How Do I Get to Heaven?
We’ve reached 50 episodes! Thanks for tuning in and for submitting your questions. Vince and Jo share their funniest and most meaningful moments so far on the podcast and discuss listener-submitted questions on heaven.
Physicist Stephen Hawking once referred to heaven or afterlife as “a fairy story for people afraid of the dark.” But what if heaven isn’t a fairytale? If heaven exists, what is the minimum requirement to be accepted? Is it possible for good people who are just naïve to go to heaven? If Hitler repented to God on his death bed, would he have been forgiven? Tune in as we talk about these questions today.
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Michael Davis: Hello and welcome to another episode of Ask Away with Vince and Jo Vitale. I am your host, Michael Davis. There is probably no more important question that has ever been asked, what must I do to be saved? It has consumed people since the dawn of humanity. The fact that every world religion attempts to answer this question shows two basic truths, first, people throughout history understand that they fall short, and, secondly, they are all searching for the solution to this truth. So, what does the Bible say one must do to get to heaven? How do we tell people the good news of Jesus when so many believe that all roads lead to salvation? But before we get started, I can hardly believe it, this is our 50th episode. Vince and Jo, could you highlight some of your favorite moments over the last 49 episodes and you do not need to say me because that's a given.
Vince Vitale: Oh, well, yeah, that was clearly going to be my first response Michael.
Jo Vitale: Who needs a talking donkey?
Vince Vitale: Glad that you got that out of the way.
It has been really fun and what a privilege it’s been to receive so many questions from so many people from all around the world. Such heartfelt questions, but one of the highlights has to be when Jo accidentally shared that she was pregnant on the show. Then we stopped the recording actually and we had a long discussion about whether or not that was the way we wanted to tell everyone and we were like, yeah, let's go with it.
Michael Davis: Really, this is the way ...
Vince Vitale: It was natural. It was authentic.
Jo Vitale: Yeah, we were going for shock and awe, right?
Michael Davis: Yes, absolutely.
Jo Vitale: Yeah. I think maybe my highlight from this show was getting to ... I think it was even after our first episode, the second episode to having a phone call with someone who'd sent in a question basically asking if it was too late for them to become a Christian at the age of 78 and had this great phone conversation, having the chance to pray with her on the phone to give her life to Jesus and just the joy in her voice and just what a privilege to have that opportunity with someone that I haven't even met her yet and I look forward to the day that I do, but it felt like such a confirmation from God of saying this is a good idea to do a podcast like this. You may not be able to see people who you're talking to, but they are listening and its been fun to go different places and get to meet people who do listen to the podcast. Last place I went in Australia, someone came and gave me two bags of minstrels. Thank you Ian for the minstrels because he listened to the show. So, minstrels are chocolates for those of you who don't know what minstrels are. Anyway, so the chocolates been good too. Thank you very much.
Michael Davis: Well, let's jump right into the questions. This is kind of a heavy topic, so let's start off with Thomas's question. What is the minimum requirement for a person to enter the kingdom of heaven? Is a belief in a literal resurrection of Jesus required?
Vince Vitale: Thanks Thomas so much for that question. I love this question. I love the fact that we can answer this question. I think that's quite amazing. When I first saw your question, it took me back to a memory I have of someone, he was a senior in high school at the time and, at the time, I was teaching in Oxford and he came, a friend of a friend, and he came to ask me how to get into Oxford. And, through the contours of the conversation, we wound up talking about faith and this young man wound up praying with me and trusting his life to Christ in that conversation. And afterwards, I've always reflected on myself how amazing it is that I couldn't give him the answer to how to get into Oxford. There were too many variables. It was too difficult. I couldn't give him an answer with any assurance that he would get into Oxford.
