Selected highlights from this sermon.
Do you have questions about what happens one minute after you die? Join Pastor Lutzer and Moody Broadcasting Network’s Greg Wheatley as they discuss Pastor’s book, One Minute After You Die. Throughout the discussion, they also take calls from listeners who pose their own questions on the topic.
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Now, here’s your guest host for tonight’s Open Line, Greg Wheatley.
Wheatley: Thanks, and good evening to you. This evening a subject that is either exhilarating or terrifying! Depending on your state of being Dr. Erwin Lutzer says: “One minute after you slip behind the parted curtain you’ll either be enjoying a personal welcome from Christ, or catching your first glimpse of gloom as you’ve never known it. Either way, your future will be irrevocably fixed and eternally unchangeable.”
Our guest tonight is the man who authored those words, Dr. Erwin Lutzer, Senior Pastor of The Moody Church in Chicago. He has written many books: How You Can Be Sure You Will Spend Eternity with God; Hitler’s Cross; Failure, the Back Door to Success and this one we’re discussing tonight, One Minute After You Die, A Preview of Your Final Destination, published by Moody.
Welcome, Pastor Lutzer.
Lutzer: Great! It’s great to be with you.
Wheatley: It’s always good to sit across the table from you. This is a heavy topic, and as you go through the book, as I had the opportunity to do, you really don’t pull any punches here. You give us the good news and you give us the bad news.
Lutzer: That’s right! And, of course, there is both. And also this topic is very relevant. One of our staff members—his wife died last night. She had gone through an awful lot of sickness, so in one sense it is a release, but you know, on the other hand, death is so incredibly final, isn’t it? I mean whatever has been done has been done. And nothing can be changed, and there you have a life. Fortunately, she knew Christ and she was translated into Glory, and tonight we’re going to talk biblically about what we think she might be enjoying now that she’s been in heaven for maybe about 12 hours.
Wheatley: I think you’ve hit it. I think the finality of death is what eludes us. There’s really no other category in life that fits it, because as interminable as some things seem, they do finally come to an end.
Lutzer: And a tremendous amount of mystery! You know, even those of us who know Christ and we have the descriptions of heaven, I mean, when you stop to think of it, when you actually face it, as I’m sure we all will, and for some of us it may come very sudden, and for others, of course, it may be a prolonged thing that we anticipate. But the point is, suddenly you slip behind that curtain alone. Of course, Jesus walks with you, but you know you can’t bring your friends. You can’t say, “Well, I don’t like it here. I’d like to come back.” I mean, this is it. It is a tremendously sobering topic.
Wheatley: I’d love to have your calls tonight. And frankly I’m envisioning a couple of categories of listeners. You may have questions as a believer. You know you are a Christian, but death still is a mystery. It’s frightening to us, and I know, Pastor Lutzer, at one point in the book you say, “We ought not to feel guilty about that apprehension. It’s there for all of us.” That’s one kind of person. You may want to call with your questions and comments.
I’m also envisioning a person who has never made a commitment of faith to Christ as your Savior, and you know that about yourself. And we may raise some questions in your mind tonight, and we would love to have your participation.
Has our view of death changed? I’m thinking about some of those awful, awful paintings that come out of the Middle Ages where people are just, you know, shown depicted in hell.
Lutzer: Yes, yes.
Wheatley: We don’t talk about that.
Lutzer: Well, we can talk about that tonight, but also I think what you really see is they understand that it had that side to it. We try to fix it up. You know, funeral homes have tried to make the person look as if he… I remember going into a funeral home, and there was a woman lying in the coffin. And her friend came up and said, “Just look at Mabel. She looks as if she’s on her way to a party.”
So, we’ve done everything that we possibly can, but you know, C. S. Lewis was right when he said that the most beautiful dead body still has something about it that is far worse than the most awful looking living human being. Do you know what I mean? There is that finality, and we throw a sheet over someone when he or she dies because we want to shield others from the view of what is being seen.
Wheatley: One of the… A couple of things that have happened actually in our day are things like discussions of reincarnation.
Wheatley: “N.D.E.’s” or near-death experiences. We even have an acronym for them. And I think apparently some of you are calling about that. I think we can hit that topic tonight though we want to stay primarily with what the Bible has to say about all of this. But if you have questions, that’s fair game.
Lutzer: Well, I think that it’s very interesting for us to talk about that just for a moment to stimulate our listeners. I am sure that they are thinking about these things. But one of the things that near-death experiences show, it seems to me, is the separability of the soul from the body. I mean, we do have experiences where people have left their body. They went to the ceiling and they looked back and they saw the doctors operating on them. And this would be consistent with the Scripture. The problem, of course, is with those who come back and they see light, and they say, “You know, I saw Jesus, and He said it doesn’t matter what religion you believe because everybody’s going to the same place.” I, for one, do not want to trust someone who is near death. I want to trust somebody who actually was dead and then was raised from the dead, and has the keys of death and of Hades. Now that’s the kind of person that I want to trust, and the only qualified person, therefore, is the Lord Jesus Christ.
