Many people when asked the question “why do you want to go to heaven?” will say things like:
“I don’t want to go to hell.”
“I want to be away from pain and suffering.”
“My spouse/parents/friend/child is there.”
I was recently re-watching a debate between atheist Sam Harris and Christian apologist William Lane Craig where Harris made the implication that the reason people become Christians is simply to escape hell1. “Honestly, this just shows you how little Sam Harris understands Christianity,” Dr. Craig responded. “You don’t become a Christian to simply escape hell.”
I can imagine the confused look on many people’s faces at that moment. Why do you become a Christian then?
One aspect that makes the gospel so beautiful is that Christ has taken our sin and shame to the grave, and his righteousness has been imputed on us. The punishment that we deserved from God was absorbed by Christ. This is wonderful news. For one reason it is wonderful because our wrong doings have been covered by Christ, for those that accept this gift. We’re saved from hell—but being saved from hell is just a benefit; it’s not the main reason why we’re become Christians.
Here’s an illustration I’m going to borrow from John Piper:
Imagine that I wake up one morning and trip over a pile of clothes that my wife has left in the middle of the bathroom floor. I get angry; and as my wife is waking up, I scold her for being messy and inconsiderate. As she leaves the room, I know that she’s upset with me. I walk into the living room and I’m met with a cold silence. At this point, I know the right thing to do—I need to ask for forgiveness.
There are several reasons why I could ask for forgiveness. 1) I want a clear conscience while we’re apart. 2) I want her to make my favorite breakfast. 3) I don’t want her to withhold intimacy from me. 4) I don’t want people to think that our relationship is a mess. All of these are reasons why I could ask for her forgiveness. They are benefits to having a good marriage. But this isn’t the main reason why I should do this.
The main reason why I should ask for her forgiveness is so that the wall of separation between us, because of my wrong against her, is torn down. The greatest benefit of forgiveness is a restored relationship.
The same is true with God. You don’t become a Christian to merely escape hell—you become a Christian so that the relationship between you and God is made right. The wall has been torn down. You can now “enter into the joy of your master” (Matt. 25:21) and experience the beauty of a new relationship.
1Hell, as proposed by Sam Harris, is equated to a lake of fire and torture. Not the eternal separation from God that I’ve discussed in this blog. Otherwise escaping hell for the sake of one’s relationship with God might better parallel with the topic of this blog.