And, yet, when the conversation turned in the direction where the topic of the conversation is how can I have salvation? I could give him an answer to that question. I just think the grace of God, how amazing that is. I can't tell you how to get into a university. I can tell you how to get into heaven. That's an incredible gift, so I'm glad that we're talking about it. And I always go to Romans 10:9 and, Thomas, I'll just reflect on that briefly for you. Here's the verse, it says, "If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved." I love that it says will and, therefore, it's a promise. And maybe I'll just work backwards through that verse and pull four quick points out of it.
First, you need to believe that you need to be saved. It says at the end there, you will be saved and, in order to believe that you need to be saved, you need to believe there's something you need to be saved from. In the context of what this is talking about, you need to actually believe that you are a sinner in need of saving. If you don't believe your sinful, then you don't believe you need to be saved from your sin, therefore, you don't need a savior, therefore, you don't need to be Jesus. So, that's a first key thing, we do actually need to admit, at some point, if we want to understand what salvation means, that we are sinners. Then a second point, we need to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. Okay? God raised him from the dead, the verse says. In other words, we need to put our trust in God rather than in ourselves to save us.
He and not us is the one who has the power to save. Why? Because he proved that through rising from the dead. Third, we need to believe that Jesus is Lord, the verse says. If Jesus is not divine, then he's just another finite, sinful person in need of saving and if he's in need of saving just like us, then he can't be the one who actually saves us. And then finally, Romans 10:9 tells us to confess with our mouth. Now, I don't want to get legalistic about this. There are some people who don't have the physical capability of confessing with their mouth. They can still do so with their heart, but there is still something significant, I think, in the fact that the verse asks us, insofar as we are capable, to confess with our mouth these things and our trust in Christ, just like forgiveness occurs when you actually ask for it and someone says, "yes, I will forgive you." It doesn't occur when you desire for the forgiveness to occur, but when you actually ask for it with your mouth in the same way, if someone gets married, you may desire to be married, but it doesn't actually occur until you say those words "I do." There is something significant about that public profession of one's trust in Jesus and I think that's an important element as well.
Jo Vitale: But what's so cool about all the all those different components and Vince pointed to four of them and, yet, at the same time, it's all coming down to what God has done. It comes down to what God did to save us, that God raised Him from the dead. It comes down to who He is, recognizing that he's Lord and then us just acknowledging that, but, in terms of the things that we need to do to get there, really nothing is asked of us except just to see Jesus for who he is and say, God, I need you. I cannot save myself. And I love that because even though becoming a Christian, I mean, you know, it's about giving you a whole life to God. So, in one sense, it costs you everything and yet at the same time the requirement is so minimal and in some ways you're not being asked to do anything except say, God, I need you. Say, God would you forgive me and just accepting what He's done for you.
And I love that because like Vince mentioned getting into Oxford, not everyone can get into Oxford. Not everyone can compete in the Olympics. Not everyone can be a pop star or a concert pianist. There are all sorts of things that we're limited and we can't do, but when it comes to the most important thing in the world, relationship with God, the kingdom of heaven, that is something every one of us can do. It's a gift for each of us. I remember last year, meeting a guy, who had been in prison and he was just eaten up by guilt and just, Michael, it just made me think of that guy we met at Creation Fest last year after doing the Ask Away podcast live there and wasn't this exactly his question.
Michael Davis: No, absolutely. He walks up and maybe you guys don't know, I've got tattoos. I'm sleeved out on both arms. So, he looked like my people. He had a slayer shirt on and he walks up and he goes... And, earnestly, he's like, which sin is one sin too much? So, I look at him and, I said, there is no sin that is beyond God's forgiveness. And if you look at all these people, these young people, these old people, that look more put together than you, there is no one in this crowd that is less or more deserving of Christ's forgiveness than you are.
Jo Vitale: And the other amazing thing about this offer is we're not being asked to wait until we die before we can enter the kingdom of heaven, but that's something that Jesus came to bring to the here and now. When you become a Christian, you enter into the kingdom of heaven with God each day. Vince, was it John Lennox who made that comment when someone said, "do you believe there is a heaven?" And John responded, yes, I go there every day.
Vince Vitale: I think it was.