Wheatley: Let me see if I understand you right. The people who claim to have left their body and view themselves from outside, you’re saying that that is possible. That’s not a hoax.
Lutzer: No, you read stories about where they see cars in the parking lot of the hospital, and they see them accurately, so there is such a thing, you see, as the soul leaving the body and evidently coming back. The problem is that those kinds of experiences are no valid basis to really show what ultimately happens. You know, despite all these wonderful reports about how sweet death is, and how people who experience the white light never fear it again, there are also some other studies that show the awfulness and the terror, so we can’t really be sure. And that’s very important.
Now, having said that, you know sometimes I’m asked, “Can Christians actually see Christ before they die?” Stephen did. It certainly is possible today. Many people are drugged and so they can’t tell us what they see, but in that twilight zone that is possible, but it has to be checked out biblically.
Wheatley: One of the things, Pastor Lutzer, that I think I hear you saying that it comes down to is that we need an authority. Nobody… No one of us, as a human being, goes there and comes back. We need somebody who has gone there that can tell us, and there’s only one person that qualifies for that.
Lutzer: Isn’t it beautiful? In the book of Hebrews, it says that Jesus has entered into the veil, and He is the forerunner.” The image there in the Greek text is of a ship that is coming to shore. And you know, they sometimes had a forerunner who hopped into the water ahead of the ship, went and took the rope and tied it around the post, and then with a winch brought the boat into harbor. That’s what Jesus Christ has done for us. He is behind the veil. He is in the Holy of Holies, and what He is doing is He is shouting to us, as it were, saying, “Please come with Me because I’ve already prepared the way.”
You know, in the book there are several images that I use of death. One is a departure—to depart and to be with Christ. Another is the imagery of a sailing ship that makes it to the other side. The Apostle Paul uses that, so in all of these images, the good news is that you will never be asked to go anywhere where Jesus Christ Himself has not gone. So that, I think, takes away a lot of the terror, and a lot of the fear—the recognition that Christ is there for those who have personally believed on Him.
Wheatley: The book is called One Minute After You Die. It’s an arresting title. I think all of us need to grapple with it. You know the Scriptures say that it is better for us to go to a funeral than to a celebration, and maybe that’s true.
Lutzer: Yes, because a funeral is a very sobering event, and we need to bear that in mind. Another question, Greg, that oftentimes is asked of me is what about the unbelieving dead today? You’d be surprised at the number of people who feel that when the unsaved die, they go to hell. Well, eventually they will, but nobody is in hell today. Hell is vacant, so to speak. What we have in the Old Testament is Sheol. And that Hebrew word refers to a shadowy place where the departed spirits went. Some people translate it grave and in some contexts it can be, but it includes more than the grave. But it includes the grave and that’s why some of the confusion happens.
But you find, for example, references to Sheol. In the New Testament we can see that it has two compartments. In Luke, chapter 16, you know, you have the rich man who goes into Sheol. And actually so does Lazarus. And they’re close together, and one can see the other, and they actually have a discussion there. Well, I don’t think that that can happen today, because the righteous side of Sheol, or Hades, as it is translated in the New Testament, that, of course, means that that has gone to heaven. But that’s a picture of where the unbelieving dead go today. It is a place in which they are conscious and a place where they remember their relatives. Remember, he said, “I have brothers, and please speak to them that they come not to the same place of torment.” Suddenly the man in Sheol becomes interested in missions. He says, “Go evangelize my brothers.” And he is willing to be lonely there in Sheol (or Hades) to never see his brothers again if only they would not come to the same place that he was coming into. Now eventually, and let me be clear about this, you see. Old Testament—Sheol and New Testament—Hades. Same place. Eventually Hades will be thrown into the Lake of Fire.
Wheatley: Some of the misconceptions that can grow up if we’re not careful to stay with the Scripture! And we’ll explore those a little bit more. Let’s go to the phones and talk with Michelle. Hi, Michelle!
Michelle: Hi. Thank you for taking my call. I guess I have a question and a comment. My comment is that the Bible says that the dead know nothing. And my question is if after we die we are to go to heaven right away, then how could we rise first at His Second Coming?”
Lutzer: Well, Michelle, I think that there are two ideas that are being run together. But first of all, you know, when it says the dead know nothing, I think that’s a quote from Ecclesiastes which is really a book that is written with human wisdom. It is not really the divine viewpoint. It’s the best that people can do without revelation. All of the teaching of the Old Testament, as well as the New Testament, would indicate that the dead do know something. Paul says, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” and obviously, when we are with the Lord we’re going to know a whole lot more than we knew here on earth. And we’re even going to be able to know with a lot more clarity.
