and honor for in Heaven. More problems with the phrase: where is Jesus and God in this?
How will our Christian life affect eternity in Heaven? Jesus told his disciples how to pray in Matthew 6:9-13, which included the words, “And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.” Then he showed that our forgiveness in this life will have an impact after death: “For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15). If we are unforgiving to others, we are giving God permission to be unforgiving at the judgment seat of Christ; the excuses we used to retain our grudge to others will be used on us (Matthew 7:2). That’s the spot in the middle of “When I die, I’ll go to Heaven” that we are leaving out, Judgment Day.
Jesus gave an example of a man who was forgiven all his staggering debts by his master when he begged the master to give him time to pay all. The master forgave him, but had a change of heart when he found the man unwilling to forgive another who had a far smaller debt to pay. Here is Jesus’ point of the story: “And his master was angry, and delivered him to the torturers until he should pay all that was due to him. So My heavenly Father also will do to you if each of you, from his heart, does not forgive his brother his trespasses” (Matthew 18:34-35). Again, this is something left out of “When I die, I’ll go to Heaven.”
What we do in this life will impact our eternity. If we are those who hold grudges, who are unkind to those who hurt us, or who retaliate in words, deeds, or thoughts when we are wronged, our future rests on shaky ground based on the above account which Jesus spoke to his disciples. I don’t believe we can lose our salvation, but I do believe we can lose any chance of reward or honor. God has forgiven us far worse than others have done against us, so he rightly expects us to treat others with the same graciousness with which he has treated us.
In addition, if our time has been spent in the pursuit of happiness through leisure activities, then what account will we give to God for the time of service toward him? In Matthew 24:45-51 and 25:1-30, we find examples of servants who give an account of the service they gave while their master was away. They help us understand that we will be called to explain how we served the Lord after his return.
In those cases, we find that Jesus will reward faithful servants with great riches and honor in Heaven. He will also severely punish unfaithful servants. These chapters were prefaced with the warning to “Watch therefore, for you do not know what hour your Lord is coming” (Matthew 24:42). The accounts of these servants are valuable instructions on how to watch: be faithful to death in what the Lord wants us to do. This is what we should be doing before the “die” part of “When I die, I’ll go to Heaven,” how we should be living right now. It will impact the period in the middle of those two events (death and Heaven), which is the judgment, then that will affect the Heaven part – with great riches or not; with great honor or not.
When someone tells me confidently that they’ll go to Heaven when they die, I bring up the points about their faithfulness and their ability to show mercy to others who have wronged them. If they are not faithful, if they are not merciful; they should consider this: “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God” (Hebrews 10:31).
Of course, if the person is not a Christian, then another step needs to be added to the head of list, which is accepting Jesus as Savior.
When someone utters a phrase similar to the title of this article, it’s possible that they are oversimplifying 1200 pages of biblical doctrine. What about how we live daily — doesn’t that have an impact? Does it matter what our spiritual state is with God? How does God look upon the way we treat others? It will be a shame to find people arriving at the judgment not having thoroughly read the very book that was written to prepare them for just such a time.
We have a promise that God can make us ready for the judgment: “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy” (Jude 1:24). That promise is for those who know what steps to take and what to trust God for. Are you aware of what they may be?
“When I die, I’ll go to Heaven”? Much better to say, “Because I am living day by day trusting Jesus Christ for everything, I know I’ll appear before Him with joy.”