Do good people go to heaven? No. There aren’t any! Only redeemed people go to heaven, and we’re redeemed only through knowing Jesus.
It takes more than going to church. It takes more than acknowledging Jesus as a historical figure. The living Christ is a real person. He is active in the world—and in the life of every individual.
He does not appear to our physical senses. We can neither see him, touch him, nor hear the sound of his voice. How can we know that we know him?
The Bible has a simple answer: “And by this we know that we have come to know him, if we keep his commandments” (1 John 2:3, NASB). And Jesus said, “if you love me you will keep my commandments” (John 14:15).
Simple, but it requires careful examination so we don’t misinterpret what it says. Christianity has nothing to do with keeping rules. We receive a righteousness by faith, apart from works of the law. Keeping commandments, therefore, isn’t a test of how much we love Jesus. It’s a promised outcome of loving Jesus.
So here’s the deal. We’re not good people. Let’s be honest with ourselves. We can’t be good people. But we can love Jesus. When we love him, we keep his commandments. And when we keep his commandments, we know that we have come to know him.
The old commandment
Scholars say that there are more than 600 commandments in the Old Testament. God gave those commandments for two reasons:
- to give a picture of what godly living looks like
- to prove to us that no one can live up to it
Someone asked Jesus, What’s the greatest commandment? His answer was not one of the Ten Commandments. It’s in Deuteronomy, where it’s easy to miss it: Love God with everything you are. He also pointed out a similar commandment (from Leviticus) as the second greatest: Love your neighbor as yourself.” (See Mark 12:28-34.)
As another famous rabbi pointed out, all the rest of the law is commentary. Live up to those two, and you’ll never break any other commandments. Unfortunately, no one ever quite manages.
Jesus’ new commandment
But when Jesus said, “If you love me, you will keep my commandments,” he had just given a new commandment. That’s what he in mind.
“A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another even as I have loved you, that you also love one another” (John 13:34).
Do you see how that’s new? Instead of loving others as you love yourself, you are to love others as Jesus loves you. It completely takes you and me and our limitations out of the equation.
In other words, under the law, people had to think of how they loved themselves, and then love their neighbor the same way. They had an imperfect reference point. Jesus took away the imperfect and gave us his own perfect example to follow.
The old commandment is a law that has no power to help anyone live up to it. When we fail, it offers no forgiveness, no comfort. The new commandment is the way of grace.
In order for us to measure our love for others, we no longer have to look at our own self love. We look at Jesus’ love for us. And so we have to pay enough attention to Jesus’ love to notice what it’s like. Then we have a chance to love much more successfully than under the old commandment.
John writes that the new commandment is true in Christ and in us. Why? Because the true light is already shining, and it drives the darkness away (1 John 2:8).
Moses brought the law out of a dark cloud. He brought it into a world made dark by sin and the attendant temptation to be self-centered. Jesus himself is the true light shining in the world and has driven darkness away.
There’s still plenty of darkness to find, both in the world and in ourselves. It’s where the light of the gospel has not shined. We see by the light of the gospel only when we respond to it in love. Love for God and love for neighbors.
We can’t live up to that love any more than we could live up to love under the law. We don’t have it in us to be perfect. But we can pay careful attention to God’s perfect love. We can rely on his grace and give up living and loving in our own feeble strength.
We can love Jesus. When we do, we have his promise that we will keep his commandments. It won’t look perfect, but it will come a lot closer than we could ever manage on our own. And that’s when and how we can know that we know Jesus.