Jo Vitale: I think it was John who said that and that's a picture of what the Christian life is like, that we get to answer into heaven, in a sense, with God each day. That's what it means to be in relationship with him. And that's good news for us because it doesn't just mean sort of waiting it out until we get to Heaven to be perfect, to be made holy, to be sanctified. God starts working on us. That's the Christian life. That's the journey that God starts with us, where we're at, and he takes us forward until the point where, yes, one day, we will be perfected, but we don't just have to wait for that to get started on living life with God.
Michael Davis: Thomas, the other part of your question there was is belief in a literal resurrection of Jesus required? Quite a lot to say to this as well, but, just one point to make, I think it is required and it's quite essential and part of the reason for that is because Jesus prophesied it. So Jesus said that he was going to rise from the dead. So, it's part of our trust in Him and trust in the scriptures to believe that. So, he made the reference to Jonah being three days and three nights in the belly of the sea. So shall the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth. And then in several other places as well. In Matthew 27, the chief priests and Pharisees gathered together to Pilate saying, "Sir, we remember while he was still alive", speaking of Jesus, "how that deceiver said, after three days, I will rise, therefore, command that the tomb be made secure until the third day. Lest his disciples come by night and steal him away and say to the people he has risen from the dead."
So, Jesus said he was going to rise on multiple occasions. And, as part of our trust in Him, and, part of our trust in His word, the scriptures that we believe that that was actually the case. And it's interesting here as well, that this makes the case for the resurrection even stronger, the fact that people were worried that His body might be stolen, so, they said, let's put a guard at the tomb, and so any sort of way of accounting for the resurrection through a swoon theory, that Jesus didn't really die or that the body was stolen or that people didn't know where the right tomb was, all of those theories are really undermined by the fact that there was a guard, a Roman guard that was stationed there to make sure that none of those things could be the case.
Jo Vitale: The other two things that I think is so crucial about believing the resurrection, firstly, the resurrection is what confirms Jesus is who he said he is.
Michael Davis: Exactly.
Jo Vitale: If we don't have that, then how do we put our faith in Him? What are we basing it on? That's where our confirmation comes from. That's why we can have confidence that Jesus is Lord, and, secondly, believing in the resurrection also gives us confirmation that we too will be raised. I mean, your question is around how do you enter the kingdom of heaven. If what you mean by that is how do you gain eternal life, what gives us confidence that we will be raised from the dead is because God raised him from the dead. If God didn't raise Jesus from the dead, then why do we think he's going to raise us? I think these two things hinge on each other, so it's because we have hope in the resurrection of Jesus Christ that we also have hope that God will lead us through to our own resurrection as well.
Vince Vitale: The last phrase I wanted to pick up on in your question, Thomas, was this phrase minimum requirement. And I think whenever we ask questions about minimum requirement, we should at least take a pause and ask kind of why are we asking about the minimum requirement as opposed to asking about all that God might have for us. So, if I asked, you know, Jo, what the minimum requirement was for remaining her husband, that wouldn't be a good way forward in a relationship or if I asked Ravi what the minimum requirement was for staying on the RZIM team, again, that would not make me a great colleague. So, this is an important question and I'm not trying to undermine the question, but let's go beyond the question of just minimum requirement and also ask how we can fulfill the fullness of God's call in our lives.
Michael Davis: Okay, let's get to the next question. This is a really good one from Jasmine. Is it possible for good people, who are just naive, to get into heaven?
Vince Vitale: Well, it's a fantastic question, Jasmine, and it's a biblical question. Think of Jesus's conversation with a rich young ruler in Matthew 19. So, let me just work through that briefly. The rich young man came to him and says, "Good teacher, what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?" Interesting he says what good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life? The assumption being that eternal life is something that can be earned, and so Jesus says to him, "Why do you call me good? There's only one who is good." And it's just a brilliant question. Why do you call me good? It calls into question this young man's assumption that he can do things to earn heaven.
