The people that go to heaven are Christians. However, this answer requires much explanation. The truth is that most people who would identify as “Christian” are in fact not Christians. Jesus said:
“Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: Because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it.” – Matthew 7:13-14 KJV
It is a tragic reality that most professing Christians are in fact lost sinners. Before we can understand who has eternal life (i.e. goes to heaven), we need to define the term “Christian.”
A Christian is a person who has believed and trusted the gospel of Jesus Christ, and therefore has become a follower of Christ. What is the gospel? The gospel is the good news that Jesus Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures (1 Corinthians 15:1-4).
A person who believes and trusts the gospel understands that:
- They are sinners
- They cannot save themselves (i.e. through their works)
- They need a savior
- Jesus Christ’s finished work on the cross by the shedding of His blood paid their debt/penalty in full
- Jesus was buried
- Jesus rose again on the third day
- Jesus lives today and is seated at the right hand of the Father
Only by believing in and trusting the gospel is a person justified before God. What is justification? Justification is when God declares a person legally righteous. It does not mean that a person is sinless, but in the eyes of God they are in fact sinless by the imputed righteousness of Jesus Christ.
“For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God; Being justified freely by his grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus: Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God” – Romans 3:23-25 KJV
“And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised: that he might be the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised; that righteousness might be imputed unto them also” – Romans 4:11 KJV
“Much more then, being now justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him.” – Romans 5:9 KJV
“Therefore as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by the obedience of one shall many be made righteous.” – Romans 5:18-19 KJV
“For he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” – 1 Corinthians 5:21 KJV
“And be found in him, not having mine own righteousness, which is of the law, but that which is through the faith of Christ, the righteousness which is of God by faith” – Philippians 3:9 KJV
Do “bad” Christians go to heaven?
I was asked the question: “Do bad Christians go to heaven?”
To answer this, we first have to define “good” and “bad” Christians. What exactly is meant by the terms “good” and “bad”? Are “good” and “bad” a measurement of the individual’s obedience? Are “good” Christians very obedient and “bad” Christians not so much? Is there any such thing as a “bad” Christian?
First, it’s important to understand that we all sin. Going to heaven (i.e. eternal life) is not dependent upon how good we can be. Why? Because even our righteous acts are filthy rags before God:
“But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.” – Isaiah 64:6 KJV
Our salvation dependent upon how good we can be would also equate to salvation by works which is explicitly against Scripture. How are we saved? We’re saved by grace through faith (i.e. believing and trusting the gospel). We are created unto good works, but it is not our works that save us.
“For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.” – Ephesians 2:8-10 KJV
For further in-depth discussion, see Is salvation through faith alone?