So let’s just simply take a scenario. Here’s somebody who dies. The body goes to the grave. We’ll assume that he or she is a believer. They go to heaven to be with Christ, fully conscious. When we talk about the soul going to heaven we mean the mind. With all of its affections, all of its knowledge, with all of its understanding, the mind goes to God. And what happens then is the resurrection, that you referred to, is coming. When Jesus Christ returns to earth there is going to be a resurrection, and that is the resurrection of the dead when we will get our permanent, eternal, indestructible body.
Now, Michelle, since I have you on the air I’d like to just continue on here, because somebody’s going to say, “Well, if the mind goes to heaven today, or the soul, what do people look like, since the resurrection hasn’t happened yet?” Well, there are some people who have said, “Well, they have some kind of an intermediate body,” and that may be true. The point, however, is that the soul, it seems to me… Another possibility is that the soul takes on the characteristics of the body. Now that’s difficult for us to grasp, but maybe our view of the soul is too small. For example, it says in the book of Revelation, “I saw the souls of those who were slain beneath the altar, and they were clothed with white robes, and they kept saying, ‘How long, O Lord, before you avenge us?’” Well, that’s interesting. “I saw the souls.” Now, maybe it refers to people with the natural body, but I think that it does refer to the soul. The point, Michelle, is this, that there have been people who have died and in the twilight zone between earth and heaven, they’ve actually seen relatives, and they’ve reported that. D. L. Moody was said to have done that. And so that’s the way, I think, in which I think we should understand it.
When a person dies and goes to heaven today, even though it is their mind that goes, obviously they have some kind of a body with which they can communicate, by which they can be recognized, etc. But the resurrection of the body, the final body that they will receive that will last forever, that still is future.
Michelle: Okay. I have one more question. In Genesis 2:7 it says, “Then the Lord God formed the man of dust from the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living soul.” In Psalm 104:29 it says: “When you hid your face, they are dismayed when you take away their breath; they die and return to their dust.”
Lutzer: Well, you know, I think what we have to do is to interpret both of those passages in context. In Genesis man becomes a living soul, yes, and later on his breath is taken away and he dies. But the point is that man also is created in the image of God. That means that he has a spirit by which he can know God, and it is that spiritual aspect that I have referred to as the mind, though it may be more than just the mind. It is that that goes to God. What you need is the New Testament revelation to make that abundantly clear.
Wheatley: Does that help you, Michelle?
Michelle: Yes, it does.
Wheatley: Alright! Good! Thanks for your call. Pastor Lutzer, let me pick up on something you eluded to. It’s this. I think a lot of us growing up had this concept of heaven as sort of this block, and sort of this sterile not dynamic place, and when you go there it’s just…
Lutzer: You begin on page number one of the hymnal…
Wheatley: And you start over….
Lutzer: Yeah, and you sing all the way through… And all the verses!
Wheatley: But there’s like a break between this life and that one, and we’re just totally different people.
Wheatley: And I don’t think that’s the concept you are trying to get across.
Wheatley: And it’s an exciting one when we grasp that there’s a continuity from where we are now.
Lutzer: Greg, today, we’re speaking obviously to a widow somewhere whose husband is in heaven. Are you going to tell me that he doesn’t know that she’s on earth, or that he forgot that he was married to her and he can’t remember the names of his children? Unthinkable! In heaven our memories are even going to be better, and if people say, “Well, what are you basing it on?” again it’s the man who went to Hades in Luke 16, who had clarity. He said, “I’ve got five brothers,” and he even knew what had to be done in order that they not come to that place. That shows you that in the life beyond there is that consciousness.
Uh, in fact, one of the chapters of my book, you know, stresses not just what is different about heaven but what remains the same. Same knowledge, same feelings! Same consciousness! We know who we are. Now, of course, the danger would be to say, “Well, if they still know about us, you know, can we communicate with them?” And the answer is no.
Wheatley: Well, the other question is this. How do we have a heaven then where we have continuity, but we’ve lost all sense of sorrow? There’s no more crying. It seems to me if I can remember even the least bit of this veil of tears, I’m going to have a hard time being happy. How do we…?
Lutzer: Well, you know, when the Bible says, “God wipes away all tears,” that’s of course in Revelation 21, so that might still be a way off, you know. But the point is I think that the way in which God wipes away tears is not that He comes with a Kleenex and wipes them away. We look at things from His viewpoint.
You know, I was talking to somebody the other day, and they said that their Bible teacher taught that in heaven there’s going to be a part of our memories missing—a mother who had a son who isn’t there in heaven and she knows that he is lost, she’s going to forget that she had a son. I find it incredible to think that somebody would think that God is going to solve that problem by taking away our knowledge. What He’s going to do is solve that problem by giving us His knowledge and His viewpoint, and we will say, “God did all things well.” So if God can be happy forever, Greg, you and I can be, no matter what happens in the world.
