When the Roll is Called Up Yonder

It was Sunday afternoon, and my grandmother and I were seated comfortably in the high school gym waiting for the movie to begin. I was 9 years old and had no idea that film would change my life.

I come from a long line of churchgoers. My great grandparents actually helped build my childhood church, served on a multitude of church committees, and taught Sunday school. My grandmother was the church organist, and my mother was active in the women’s ministry.

I guess you could say I had attended church since before I was born. Everyone in my family loved the Lord and had received Christ as his or her personal Savior. So I assumed I was a Christian too.

The gymnasium that Sunday was filled with people who had brought friends to the new Christian movie we were there to see. Although the plot about troubled teens in the 1960s didn’t apply to me, the message did. It was the first time I understood the gospel.

I sat there feeling lost and scared. Suddenly it hit me that my Christian heritage did not make me a Christian. I couldn’t ride into heaven on my family’s coattails. I realized I was a sinner and needed to accept Jesus for myself. I hadn’t killed anyone. I hadn’t committed adultery. I was 9 years old! But I wasn’t perfect; and I finally understood that, if you do anything God Himself would not do, you fall short “of the glory of God” and are a sinner (Rom. 3:23). And the penalty for sin is death: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (6:23).

This is the reality for all of humanity—Jewish, Muslim, Baptist, Catholic, you name it. There is only one God, and He says sin brings death: eternal separation from Him. Jesus deliberately came to Earth as a Jewish baby and heir to the throne of David to pay the penalty of sin for us. That is why He’s called “Savior.”

That afternoon I asked Jesus, the Messiah of Israel and Savior of the world, to forgive my sin and be my personal Savior. I knew at that moment I had become His child and was assured of heaven.

Today so many people either scorn the idea of heaven or believe their good deeds will get them there. Nothing in either the Old or New Testament says good deeds can remove sin. Heaven is only available to those who by faith admit they are sinners and ask Jesus to take their sin away with His blood:

In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of His grace. For He [the Father] made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him (Eph. 1:7; 2 Cor. 5:21).

The prophet Isaiah said it well:

But He was wounded for our transgressions, He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement for our peace was upon Him, and by His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned, every one, to his own way; and the Lᴏʀᴅ has laid on Him the iniquity of us all (Isa. 53:5–6).

In 1893 James M. Black sat at his piano and wrote the hymn “When the Roll Is Called Up Yonder.” It probably isn’t sung much these days, but perhaps it should be because it conveys the joyful hope all believers in Christ have. One of the verses goes like this:

On that bright and cloudless morning when the dead in Christ shall rise,

And the glory of His resurrection share;

When His chosen ones shall gather to their home beyond the skies,

And the roll is called up yonder, I’ll be there.

I thank the Lord I had a godly grandmother who brought me to Riverside High School that Sunday when I asked the Lord to forgive my sins and make me His child. That was 45 years ago. And if the roll is called up yonder today, I’ll be there. Will you?

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