Degrees of Faith

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.[1]

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.”[2]  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.[3]  Peter was walking on water like Jesus, but he lost his focus and started sinking.[4]  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.[5]  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?”[6]  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.”[7]

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.[8]

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.”[9]

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.



[1] 2 Corinthians 12:2, Paul mentions the “third heaven.”

[2] Matthew 17:30-21.

[3] Daniel 6:21.

[4] Matthew 14:29-30.

[5] Revelation 20:13-15.

[6] James 2:14.

[7] James 18-22.

[8] James 1:8.

[9] James 1:2-8.

God’s Love

There are many definitions of love: to cherish, devotion, tenderness, to caress, to fondle, to copulate, to take pleasure in, to like or desire, to feel affection, to thrive in, just to mention a few.

Perhaps the majority of men think that making love is the act of copulation.  Perhaps the majority of women think that making love is the act leading to copulation.  But human love generally leads to copulation. 

But there are types of love other than erotic or passionate love.  There is brotherly love.  There is agape love between brothers in Christ.  There is the love that a father and mother have for their children.  This may be the love that God has for his children, but we do not know for certain because the God of the Old Testament appears to be different than the God of the New Testament. 

There may be a love that we as humans cannot understand.  We see the manifestations of the love Jesus had for God and for us, but we do not fully understand that love.  What greater evidence of love is there than to lay down your life for those you love?  Jesus did that for his father and for mankind.  He accepted all the torture and pain for our benefit, certainly not his. 

We know that soldiers will sacrifice their lives protecting their brothers in arms. We know that the remaining eleven apostles sacrificed their lives as followers of Jesus. We know that other Christians were sacrificed for their beliefs, and they reached a level of love that may be required to enter God’s heaven. 

So what is God’s love?  Unfortunately, this is an unknown.  We may be assuming too much if we believe that God loves us so much that He will forgive us for all the mistakes we made during life.  God’s love may be something we have no comparison for in our world.  In fact, God’s love probably is alien to us because it exists in God’s universe. 

But Jesus is our intermediary to God’s world and God’s love.   We believe that Jesus loves us absolutely and completely, and because of that we can love him absolutely and completely.  If we love Jesus a little bit, but treat the Ten Commandments like they were a multiple-choice test, then we can expect our love to fall short of what is required in the judgment.  If we successfully avoid committing sinful acts, but our thoughts are corrupted with evil’s poison, then we can expect our love to fall short of what Jesus taught in the Beatitudes. 

When asked what the greatest commandment was, Jesus replied, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.  This is the first and greatest commandment.”  Matthew 22:37-38.  So, loving God with everything you have may be the radical way you have to love God.  I say radical because you must be willing to give up everything you have and own.  You must renounce everything, including your health, your wealth, your family, and your life for God’s love.

The Bible is our best source for determining the three steps to loving God with all your heart and soul. 

Step One.  In Matthew 1:21, “… he (Jesus) will save his people from their sins.”  Jesus stated in Matthew 10:32, “Whoever acknowledges me before men, I will also acknowledge him before my Father in heaven.”  Jesus emphasized faith when Peter failed to walk on water in Matthew 14:31. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?”  Jesus healed a boy plagued with a demon while his disciples could not.  They asked Jesus why they could not drive out the demon.  In Matthew 17:20, he replied, “Because you have so little faith.  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 for you.” 

After his resurrection, Jesus told His disciples to preach the good news to all creation.  He said in Mark 16:16, “Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.”  In Acts 15:11, Luke wrote, “We believe it is through grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved…”   In Romans 3:22, Paul wrote, “This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.  There is no difference, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus.  God presented him as a sacrifice of atonement, through faith in his blood.  He did this to demonstrate his justice, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished – he did it to demonstrate his justice at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.”

In other words, if we believe in Jesus as our Savior, we enter heaven’s first gate through the grace of God.

Step Two.  Once we receive God’s grace, we may not continue sinning.  In Romans 6:16, Paul wrote, “Don’t you know that when you offer yourselves to someone to obey him as slaves, you are slaves to the one whom you obey – whether you are slaves to sin, which leads to death, or to obedience, which leads to righteousness.”  In effect, Paul was saying that once believers received God’s grace, they had an obligation to lead righteous lives.  Paul talks about the Holy Spirit that will direct your righteous actions that will please God.  The Bible talks about judgments based on our acts and deeds, so logically, there must be a second judgment with consequences for what you did or failed to do during life.

