Can Rich People Get to Heaven?

by Joe Plemon on January 7, 2011

Can a camel fit through the eye of a needle?

If I am going to write about rich people getting to heaven, we had better clarify what we mean by “rich". Because most of us compare ourselves with neighbors or fellow workers or bank presidents or movie stars, we can agree that the “richness" is a relative trait. Right? In that case, by that standard, we have just defined you as rich. According to Global Rich List, if you have an annual income of more than $850, you are richer than half the people in the world. If you prefer to think of richness in more elitist terms — say the top 10% of income earners – you are rich if you make over $25,000 annually. So…my guess is that you are rich even by the “elitist” definition.

So," you may be wondering, “does the bible say that rich people can’t get to heaven?" Well…sort of. Some have made that conclusion based on Jesus’ conversation with a rich young man (Mat 19: 16-26) who, although he was morally upright, was not willing to give his possessions to the poor in order to gain treasures in heaven. As this young man, who evidently had great wealth, walked away with his head down, Jesus told his disciples that a rich man has about as much chance of entering the kingdom of heaven as a camel does of passing through the eye of a needle.

Well, Joe", you are thinking. “Doesn’t that settle it? Jesus is the ultimate authority and it is impossible for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle. By world standards, I am rich. I am also doomed. Right?"

Not so fast. Let’s examine exactly what took place in this encounter.

The young man had a false concept of entrance to heaven.

He started his conversation with Jesus by asking, “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” If our entrance to heaven is based on our good deeds, we are all in serious trouble.

The young man was self righteous.

When asked about keeping the commandments (at least six of them), he said, “All of these I have kept." Really? ALL of them? Without ever slipping even once? I don’t think so, and he was deceiving himself if he thought so.

His possessions came between him and God.

Those six commandments were all about how well one treats his fellow man. Because the other four (there are ten altogether) are about one’s relationship with God, Jesus tested that relationship by offering treasures in heaven if the young man would give his possessions to the poor. Of course we know what happened: He walked away sorrowfully. Why? Because his stuff was more important than his relationship with God.

All things are possible with God.

After the man walked away, Jesus’ dumbfounded disciples asked what you and I would have asked, “Then who in the world can be saved?" Jesus answered, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.

Joe, this is all a big riddle to me. Tell me flat out: can a rich man get to heaven?"

OK. The answer is yes. Here is why:

  • Access to heaven is a free gift. (Eph 2: 8,9) It has absolutely nothing to do with being good or having money or keeping commandments. Just as good deeds will not open heaven’s doors for Mother Teresa or Billy Graham, riches will not close those doors for Donald Trump or Warren Buffett. Entrance is based on one thing and one thing only: accepting God’s free gift.
  • By seeking right standing with God through his good deeds, the young man was asking the wrong question: Jesus simply pursued this erroneous line of thinking until he reached this young man’s chink in his armor: his possessions. We all have similar “chinks", whether they be our stuff or our time or our selfishness or temper or…well, you get the idea.

Other questions

Maybe this free gift stuff makes sense, but Jesus DID ask the man to give all of his possessions to the poor. Doesn’t that mean we should do the same?

Not necessarily. We are reading a narrative of a one time only event where Jesus confronts a rich man about what is standing between him and God. We should not read into this narrative a command that Jesus expects all of us everywhere to always give every penny we have to the poor. Think about it: we would then be the poor and the recipients would then be expected to give it back. Very confusing.

But shouldn’t we be willing to give to the poor?

Ahh. Great question. We should be willing to do whatever God leads us to do. If he wants us to be very generous (and he does), we should be very generous. To reiterate, this generosity has nothing to do with earning a spot in heaven; it is the natural result of being changed on the inside when we become God’s children.

OK. This is starting to sink in. Should I therefore go ahead and seek my millions?

Maybe. If you are able to handle those millions in a way that pleases God. Some have misconstrued Jesus’ words “with God everything is possible" as license to go ahead and accumulate wealth. I would remind them that Jesus also said, “ When someone has been given much, much will be required in return; and when someone has been entrusted with much, even more will be required." Luke 12: 48.

A rich man can indeed enter heaven, but a rich man is also be responsible for how he handles those riches.

Readers: How do you define “rich”? Do you think it is harder for a rich person to get to heaven than a poor person? Why?

{ 14 comments… read them below or add one }

krantcents January 7, 2011 at 11:44 am

L totally agree! Rich or poor, it is how you conduct your life that is important.

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Church Finance January 7, 2011 at 12:16 pm

Joe,
We should all judge our “richness” by how well we maintain our relationship with God.

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Derrik Hubbard, CFP January 7, 2011 at 2:06 pm

Joe,

Good post.

Another way of saying it is that it is the ATTITUDE and not the AMOUNT.

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Eric January 8, 2011 at 12:45 pm

Joe, great post!

Rich people can go to heaven. Job comes to my mind. But rich do have to make sure money never replaces God, which can be easier when one is wealthy even by GlobalRichList.com standards. Revelation 3:17 & 1 Timothy 6:9 gives some stern warnings to how being wealthy can lead us down some destructive paths and ineffective work for God.

Maybe balance should be the goal. Being not too poor or not too rich with enough wisdom to determine the best balance for God.