Wheatley: One Minute After You Die! That’s the name of the book by Dr. Erwin Lutzer, and we’re discussing it tonight. Let’s go to Chicago and talk with Sherry.
Lutzer: Hi, Sherry.
Sherry: I’d like to know what happens to people who have never had the opportunity to hear about Christ through no fault of your own, as well as people who are mentally handicapped and couldn’t possible understand salvation.
Lutzer: Well, those two questions are related so let’s take them one at a time. As far as those who haven’t had a chance to receive Christ, the Bible says that they will be judged based on what they did with what they knew.
Let’s remember that hell will not be the same for everybody. It’s very clear that those who knew God’s will and didn’t do it shall be beaten with many stripes, whereas those who didn’t know it shall be given that special consideration, so the basis of what they did with what they knew… And those who lived even better lives, their punishment will be commensurate with the fact that their life is better. So, I think that throughout all of eternity we’re going to be able to say, “Just and true are Thy ways, Thou King of saints.”
Now, with regard to the handicapped, I put them in the same condition as I do children, and that is that even though the Bible isn’t as clear as we would like to see it, the fact is that David expected to see his son again, who died in infancy. He says, “He shall not come to me, but I shall go to him.” And then in Matthew 18, Jesus said that the angels of the little ones behold the face of My Father which is in heaven. And that gets them very, very close, right into the very presence of heaven, so I would think that God would take into account, you know, that nebulous thing that we refer to called the age of accountability, and nobody knows exactly where that is, but it is on that basis that we believe that indeed children and those who mentally are unable to grasp some of the concepts that we’re talking about will be judged and will be in heaven. So that, I think, would be my answer.
Wheatley: Does that help you, Sherry?
Sherry: I guess I have a problem with the people who never had the opportunity to hear about Christ. I guess I would put them in the category of how could they be held accountable for something that they absolutely could never come up with on their own?
Lutzer: Well, you know, Sherry, I’ll tell you what. They will not be held accountable for not hearing about Christ because they couldn’t. They will be only held accountable for what they did with what they knew. So consider that. It is true. God will never say to somebody who has never heard of Christ’s name, “I’m going to judge you because you’ve never heard the name of Christ.” That would be unfair, and that is unbiblical. In the Bible, judgment is always based on knowledge, so what God will say is, “I am going to take into account what you did with what you knew.” Now, even if they did well, as good as human beings can do, that will not get them into heaven, but that most assuredly will give them an entirely different outlook and a different degree of punishment. So, let’s remember that your question is excellent. It has vexed all of our souls, but at the end of the day we’ll believe that God will do all things well and just.
Wheatley: Alright, Sherry? Thank you for your call. I appreciate it. And that is perplexing. You know, the more you think of it, you’re drawn to two things. One is it’s very puzzling, and the other is you just have to fall before the God who, as you say, does all things well.
Are you saying that a person who, let’s say, has never heard the name of Jesus preached to him (by your statement) will be judged according to that light? Are you saying they may gain entrance to heaven, or do you feel they won’t?
Lutzer: No, if they will, the Bible has not seen fit to reveal that. In the Bible faith in Christ is always necessary, so that’s all that we can say. We have to go on the assumption that they won’t. The light is enough to judge them, and they’ll be judged on the basis of the light, but the light itself is not enough to save them because Scripturally faith in Christ is always necessary.
Wheatley: And maybe this is the point to touch briefly on Universalism, which has become kind of a buzz word, meaning that all people will ultimately be saved.
Lutzer: Yes, and now we’re talking about hell. You know, I quote in the book Martin Marty who said, “Hell disappeared and nobody noticed.” You know, that’s a topic that very few people will preach about.
Greg, I need to pause and just simply say that this really is an indication of how we accommodate ourselves to the spirit of the age. I still preach on hell once in a while, but strictly speaking, most of the people tell me that they’ve been in evangelical churches for years and years and years, and they’ve never even heard it referred to, much less preached on. We’re embarrassed by it. And so maybe we have to talk about that a little bit.
I think that Jonathan Edwards was right, you know, when he said, “The greatness of the sin is determined by the greatness of the deed against whom it is committed,” and that sin is much more serious than we realize, and that hell, indeed, as we were mentioning, is going to be a place of justice.
Well, back to your question. Hell is so difficult for us that you have two competing views. And one of these views, especially, has been accepted by some evangelicals. One is that everybody will be saved. I mean, you know, that’s the old humanist view. We’re all good enough to make it somehow. You know, they may not like Hitler and Stalin, but in the end everybody’s going to make it. The other view is Annihilationism, which says that the wicked will be thrown into hell. The fire will annihilate them, and they will die forever, you know, as the Scripture indicates, that you should fear Him who is able to destroy both soul and body in hell. And so it is said that the spirit is destroyed in hell.
