This is a subject I have been wanting to take on for about a month or so now since it had been brought up during one of the episodes of Matt Walsh’s podcast. The question is framed like this: “If Hell is the absence of love and love cannot exist in Hell, does anyone with love in their heart go to Heaven regardless of what they believe?” In this context, “love” is not just the special type of love you have for a significant other or a family member. Rather, it is a truly passionate love, an agape love, if you will.
So we pose the question: can someone who truly has a deep, abiding passionate love for someone else go to heaven even if they are not a Christian? The answer may seem obvious right off the bat. I believe that no, someone cannot go to heaven simply based on an earthly love they have for someone else.
But even when the answer to a question is easy to formulate an answer to, we must still give reasons as to why we came to the conclusion that we did.
Obviously, we are going to go straight to the Bible to answer this so let’s look some verses to support the claim. Perhaps the first verse that comes to mind is John 14:6 when Jesus says, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” John 6:44 similarly says, “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him.” In both of these instances, Jesus is clearly stating that no one, not one single person can come to God except through Jesus. Notice also the word “can” in Jon 6:44. As R.C. Sproul notes in his book Chosen by God, the word “can” word refers to one’s ability, not permission that God grants. If, instead of saying “No one can come” John wrote “No one may come”, this would mean that we only have to request permission to God to come to him, and he would grant it, making salvation easily attainable and works-based. But this is not the case. Instead, we see that “No one can come” meaning that we have no ability to come…
Unless. This is another important word in this verse. It is the condition which must be met for us to be able to come. There is a way for us to come. It’s not on our own, but it is the Father who draws us which allows us to come.
We also see in Acts 4 when Peter is speaking to the council, he says of Jesus, “…there is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.” We can clearly see in the verses presented that through Christ is the only way to the Father, and to Heaven.
But what other problems does this question pose? As we dig deeper, another major problem arises in that this belief that one can get to Heaven with only love for a fellow human completely cuts Jesus out of the picture. If all that is required to go to Heaven is to love your fellow brothers and sisters, then why live your life as Jesus has commanded? Why should we deny ourselves, take up our crosses daily, and follow Christ (Matthew 16:24)? Why should I do my best to seek justice, to love mercy, and walk humbly with God (Micah 6:8)? Why not be a Muslim or Hindu if I can just love? Why did Jesus come down from Heaven, “the Word becoming flesh”, live a perfect life, die on the cross, and rise three days later if all I have to do is love? In this view of salvation, the Bible is completely void and serves no purpose.
Of course, love is not worthless in the kingdom of God. There are countless instances in the Bible where Christians are commanded to love each other and the rest of the world. But while love might be a command, it is not loving others that saves us. Love is certainly a fruit of the Spirit, but loving alone does not get us to Heaven.
The problem with looking at love as necessary to save us is that the more you start to move toward having to do certain things in order to be saved, the more of a works-based salvation that starts to look like and you will become less and less grateful to God for what he has done for you. “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.” (Ephesians 2:8-9) If love is all that is needed, there is much room for us to boast because it is something we have done. But if God has chosen each of his children individually before the foundations of the world and then saved them by the work of Christ on the cross, there is no room for us to boast because we have not done anything. No amount of human love can replace the love and grace God has shown us.
To wrap up my answer, I believe that the Bible is 100% clear when it says that no one can come to the Father except through Jesus. There are no other means by which we can be saved. There is only one way. There is only one truth. There is only one life. And that life is in Jesus Christ.