God is making an offer that determines what happens to us after we die. With individual free will, we either accept or reject the offer.
People of all times, places and religions have instinctively known that there will be a final judgment and reward or punishment after death. This knowledge is built right into us.
Heaven and hell are logical extensions of God's character:
• God is HOLY. He has established good and consistent physical and spiritual laws we can depend upon.
• God is JUST. There is penalty for wrong choices. Hell (total separation from God after death) is the penalty for a lifetime of sin.
• God is LOVE. He offers a substitute (Jesus) to free us from the penalty. If we accept, we get heaven instead of hell.
The substitution is a gift, and hell is what's left if the gift is rejected.
Permeating the physical world, there is a spirit world we cannot see and can only barely understand; not only the Holy Spirit, but angels, Devil and demons.
This mysterious realm is most discernible to people who open themselves to spirit influences and powers. Generally, modern Western culture is cerebral and chooses not to acknowledge spirits except in jest.
Christians need not be much concerned about it, except to recognize that the spirit world is very real and can have considerable power over individual lives.
Fortunately, salvation, explained in God's character, takes care of it all for us. When we accept Jesus as Savior, we also get the Holy Spirit. To the extent we yield to the Holy Spirit, he (God within us) drives away evil powers that want to corrupt our lives. We don’t have to think about the spirit world. We just yield to God.
Heaven is both a place and a state of being. The Bible says that people in heaven will have a different body (perfect), and there will be no sin, pain or sorrow.
There are many references to heaven in the Bible but no detailed description except for a symbolic dream in the book of Revelation, probably because our minds cannot conceive anything so different from our present experiences.
Most people think that heaven is up and far away, but that doesn’t make sense for a rotating earth and is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says that, at some future time unknown to us, there will be a ‘... a new heaven and a new earth … Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people.’ (Revelation 21:1-3).
Scientists are finding increasing evidence that we're living in a ‘multiverse’ of two or more ‘parallel universes,’ that there are marvelous things all around us that we cannot see, hear or touch. Perhaps heaven, after death, when we get new bodies, includes receptors for experiences in other dimensions here that we cannot even imagine with limitation of our present senses.
Heaven is beyond our capacity to comprehend, and human words cannot describe it. We should dismiss as pure fantasy images such as someone in the clouds, with wings, dressed in white, playing a little harp.
All we can know, and need to know, is that heaven is the wonderful condition after death, with God. It’s where we want to be!
Hell is what’s left after God leaves.
It is confinement together of all unforgiven sinners, Satan and evil spirits, left alone to fend for themselves in an environment of unstrained evil and suffering, without God and unable to die.
Hell is the exact opposite of heaven. It is the terrible place for people who are not in heaven, totally abandoned by God, cursing themselves for rejecting Christ.
We should dismiss as pure fantasy images such as the Devil with a tail, running around with red suit and pitchfork.
All we can know, and need to know, is that hell is the horrible condition after death, without God. It’s where we don’t want to be!
Some 'bad’ people will go to heaven, like the repentant thief who died on the cross beside Jesus.
Some ‘good’ people will go to hell, like the pious religious leaders rebuked by Jesus.
A person goes to hell for relying on his own merits rather than on Christ’s merits, regardless how good that person may be.
Rejecting Jesus Christ – thinking I’m good enough or I don’t need God’s salvation – is what condemns a person to hell.
In legal terms, this is a matter of offer-and-acceptance. Accepting God's gift is heaven, rejecting it is hell.
No response is same as rejection.
God is not always ‘fair’ in our sense of the word. He is more than fair and always HOLY, JUST and LOVE.
Jesus told this story to illustrate (Matthew 20:1-15):
A landowner went to town at 6:00 in the morning to hire laborers to work in his vineyard. He agreed to pay them a denarius (a day’s wage, let’s say $150).
At 9:00 he went back to the marketplace and got some more laborers, saying 'I’ll pay you whatever is right.'
He went to town and did the same again at noon, and again at 3:00 in the afternoon.
At 5:00 he saw men standing around the marketplace and asked them, ‘Why have you been standing here all day long doing nothing?’
‘Because no one hired us,’ they answered.
‘You also come and work in my vineyard,’ he said.
When evening came, the owner said to his foreman, 'Call the workers and pay them their wages.’
They all received $150.
But those who were hired early grumbled that it was unfair that those who were hired later got the same pay.
The landowner answered, ‘Friend, I am not being unfair to you. Didn’t you agree to work for $150? Take your pay and go. I want to give the man who was hired last the same as I gave you.
Don’t I have the right to do what I want with my own money? Or are you envious because I am generous?’
Now, for another illustration, look at this train diagram to help explain some key Christian concepts and terminology:
Everyone comes into the world on Track 1, headed for hell (original sin) because of sin, and stays on Track 1 unless the person makes a deliberate decision to get off and go to Track 2.
Because God is just, there are exceptions, as explained in Jesus only way?: for children ... for mentally handicapped ... for people who have never clearly heard about Jesus ...
But the exceptions don't apply here. We KNOW, or at least are put on notice to investigate further. Now we will be held accountable, individually, for our response.
Some people say that there is really nothing we can do about our destiny ... that God has determined it in advance (predestination).
True, he has laid the tracks, and he has limited our option to only two tracks. He has predestined that all on Track 1 go to hell and that all on Track 2 go to heaven.
But, we can choose, with our own free will, the track we want.
We can look out the window and heed the signs at the stops and platforms along the way, which are our decision points.
To change, we simply get off the train on Track 1 and walk across the platform to the train on Track 2, as explained in God's character. Besides getting us to the desired destination, the train on Track 2 has softer seats and nicer passengers.
God has chosen (election) the category of people that will go to heaven – the ones on Track 2 – but each individual chooses (with his own free will) whether or not he wants to be a part of that category.
Failing to make a decision to change means that the person deliberately chooses to remain with the group on Track 1.
By what right (justification) can someone simply get off the train on Track 1 headed for hell and get on the train on Track 2 headed for heaven? Because Jesus Christ offers a fully paid ticket, purchased by his substitution death on the cross.
We don’t pay for the Track 2 ticket with our own money or works. It's a free gift from God, more than we deserve (grace).