By Scott Hilgendorff / Cowboys of the Cross

Fly high cowboy, your fees are paid.

Using some form of that phrase when someone in the rodeo cowboy crowd has died is fairly common.

The problem is, most people don’t really understand what they’re saying and it creates the false impression that we call go to Heaven when we die. I see it used by people I thought knew differently but they continually place a cowboy in Heaven who almost certainly didn’t enter that rodeo.

How can you say that? How can you know for sure? That’s judgmental.

Well, the reason I can say it with almost certainty is because I’d had an open and frank conversation with that person in question and he made it clear to me he didn’t believe in Jesus and wasn’t interested in it. He was someone I got along with and was explaining why he didn’t come to cowboy church at the rodeos we were often at together because he didn’t want me thinking it was personal. He made a lot of sinful or what I would consider “dumb” choices at best, but he was a nice guy who was well-loved by all those he partied with every weekend.

Here’s the kicker: most of the time when we share a social media post about a cowboy riding a rank one in Heaven or getting his wings (we don’t become angels), we don’t actually even know what the person believed before they died and we never ask. Most of us pray. Most of us believe in God, but that doesn’t get us to Heaven. James reminds us that even the demons believe in God. A lot of us don’t really know ourselves how to be certain we’re going to Heaven, never mind how to tell someone else.

And sure, one never knows what happens privately between a person and God but we’re also told in scripture that when someone has a genuine, saving faith in Jesus, there will be fruit. Fruit are changes in a person’s life that show Christ and the Holy Spirit in them is moving them away from sin and into a life that’s more holy. By holy, we mean more Christ-like by how we see Jesus in the Bible

John 15:8 By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples.

That made it that much harder personally when he died. It’s important to understand God can draw someone to Him at any time and there’s no telling what happened in his last moments, but the reality is, not only did he not believe, but he openly rejected Christianity.

So how can so many people put him in Heaven?

I think when we love someone, it’s hard to think of them suffering for eternity in Hell. I think we also just don’t think seriously enough about how real both places are. It’s also largely because we don’t really understand what is called the gospel—how through Jesus, a person is saved from God’s wrath against sin and made right before God to be given an eternity in Heaven.

We can’t ‘love them’ into Heaven. Only the love of Jesus gets them there through their faith in his birth, death and resurrection and belief that he took the punishment meant for our sins so that by repenting of those sins and asking to be forgiven, we can be given eternal life in Heaven.

This is where the expression in rodeo that “he paid your fees” comes from. It’s taken from a genuine understanding of the gospel that tells us that Jesus paid the price meant for our sins.

Being liked and loved by others, being popular, being good by how we might measure goodness; none of these ideas gets us into Heaven. Even the kindest most generous person is separated from God by just the smallest sin and none of us are able to get through life without some kind of sin like a moment of anger or a lustful thought.

Ephesians 2:8-9 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.

Grace and mercy are what God has given us through Jesus’s death on the cross. We deserve God’s wrath for our sin, any sin, but we’re given a way through a saving faith in Jesus, to be made right with God. The ‘works’ being referred to is what makes it clear that just being a good person doesn’t earn a place in Heaven. Works are the good actions we do and way of living we might lead. Through an understanding that any sin deserves punishment and no amount of good can earn us Heaven, every single person has the same chance to have Jesus pay his fees.

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