And it also calls into question whether Jesus should be called good because He implies here that only God is good and if you're calling me good, does that mean that I'm God? So He raises the question of whether He, Jesus, is divine and He raises the question of whether or not a finite sinful person could do good things to enter heaven all in one six word question, why do you call me good? Absolutely brilliant. Then it goes on and it says, "But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." The young man says, "Which ones?" Jesus lists several. He says, "oh yeah, I've got all those. Anything else that I still lack?" And then Jesus says to him, "if you want to be perfect, go sell what you have and give to the poor and you will have treasure in heaven and come follow me."
But when the young man heard that saying, he went away sorrowful for he had great possessions. Quite amazing. It only took one line, one sentence from Jesus to convince this man, who was so confident in His holiness, that, actually, His holiness or anything that he could earn could not get him into heaven. And I can't remember where I heard this example first, maybe Michael or Jo might know, but it's interesting that if I asked how many of us think we deserve a Nobel Peace Prize, most of us don't put our hand up. And, yet, we're tempted to think that we deserve heaven, that, somehow, we can earn heaven. And I wonder what does that say about our view of heaven and how we underestimate it? We can't earn even a human prize that we've come up with, the Nobel Peace Prize, and, yet, we think that our good deeds couldn't earn heaven for us. And I think, if that's the case, we don't take seriously the fact that what God is preparing is something that no ear has heard, no eye has seen and no human mind has conceived. So, so often, I think, when we're tempted to think that, through doing good deeds, we can, in some way, earn or deserve heaven, we actually just have a radically diminished view of what heaven is.
Jo Vitale: I think we also have a radically diminished view of the state of our own hearts. I think that it's a narrative we hear, isn't it, that there are good people and, bless them, they're just a bit naïve, but, actually, the reality is that our hearts aren't like that. Like if we're really honest with ourselves, we can all face up to the fact that our hearts are kind of a mess. And now our instincts and our motives are not always pure. They're rarely pure, in fact. And, you know, it comes back to that thing that I've said before, that I got from Ravi, himself, he says, "Jesus didn't come to make bad people good, he came to make dead people live" and maybe some of you remember me quoting our pastor a while back and said, look, there are different kinds of dead.
You could have been dead for three days. You could have been dead for like a couple of months. There's pretty dead and there's ugly dead, but you're still dead. And that's what the Bible says. It actually says, we're dead in our sins and we actually need a resurrection life. And the second thing I want to say about this question is, I think it is, again, assuming that heaven is more about a place than it is about relationship with God. Asking this question is a little bit like asking the question will Vince still marry me if I'm a good person? I'm just naive. I mean there's a sense in which I might be the best person alive, I might have won a Nobel Peace Prize, but it doesn't actually mean that I have any interest in marrying Vince. I might be completely rebelling against that idea.
He could be my soulmate and the best thing for me, but if I didn't recognize that in him, if I have no desire for him, then what would it mean to say that he would marry me anyway? Would that mean I'm forced into a marriage I don't want to be in with someone I've no interest in having as a husband? So, I think we're kind of missing the question here. It's not about if we're good or naive, it's about do we actually desire to be with God? Is there anything else that wants to have that relationship with him?
Vince Vitale: Yeah, that's a good point. And you do see that in the context of marriage all the time. You know, if I do something wrong, I can try to just do good things to make up for it until I'm blue in the face. That's not going to get me anywhere with Jo, right? She wants me to come to her relationally to ask for forgiveness and to express to her that I desire to be close to her again, which is quite a different thing from me just kind of going off and doing good things as if, somehow, if I just kind of balanced my good deeds against my bad deeds, I'm, therefore, going to be back in close relationship with Jo.
Michael Davis: How much of this question do you think comes from maybe a misunderstanding of the magnitude of sin? I mean in scripture it says, often, that God is pure. He cannot look upon evil. How much do you think that this question, maybe just really just underestimates the magnitude and the horror of sin?
