Last week two men in my circle died. The first was a 57-year-old husband and father of four. The other was a 71-year-old husband, father, grandfather, and great-grandfather.
I have no doubt that over the next few weeks the families of both men will comfort themselves and their loved ones by saying they are “in a better place.” But are they?
Let me tell you a little bit about them. First, Gama. He was a member of my church, but usually attended a different service than I did, so I can’t say I knew him well. Still, he had a reputation as one who loved God. Like most of us, he struggled in his faith, but I have no real reason to believe he did not have a personal relationship with Christ. Only God can truly see his heart. Gama had trusted Christ as his savior, and looked forward to that “better place” that was being prepared for him in heaven.
Now to Steve. I have known Steve and his wife for many, many years. When we met, he was pastor of a church. Several years later, he retired from the ministry so he could help his elderly parents work their farm. He was still doing that up until his health failed, about a year before he died.
Steve knew God, Steve loved God, and Steve took every opportunity to share his faith with anyone he came across. He lived out his faith in very practical ways. What I know of him, his lifestyle, and the importance of his faith, leads me to believe Jesus prepared a place for him in heaven—in a better place.
I’m kind of addicted to true crime programs on television. It seems that on nearly every episode some mother is telling her children that “daddy’s in a better place now,” or they are sending balloons “up to heaven where daddy is.” That makes me sad, because, based on the lifestyle of at least some of the deceased individuals, they probably are not up in heaven. They probably are not “in a better place.”
I will totally grant that I am basing that on the very brief part of their lives that is portrayed in a typical program. I can’t know their hearts. In fact, only God can know their hearts. Still, the odds are not in their favor.
How do I know? Because even the Bible tells us that far fewer people will opt for heaven over what the Bible calls the “pleasures of sin” (Hebrews 11:24-25). Far more people will reject the gospel message than will accept it. Far more people will put off until tomorrow a decision to follow Christ—a decision that far too often slips past them.
Now, I don’t mean this to be a downer. Rather, I hope that you will think, and think seriously, about yourself and whether you will find a place prepared for you when you die. You will not go to heaven if you have not received God’s gift of salvation. No matter how “good” you are, you can never meet God’s standard of righteousness on your own. He never thought you could.
Way back, immediately after Adam and Eve’s disobedience brought sin into the world, God explained to them that one day His own Son would come to the earth, die, and free them from the penalties of that sin. It’s a bit subtle, but Genesis 3:15 is our first hint that Jesus would come, He would be killed, and by His death He would defeat Satan.
The writer of Hebrews explains that when Jesus died, He “perfected for all time those who are being sanctified” (Hebrews 10:14; cf. the entire chapter). That means that you no longer have to work to make yourself the type of person God wants. He has done it for you.
But you do have to accept His gift.
First, you must acknowledge that you are a sinner and that you need Him. If you doubt that, Romans 3:23 (AMP) says, “all have sinned and continually fall short of the glory of God.”
Then, you must believe that when Jesus died on the cross, He died for you. He died to take away your sins. He died to give you eternal life. Romans 3:24 (AMP) explains, “All are being justified [declared free of the guilt of sin, made acceptable to God, and granted eternal life] as a gift by His [precious, undeserved] grace, through the redemption [the payment for our sin] which is [provided] in Christ Jesus.”
Now you must take the final step. We read, “Anyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Romans 10:13). Simply pray. Tell Jesus you want to accept His gift. Ask Him to come into you, to cleanse you from your sin, and to help you live for Him. When you do, He has promised that He will answer your prayer.
When you do, this is what happens in that “better place”: “Jesus said, ‘I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents’” (Luke 15:10).
When you do, when you become a child of God, you are assured you will spend eternity in a better place.