Both of these views are attractive. Every one of us would like to believe one or the other given our natural sensibilities, but the problem is that there is some text of Scripture that simply will not support it. I mean Revelation 14, you know, says that their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest. And certainly this is true about Satan.
I was debating this one time with a scholar of note whose name will remain anonymous, and he said to me, “There is no such thing as a torture chamber in the universe that lasts forever.” So I opened to Revelation 21 where it says about Satan that he is tormented day and night forever and ever. And I said, “Does that mean day and night forever and ever?” And he said, “Yes.” And I said, “Now, it sounds to me as if there is this (quote) torture chamber, if that’s what you want to call it.” And then he said, “Well, maybe there is, but just for the devil.” But the problem is that the Scriptures indicate that that is also true of human beings.
This is a very, very difficult topic, and it is one over which many, many people stumble. And at the end of the day, I need to say to the listeners that if we were making up theology, we wouldn’t do it that way. But we don’t have a choice. If that’s the way God willed it, all that we can do is bow to it and believe that He does all things well.
Wheatley: Let’s go back to the phones, and let’s talk to Charlene calling from Clearville, Pennsylvania. Hi, Charlene.
Charlene: Hi. Thank you for taking my call, Pastor Lutzer. My question is… Now I believe that when we die we instantly go to heaven, but I would like to be cremated, and my husband doesn’t want me to be cremated. And in talking to a friend, she was telling me it’s not physical because she said, when Christ returns in the rapture, the Bible tells us that the dead in Christ will rise. And if there’s no body there to go to meet with the soul, then how could you possibly have your body go to heaven?
Lutzer: Yeah. Charlene, you know that you have really raised a very, very sensitive point, and whenever I’ve commented on this I get a lot of letters, so I’m going to expect it now that you’ve raised it.
Wheatley: You like mail, don’t you, Pastor Lutzer? (laughter)
Lutzer: Uh, first of all, let me say for the benefit of those who have relatives who have been cremated, that’s fine. God is able to take the various elements and recreate a body. This is no handicap to Him. But I do believe that biblically it is better, as a picture of resurrection, to be buried. You know, in 1 Corinthians 15 the Apostle Paul talks about the fact that the body is sown a natural body, but it is raised an incorruptible body. I want to stress, though, that there is continuity between this body and the one to come.
Greg, I’m looking across this table, looking at you now. I expect to recognize you in heaven, and there are going to be similarities when you get your…
Wheatley: We’ll find out. (laughs) Total assimilation!
Lutzer: You know, Christ had the marks—the nail prints in His hand, and so forth, so let’s remember the continuity, and God is able to recreate that. But biblically I do believe that, if possible, and I don’t want to stress this too much because people are in some situations even in some countries where they’ve run out of graveyard space, but if possible, I believe that as believers we should be buried. Paul says it’s like a seed. We put it in the ground. It is sown in corruption but it is raised in incorruption. And I think that there’s a certain amount of care that is given to the body, putting it in the ground rather than burning it. And what we’re doing is saying that that body, with all of its corruption, is nevertheless so important that God is going to someday raise it. So we put it tenderly away. But that’s my comment.
Wheatley: That’s good.
Charlene: I never looked at it that way, you know, but I also was concerned… Like I have a cousin whose grandson recently burned in a fire.
Lutzer: Yes, don’t worry about that. God is well able to handle that.
Charlene: You know, and if God can form man from the dust of the ground, you know, like you say, you know, He should be able to put that all back together again.
Lutzer: I think He’s able to. (chuckles)
Wheatley: I think what’s you’re saying…
Charlene: Can I ask one more question?
Wheatley: Sure, go ahead.
Charlene: In talking with a relative, they were saying, you know, “My mother in heaven can probably look down and see my children (her grandchildren) and see all the good things that have happened with them.” And I said, “I don’t believe she can see.” And she said, “Oh my, yes.” And I mean, the Bible does tell us that when we’re in heaven there will be no sorrow and no grief. And my thinking was that if she can look down and see all the good things going on in our lives, she could also see some of the painful things that may be going on in our lives or other relatives’ lives. And then wouldn’t heaven cease to be heaven if she’s see all this sorrow and still grieving about it?
Lutzer: Charlene, as we mentioned, you know, eventually in heaven when we have our glorified bodies and we look at things from God’s standpoint we’ll be able to handle anything, just like God can. But, I think that you are right. I doubt very much that the people who are in heaven today can see us on earth. Number one, I think they have better things to do. Number two, I think that they are separated from us in that sense. However, if they ask Christ how So-and-So is doing, I should think, though I can’t put my finger on a verse of Scripture, but I would think that Jesus Christ would tell them.