Jo Vitale: Yeah, I think that's the whole point. And I get why we get confused about this because all we have to measure ourselves by, humanly, is each other and it's so easy to do that and you're going to come out better than some people and worse than other people and you'll probably, wherever you are, you'll find a way to put yourself in the middle here. But we've lost perspective in terms of who we're talking about spending eternity with. If it's God, if God is holy, if God is perfect, we are like way overreaching. I mean there's just no ... We don't have a hope in ourselves to be worthy of that person. And that's the beauty of the gospel is God saying, I know who you are. I know exactly the mess of your heart. The glorious thing is I love you anyway. And I'm coming to rescue you, but this was never about deserving. And let's not kid ourselves that it would ever come down to that.
Vince Vitale: I think it shows our bias that, you know, when you think about an omniscient being, hypothetically, you have a sense of the fact that the knowledge of an omniscient being is so far beyond your knowledge. And if you think about an omnipotent being, an all powerful being, again, you have this sense that an all powerful being is just so far beyond any power that you have. And, for some reason, we have this bias towards ourselves that, when you think about goodness or you think about love, I think oftentimes we kind of think, oh yeah, God's like a little more loving than me. He's a little bit better than I am. The gap between God's all lovingness and us is just as wide and far and deep as any gap between His power and ours or His knowledge and ours.
Jo Vitale: I think social psychologists call it illusory superiority. We all have this complex where we think we're doing better than we are, nearly every area of life, whether it comes to your behavior or your ability to drive a car, though I don't think I have any illusions about that one. But, in general, we just, we do. We have this innate sense that we're doing so much better than we are. But God sees things clearly.
Michael Davis: Yes, he does.
Vince Vitale: Illusory superiority is not a good thing, but it sounds great in your accent.
Jo Vitale: Thank you. Thank you so much.
Michael Davis: Not so much in mine. So, actually, interestingly enough, this actually is a wonderful segue from cool guy Steve Seven, which ...
Jo Vitale: Legend.
Michael Davis: Legend, exactly. Which, actually, talking about a moral superiority, if Hitler repented to God on his deathbed, would he have been forgiven? It's always Hitler. It always gets to Hitler, because he's pretty much the bad guy.
Jo Vitale: Yeah. Well, cool guy Steve, appreciate this question. I think this is what it comes down to at the bottom of it, right? And this is maybe the hardest thing to accepting Christianity. People say maybe the hardest thing to accept is, if there's loving God, why would he judge people? I think the much harder thing is if there's loving God, why would he forgive people, even this person? Even Hitler? But, actually, the reality of the Christian faith is either forgiveness is for everybody or it's for nobody. There's no middle ground here and I think what this question reveals is that, on some level, we're still thinking forgiveness as about what we deserve, that there are certain people who deserve forgiveness and there are others who don't, but the bottom line here, the message of the Bible is none of us do,
that grace is completely unmerited. And I think the theologian, Christopher Wright, says every victim of sin is also a sinner. There is none who is only sinned against. That's the state we're all in. It doesn't mean that all sin is the same. I do think there are certain things that are horrifying and grotesque and sick and evil and Hitler is the example we go to for that. And the life he lived is absolutely appalling. We're not leveling it out and saying that there aren't differences in the way that we sin, but nevertheless, we are saying we're all in the same boat in the sense that, yes, we're still dead in our sin. You know, whether it was extreme sin that killed us or it was small sin, we're still dead in our sin. And I think the question here becomes is the cross big enough to carry it? No matter the horrendousness of the evil, is God big enough to defeat it? Is His love strong enough to wipe out even the most horrendous kind of hate? And what does that say about what Christ carried on the cross and the gravity of that and the enormity of it, that even something so heinous could be what Christ is bearing for us at the cross.
