When one looks in the Bible to learn how we get to heaven they may look for verses that talk about inheriting eternal life or being saved. Many readers heard growing up that one gets to heaven when they understand the wages of sins is death but the gift of God is eternal life (Rm. 6:23), and if you believe in God you will be saved (Rm. 10:9). Preachers often suggest a prayer for salvation: “Dear God, I am a sinner that deserves death. I confess my sins and believe Jesus died on the cross to save me from my sins and accept Jesus into my heart.”
Many familiar with the Bible may be surprised to learn that when someone asked directly how to have eternal life Jesus said simply to love God and love others as yourself (Lk.10:25-27). Jesus didn’t advise one to get on their knees, confess their sins, and never look back. Jesus was suggesting one can have the hope of immortality by beginning to live by the golden rule. No one stops being selfish after beginning to follow God. Jesus was simply conveying that one begins to live forever when they look toward God and not their own ways. Getting to heaven after death according to Jesus is much simpler than many may have thought.
One misconception of eternal life is that Scriptures mostly refers to our future after death. The Bible though speaks of eternal life in quantity of life as well as quality of life here on earth. Romans 6:23 says the wages of sin is death but the gift of God is eternal life. Paul shortly thereafter says sin put him to death but Paul remained alive (Rm. 7:11). Paul was suggesting sins lead to spiritual death but we can begin living eternally here on earth when one follows God’s way than their own selfish desires. The word heaven appears about 272 times in the NT. It is referred to over 80 times in Matthew in references to the “kingdom of heaven.” Jesus says the Kingdom of God is coming in His readers’ lifetime (Mt. 16: 28). Thus, we are now living in the kingdom of heaven and can now overcome the temptation of sin in our lives with God’s help.
John in his Gospel refers to the term “life” more than any other book in the NT. In John life and eternal life were practically interchangeable (i.e. 5:39 with 5:40, 6:53 with 6:54). One is described as either being spiritually dead or eternally alive. John 3:15 refers to eternal life as being in Christ, thus referring to a quality than future destiny. John 3:36 is like many other Johannine passages that advises his readers who believe that eternal life begins immediately. One will pass through death to heaven, but one enters a new life now when they shun evil (3:20). We can begin to have abundant life now her on earth (Jn. 10:10).
Jesus’ encounter with Zacchaeus before preparing to enter Jerusalem and face death (Mt. 19:1-10) lets us know how Jesus encouraged one to be saved. Zacchaeus was a tax collector and had cheated many people out of their money. Zacchaeus had clearly reflected on his actions and told Jesus he intended to payback four times the amount he had stolen from others. Jesus responded to Zacchaeus: “Today salvation has come to this house….the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” There was no formal confession. Jesus didn’t tell Zacchaeus he must be baptized though believers were being baptized. Jesus simply praised Zacchaeus for seeing his need to begin a journey that Jesus wanted for everyone.
The Apostle Paul did give hope that our eventual citizenship after death here on earth will be in heaven where God will transforms our bodies (Philippians 3:20). But, Jesus emphasis was His desire for us to begin living with an eternal perspective while on earth. Salvation is not being saved from Hell or only about entering heaven sometime in the future after death. Salvation is healing, deliverance, or rescue on earth from the stranglehold of self-centeredness. We can begin living a life that will have less regrets when we pass from this earth. We no longer have to be bound but our desires for sin but look to God’s ways for true happiness. We can have the hope of inherit eternal life when we begin to get to know, follow, and trust in Jesus.