Salvation, Eternal Life and the Kingdom of God

There are a lot of different theories about Salvation. The Bible teaches us concepts of Eternal Life, the Kingdom of God, Purgatory and holiness. How are these all related? How do they each fit into God's plan of salvation? Lets put them all together in one big picture. (Stay Catholic)


Andy Kerestes

5/6/202412 min read


I truly believe in the love and mercy of Jesus. I even like the idea of a suffering Savior who doesn’t care about anything we do and welcomes us into His Heavenly Home just because we say “Hey Jesus! Remember me!” But questions keep popping into my head:

  • If professing Jesus as Lord is all it takes to get into Heaven, why did Jesus say “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” (Matthew 7:21)

  • If works don't matter, why did Jesus divide people into sheep and goats? The sheep, who had works, entered the Kingdom of Heaven. The goats did not. (Matthew 25:31-46)

  • If purity of soul doesn’t matter, why did the Apostle John write “Nothing unclean will enter it [Heaven]?” (Revelation 21:27)

  • If holiness doesn’t matter, why did God command us to “Be holy, for I am holy”? (Leviticus 19:2)

I would love to join the Platinum Club of Heaven. You know, those who have their tickets to Heaven already punched. I could just hop on the “It is finished” train and forget about all this. But something inside me would not let me do that. I had to find out for myself.

Eternal Death

I start with Eternal Death, because that is really the beginning of all this. “The wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)

Eternal Death is what we are saved “from”. Statements about salvation include: “Jesus died to open the gates of Heaven” and “Jesus died to save us from going to Hell.” But verses to support these concepts are not found anywhere in Scripture. Jesus never said, “I have come to open the gates of Heaven.” He also never said, “If you do not believe in me you will go to Hell.” Hell is just a place. It’s a dwelling place for demons and people who reject God.

Some desire to be saved because they want to avoid the punishments of Hell. But that is really not a good reason to seek Jesus. It’s actually a pretty selfish reason. I don’t believe we should want go to Heaven because life there will be a bowl of cherries and God will make us happy. There has to be something more to it this, and there is.

We start with the words of Jesus, “unless you repent, you will all likewise perish.” (Luke 13:13) Perish, in this text, means to totally destroy or die. So, Jesus tells us if we do not believe in Him we will die. Hell is not mentioned. In Revelation 21:8 we read, "As for the cowardly, the faithless, the polluted, the murderers, the fornicators, the sorcerers, the idolaters, and all liars, their place will be in the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death." Okay, there is mention of Hell; but isn’t the place of Hell a little less important than having a “second death”.

Ask yourself this question: Of all possible tortures and punishments of Hell, what would I despise the most?

If you did not even consider any of the physical tortures of fire, stabbing, pungent smells and such then good for you. You are likely already on the right path. The Church teaches “Hell's principal punishment consists of eternal separation from God in whom alone man can have the life and happiness for which he was created and for which he longs.” (Catechism, 1056) Separation from God for eternity is the second death. This would certainly be worse than any other possible punishment. The conclusion this leads us to is we should seek Heaven in order to be eternally with God, not to avoid punishment or to experience the joys and treasures of Heaven.

Conclusion...Eternal Death is complete separation from God for eternity. Eternal Death is what Jesus saved us from by His death on the cross. “He died for us [taking on our second death].” Hell is simply the dwelling place of those who reject God. Hell, of itself, is not the penalty of sin. So, lets not even mention Hell any more. It isn’t the point.

Eternal Life

Now, understanding Eternal Death, we can look at Eternal Life.

For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might not perish but might have eternal life.” (John 3:16) We start with that famous verse many like to quote. If we believe that Jesus died to keep us out of Hell, then the natural interpretation of this verse is that believing in Jesus will send us to Heaven; since Heaven would be the opposite of Hell. But Jesus did not say He came to keep us out of Hell.

