There is a clear division among believers and non-believers. Perhaps that satisfies the first test for the first heaven. But there are degrees of faith among believers. Sometimes believers waiver between trusting and doubting. These degrees of faith may determine whether you pass the other tests for the other two heavens.
Jesus said, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there and it will move.’ Nothing will be impossible to you.” Perhaps Jesus was noting that the quality of your faith is more important than the quantity. In other words, a deeper one day of faith is more important than 365 days of surface faith. The degrees of faith are also based on depth of faith and not how many days you said you believed in God.
As an example, Daniel had a powerful faith as he sat in the lions’ den. He focused on God, who sent down an angel to protect him. Peter was walking on water like Jesus, but he lost his focus and started sinking. We must focus on faith more than the problems and persecution that would otherwise distract us.
Believing in God is not enough. That is a surface faith that will evaporate like water in the blazing sun. When times get tough, our faith will be tested. The degree or depth of your faith will determine your ultimate fate.
What is faith? It is the conviction that God exists and will keep his promise to protect you. But you make personal choices that God does not control. God gave us free will. These decisions belong to you and must be made carefully because there are consequences with all of them. God does not protect you from making wrong decisions, but he does protect those who make righteous decisions.
Revelation mentions two deaths: one is our initial death when the believers and nonbelievers are separated in Hades and the second is when those who are judged according to what they have done in the book of life and those who were not written in the book of life would be thrown into the lake of fire. This may explain two of the heavens: (1) if you believe in God, you will enter Hades as a believer and (2) if you have a higher degree of faith in God so that you serve God with righteous actions and thoughts, then you will enter a second heaven and avoid the lake of fire.
James, the brother of Jesus, did not believe that his brother was the savior of the world until he met him after his resurrection. This changed everything. James, more than any other writer, emphasized deeds over faith. He said, “What good is it, my brothers, if a man claims to have faith but has no deeds?” In effect, James was saying that a surface belief in Jesus and God was not good enough.
James wrote: “Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do. You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder. You foolish man, do you want evidence that faith without deeds is useless? Was not our ancestor Abraham considered righteous for what he did when he offered his son Isaac on the altar? You see that his faith and his actions were working together, and his faith was made complete by what he did.”
James was talking about a higher degree of faith that reached beyond believing in God, which he sarcastically indicated that even demons had that degree of faith. James was telling us that we had to take our immature faith and build on it so that we would become more complete with a mature faith as shown by our actions. In effect, our actions would be our beacons of a deeper faith. Clearly, we will be held accountable for these actions in the second judgment.
Many of us have a wavering faith. Typically as life becomes more difficult, we lose our faith. We might even curse God as the tyrant who has made our lives so uncomfortable. This unstable faith is called “double-minded” by James.
James started his book with a powerful statement: “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything. If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him. But when he asks, he must believe and not doubt, because he who doubts is like a wave of the sea, blown and tossed by the wind. That man should not think he will receive anything from the Lord; he is a double-minded man, unstable in all he does.”
Your degree of faith to pass through the second heaven must be extremely high, which will be represented by all your good deeds and righteous lifestyle. But the degree of faith to pass into the third heaven is almost impossible to reach. That does not mean that you should not try. It just simply means that this degree of faith leads to perfection as exemplified by Christ.
You must come as close to Christ as you can. This may mean that you will be tortured and persecuted like Christ as part of this test. During these difficult days, you must always focus on God to get past the pain. As James said, consider it joy going through the trials since it builds up your perseverance. Your faith journey starts with a seed of faith, but it must grow and mature into a tall oak tree reaching for the highest degree of faith possible.
So what is your degree of faith? Are you convinced God exists and will keep his promises? Do you just believe in God when you attend church on Sunday or just as long as everything is going well for you?
Do you obey God and leave all the consequences to him? Or do you control your life until you have a major problem that you cannot solve? Then do you blame God or do you turn over the controls to God? Do you still carry the burden of your past sins?
Do you continue to commit sins? If you repent and are forgiven, then a true believer will not carry the burden of sin anymore. A true believer will not continue to sin.
So what is your degree of faith? You and God both know the answer.