There Will Be Murderers in Heaven

Originally published Wednesday, 23 October 2013.

And he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” And he said to him, “Truly, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise.” (Jesus speaking to the criminal being crucified with Him.) – Luke 23:42-43

“In this life we will never be perfect,” wrote Anthony, the man who murdered my dad, “but in the one to come, you and I will be brother and sister, as much as you may hate that now.”

It was a difficult truth to swallow. But I knew Anthony was right.

In God’s economy, murderers and rapists will stand worshipping before the throne of Jesus alongside every other Christ follower. Indeed, God’s ways are not our own.

Christ died for all who place their faith in Him––murderers and homeschooling moms alike. This is why the doctrine of grace offends many. In church a couple weeks ago, my pastor said something like this. “The reason you’re having a difficult time with this concept is because you are still struggling with works righteousness. You still believe we earn our way to heaven.” He may have said it a bit more eloquently than I just did, but the fact remains. Our salvation is not based upon our successes or our failures in this life, but upon the grace of God.

So what is grace?

Grace, in short, is “unmerited or undeserved favor.” By definition, it is favor we cannot earn. From a young age, almost everything we’re taught (from a worldly perspective) tells us we must perform. We must be good. If we are good, we will be rewarded. If we are bad, we will be punished. This is how the economy of the world is structured, yet this doesn’t translate to the realm of God.

No, in God’s economy, we can never earn our way. We are saved by grace through faith (Ephesians 2:8). Our debt against God (when considering all the sins we’ve stacked up against ourselves) can never be reconciled by us. God doesn’t see “big” sins or “little” sins. Sin is sin, and the penalty of sin is death––or eternal separation from God after death. Romans 6:23 says, “For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Contrary to popular cultural opinion, your good will NEVER outweigh your bad. 

This is why Jesus had to come. Why He had to live a perfect life. And why He had to die the death we deserved––in our place, for our sins––so that we don’t have to. He paid the penalty for our sin.

What’s more, Jesus came to bring us life, and life to the full (John 10:10). To set us free from sin, and its hold on us. And to impart the Holy Spirit to us that we may live life victoriously (though not perfectly). Jesus’ death brings life to those who believe and secures our position as sons and daughters of the Father.

This is grace. Undeserved favor. Oh how grateful I am for the grace that has been poured out over my life!

Still, some might ask, Why would God extend grace?

Romans 5:6-8  says, “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (emphasis mine). God shows us grace because He loves us––each one of us––with an unfathomable love.

And He didn’t die only for those considered “good” by worldly standards, but instead, He died for all who would place their faith in Him, including those who have committed the most heinous crimes.

I think we must all wrestle with this doctrine and take an honest moment to ask ourselves whether or not we understand this truth and whether or not we’re truly living in light of grace.

For by the grace given to me I say to everyone among you not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think, but to think with sober judgment, each according to the measure of faith that God has assigned. – Romans 12:3