We have a problem defining what is sin because we really don’t have a concept of what Heaven is. Heaven is a perfect place, the kind of perfect that each of us would truly enjoy, no crime, criminals, poverty, pain, stinky smells or noisy traffics. It is an environment filled with love, beauty, grace and giving. A place with no stress and no sin.
Now how would one go about defining the qualifications to enter this place? God has done a pretty good job with the 10 Commandments. But somehow religion has done us a disservice by misconstruing the Law: Pharisees justify their violations of the Law, bending the law and finding ways around the law. For instance, most people today really believe they are a pretty good person because “I haven’t killed anybody”. Jesus dealt with this misapplication of the Law by teaching, “You heard it said that you shall not murder, but I say to you if you hate anyone or ever call anyone a name, you’re already a murderer in your heart!” John added, “No murderer has eternal life” (1 John 3:15). You see, no one will hate anyone in Heaven, so no hater can ever be allowed in Heaven. Simple logic.
The Bible examples are perfect and it’s impossible to improve on them, but for the exercise of modernizing an old lesson to a new audience, I’d like to take you into my imaginary world for a moment. Pretend with me that I am the gatekeeper of Heaven for a moment, and I get to choose the qualifications for entry. I would make one of my modern commandments very simple: thou shalt not litter.
Implications are: throwing garbage wherever you like is a sin, nobody in Heaven will litter, therefore anyone who litters should go to hell. The first implication is easy to explain. Littering is clearly a sin. First of all it’s selfish. When I walk on playgrounds or the beach and see broken glass bottles carelessly tosses around, my very first thought is that this is unsafe for my kids. They could cut their little feet playing in these places which were meant for our family enjoyment. Somebody had to be very selfish to not consider the danger they created for other people. So firstly, littering is a sin because it destroys safety, beauty, order, freedom. People will now have to wear shoes all the time (not free to take them off) or else be very careful to step around the broken glass (not free to walk where they choose).
Secondly, littering is a sin because it leaves a mess for someone else to clean up. Somebody in authority has to come fix the public garbage, Government could be spending its money and time on improving everyone’s quality of life, instead it has to pull resources and dedicate them to picking up litter. This is a nuisance to somebody else and a waste of the public purse. Thirdly, littering is a sin because it is not walking in love. The person who litters has to not care about anybody else, kids, adults, public servants, government. All sin is a form of not walking in love towards God or neighbor, so by definition, littering is a sin.
The second implication is that since Heaven is perfect, nobody litters in Heaven. There is no broken glass bottle in Heaven to be afraid of. No foul odors to offend. No stray wrappings that needs to be picked up by anybody.
The third implication is the one I want to get to, because it is most profound. People who litter don’t belong in Heaven. You might ask, “Isn’t that a bit harsh? Isn’t that a bit extreme? Come now, what could a little sin like littering do to heaven?” Let’s look at the results of letting one sinner, in this case a litterer, into Heaven. He would turn Heaven into a garbage dump. As I mentioned, by his presence, safety, beauty, order and other people’s freedom would be destroyed. We would all have to either walk around broken glass and other trash, or else confine him to a section where he could freely trash and be with other people who trash. Since Heaven should be a perfect place of safety, beauty, order and freedom, we would have to confine him to a “hellish section of Heaven,” which wouldn’t make sense at all. But this is not the worst part of it.
The external environment could theoretically be policed all the time by Heaven’s cleaning crew (but thank goodness there will be no need for police in Heaven, because there will be no sinners. We who have been born again and trained to obey the Holy Spirit will be trusted by God to police ourselves.) The worst part about the litterer in Heaven is that he will introduce the very hellish attitude of selfishness into Heaven. There would be a citizen in Heaven which could walk out of love. He may walk into our homes and throw rubbish on our floor. We would have to become circumspect, may be even paranoid as we are on earth, about who to let into our homes. But such will not be the attitude of Heaven. Hospitality will be extended to all. Trust will be afforded to all. Because everyone in Heaven will consider the other person first, so he would never dream of littering someone else’s home. Heaven is, in fact, Jesus’ Home, so no one will dream of littering Jesus’ Home. Everyone will walk in love towards God and towards neighbor.
I hope you can see from this single commandment, my modern version of God’s 10 Commandments, that it is futile to say, “I only commit little sins so God should let me into Heaven.” The statement can only be made of a person who has never considered what God is trying to accomplish by preparing for us Heaven. God is trying to rid our lives of all the pain we suffer on earth through the cumulative and collective effect of sin. God wants to redeem us out of this hostile and cursed environment called the earth, and especially out of that most wretched and evil place called Hell. He wants us to experience perfect pleasure, perfect freedom, perfect love, perfect beauty. In case we stray too far away from the ideal while on earth, He has “placed eternity in our hearts,” a deep longing for a release from the shackles of this world and discovery of a perfect world with God. Even littering becomes extremely incongruent with a place like this.
How then can we deem lying, adultery, murder, theft as “little sins” we hope to be overlooked? Even mere littering would disqualify us from being a guest in someone else’s pristine home or better in a king’s royal palace. Now we should better appreciate the Book of Revelation’s statement that “all liars shall have their part in the lake of fire” (Rev 21:8). The “mere” act of lying is so incongruent with Heaven that all liars must be confined together in a place called “hell”. Remember Jesus’ lesson. It’s not the mere act of lying, or for that matter, murdering that disqualifies a person. It’s the HEART of the liar, the murderer, the litterer, that disqualifies him. The heart of total disregard for the thoughts, feelings and life of others, including your own Creator. This heart, not the actions themselves, disqualifies one from Heaven.
Herein are both the good news and bad news. The bad news is that nobody should boast that they sin little or less than another, for “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God” or of Heaven we might say. The good news is, if the heart is the problem, more than the actions, then there is only one thing to be fixed. And God alone has the power and ability to reach inside the broken human heart, take it away, and replace it with His Son’s pure heart. By faith in Jesus Christ, we can receive a “new spirit”, become a “new creation,” and even be filled with the “Holy Spirit”. That means in one event called being born again, God can solve all the problems that condemn us to hell and hinder us from becoming citizens of Heaven. Religion gets us to focus on the acts, which doesn’t solve the eternal problem at all. But Christ gets us to focus on the attitude. The only way God can let sinners into Heaven is if He and everybody else knows that this sinner has humbly repented of his sins on earth and given his complete trust in the leadership of the only Perfect Person who ever live, Jesus Christ. If we will follow His leadings, everybody else will be alright. Heaven will remain a safe place when we enter it. And that’s the whole point of salvation: to let disqualified people in without jeopardizing the perfection of Heaven for everybody else who’s already there!
So when you think I deserve to go to Heaven because “I haven’t killed anybody,” please remember that the litterer deserves to go to hell. This is not far-fetched as you may have thought. Revelation 11:18 says in the NIV, “…The time has come for judging the dead…for destroying those who destroy [read 'pollute' or 'litter'] the earth.” The litterer deserves to go to hell. Let this thought humble our expectations of being fit for Heaven, and trust rather in Jesus’ qualifications to save us from Hell and give us a heart fit for Heaven.
COMMENT PLEASE: Has this post given you food for thought?