Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Perish

As an evangelical, I was taught that good people do not go to heaven; saved people do. Now that Jesus died, it is all about faith. Saved people go to heaven, no matter what they do, and people who do not believe in Jesus go to hell. Good or bad does not matter anymore.

It is easy to see how Protestants get that out of the New Testament. John 6:47, for example, says, “He that believes has eternal life.” Plain and simple, right?

The problem is that the same person who wrote that, the apostle John, also wrote:

One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. (1 Jn. 2:3-4)

Even more to the point, one chapter before Jesus said, “He that believes has eternal life,” He said:

For the hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice,and will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn. 5:28-29)

I am using the WEB version, and I changed the last word of that quote to “condemnation” because I believe it as a better translation than “judgment.”

The “do good and receive life” quotes are not just a few. Here are some examples:

  • who will pay back to everyone according to their works: to those who by perseverance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath, indignation, oppression, and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 2:6-9)
  • God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:7-10)
  • “Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Some of you were such, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
  • Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:5-6)

I could go on and on and on, but let’s pause here. Did you notice the “don’t be deceived” and “know this for sure” and “let no one deceive you” among the bolded words about doing good?

There are also bolded words about what Jesus came to do. After you believe in Jesus, you were unrighteous, like those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. But after Jesus’s washing, sanctification, and justification, you are not unrighteous.

Yes, saved people “go to heaven,” but that is because saved people are good and righteous people. If you are not good and righteous, then John says you aren’t really saved; i.e., you don’t know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4). Paul and Peter don’t say you’re not really saved; they just say you’re not going to have a part in God’s kingdom (above and 2 Pet. 1:5-11).

Some may ask, if we still have to do good, then why did Jesus die?

He died so that we can do good!

Jesus Died So We Can Do Good

I am not only going to talk about the atonement here, but also grace. The Scriptures lump those two things together a lot. Let’s look at two places they are lumped together:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works(Tit. 2:11-14)

This paragraph is here just to convince you to read the passage I just quoted before moving on. Notice what it says about grace and about Jesus dying for us.

Okay, next passage:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

It amazes how often people will hear me teach on this matter, then when I get to Ephesians 2:8, they say,”See! It’s grace, not works!”

Of course!

Let’s look at the New Testament pattern:

  1. We are slaves to sin and, as a result, we cannot live a life of ongoing good works, not even if God gives us a perfect law like the Law of Moses. (Rom. 3; Rom. 7; Eph. 2:1-3)
  2. Jesus died to rescue us from all this. That wonderful gift, that wonderful favor, we know as “grace.”
  3. After grace has come, teaching us that we should deny worldliness and lust (Tit. 2:11-12), we are re-created in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:10), and sin has no more power over us (Rom. 6:14). We can do good works and, in fact, we are zealous for them (Tit. 2:13-14).

Because of that New Testament pattern, we must receive saving grace apart from works. If we are slaves to sin until grace comes, then grace has to come apart from our own righteous deeds. Once it comes, however, then we can do good works.

Jesus did not come to get us to heaven without good works. He came to get us to heaven by our good works.

That is why Paul told Titus to teach Titus 2:11-14 (see above) with all authority, not letting anyone give him a hard time (Tit. 2:15). He also told him to “affirm confidently” that God’s people must be “careful” to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).

If you are still struggling with this idea, read Romans 7. Then, when you are done, go immediately into Romans 8, and in the first four verses, notice what the difference is between being under the Law of Moses and having Jesus died for us. Under the Law, we sin. After Jesus dies for us, we fulfill the righteousness of the Law. The rest of chapter 8 tells us how to fulfill the righteousness of the Law (by the Holy Spirit).

It has always been true that those who live eternally are those who live a righteous life. Wicked people die. People who were righteous, then become wicked, also die. People who were wicked, then repent and become righteous, live. God considers this justice, and he defends that manner of judgment as just (Ezek. 18:20-30).

Jesus did not die to change that manner of judgment. As we see above it is still the same. He died so that we could do good and live eternally because of that manner of judgment.

Jesus marveled that people did not get that. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46). In another place, he said, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Going to Heaven

I hope this does not take away from anything I have written above, but I have to touch on this. The New Testament does not use the phrase “go to heaven.” It talks about inheriting the kingdom of God (in the Gospel of Matthew, “kingdom of heaven”). The kingdom of God is coming to earth (Rev. 20), where we are going to live forever on a renewed earth (2 Pet. 3) with no tears or suffering or death (Rev. 21:4).

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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15 Responses to Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Perish

  1. Jon says:

    Hi Paul,

    First, may I say thanks to you for your work in searching for the truth through the pages of the Bible, and being open-minded to understand that truth whether or not it contradicts what you have previously believed.

    I’m particularly interested in the understanding that the Kingdom of God will be established on earth when Jesus returns. The Bible clearly states that this is what will happen. I’m not certain why then that the idea that people go to heaven after death is even preached. I can understand that this notion would be comforting to people who have lost loved ones throughout history. But what 1 Thessalonians 4 tells us is that at the resurrection ‘the dead rise first, then we who are alive, who are left, will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air’. The living and the dead wouldn’t be able to ‘meet the Lord’ on that day if either of those groups of people were already with him.