Keep up the good work,
Eric

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joeplemon January 8, 2011 at 2:45 pm

@krantcents,
It is true that how one conducts one’s life should not have anything to do with being rich or not being rich. In the end, heaven is still a free gift.

@churchfinance,
Yes, true richness is a great relationship with God.

@Derrik,
True…assuming that attitude is one of submission to God.

@Eric,
Thanks for those “warning” verses. Those who desire worldly wealth are setting themselves up for trouble (1Timothy 6:9) and being proud of worldly wealth makes one delusional about true wealth (Revelation 3:17).

I agree with the balance concept. Theoretically, it would behoove believers to determine a maximum income or standard of living and give away everything above that max. This would give great joy to the believer and also prevent the snares that are inherent with lots of wealth.

Any thoughts on that concept?

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Invest It Wisely January 8, 2011 at 10:13 pm

I think we can balance between giving, investing, and finding other ways to give and do. Wealth is not a zero-sum game: one’s gain in wealth does not come at another’s loss, when wealth is acquired legitimately. Giving is a noble thing to do, but it’s not the only strategy. How will the wealth be used if given away? Sometimes it’s better to give time and one’s hands, or to use one’s capital to build goods, services, and institutions that will make lives better.

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Invest It Wisely January 8, 2011 at 10:16 pm

Forgot to mention that going by the rich list, most of us in the western world are *very* well off, indeed! Just another way of looking at things, especially when we fall into the trap of comparing ourselves to those we see on TV or in magazines.

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Roshawn @ Watson Inc January 9, 2011 at 7:48 pm

First, I wanted to say that this is a GREAT post!

I guess I define “rich” in very elitist terms, but I definitely get your point about how it is all relative. Personally, I don’t think having money makes it any harder or easier to get into heaven. Money simply magnifies your characteristics, so if you were going before you had money, then you should be going after you obtain it and vice versa.

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joeplemon January 10, 2011 at 9:26 am

@Kevin,
I love your observation that “wealth is not a zero-sum game”. We CAN create win-win scenarios, but (as you point out) it takes wisdom to do so.

@Roshawn,
Good point that money magnifies your character. Many people think the bible says “money is the root of all evil”, but the quote is actually “the love of money is the root of all evil.” I point that out here to further validate your point because love of money is a character flaw that can happen to very rich people or very poor people.

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Samantha Dermot January 12, 2011 at 4:18 pm

For me, being rich comes from within. You don’t need any material things, yet you don’t also need to put all of these things for granted once you have. You must only know how to balance everything if you want to be rich inside and outside.

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Tabitha January 21, 2012 at 3:40 pm

Jesus’ words are simple. He said the rich can get to heaven but it is hard for them to. So most will not, but some will. People forget that David was poor but later became rich. They forget his prayer to the Lord in Proverbs 30:8 “Keep deception and lies far from me, give me neither poverty nor riches; feed me with the food that is my portion”. How many rich people have prayed not to be rich? David prayed that prayer yet God gave him riches. How do we know if David did not see needs later and help the less fortunate who deserved it. We know there are many versus in the Bible about helping the less fortunate. II Thessalonians 3:10 “He who does not work, neither shall he eat”. Those who don’t work, can starve if they want. There are many who do work (and work to the best of their abilities), yet cannot feed their families. (I’m obviously not talking about those who buy cigarettes over smoking, who’ll spend on drugs rather than food, etc. We know they don’t deserve help). I John 3:17 “But whoever has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need and closes his heart against him, how does the love of God abide in him?”. Matthew 6:19 “do not lay up for yourselves treasure on earth…”. What part of “do not” do you not understand?

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Joe Plemon January 22, 2012 at 3:30 pm

Tabitha — You quote a lot of very applicable scriptures, but, keeping riches and heaven in perspective, I reiterate that heaven is a free gift. One can dogmatically follow all of the advice in these passages and still miss heaven if he/she does not accept that free gift.

As for as not understanding Matthew 6:19, I recommend you jump over to A Long Term, High Yield Investment. Guaranteed.

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Tabitha September 2, 2012 at 5:51 pm

Correct. Bible is Clear that it is a free gift and we cannot earn it. I know people who “received the free gift” by praying the sinner’s prayer but their life has not changed. Actually, some of them have started living more for themselves and the world (rather than for the Lord) since praying the sinner’s prayer. Many will say “pray the sinners prayer with sincerity and you will be saved”. If the good works do not follow the prayer, the prayer was not sincere. Only God knows sincerity. Good works alone will Not save anyone. Sinner’s prayer alone will not save anyone. Only Jesus Can Save. If a person comes to Jesus and Jesus truly lives in their heart, good works Will follow. Matthew 7:16 “By their good work you will recognize them”. Too many people will ignore the 200+ verses (Yes, over 200 verses) in the Bible that speak of helping the poor and needy. Your life is between you and Jesus. Jesus shows us what we need to do if we are willing. The numerous Christians who live in their comfotable luxury homes are not more valuable to Jesus than the poor who work hard yet cannot make ends meet (That happens more in third world countries). Please don’t negative something of mine — please take the entire Bible (God’s Word) at His word. Look at the whole.

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Tabitha September 2, 2012 at 5:57 pm

why would you refer me to investments. You are focused on money but focus should be on enternal riches. Please don’t reply any more.

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