On my recent flight to the East Coast, I needed to review some notes. But the guy seated next to me was very chatty. He explained, “Normally, I have my ipod and listen to my music [on airplanes] but about a month ago I wiped all my music off.”
Hm, I see God’s hand in that [smile] I thought.
I put my notes back in their folder, and figured the Lord had arranged this encounter with this man (who I’ll call Tim). I heard about everything from the difference between working with sugar and coal in farming equipment, to the details around his father’s death, to the time in Louisiana when a giant cockroach crawled up his shirt while he was on a platform in a grain elevator.
“So why again are you going to New Jersey?” Tim asked me after a while.
I explained about the Bright Lights ministry, and the main messages we try to emphasize when working with youth.
“What church do you go to?” he asked.
After explaining a bit about our church, I returned the question and asked about his spiritual background.
Tim didn’t have a good experience with “religion” growing up. He exclaimed, “I don’t like organized religion.”
“Oh I totally agree with you,” I said. “There’s a lot of greed and desire for power, and many who are not even real followers of Jesus …”
After I mentioned the concept of a relationship with God by faith in what Jesus has done for us, Tim said, “I don’t agree with people who say that you can be a rotten person your whole life and then repent right at the end and get to Heaven. That’s just not right,” he said.
“Well, what we need to understand is how God sees it—because He’s the One who decides who gets into Heaven and who doesn’t, right?” I asked.
“So, the question is, does God decide on the basis of what we do or on the basis of what we are trusting in?” I asked.
Tim waited for an explanation.
“Because if God decides on the basis of what we do,” I said, “We’ll never know if we’ve done enough. I mean, what if someone just needed to do five more good deeds and they would have squeaked by—but because they didn’t, they can’t go to Heaven now …”
“Exactly!” Tim exclaimed.
“But if God decides on the basis of what we are trusting in—in the fact that Jesus died a substitutionary death in our place—then it’s already taken of! It’s done, and we can know we are going to Heaven.”
Not only was this the start of deeper gospel discussion with Tim, but I was also able to recount this conversation to the lady next to me on a following flight. It provided a helpful way for me to share the gospel with her also – praise the Lord.
So if someone asks you that question (“How could a really bad person just repent at the end of their life and ‘get in?’ to Heaven?”) remember a couple things:
1) They are asking the wrong question, because the question itself assumes that some are “good people” when in reality there are none truly good (“As it is written, There is none righteous, not even one” Romans 3:10)
2) A better question to ask would be “how can ANYONE ‘get in'” !!!
Praise the Lord that He, “being rich in mercy, because of His great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead in our transgressions, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved)” (Ephesians 2:4-5)
*Thanks to Michael from New Jersey for his helpful thoughts on this =)