But it was James, a brother of Jesus, who made it clear that faith was not sufficient by itself.  In James 2:17, James questioned the good of wishing someone well without taking any action.  He wrote, “In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.”

In other words, our actions and deeds during life will be examined by Jesus to determine if we are worthy to enter the second heaven.    

Step Three.  The final step is a mystery known only by God.  The step into the third heaven, his kingdom, is limited to just a few.  In Matthew 7:14, Jesus said, “But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”

We only know about the three heavens because Paul wrote about them in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  However, very little is known about the three heavens.  The three potential judgments or steps discussed in this article appear to match the three heavens.  But there is nothing in the Bible listing three judgments. 

John the Baptist preached in Matthew 3:2: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.”  The kingdom of heaven is mentioned 33 times in Matthew.  Repentance in the Bible is more than just saying I am sorry; it is a radical change in your lifestyle, renouncing our sinful nature and returning to the kingdom of heaven.  We can imagine that the judgment for the third heaven, which is listed by the author to refer to the entrance into God’s universe, requires a draconian approach to avoiding sin in your actions and in your thoughts, but it also demands that you give up everything in this universe and be prepared to sacrifice everything including yourself. 

This test will be extremely difficult because our human thoughts dip into sinful venom before we can stop it and we find it difficult giving up our worldly possessions and even harder to suffer pain and torture.  But in order for us to reach the third level, we must be willing to sacrifice ourselves, our family, and all that we touch in our world.  We must be extreme and radical in our love for God.  We must be willing to be crucified for our love just like Jesus.

As radical and excessive as our love must be for God, God’s love may be moderate.  At least, I hope it is.  If God’s love were a passionate love, it would burn out quickly.  A passionate relationship forever is not realistic, because just like stars, it eventually burns all its fuel and then explodes.  But a consistent love could last forever.  I pray that God’s love is moderate and lasts forever.

When I hope that God’s love is moderate, I do not mean I am wishing for a God that will love us less than we have loved him.  I mean that I desire God’s love to be based on moderation and temperance.  In a chaotic world, God hopefully has a moderate love that is under control.  This, logically, is the only type of love that could survive eternity. 

When you first started dating your spouse, you probably had a very passionate relationship.  After several years of marriage, your passionate fires were turned down to medium.  After several decades of marriage, your relationship probably changed and became less passionate and more moderate.  Most love stories revolve around passion based on extreme emotions that do not last.

God’s love is probably very different from the loves you have had during your life, requiring a quid pro quo.  God’s love is a gift of moderation after you have crossed the final gate, bearing the cross of crucifixion as well as Jesus did.  And don’t be embarrassed about loving God.  You must learn how to love God in an extreme fashion in order to enter the third heaven.

You can start with the love you have for your family.  Emphasize that type of love and bring that to your conversations with God.  Over your life, you can hopefully develop a relationship with God that will facilitate your judgments before Him in the afterlife.  The first heaven is not difficult, but the second is difficult.  However, the third heaven requires an extreme love for God, requiring a full commitment, being willing to sacrifice everything, including your family and body.

It is likely that the first two heavens are still in our universe, leaving the third heaven as the final portal into God’s universe.  Only a few will leave our universe and enter God’s kingdom, which means that the rest of us will remain behind to be recycled in our universe.  But that does not discourage me from doing my best.  I will love Jesus as the mediator, doing my best to pass the second judgment.

One of the things that I do is I mark down which virtues and good acts I have accomplished on a daily basis.  And I try to improve on these righteous acts and incrementally make myself a better person each day.  I try to model myself after Jesus as much as I can.  I think of it as getting a little closer every day, knowing that I will never reach the perfection of Jesus.  Jesus is my role model.  I have not been persecuted and tortured like Jesus, but I am prepared to accept that if it comes to pass.  

My love for Jesus and God will be equal to the love that I have.  I am prepared to give my all even if I do not make the third heaven.  I will do my best and will never stop trying to improve.  For I believe that God’s patient and moderate love is waiting for me.                       

Degree of Difficulty in Reaching Heaven

If you ask a minister if it is difficult reaching heaven, more than likely he will tell you that reaching heaven is as simple as you believing in Jesus Christ as your savior.  I wish that were true, but there are many verses in the Bible that make me think otherwise.  In fact, the Bible seems to be very clear on the matter.  Bottom Line: it may be extremely difficult to reach God’s kingdom.

