Charles Stanley offers a biblical perspective on heaven: how to get there, what it might be like, and what we'll do there.
If you asked a number of people if they believe there is a place called heaven, most would probably say yes. But if you asked them what it’s like or how to get there, I suspect you’d get a variety of answers. Though many people cling to a belief in heaven and hope to go there when they die, very few have an accurate understanding of it.
Since human beings are earth-bound until death, misconceptions about heaven are common. Some people imagine it as a foggy haze where formless spirits float about or winged saints sit on clouds playing harps. Movies about the afterlife present their own version of what awaits. And a few people who have reportedly returned from near-death experiences have described what they believe they saw.
Amid all the confusing and contradictory views, we need to remember that the only sure source of accurate information about heaven is the Bible. In its pages, God gives us glimpses of celestial scenes. Although we may long for more details and descriptions, the Lord has revealed what He wants us to know and, more than likely, what we can handle. Our human limitations keep us from adequately comprehending the inconceivable glories above. We have no frame of reference for understanding all that God has prepared for us (1 Cor. 2:9). Many times we have more questions than answers.
How do I get to heaven?
The Bible clearly states that after death, there are only two possible destinies for mankind—heaven or hell. In a story that vividly contrasted the comfort of eternal life with everlasting torment, Jesus explained that switching locations is impossible (Luke 16:19-31). Knowing this, we would be foolish to ignore God’s Word and risk relying on our own ideas about how to get to heaven.
Many people think that eternal destiny is determined by behavior. If their good works outweigh the bad, they believe God will accept them. But the Lord says all our good works are like filthy rags in His sight (Isa. 64:6). Since every person on earth inherits a fallen nature, no one is qualified to enter God’s holy dwelling place.
Our entrance into heaven has nothing to do with how good we are; what matters is how good Jesus is, and what He did for us. He lived an absolutely perfect life and paid the penalty for our sin by dying in our place. Those who believe this and accept His payment on their behalf are given a ticket to heaven which can never be revoked.
Why should I be interested? in heaven?
Some Christians are content simply to know they are eternally secure. Sure, they want to experience the glories above but see no immediate connection between their daily lives and their future destiny. Therefore, they feel no desire to learn more about it. But Christ wants believers to know “the hope of His calling...the riches of the glory of His inheritance in the saints” (Eph. 1:18). None of us would be uninterested in an earthly inheritance, yet many of God’s children make no effort to discover what He has prepared for them in eternity.
Heaven is our future home. That’s where our citizenship is; we’re only travelers on earth. A lifetime here will seem like a mere breath compared to the time we spend in eternity. Whenever you read a Bible passage that describes some heavenly scene or activity, put yourself in the picture, because that is going to be your reality. The pearly gates and the street of gold are not just a fairy tale. You will one day walk through those gates, step on that street, and come face to face with Jesus.
Right now we live in fleshly bodies and struggle with self-centered thinking, but then we will be free from selfishness and will take constant delight in praising the Lord.
This eternal dwelling place is home for all of God’s family. We’ll meet the saints from every age and be reunited with our believing loved ones. But this reunion will be so much better than any we’ve previously experienced. There will be no conflicts or misunderstandings—only perfect love and intimacy. The ideal fellowship we all yearn for will be ours forever.
But the most important reason to learn more about heaven is because it’s the dwelling place of God. We will finally be in the presence of the One who died for us. For all of our earthly years, we have loved and served Him, but in eternity, our faith will become sight. The sin that kept us from perfect, intimate fellowship with the Lord will never again hinder our relationship.
What is heaven like?
Because Jesus came from the Father to earth, He had firsthand knowledge of our glorious future home. Shortly before dying, He told His disciples that He was returning to His Father’s house to prepare a place for them and would come back to take them to their new home (John 14:1-3). Ever since that day, Christians throughout history have been waiting for His promised return.
Today, when believers die, their souls are ushered instantly into the Lord’s presence to experience all the joys and comforts of heaven (2 Cor. 5:6-9). Jesus will bring them with Him when He returns for His church, and their souls will be reunited with imperishable resurrected bodies (1 Thess. 4:13-17). Those of us who are alive at that time will be changed—our bodies will be transformed from weak, mortal, and sinful to glorious, immortal, and perfect.
