Can Non-Christians Go to Heaven?

HomeChristianity and the BibleCan Non-Christians Go to Heaven?

A recent email question asked this:

If you are not a Christian can you still go to heaven? And if you are Baptized will you go to heaven? My mom said when you get baptized, you are a follower of Jesus and you have a new life.

I don’t want to get too deep, but there are a few questions to answer before responding:

What is a Christian?

Simply put – in the New Testament – a Christian is someone who follows Jesus. Now, following then wasn’t the same as following now. Following now would be like being on someone’s social media, watching their career unfold, and so on. Following then was something else… something far more involved. People who follow Jesus don’t stop at liking what He taught and appreciating the way He lived. When Jesus invited people to follow Him, He was asking them to begin a completely new way of life. Instead of doing what they had always done, they would follow in Jesus’ footsteps and live the same kind of life He lived. This is what the Bible means by “disciples.” They weren’t fans… they were followers.

An important part of Jesus’ teaching was about “the Kingdom of God.” Again and again He described God like a king, and His followers like citizens of a kingdom. When someone decides to abandon their old way of living and live as Jesus taught, they become citizens of God’s Kingdom.

How does anyone get to Heaven?

The Bible clearly describes two different paths for people to be on. The first path – described as a wide, easy path – is what people do when they’re not living what Jesus taught. The second path – described as a narrow way – is what people do when they’ve decided to follow Jesus. Those two paths lead to two different futures. Here’s what Jesus said in Matthew 7 about these two paths:

Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.

Those who enter the Kingdom by trusting God with their lives are on the narrow road and will, after they die, live with God forever. Those who choose to reject God’s offer of new life and stay on the broad road will, after they die, be separated from God. In other words, both groups get what they want: Jesus’ followers get to be with Him while those who want nothing to do with God are allowed to be without Him. The way to Heaven is simple: to acknowledge that God knows what’s best, and to respond by trusting Him in everything. While some have described this submission as a negative thing, Jesus taught that His followers would be known for their love… love for each other, love for their neighbors, and even love for their enemies. Following Jesus is the best!

What does baptism do?

The ancient Israelites had a special public ceremony… when someone decided to join them in following and worshiping God, they were baptized to show the entire community that they were joining them. This wasn’t a spiritual thing. Nothing new happened to them when they got wet… they were simply telling people about their decision, and being welcomed by those who already trusted God.

When John the Baptist traveled around Israel, telling people to turn from their sins and turn back to God, he baptized them. This wasn’t a “Christian baptism.” They were Jews, and they already knew what baptism meant. When they were baptized, they were publicly telling their community that they were committed to living for God. This is EXACTLY what Christian baptism is. It’s a public ceremony where a new believer – someone who has decided to follow Jesus – tells the community of faith about their decision. It’s not a spiritual thing. Nothing new happens when we get wet.

Where does new life come from?

This is the coolest part! Christians talk about “new life” because Jesus and His first disciples talked about new life. Here’s one of those statements, from 2 Corinthians 5, about having a new life:

If anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!

That’s weird. This says that when you decide to follow Jesus, you actually become – in a spiritual sense – a new person. Everybody has been born, but this is different: God changes you on the inside! Jesus talked about this in John 3:3 just before that most-famous John 3:16.

Very truly I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.

Wow: born twice! The only way to Heaven is to be given this new life. We can only get this new life by following Jesus:

Whoever has the Son has life; whoever does not have the Son of God does not have life.

The Son, of course, is Jesus. That’s 1 John 5:12. When we’re born again, it’s because Jesus has given us new life.

Conclusion

So… that was a bit long, but it seems important. To answer the question very directly: to go to Heaven, you have to trust God with your life. People who go to Heaven are people who have chosen the narrow road that Jesus talked about. When we make that commitment, we are a citizen of God’s Kingdom, and are given new life at that very moment.

To be precise: baptism has NOTHING to do with it. We don’t get new life by getting wet. A lot of people think otherwise, but that’s not what Jesus taught. Baptism isn’t part of being born again. It’s what born-again people do to show that they’re joining the community of faith. Jesus taught that disciples should be baptized… but baptism doesn’t MAKE a disciple.

You may have noticed that I haven’t mentioned going to church, or giving money, or cleaning up your life, or lots of other things. Those aren’t part of being born again. As people follow Jesus more closely, they will go to church… that is, we will spend time with other believers. They will give money… not because it’s required for salvation, but because everything we have belongs to God and can be used to serve others. We will clean up our life… not because that’s how we’re born again, but because we ARE born again. Following Jesus includes being changed from the inside out, by God. It also includes learning what He taught and changing what we do so, we can live like He did. Being generous, patient, confident, joyful, humble, and truly loving doesn’t come very naturally. God helps us, and we cooperate with Him so we become more like Jesus.

Let me know in the comments whether you’ve decided to trust God with your life!


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