One of the most telling indicators that the rapture is near is the number of people who write fearing that because of their behavior they’re going to be left behind. People didn’t worry so much about that when they thought the rapture was off in the distant future.
I’m sure some of this is due to the normal conviction of the Holy Spirit and in that case it’s not a rapture issue because as we’ll see born again believers can’t be excluded from the Rapture for any reason.
No, I think most of the fear of missing the rapture comes from the false “partial-rapture” teaching. There are several variations on this theme but they all claim that just being saved is either not enough to put you in the rapture, or it’s not enough to get you into the Kingdom after you are raptured. They say you also have to be worthy in some additional way. In my opinion none of this can be reconciled with Scripture.
I want to approach the subject the way the US Treasury department trains bank employees to recognize counterfeit money. Instead of showing them all the fakes and pointing out what makes them fake, they focus on what legitimate bills look like. That way when bank tellers spot a bill that doesn’t look like what they have learned to recognize, they know it has to be a fake.
Let’s use that same principle to focus on what the Bible says about who qualifies for the rapture. Then we’ll know whether what we hear matches that. If it doesn’t it’s a false teaching.
How Do We Qualify?
In order to exist in the presence of God, we have to be as righteous as He is. In the Lord’s time the Pharisees were thought to be the most righteous men in Israel. They were absolutely compulsive about keeping the Law, even straining their water before drinking it to avoid accidentally swallowing a tiny bug.
They come off badly in the Bible because of their resistance to the Gospel, but they were held in high esteem by the people as role models of righteousness.
Their problems with Jesus began in the early days of His ministry. Speaking to a large group on the shores of the Sea of Galilee, Jesus said, “For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of Heaven” (Matt. 5:20). They didn’t like hearing that they would be excluded from the Kingdom.
Then He explained that righteousness is not just a matter of outward behavior, but also includes inner motivation. Anger is as bad as murder, lustful thoughts are as bad as adultery. He went on to teach them things that were utterly amazing to them, even saying they must “Be perfect therefore, as your Father in Heaven is perfect”(Matt. 5:40) in order to qualify for the Kingdom . By the time He was finished it was clear that no human on Earth could ever achieve this high standard.
Then He said if they asked Him for this righteousness He would give it to them. All of them. He said, “Everyone who asks receives. He who seeks finds, and to Him who knocks the door will be opened (Matt. 7:7-8).
He compared depending on Him to a narrow road with a small gate (Matt. 7:13-14). The name on the gate is faith. The temptation to do things in our own strength in an effort to secure our own righteousness is hard to resist, but if we’re not careful we’ll find ourselves on the wrong road, the one with the gate named works. (Read Two Roads Two Gates One Goal. http://gracethrufaith.com/selah/two-roads-two-gates-one-goal/)
We must watch out for false teachers who will try to take us off the narrow road with a combination of faith and works. It doesn’t matter what kind of good work we do, even if we do it in His name, only those who do the will of our Father in Heaven will enter the Kingdom (Matt. 7:13-23). And what is our Father’s will?
Jesus said, “I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:38-40)
And what kind of work does He require of us? When they asked Him this a few verses earlier, He replied, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent” (John 6:29) There’s nothing you can add to your faith in what the Lord has done. No good works of yours will either earn or hold your place in the rapture. It’s based totally on what you believe and not on how you behave.
Paul had a lot to say about this, and some of it has been misinterpreted too.
But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. (Romans 3:21-22)
Our righteousness is imputed to us by faith because of our belief that when Jesus went to the cross He took all the sins of our life and paid the full penalty for them there (Colossians 2:13-14). If all the penalty for all your sins has already been paid, what more can you do?
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come! (2 Cor. 5:17)
From God’s perspective, the old sinner no longer exists. He’s been replaced by the new righteous saint. How could this be?
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor. 5:21). Because by one sacrifice he has made perfect forever those who are being made holy. (Hebrews 10:14)
Because of our faith in the sufficiency of the cross, God is able to see us not as we are but as we will become when we’re perfected in the rapture. The sins we still commit are viewed as if it’s no longer us doing the sinning but the sin nature that still temporarily dwells within us. Here’s Paul again.
I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do—this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.(Romans 7:18-20)
Those who want to deny this call our attention to passages like 1 Cor. 6:8-10 as if Paul, writing under the influence of the Holy Spirit could contradict himself.
“Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
But they stop too soon because in verse 11 he explained, “And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:11)
Notice he said, “And that is what some of you were.” Because we’re a new creation, God no longer sees us the way we used to be. We’ve been washed, sanctified and justified. In other words, all our sins have been washed away by the blood of Jesus, we’ve been made holy by Him, and He has rendered us righteous. As righteous as He is. Please understand that all this was done by Him. We might have been part of the group described in 1 Cor. 6:9-10 sometime in the past, but because we accepted the Lord’s sacrifice on our behalf we no longer are.
Some folks can’t get past the idea that being good has to count for something and it does, but it’s not what they think. Once again we’ll get Paul’s input.
“Everything is permissible”—but not everything is beneficial. “Everything is permissible”—but not everything is constructive. Nobody should seek his own good, but the good of others. (2 Cor. 10:23-24)
Although we’re encouraged in the strongest possible way to behave in a manner pleasing to the Lord, no where in the New Testament are we told that our behavior will endanger our salvation, nor will it jeopardize our place in the rapture. So while we can theoretically do whatever we want, some behavior is just not good. First of all, our bad behavior can have a negative impact others. We should always be aware of how our actions are being viewed, and we should never knowingly behave in a manner that causes a weaker brother to stumble.
Second, and more important, living up to what we have already attained (as Paul put it in Phil. 3:16) is how the Lord wants us to express our gratitude to Him for what we’ve been given. Not to earn or keep anything, but to give thanks for what we already have. It’s something He want us to want to do.
You see, we didn’t get where we are because of any merit or worthiness on our part. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast. (Ephesians 2:4-9) It’s the best gift ever given, it’s free, and it’s worthy of our gratitude.
So the bottom line is your ticket to the rapture came with your membership in the Church. It’s part of the inheritance you were guaranteed when you first believed (Ephes. 1:13-14). And your membership in the Church came as a result of your belief that Jesus gave His life to pay the penalty for all your sins and rose again to show that His payment was sufficient (Romans 10:9). As soon as you believed that you became as righteous as He is. There’s nothing you can do for good or bad that will ever change that (Romans 8:38-39). So if we’re all as righteous as God is, how can some deserve to go in the rapture or gain entry into the Kingdom while others don’t? They can’t.
As an expression of your gratitude you can choose to behave in a manner that’s more pleasing to God. That’s what He wants you to do. But you’d better hurry, because soon you won’t even be able to do that. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. (1 Thes. 4:16-17)