    Are there any Bible passages which suggest that we go to heaven? As you say here, the phrase ‘go to heaven’ isn’t specifically used. Thanks in advance for your comments.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I had to approve this comment, so you must be a first-time commenter rather than my friend Jon from England. Let me know if that’s wrong. Maybe WordPress is doing something weird.

      That said, you’re right, of course. There are people., even in the Patristics for Protestants group on Facebook, some of whom are more studied than I, who think that disembodies souls are with Jesus in heaven in between their deaths and the first resurrection prior to the millennium (Rev. 20). My reading of the early fathers leads me to believe that they saw Hades/Abraham’s bosom/paradise as still inhabited now until the resurrection, with the souls being there. They excepted martyrs, though, who they seemed to believe went to heaven right away.

      So, my answer is, that it is possible that (saved) people in some sense “go to heaven” now, but when Jesus returns we will be here on earth.

      • Jon says:

        Thanks for your reply. I’m not the other Jon from England, but slightly disappointed that I’m not the first 😀

        That’s very interesting – some believe that there are ‘souls’ in heaven based on Revelation 20 and others say that martyrs go to heaven right away. In order for a person to go to heaven in either instance, rather than anywhere else, they would need to be judged worthy of that acceptance. 2 Timothy 4:1 says ‘the Lord Jesus Christ, who will judge the living and the dead at His appearing and His kingdom’, so we can be sure that Jesus will (in future) judge (judgement hasn’t happened yet) the living and the dead (both groups are here on earth). The Bible is clear that everyone is judged at the same time because of 1 Thess 4:15. How could someone go to heaven then return to earth for a later judgement?

        As I mentioned before, the idea that people go to heaven when they die is a very attractive proposition for anyone to believe. Our grief is lessened and our hearts comforted if we believe someone we knew and loved is looking down on us, or having a wonderful time up there. Many people today have this idea, even non-Christians. My uncle Dave is in heaven, he never killed anyone, right? Yet how does anyone experience the wonders of heaven (or even the depravity of hell) if they are just lying there like a corpse? The answer is that people don’t believe that – they think they are alive, their soul is immortal, they can see, think, listen, taste, just as they did on earth – they’re not dead, they are alive! Why mourn? And who needs a body? Or Jesus??

        As far as I’ve read, this idea of an immortal soul has its origins in Greek literature rather than the Bible. To accept this, the body and soul must be separate. Yet when we look at the creation of man in Genesis 2:7 we find ‘the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul’. Note that the man ‘became’ a soul, not that he was given a soul to add to his body. He became one when God breathed into him the breath of life. God’s breath + the body = a soul. The word translated as soul is nephesh and is also translated as ‘living creature’ elsewhere. It means that Adam was alive, not that he had two separate living parts. And it also means that he, and everyone else, dies (Psa 104:29). We don’t live on elsewhere. We are buried or cremated on earth and wait to meet Jesus.

        Sorry to have written so much – I’m sure you have a lot of contributions to answer! But defining death as the end of life is a very important thing.

        • Paul Pavao says:

          I think your explanation is overconfident. Jesus told a parable (or maybe a story) about both a beggar and a rich man being somewhere other than earth before the resurrection. One was suffering; one wasn’t. Abraham was there. Peter said that Jesus preached to the dead in between his death and resurrection. Paul said that to be absent from the body is to be present with the Lord. Revelation 5 or 6 has martyrs “under the altar” waiting for their blood to be avenged. Revelation 20 has a first and second resurrection. 1 Thessalonians 4 has saints rising to meet the Lord in the air, and Jude says the Lord is coming with myriads of his saints to destroy the ungodly, who are apparently still on this earth in their bodies. John, whether the apostle or not, is guided around in the Revelation by an angel who is one of the redeemed and his brother. Moses and Elijah talked to Jesus on the mountain, yet Deuteronomy says that Moses was buried on Mt. Nebo. Further, Jude’s statement is pulled from Enoch, which has a description of the underworld that is much like Jesus’ parable (or story) of the rich man and Lazarus. Things are just not as simple as you described.

          • Jon says:

            You’re absolutely right, things don’t seem simple at all. Yet it is the beliefs of man that complicate things, not God.

            If the living and dead meet the Lord in the air, neither is with him before that point. Then it’s reasonable to say the Lord and his saints (who have all just met in the air) will come (from that meeting) to destroy the ungodly. That is absolutely the first resurrection. But the dead are clearly dead on earth before that resurrection.

            The parable of the rich man and Lazarus is a great example! What do we know about heaven-going? We know that ‘no-one has ascended into heaven’ (John 3:13). We know that Abraham has not yet received his reward (Heb 11:8-13, 39-40). We know that we are dead after death (Psa 146:4, 6:5, Ecc 9:5-10). So did Jesus not get this? Or did he present this picture to the Pharisees for a reason? The message of the parable is that even if one were to rise from the dead, they would not believe. And to prove it, Jesus raised a man called Lazarus! So in presenting this miracle to them in the context of their own Pharisaical beliefs he proved to them they were in error. The Jewish (and Pharisee) historian Josephus confirms his and their beliefs in his records.

