The hardest thing for me to come to terms with before I gave my life to Christ was the fact that on the other side of the invisible line of that decision were the realities of heaven and hell. To receive Jesus and believe in Him meant that I was acknowledging that heaven and hell were real places and that I and everybody I knew and loved would spend eternity in either one or the other. I hated this idea.
How could it possibly be fair that thousands of people who had never killed anyone, raped anyone, lived reasonably good lives, and more importantly—shared life with me—spend an eternity in what the Bible describes as a place of darkness and torment simply because they didn’t decide to share in the same spiritual beliefs as me? I pictured Jesus happily turning people away at the gates of heaven with a trite, “Oh, you didn’t ask me into your heart? I’m sorry, NO ROOM AT THE INN. Sound familiar?” Heaven, to me, seemed like a place you had to pass a thorough inspection to get into. A place where the watchmen at the gates had a checklist 10 pages long and if you failed one of the items you were doomed. There was no certainty. Everything was subjective. If Jesus liked you and you had done everything you could to commit to Him—maybe you would get in. Maybe.
Nothing about this system seemed fair. Nothing about it even seemed good. As I thought about all my unbelieving friends and family I didn’t want to leave them behind. I didn’t want to go to a place where it felt impossible for them to follow. I didn’t want to leave them in the dust of heaven’s chariots and wonder for eternity how in the world they would ever make it—that is if I even did. I didn’t want to accept Christ because I didn’t want to accept a world in which there was eternal consequences for what we do and decide in the present. It was too much, too cruel, and too heartbreaking to receive as true.
Hold on a second.
I am writing this on Christmas morning, as a “born-again” (pardon the old school Christianese) believer in Christ. So what did I do? Did I decide to just live in the bleakness of a world in which hell is real? Did I surrender to this judgmental, demanding, vindictive Jesus who I thought was doing everything in his power to keep me out of the pearly gates? Did I decide to ditch my friends and family and make the best of it—hoping that maybe, someday, they would make it too (that is if I even did)? No, not even close.
The reason I was finally able to come to Christ is because I finally got a picture of the REAL Christ. Remember that thought I had about hell being too much, too cruel and too heartbreaking to accept? As it turns out, that wasn’t only the cry of my heart.
Eternity is reality—not just for those who choose to believe it. God chose to share it with us, but he gave us the power of choice as to whether we wanted to accept His invitation. Real love never forces, and God is real, perfect love.
We messed eternity up by messing our present world up. God could not let us continue to hurt ourselves and others by granting us the opportunity to do that throughout eternity and in his perfect world. Therefore, there had to be separation from a perfect eternity (heaven) and an imperfect eternity (hell). He knew that we could never make it to heaven on our own. He knew that in our imperfect world, we would forever be bent to our own imperfections, wants, sins and selfishness.
This was too much, too cruel and too heartbreaking . The reality of heaven and hell also broke the heart of God.
He couldn’t accept it. He wouldn’t stand for it. So instead of standing at heaven’s gates with a checklist, he decided to fling the gates wide open through the gift of his son. There would be no exclusions, no exceptions—nothing that could disqualify someone from entering into a glorious and love-filled eternity. All of this was provided for by the perfect life and unjust death of Jesus Christ. For the ones who deserve to die to live eternally, the One who deserved to live had to die. He reversed the curse. There will be no measurement, no assessment—no double-checking guest lists at the gates of heaven. There will be one and one determiner only: you chose to be there because you chose to trust your life to Jesus Christ and His perfection.
When I gave my life to Christ, I didn’t see a vindictive, legalistic God who was trying his hardest to see that I failed at making it to the other side. I saw a Jesus who had come to earth to save me from the very thing I feared most—an eternity of loneliness apart from Him. He made the way easy by bearing the pain for me. There was nothing—NOTHING—I had to do but surrender my own life and receive His. NOTHING I had to do but admit that I needed Him and accept his love for me. NOTHING I had to do but ask for forgiveness only He could give. It was the defining moment of my life. The path to understanding and surrender was hard, but crossing that invisible line was easy.
Matthew 7:13 and 14 says,“Enter by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction, and there are many who go in by it. 14 Because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life, and there are few who find it.” (KJV)
I used to read this verse and think that it meant getting into heaven was hard. The gate was narrow and there was only a select few who get to go through it. But the verse says “narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which LEADS to life.” Don’t get me wrong, wrestling with my pride, reconciling my doubts, and getting answers to my spiritual questions was hard. It was painful. It was something that most people don’t take the time for. But once I got to Jesus–I found that everything hard had already been done for me. The way to life was hard, but once I got there, receiving it was easy.
Jesus came to make heaven easy. He found it unfair, even though we created darkness, that we would forever have to stay in it. Christmas is the rousing cry to the world that we don’t have to stay stuck in hopelessness. Christmas is the love letter from God that tells us we still have a choice. He will not force love. But if we choose it—we and those we know and love, have free entrance into a life grander and greater than we could ever dream. One that will outlast everything but our souls; one that ends with passage through the ever open gates of heaven.