You know, Greg, this a good place to mention that at The Moody Church Pastor Worley, who is on our staff, his daughter… Her grandfather died, and his daughter was about seven or eight years old, and she said, “Daddy, can we pray to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa?” And at first Daryl was kind of taken aback, and then he realized that, you know, there’s nothing in my theology that says it’s impossible, you know? But think of how much good theology she had. She knew that we might be able to pray to Jesus to get a message to Grandpa, but she knew that you don’t pray to Grandpa to get a message to Jesus. (chuckles)
Wheatley: Yeah, wrong way around!
Lutzer: Wrong way around! Yeah!
Wheatley: Charlene, thank you for your call. I appreciate that. We’re going to go to Suzette calling from Chicago. Hi, Suzette.
Suzette: Hi! How are you doing?
Suzette: I just want to say thank you for taking my call. And actually the first question I had was kind of answered because I had a dream of my grandfather and I got to tell him that I loved him because I didn’t have a chance to do that before he died but, you know, it was a nice dream. But the other question I had is that the good deeds that you do on earth… Like Mother Theresa… She just amazes me. I mean… And you know how it says, “Store up treasures in heaven, not on earth.” Like, don’t get consumed with money and all and try to, you know, get quick gratification and let everything consume your life with all the things you want because what’s important is what is in heaven, so what is, you know, that like? I mean when you die what kind of treasures is that? I just kind of…
Lutzer: Two things, Suzette! First of all, Mother Theresa is very kind in doing the many things she does, but we do just need to point out very quickly that it is not through good works that we get to heaven, however important those good works are. But, you’re right, that good works do secure rewards, and rewards have to do, I think, with positions of responsibility—varying degrees of authority. For example, it says if we are faithful we can reign with Him. There might be some people who get to reign, but it’s over a small territory. There may be some who don’t get to reign at all, so I think that the issue of rewards is very, very important. But ultimately it is not through those works by which we are saved. The ticket to heaven is free, but once you get inside, it’s like a theme park. The ticket is free, but some of the rides are dependent upon faithfulness here on earth.
Suzette: And so a lot of it is on the faithfulness and just the trust in God, and the obedience to Him.
Suzette: Okay. Well, thank you.
Wheatley: Thanks, Suzette, for your call. Pastor Lutzer, let’s stay there for just a minute because I think that if we were going to boil down the program tonight to any one thing, it’s right here. So let’s hit it right up front here. How good do I have to be to get to heaven?
Lutzer: As perfect as God, and you know, tonight it’s possible, Greg, that we’re talking to somebody who isn’t as perfect as God. And if there’s somebody driving their car, or sitting in their home listening on a Walkman, and they’re not as perfect as God, they’re in big trouble.
Wheatley: And so we leave it at that, huh?
Wheatley: And what if we went off the air right now, wouldn’t that be tragic?
Lutzer: Wouldn’t that be tragic?
Wheatley: And your point is you’re not as good as God; I’m not as good as God. And the best person—Mother Theresa, Billy Graham, you fill in the blank—is not as good as God.
Lutzer: Not as good as God! And the way we get as good as God… He, that is God, made Christ to be sin for us that we might be made the righteousness of God. The righteousness of Christ is credited to us through faith, and as a result of that legally we become as good as God.
By the way, we haven’t talked about purgatory yet tonight, but when Martin Lutzer understood that justification means that God credits to us the righteousness of Christ, though in experience we continue to sin and struggle, one of the first doctrines that had to go was purgatory, because, you see, purgatory was based on the notion that nobody dies as perfect as God, and therefore they have purgatory (Think of the word purge.), that they might be purged from their sins (and maybe it’s a thousand years or a million years or whatever), but eventually, through that suffering they finally get as good as God, and then they are able to enter into heaven. Well, once Luther understood that through faith we are credited with the goodness, the righteousness of God instantly, why then he realized that purgatory is unnecessary. And purgatory is not mentioned in the Bible. That’s why we can say, “To be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord,” because we are ushered into heaven. God sends a limousine to pick us up. And it may be cancer. It may be an accident. But He sends a limousine to pick us up and to take us into His presence, and we are ushered right into the throne room because we are in Christ. And if Christ is in the throne room, that’s where we are too.
Wheatley: You just want to reach out and tell people, “Look,” if this is the key… Uh, is it the key? This is not about being good enough. This is not about chalking up “X number” of good works. This is about realizing that I’m not good enough.
Lutzer: And you know what it does, Greg, if we may just continue to plow ahead here? It excludes all other religions because all other religions say, “Follow me. We have our gurus; we have our prophets that say, ‘Do better. Follow this path. Follow this path.’” And what we’re saying tonight is that none of those paths can possibly lead to God because none of them make you perfect. And only Christ has the credentials of God who, having been both God and man joined together, therefore can credit to us what we desperately need. And that is the righteousness of Christ. And I say to people listening today that if you’ve never believed in Christ personally, and transferred your trust in Him, tonight’s the night to do it, because we’re discussing the book One Minute After You Die, and that is an experience you might have in two minutes.