If you want to know what your new body will be like, look at Jesus’ body after His resurrection. He was not an ethereal spirit but literal flesh and bone; the disciples could see and touch Him. He even ate with them (Luke 24:36-43). But the best thing about our new bodies is that they will be free of sin and its curse. Never again will we experience an inward struggle to obey the Lord. Nor will we ever live with the pain, suffering, and death that came as a result of the fall of mankind.
Many years after John heard Jesus promise to prepare a place for His followers, he was given a vision of the future. He saw a new heaven and earth that were completely cleansed of all sin. Standing on a high mountain, he watched the New Jerusalem come down out of heaven. The promised place was prepared and ready. The sight was beyond human description, but John did his best to put this celestial vision into earthly language (Rev. 21:1-22:5).
The brilliance of God’s glory radiated from the structure, and its foundations gleamed with various colors of precious stones. The gates were made of pearls and the street of transparent gold. This 1500-mile-long cube-shaped city was designed by the Lord as a place where He and mankind would share an intimate, perfect relationship forever.
Though we may have difficulty imagining the physical structure of this city, we have no trouble understanding the meanings of the things that are not in the New Jerusalem. There will be no pain, tears, mourning, or death. All frustration, boredom, and problems will cease. No one will have handicaps, and our bodies will never grow old, tired, or sick.
What will I do in heaven?
Although most of us understand that heaven is a place of great joy and delight, we may wonder what we are going to do there. Some Christians have even voiced their concern that it might be boring—one long church service that never ends.
Although praise of our God and Savior will be an essential part of our activities, we must be careful not to view it strictly from the perspective of our present earthly experience. Right now we live in fleshly bodies and struggle with self-centered thinking, but then we will be free from selfishness and will take constant delight in praising the Lord. When the blinders of this mortal life are removed, we will see things as they really are (1 Cor. 13:12). Knowing fully what Christ has saved us from and seeing the glories He has provided for us, we will not be able to stop ourselves from joyfully thanking and exalting Him.
In fact, everything we do will be an act of worship. In Luke 19:12-26, Jesus told a parable that clearly shows we will be given responsibilities in heaven according to our degree of faithfulness with what God entrusted to us on earth. Even in eternity, we’re described as bondservants of the Lord (Rev. 22:3). Our service for Christ began the moment we were saved and will continue forever. Relocation to heaven does not bring about the end of service but rather the perfection of it—all the frustration, failure, and inadequacy that has accompanied our work since the fall will be removed.
How can I prepare for heaven?
Knowing the glories of eternity should motivate us to live for Christ during our time on earth. Keeping an eternal perspective enables us to endure hardship and pain without losing heart. Like Paul, we will realize that “the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that is to be revealed to us” (Rom. 8:18). When the difficulties of this life become burdensome, remember that the only trouble and pain you’ll ever experience will occur during your earthly lifetime, but the ecstasy of heaven will be yours forever.
As long as we remain here, God has work for us to do. Because we’re Christ’s witnesses, it is our responsibility to tell others about the Savior so they, too, can be with Him forever. In fact, everything we do is to be done as for the Lord (Col. 3:23-24). Our purpose is to live for Him, not for our own pleasures and ambitions.
An awareness of eternity should also motivate us to live godly lives that are worthy of reward. When believers stand before the judgment seat of Christ, their eternal destiny will not be the issue; that was settled at the cross. But He will evaluate their works and compensate them accordingly (1 Cor. 3:10-15). Those who have been faithful servants will be rewarded with increased responsibility, a greater capacity for joy in heaven, and praise from the Lord (Matt. 25:20-23).
Each day is an opportunity to prepare for our eternal home. It’s so easy to get sidetracked with the cares of this life, but what we do today will shape our experiences in eternity. Let’s spend our lives in faithful service to God, glorifying Him by bearing much fruit, and selflessly storing up treasure in heaven. Christ’s commendation of “Well done, good and faithful servant” will be worth every earthly sacrifice.
The article was selected from In Touch magazine.