            If we believe that the parable of the rich man and Lazarus is literally what happens to us after we die, then we have to also accept that we similarly will be able to see, talk to and assist the ungodly while we watch them being tortured. We also need to accept that the Lazarus (and everyone else) that Jesus raised (so really brought down?) was in heaven until Jesus made him alive again on earth. It’s surely wise for us to stay away from the erroneous beliefs of man, especially when they contradict what the Bible tells us. We should beware the yeast of the Pharisees.

            If we adopt a literal interpretation of Revelation, we’ll be looking for actual beasts and women giving birth in the last days! Even my Bible says it is a ‘long series of visions of judgement in highly symbolic language’. I’m happy to examine Revelation further though. The transfiguration you mention was a vision of the future Kingdom so if Moses and Elijah were both really there, rather than just visions, were they both alive before and afterwards? Or dead? I can’t see that we can use that as evidence either way that dead doesn’t mean dead.

            If Paul is only present with the Lord after he’s absent from the body, when does that happen? At the resurrection! John 5:28 says ‘Do not marvel at this; for the hour is coming in which all who are in the graves will hear His voice 29 and come forth—those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation’. We know we get a new body at the resurrection, and leave the old behind. And where are we before this point? Verse 28 says ‘in the graves’, not in heaven. Even David, a man after God’s own heart, is in the grave and not in heaven (Acts 2:29-35).

            The Bible is accurate, consistent and clear, apart from maybe some translation errors made over time. It’s important to understand that dead means dead. To state otherwise is to change the meaning of the word ‘die’, and to change the words that God uses to teach us. When we die, we really, completely, surely die. Our understanding that we surely die is crucial for us to understand the simplicity of the Bible message and to fully seek Jesus, who is the only way to life in the Kingdom to come. To believe that we do not surely die also means that we align ourselves to the message of Genesis 3:4.

            Apologies again for the number of words.

            • Paul Pavao says:

              I find this every bit as overconfident as your first comment. Sorry. I know you gave an effort to explain the things I responded with, but those explanations are not convincing. Maybe someone will come along who likes them. I am happy to rest my case with the one comment I wrote.

  2. KatieAnn says:

    Hello Paul,

    The question below has been in the back of my mind for a while. Your post touches on this a bit, but I am still seeking clarity.

    What about good people who don’t believe in Jesus or are not born of the Spirit? What if those people live righteously and even believe in God and seek Him, but still do not ‘have the Son’? Do you believe they will go to heaven? I recall Paul’s words in Romans 2: (“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.).

    Then, however, we have Jesus stating in John 3, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

    Right now, I am leaning towards the opinion that righteous people who have an inherent love of God and seek to please Him and do good will go to heaven. But they will be judged on their own works alone. Since they will not have been cleansed with the blood of the Lamb, they will have to rely completely on their own strength and merit. This may be completely unbiblical, but I just have a hard time believing that a loving, merciful Father could send somewhat like that to hell.

    Those who believe in the Lord have a great advantage because they have received the Holy Spirit to guide them and will not have to rely completely on their own strength. That is not to say that believers will have it easy. As a matter of fact, more is expected of them and they will have to continue to ‘fight the good fight’ and possibly be persecuted in the process.. Their prize, however, will be greater. It says that the saints will even judge the angels.

    Sorry for the rather long-winded question. I’d love to get your thoughts on this.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I don’t know what to do with that question. Could God reward a good, unsaved person with eternal life because they obeyed their conscience? Maybe, but if they ran into you or me and rejected the Gospel, then their end will not be favorable. God is going to take vengeance on those who do not obey the Gospel (2 Thess. 1:8).

      • KatieAnn says:

        You know, after I asked you this, and considered it further, and felt it was perhaps unfair for me to pose this question. I do apologize. I think I should just be satisfied with the fact that God’s judgement is perfect and righteous. It’s not my business how He will deal with each person. But while here, I should focus on what I can do for Him. At least I can understand that much.

  3. Caelon Loving says:

    sorry about repeating my message.

  4. Caelon Loving says:

    I have always have a hard time understanding if heaven is going to come to earth or its not of this world because there are a lot of Christians that I know of that are divided on that issue. Because of the contradiction John 18:36.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Why do you consider John 18:36 a contradiction?

      I think it is clear that our eternal destination is here, on a new, re-created earth, as 2 Peter 3:13 suggests. Revelation 20 says that the heavenly city descends to earth and the kings of the earth will bring their glory in and out of it.

      • Caelon says:

        I guess I’ve never was thought that as much I was always taught it was one or the other but now that you say that it makes more sense it will be here on earth.

      • Caelon Loving says:

        I guess I’ve never was though that as much. I was always taught it was one or the other but now that you say that it makes more scene it will be here on earth. I have a mom that is Lutheran a dad that is Evangelical and step dad that my mom married after my mom divorced was seventh day Adventist and a step mom after my dad divorced that gravitates towards some form of Lutheranism. all in all I was always confused what was what when it came to the end times because they all will have there own doctrine and belief on the end times.

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