I actually like the following verse better...“I am the resurrection and the life; whoever believes in me, even if he dies, will live.” (John 11:25) This verse makes it much clearer that Jesus is saving us from a second death and not just from Hell. If we say that Eternal Death means separation from God for eternity, then Eternal Life must mean being in the presence of God for eternity. If Eternal Death is not a place, then Eternal Life is also not a place. Hell is a dwelling place for those who experience Eternal Death. Heaven is a dwelling place for those who experience Eternal Life.

Conclusion...Eternal Life means after our physical death we are free from the second death of being separated from God for eternity. Our life with God will continue and we will be able to be in the presence of God (the Church calls this the divine beatitude). There are no verses in Scripture to support the idea that Eternal Life and Heaven are the same thing.

The Kingdom of Heaven

The question remains...Does having Eternal Life mean being in the presence of God immediately after death? For the answer to this question, we move on to another concept in the Bible that is distinct from Eternal Life...the Kingdom of Heaven.

Both Scripture and the Church teach us Eternal Life is based on faith in Jesus and can’t be merited by works. On the other hand, the Kingdom of Heaven doesn’t seem to work the same way. Since the conditions to receive Eternal Life are different from the conditions to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, these must be two distinct concepts.

There are quite a few articles and theories which attempt to explain the Kingdom of Heaven. Theories range from the Kingdom being a way of life in preparation for eternity, God’s kingship or rule over us and the reign of Christ during the end times. But, in looking over New Testament verses pertaining to the Kingdom of Heaven, there is a topic none of them address...How does the theory support inheritance? Many times, when Jesus speaks of the Kingdom of Heaven, he uses the word “inherit”. Even in the Apostolic Letters, the word “inherit” is associated with the Kingdom of Heaven far too many times to ignore.

Inheritance begins with a benefactor. The benefactor states that, upon their death, their estate passes down to others, called heirs. The heirs receive the benefits of the estate. In this case, lets say the benefactor is Jesus, who has already died. Lets say the Kingdom of Heaven is the estate which is inherited from Jesus. We are the heirs.

Heirs sometimes collect their inheritance immediately and other times the heir must wait. Take for example an heir who is under age and must wait until they become an adult to receive the estate. In this case, we as heirs “come of age” when we leave this world. Our inheritance is in the next life and our Heavenly treasures are not given to us until then.

Finally, some inheritances contain conditions that must be met by the heir in order to receive the estate. The Kingdom of Heaven has quite a few conditions. We see references to “not” inheriting or entering the Kingdom of God based on:

  • Attitudes (see the Beatitudes in Matthew 5:1-12)

  • Works (see the parable of the sheep and goats in Matthew 25:31-46)

  • Not doing the Father’s will (see Matthew 18:3)

  • Not avoiding sin (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, Galatians 5:19-21)

  • Seeking and trusting in the riches of this world (Luke:18:27)

Many verses referencing the Kingdom of Heaven also state it is something we enter. For example, “unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 18:3) Although it is possible to enter a state of mind, it makes more sense when speaking of entering kingdom that the kingdom would be a place.

Conclusion...The Kingdom of Heaven is a place we can inherit when we receive Eternal Life. The Kingdom of Heaven is not a package deal with Eternal life. Eternal Life is a gift from God based on faith while the Kingdom of Heaven has many conditions. Those who have Eternal Life and meet all the conditions for the Kingdom of Heaven can enter the Kingdom immediately upon entering Eternal Life. Those who receive Eternal Life but have not met all the conditions are still saved, but cannot enter immediately. Those souls must take another path before entering the Kingdom.


There are many good texts available on the subject of Purgatory, so there is no intent in this article to convince the reader of the existence of Purgatory nor what happens in Purgatory. Instead, we look at a couple stories from saints and then tie up the loose ends.