Vince Vitale: And we do have an example in Luke 23 of an evil man who receives forgiveness in even his final moments, the criminals who hung next to Jesus and the one mocked him and then the other answered, rebuking that criminal, and said, do you not fear God since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? He says, "We are indeed suffering justly for we are receiving what we deserve for our deeds." So, this takes us right back to Romans 10:9. In fact, you have all four elements of Romans 10:9 in this passage. So, first, right there, you have the acknowledgement of sin. We are receiving what our deeds deserve, then it goes on, but this man has done nothing wrong, so we have acknowledgement of Jesus's sinlessness and, therefore, his ability to save. And then it goes on verse 42, and he was saying, "Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom".
So, there's an acknowledgment that Jesus is going to rise because he's not going to stay dead. He's going to come into his kingdom. And then Jesus responds, and he said to him, truly, I say to you today, you shall be with me in paradise. So, this man, a criminal, in his last moments, he acknowledges his sin. He acknowledges Jesus' sinlessness and his ability to save. He acknowledges that Jesus is going to rise and come into his kingdom and he does it publicly, and he professes it out loud. All four of those things in Romans 10:9 happened for this man right at the end of his life.
Jo Vitale: I think the weight behind this question is, what people are thinking, is would I have to spend eternity with Hitler? How could Hitler belong in a place like that as the man he was? But then, of course, the point of the Christian faith is that we don't stay the men or women that we were. Again, it comes down to the question of God's power. Does God have the power to transform a heart, even a heart that far gone? Is he able to actually make somebody like that a new creation? But that's exactly what salvation means. It means you're put to death with Christ. You're buried with him in baptism and you're raised to a new life with him. So, in every meaningful sense, that old Hitler who did all those horrendous things would be put to death with Christ and the punishment would have been paid by Christ for him, but then he would also be raised to life as the person he was intended to be rather than the person he became through the appalling way that he lived.
Michael Davis: We also have to ask ourselves and, Jo, maybe you can expound on this, do we have a God that's powerful enough to judge all the crimes and sins of Hitler, because at the end of the day, how would you respond to someone, because it could go both ways. Why would God - how could God - spare someone like Hitler, but, then, how would God also let injustice happen? So, maybe expound a little bit about that.
Jo Vitale: Yeah. Well, I think this is why it's so crucial that there is such a thing as a heaven and a hell. That we're not saying that, no matter what you do, no big deal. God's going to sweep it under the carpet like some kind of benevolent grandfatherly figure, but actually that God is absolutely committed to justice. And the flip of the question is of course, if Hitler doesn't repent on his deathbed and then that justice does remain to be fulfilled and that justice is something that God is committed to seeing through, and the life to come, and that may sound severe, that may sound like strong language and maybe that makes some of you feel uncomfortable to say that, but, for those who lost their lives at the hands of Hitler, for those who suffered in appalling and outrageous ways on such an unbelievably, horrendous scale isn't that the only hope that we have to hold onto, the hope that, even if human justice can't get anywhere close to what needs to be done, there is a God who has the power and the ability and the heart and the commitment to be absolutely committed to justice, even as his heart breaks for things having got to that point in the first place.
And God carries so much in that sense, this unbelievable love for creation, but also this absolute commitment to righting the wrongs and those two things are not in conflict with one another, but that they come together that God's love and God's justice, they're not in conflict with one another, but they are fundamental to his character.
Vince Vitale: Well, thank you Thomas. Thank you Jasmine. Thank you cool guy Steve Seven. There may be six other cool guy Steve's, but you have the best question. And thank you Adam as well. All phenomenal questions. Really grateful for them and I think, through the discussion, really, what surfaced is two ways that we tend to underestimate God. We dilute the greatness of eternal life when we think of it as something that some of us could earn or deserve. And we also dilute God's power to transform a life when we think there are some people who are too evil for Him to forgive. The reality is that if we put our trust in Jesus, what's on the way is far greater than we could conceive of and what's possible now is far greater than we could conceive of as well. And I hope both of those things are encouragements to you.
Michael Davis: Vince and Jo, thank you guys so much for joining me. Thank you all for listening and we'll catch you next week.
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