Some of these verses are below:

“For many are invited, but few are chosen.”  Matthew 22:14.

“Someone asked him, ‘Lord, are only a few people going to be saved?’  He said to them, ‘Make every effort to enter through the narrow door, because many, I tell you, will try to enter and will not be able to.”  Luke 13:23-24.

“Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven.  Many will say to me on that day, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and in your name drive out demons and perform many miracles?’  Then I will tell them plainly, ‘I never knew you.  Away from me, you evildoers!’  Matthew 7:21-23.

“I tell you the truth, it is hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven.  Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.”  Matthew 19:23-24.

“As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him.  ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’  ‘Why do you call me good?  Jesus answered.  ‘No one is good – except God alone.”  The man declared that he had kept all the commandments since he was a boy.  “Jesus looked at him and loved him. ‘One thing you lack,’ he said. ‘Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven.  Then come, follow me.’  At this the man’s face fell.  He went away said, because he had great wealth.  Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, ‘How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!  Mark 10:17-23.

“When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’  Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”  Matthew 19:25-26. 

“Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14.

“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me.  At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people.  Because of the increase in wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.”  Matthew 24:9-13.

“To him who overcomes, I will give him the right to sit with me on my throne, just as I overcame and sat down with my Father on his throne.”  Revelation 3:31.

“Then I heard the number of those who were sealed:  144,000 from all the tribes of Israel.”  Revelation 7:4.

“Then I looked, and there before me was the Lamb, standing on Mount Zion, and with him 144,000 who had his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads.”  Revelation 14:1.

There is some confusion as to the number of judgments and heavens.  Paul says that there are three heavens in 2 Corinthians 12:2.  However, little else is said about them in the Bible.  However, it seems logical that there are multiple heavens because God’s grace is all you need for one judgment, but your works will be examined in another judgment.  They could not logically be the same judgment or lead to the same heaven.   

If there are multiple heavens and judgments, then it is possible that ministers are correct in saying that you will enter the first heaven through the grace of God simply based on your belief.  But since the Bible mentions that you will be judged also for your actions, which could be a second heaven and judgment.  But the third heaven sounds like the most difficult of all to reach.  That could be the one that involves persecution where you must be like Christ to the extent of being tortured like he was.  This is where people would drop out of the running in droves.

It seems that only 144,000 people will make the final cut to enter God’s kingdom or the third heaven.  That is a pretty low percentage of all the people who have ever lived on earth.

Persecution of Believers

Paul wrote “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”  2 Timothy 3:12.  Paul knew this from first-hand experience since he was stoned, beaten, and imprisoned.  Finally, he was killed by the Romans.[1]

It took a man of conviction and powerful faith in God like Paul to endure the persecution.  Jesus discussed how difficult it would be for us to find God’s kingdom.  He stated, “Enter through the narrow gate.  For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.  But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.”  Matthew 7:13-14.

In Revelation 14:1, only 144,000 reached the dwelling place of God.  Paul, who probably heard this directly from the resurrected Jesus, tells us that there are three heavens.  2 Corinthians 12:2.  We go to paradise or the third heaven either in the body or out of the body.  2 Corinthians 12:3-4.  Paul admitted that only God knew whether we entered God’s kingdom in a physical state or as an out-of-body experience.

This leaves two other heavens to wonder about.  Paul, unfortunately, did not identify the other two heavens.  But we can probably deduce these heavens as:  (1) the first heaven is achieved by justification of God’s grace; if you believe that Jesus died so that your sin debt would be forgiven in full, then you will enter this heaven as a believer, and (2) the second heaven is achieved through our actions and is termed sanctification; all our actions and thoughts will be judged to determine if we have earned the right to enter this heaven.

The third heaven requires glorification to the extent that you can become like Jesus.  You will be persecuted and tortured just like Jesus.  You must be humble just like Jesus as you endure the pain.  You must not think evil thoughts of your persecutors just like Jesus.  You must be close to perfect, approaching the perfection of Jesus, not even thinking about revenge against your persecutors in order to enter the third heaven.  You must turn your other cheek to them and let them strike that cheek as well.  These will be extremely difficult tests.  As Jesus said, “only a few” will enter.

 



[1] Paul, the author of many letters which were verified as his own and were written contemporaneously with the events he described, should be given significant credibility over other authors in the Bible.  The events Paul described were first-hand accounts rather than stories that were handed down over generations and then were reduced to writing many years later.