The following story of God’s mercy is given by the Abbe Trochu in his biography of Saint John Vianney:

A distraught widow was traveling through the city of Ars, France. Her husband, who always professed to have no religion, had committed suicide. The woman was in despair over what was surely his unsaved soul. Saint John Vianney was passing by the woman, whom he had never previously met. He stopped and said to the woman “He is saved!” The woman was stunned. The Saint repeated, “I tell you he is saved. He is in Purgatory, and you must pray for him. Between the parapet of the bridge and the water he had time to make an act of contrition. Our Blessed Lady obtained that grace for him. Remember the shrine that you put up in your room during the month of May? Though your husband professed to have no religion, he sometimes joined in your prayers; this merited for him the grace of repentance and pardon at the last moment.”

The man was ”saved” from Eternal Death and brought into Eternal Life. But his soul did not meet the conditions of entering the Kingdom of Heaven, so he went to Purgatory.

This story gives hope for those grieving the death of a loved one who committed suicide. And it is hope for those who are concerned about the salvation of a loved one living a sinful life. God is merciful and willing to save anyone who repents, even if only moments before death. God does not always reveal His mercy to the one praying and they may never see the results of their prayers. But our prayers are important. At Fatima, our Holy Mother said that many souls are lost because there is nobody to pray for them. So, keep praying.

The following entry from Saint Faustina’s Diary (paragraph 36) tells us that we must not presume that God’s mercy will bring everyone who is saved directly into the Kingdom of Heaven, because God is also just:

Once I was summoned to the judgment [seat] of God. Suddenly I saw the complete condition of my soul as God sees it. I could clearly see all that is displeasing to God. I did not know that even the smallest transgressions will have to be accounted for. What a moment! Who can describe it? To stand before the Thrice-Holy God! Jesus said, “You are guilty of one day of fire in PURGATORY.” I wanted to throw myself immediately into the flames of PURGATORY, but Jesus stopped me and said, “Which do you prefer, suffer now for one day in PURGATORY or for a short while on earth?” I replied, “Jesus, I want to suffer in PURGATORY, and I want to suffer also the greatest pains on earth, even if it were until the end of the world.” Jesus said, “One [of the two] is enough; you will go back to earth, and there you will suffer much, but not for long; you will accomplish My will and My desires, and a faithful servant of Mine will help you to do this...Know that you will have much, much to suffer, but don’t let this frighten you; I am with you.”

Quite a number of Saints have documented their encounters with souls from Purgatory. Some Saints were allowed to visit Purgatory and write down what they saw. Saint Faustina was one such Saint led to Purgatory and documents her visit in paragraph 20 of her diary. She writes that after her visit an inner voice said to her “My mercy does not want this, but justice demands it. Scripture confirms, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne.” (Psalm 89:14)

Conclusion...Purgatory exists. God is merciful and wants all souls to be saved. Purgatory is God’s way to reconcile His mercy and His justice, so that souls who are not ready for the Kingdom of Heaven at death may still have Eternal Life. The intent of Purgatory is to purify (not punish) souls until the soul is pure and ready to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Salvation Summary

All of us are sinners (Romans 3:23). Nobody is perfect, able to meet God’s standards (Romans 3:10).

The wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23). This is a second death (Revelation 21:8), also called Eternal Death. The principle punishment of Eternal Death consists of the soul being eternally separated from the presence of God. (Catechism, 1056)

The Father demonstrated His love for us by sending His Son, Jesus, to die on the cross in our place. He died our second death for us that we can have Eternal Life. (Romans 5:8)

Those who believe in and call upon Jesus will not die but have Eternal Life. (John 3:16) Salvation, that is being redeemed from Eternal Death into Eternal Life, is a gift of God’s grace that we receive based on faith and not by good works. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Being “saved” and “going to Heaven” are not the same thing. Being “saved” is being given Eternal Life and “going to Heaven” is entering the Kingdom of Heaven.