Wheatley: Before we go off the air tonight, we promise we will wrap up with an explanation of what that means. You’ve heard it. You’ve heard “Believe in Christ,” but we’ll come back and elaborate on that and make sure you understand what that means.
Let’s go to the phones again and talk to Sarah. Hi, Sarah.
Wheatley: How are you doing?
Sarah: Fine, how are you? I have this question like, um, what happens after you die, because I’m like, before I’m from Brazil…because I grew up in the church, and I had no questions because I used to read the Bible. I talked to God and everything. I could understand what everybody was talking about. I used to write down the message but now I’ve moved here to America, and I’m like losing that sense of church, and I’m getting farther and farther away from God. But I also have… Me and my friend we’re kind of in this little [argument], wondering what happens after you die, because I told her, “You go to heaven.” She said, “Yeah, but like what does come? Judgment? What if there is no God? Then how would the end come?” I said (I’m like), “I don’t know.” I just don’t have a way of explaining it. It just came to be. So my question is, “What happens after you die?” Is there like some judgment? Do you become an angel? Do you go to heaven?
Lutzer: Well, Sarah, what a delight that you would phone tonight, and you’ve raised a number of different topics. First of all, you said, you know, that since you’ve come here to America you seem to be drifting farther away from God. I urge you to find a good church, and there are many of them. I’m not sure where you’re calling from, but there are many of them that teach the Bible. And I hope that you go to Sunday school and learn all that you can because…
Sarah: I do. I go to a Brazilian school.
Lutzer: Okay. … because, Sarah, God is with you. He’s in Brazil and He’s also here in America, and that’s wonderful.
Secondly… Excellent question by the way! I’m tempted to ask how old you are. I won’t do that, but Sarah, when you die as a Christian, you go to heaven, and after a period of time there is going to be a judgment. That is called the Judgment Seat of Christ where you will be evaluated as a Christian. The issue will not be whether you go to heaven or not. If you are at the Judgment Seat of Christ, you will go to heaven. It only has to do with the amount of rewards, and your life will be evaluated to see whether or not you were faithful.
Now, there is another judgment in the Bible called The Great White Throne Judgment, and that’s for all those who have never trusted Christ as Savior. They will come before God, and that judgment will determine the degree of their punishment. Again, the question will not be whether they are going to be in hell or not. All those who appear at that judgment are going to be in the Lake of Fire. The issue will be what their judgment will be and what the degree of their punishment will be.
And no, when we die, we will not become angels. And Sarah, that’s good news. We don’t have time tonight, maybe, to explain that we’re going to be above the angels. We’re going to be ruling angels. Those who belong in Christ are heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ. That isn’t possible for any angel to ever be.
Wheatley: Sarah, I hope that helps you. Let me suggest you call the station you are listening to (WRMB) and they can probably help you get hooked up with a good church if you need that help, but it sounds like you are on the right track, so thanks for calling tonight.
Let’s go to Shelly, calling us from Tampa. Hi, Shelly.
Shelly: Hi! Thank you for taking my phone call. I appreciate it.
Wheatley: Go right ahead. You’re on the air.
Shelly: Okay. Yes, sir. I wanted to ask a question. I heard the doctor mention to the young lady before me that when you die (Christians who die) you go straight to heaven. And I have to discipline my study of the Bible. I find that to be inconsistent, and the reason being if you would take a look at the story in John 11 of Lazarus. Lazarus had been dead for four days already, and if he were in heaven, and called back after four days, I think he might be pretty mad to have to come back down to earth.
Lutzer: Well, you know, there’s a possibility, of course. We don’t know. Maybe he was (laughter) a little unhappy. You know, even in the Old Testament, you now, Asaph said, “Thou shall guide me with Thy counsel and afterward receive me to glory.” And so even in the Old Testament, there was an expectation that after one died, one was going to go to a place consciously, so I think that, yes, Lazarus was probably very disappointed to come back, but nevertheless, Christ wanted to use him as an example of Christ’s power of the resurrection. And so He raised Lazarus from the dead deliberately, by the way, staying away two extra days to give Lazarus plenty of time to die, so that He could effect a resurrection. So I wouldn’t base it on that story to say that there is no consciousness on the other side.
There are many other passages. Look at this—Philippians 1. When you hang up the phone you can maybe get a chance to read it. Paul says, “I desire to depart to be with Christ, which is more desirable, but to abide in the flesh is more needful for you.” What Paul is saying is, “I’m just itching to die so that I can be with Jesus.” He expected immediately after death to be in Christ’s presence.
Wheatley: Shelly, is that…
Shelly: I’m sorry…
Wheatley: Go ahead.
