Question: "What determines if a person goes to heaven or hell?"

Answer: John 3:16–18 says, “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” Apart from the work of Jesus Christ, every human is condemned to an eternity in hell (Revelation 20:15). But God has freely offered the gift of heaven. What determines if a person goes to heaven or hell for eternity is whether that person has been reconciled to God through Jesus Christ (Romans 4; Galatians 3:23–29; Hebrews 11).

Going to hell is the default position of humanity. Going to heaven is the free gift of God’s grace, received by faith, offered to all people (Ephesians 2:1–10). God wants people to be reconciled with Him, so He provided the way (John 14:6). Every person is invited to go to heaven.

Going to heaven or hell has everything to do with God’s act of rescue. When God created the world, everything was very good (Genesis 1:31). He created humanity in His image. He provided food for them but told them there was one tree from which they were not allowed to eat. They were to trust His provision, follow His commands, remain in close relationship with Him, and experience fullness of life. But they were also free to disobey Him, which would result in death (Genesis 2:15–17; Romans 6:23).

Adam and Eve, the first humans, ate the forbidden fruit (Genesis 3). This is commonly called “original sin,” and it has lasting effects. Our relationship with God, with one another, and with the created world are broken. Death is now a reality in our world. The sin of Adam is passed down to all his descendants—all of humanity (Romans 5:12).

But even as God explained to Adam and Eve what their disobedience would mean, He promised a Savior (Genesis 3:15, 21)! One would come who would ultimately restore humanity to God.

That Savior is Jesus Christ. Jesus is “God with us” (Matthew 1:20–23). He is fully God and fully human. He was conceived of the Holy Spirit and born to a virgin named Mary. He is God in the flesh, the one who reconciles humans and God (1 John 4:2). He is the Creator who entered into His creation in order to restore it to Himself (Colossians 1:15–19).

Jesus lived a fully human life, including undergoing temptation to sin, and He perfectly obeyed all of God’s ways (Romans 5:12–21; Hebrews 4:14–16). He willingly died on the cross as a payment for our sin (John 10:17–18; Hebrews 9:14—10:18; 1 Peter 3:18). From the cross, He proclaimed, “It is finished” (John 19:30). Jesus rose from the dead, demonstrating that He is who He claims and that He is victorious over sin and death (1 Corinthians 15:3–8, 50–57). All who put their faith in Him receive forgiveness of sin (Colossians 2:13–15). Jesus takes their sin and gives them His righteousness (2 Corinthians 5:18–21; Ephesians 2:1–10). Because of that forgiveness, they will go to heaven.

Whether a person goes to heaven or hell has everything to do with God. He freely offers the gift of eternity in heaven with Him. He invites everyone to believe, to submit to Him as Lord, to receive His rescue, and to enjoy fullness of life in Him (Hebrews 4:1–13).

Do you know whether you will go to heaven or hell? If not, settle the issue now. If you have questions about who God is or what salvation is, please ask us. If you understand that you are separated from God and that He has provided the means of forgiveness and reconciliation, receive His offer of salvation today by faith! Romans 10:9–10 says, “If you declare with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved.”

There is no special prayer you must pray. But if you would like an example of how you can pray to receive God’s gift, we suggest something like this:

God, I know that I have gone against your ways, that I rightly deserve condemnation. I know that you are loving, merciful, gracious, and just. I believe that you have made reconciliation possible. I believe that Jesus is the only Savior, and I submit to Him as Lord. I believe He is fully God, fully human, lived a perfect life, died on the cross for my sins, and rose from the dead bodily. I believe His sacrifice is sufficient for my sins and that His righteousness can be applied to me. Please forgive me. Please make me your child through Jesus Christ. Please give me your Spirit and complete your work of sanctification in me. Thank you for your salvation.