Those who keep the commandments of Jesus and are worthy by their works and purity of heart will enter the Kingdom of Heaven at the hour of their earthly death. (Matthew 25:34, Romans 14:17, 2 Thessalonians 1:5)

Nothing unclean can enter Heaven. (Revelation 21:27) All who die in God's grace and friendship, but still imperfectly purified, are indeed assured of their eternal salvation; but after death they undergo purification, so as to achieve the holiness necessary to enter the joy of heaven.” (Catechism, 1030)

Holiness and Salvation

With our common understanding of salvation, we can now look at how holiness is related to salvation.

The first part of salvation is to be saved from Eternal Death and brought into Eternal life. The Church tells us “the initiative belongs to God in the order of grace, no one can merit the initial grace of forgiveness and justification, at the beginning of conversion.” (Catechism, 2010) The Church also reminds us “Faith is necessary for salvation.” (Catechism, 183) The Lord himself affirms, "He who believes and is baptized will be saved; but he who does not believe will be condemned." (Mark 16:16). Even those who live unholy lives and those who publicly profess they do not believe in God can be saved at their moment of death. Last minute conversions are usually a result of the ongoing prayers by other people for the person and then God’s mercy giving them a final opportunity to repent before the very moment of death. This is why Christians should never judge the eternal fate of others; but rather pray for that person’s repentance and conversion. In the meantime, be holy and love them.

For these reasons, holiness is not required for our initial salvation. Since holiness is our spiritual separation from the world and drawing ever nearer to the Lord, we would have to come to know and believe in Him first before desiring to be holy. Our initial salvation comes first, without holiness.

The second part of salvation is what happens when we leave this world and continue Eternal life in the next. We can enter the Kingdom of Heaven directly if we meet all the conditions (see above). If we have failed in any respect of meeting the conditions of inheriting the Kingdom of God, we must be purified and cleansed in Purgatory before we can enter.

For these reasons, holiness is critical for inheriting and entering the Kingdom of Heaven. Holiness separates us from sin, the world and fleshly desires. Holiness draws us ever nearer into being the image of Christ, which keeps our soul clean and prepares it to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for that holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14)

Concluding thoughts about Salvation

The Catholic Church is the only church with the full and true message about salvation. The Church agrees with non-Catholics that salvation is by faith and not by works; but goes well beyond the theories of non-Catholic denominations.

Some non-Catholic teachings tell us people with certain lifestyles or sins cannot be saved. To believe this is to deny God’s love, mercy and desire that everyone be saved. The result is often hatred and condemnation towards others. The Church teaches us instead to love them and constantly lift them up in prayer for their salvation, even if at the moment of death. We cannot judge whether or not God’s mercy will prevail and the person will accept last-minute repentance. But nobody is beyond God’s mercy and salvation.

The concept that there are only two options, Heaven and Hell, is detrimental to entering Heaven (but not detrimental to receiving Eternal Life). Non-Catholic theories say the death of Jesus on the cross wipes out all sin, both past and future. They like to quote Galatians 1:4, which reads “He paid the penalty and provided atonement.” There is no denying Jesus paid the penalty of sin, that penalty being death (eternal). They absolutely have to believe that Jesus does everything and we have no responsibility, since those who confess Jesus as Savior have nowhere else to go but Heaven. They believe that confessing Jesus with one's lips takes the option of Hell away.

Finally, non-Catholic salvation theories center only around sin, nothing else matters. But Jesus and the Apostles made it extremely clear there are many conditions for entering the Kingdom of Heaven, besides sin. Non-Catholic salvation theories never reconcile the conditions for entering the Kingdom of Heaven to their salvation message that we immediately enter Heaven at death. They somehow ignore the fact that even Jesus said, “Not all who say ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven.” Nowhere in Scripture does it say Jesus wiped clean and paid the penalty for our bad attitudes, failure to do the works He commanded or failure to follow the will of God.

PLEASE...Learn, follow, and be strong in your Catholic faith. Follow the teachings of the Church. It is your best chance of entering the Kingdom of Heaven the moment you die.