Shelly: Okay, in Ecclesiastes 9:10 it says, “There is no work nor device, nor knowledge nor wisdom in the grave wither thou goest.” And also Psalm 115:17 says “The dead praise not the Lord, neither any that go down into silence.”
Shelly: So people were praising the Lord and Christ Himself is expected to return. Why would he even want to make that trip if somebody dies and is already there?
Lutzer: Well, just a couple of things! First of all, you know, the book of Ecclesiastes, as we mentioned, is human wisdom, and the Psalm that you quoted, I think, just simply says that when people die they no longer praise the Lord in this life. It doesn’t mean that they have ceased praising the Lord.
But the place to go is the New Testament, which is much clearer. Christ said to the thief on the cross, “Today you will be with me in Paradise.” Obviously, Christ was saying that we are going to be together. And by the way, Jesus, you remember, died and He died before the thief did, and so that means He was already in Paradise to welcome him, so I think that we have to look at that to see the evidence.
Wheatley: Thanks, Shelly, for your call. Uh, the sovereignty of God in our death! You talk about this in your book.
Wheatley: And it’s such an exciting thing to know that no one who is a believer dies outside of the timing of God, even in what we see from a human standpoint as a tragic accident.
Lutzer: Yes. Of course, Jesus Christ, you know, died at God’s appointed time, and He died a violent death. You know, here in Chicago we have drive-by shootings. People die sometimes in violence. They say, “Is it possible for a young Christian, for example, to be gunned down and somehow that’s (quote) God’s will?” Well, it’s God’s permissive will, isn’t it? God allowed it to happen. And if Jesus, His only begotten Son, could die violently and die right at the will of God at the right time, at the time that the Passover lambs were being slain so that He could represent the Passover, indeed our death is that well-timed too.
Now, humanly speaking we can speed it up. I mean we haven’t talked about suicide tonight. Uh, you know, by not taking good care of our bodies, you know, we can die sooner, and so forth. But the comforting thing is that there is no combination of men and angels or demons that can put us to death if God still thinks that there is work for us left to do. And ultimately our fate rests in the hands of God, and that is very, very comforting.
Wheatley: I think we have time, Dawn, to get you in here if we keep your question real brief.
Dawn: Uh yes, Pastor Lutzer, good evening to you. My question is what can Christians expect when we get to heaven? We know it’s not going to be pink clouds and playing harps, but what will we do for eternity in serving and glorifying God? And will that depend on what we do here on earth?
Lutzer: Boy, Dawn, you’re asking two different questions. The answer to both is yes. (chuckles) In heaven I believe that we’re going to serve the Lord. It says His servants shall serve Him. We’re going to be given assignments. I believe that Jonathan Edwards was probably right when he said that throughout all of eternity we’re going to study the attributes and the beauty of God because the ideas of God extend to all of eternity. And we’ll be ruling over the angels. We’ll be given assignments to carry out for the Almighty. In addition to that, we’ll be singing praises and so forth.
We didn’t get time to talk about how big the New Jerusalem is. It has enough room for you and me. If you are stuck on the 95th floor and all the activity is in the downstairs lounge, don’t worry about it because the thought will be the action. You’ll say, “I want to be there,” and you’ll be there just like Christ.
Wheatley: Before we run out of time…
Wheatley: I want everybody to hear very clearly from you, how do you get to heaven? You know, we said you need to believe on Christ. Expand on that and let’s make that very clear.
Lutzer: Well, what believing in Christ really is, is a transfer of trust to Him. It means that we no longer depend upon ourselves, that we confess our own sinfulness. You know, on a plane one time a man said, “My big fear is standing behind Mother Theresa on the day of judgment and overhearing the Lord say to her, ‘Lady, you could have done a whole lot more.’”
In other words, we give up all attempts to get to heaven by good works, and we trust Christ. We receive Him. “As many as receive Him.” Even now there are people who can pray and say, “Lord Jesus, I am a sinner. I know that I have violated your laws. I can’t get to heaven on my own because I’m not good enough, but I trust You.” And that trust is like sitting down in a chair where you can see the chair and yet you can’t rest your full emotional and spiritual weight on Christ. And people say, “Well, I have doubts.” Well, there’s nothing better than the song,
Just as I am though tossed about,
with many a conflict, many a doubt.
Fightings within and fears without,
oh Lamb of God, I come.
Wheatley: Just as you are!
Lutzer: Just as you are.
Wheatley: Pastor Lutzer, it’s always a pleasure. Thank you for joining us tonight.
Lutzer: Thank you.
Wheatley: I appreciate it. It’s always good to get together with you. It’s called One Minute After You Die. It’s an important book and so we commend it to you. It’s published by Moody Press, authored by Erwin Lutzer.
I’m Greg Wheatley in for Chris Fabry tonight. Thanks for joining us on Open Line. We’ll see you again. Good night!
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