Published February 24, 2015
Here's today's quick quiz. Which of the following two statements, if either, is true?
- A lot of good, decent, kindhearted, generous people are going to wind up in hell.
- A lot of sinners are going to wind up in heaven.
So which of those statements, if either, is true?
Actually, although it isn't the way most folks look at it, both of those statements are true.
Those who are puzzled by how the first statement can be true are those who believe God will grant them entrance into heaven on the basis of their "goodness." They're good to their spouses, they're good to their children, they're good to their friends and coworkers, they wouldn't hurt a flea, they give liberally to charities for the common good, they give generously to their church. (Yes, there are a lot of good but unsaved people in church!) They're simply "good" people.
But they're headed for hell.
You most likely have heard someone respond to the question something like this: "Am I going to heaven? Oh, I hope so. Why? Well, I've been a good person. I've lived a good life. I've been good to others. I think when God weighs all my good deeds against my bad, He'll have to conclude that the good outweighs the bad. That's why I think He'll let me into heaven."
Sorry. If that's all there is, this person is headed for hell.
Why? Well here's how God look upon such "goodness?" Isaiah 64:6 reminds us, "all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags..." Our "goodness," on its own, cannot possibly rise to God's standards of perfection.
Unfortunately, there is a lot of confusion about this matter. A 2003 poll by the Barna research organization found that among Americans describing themselves as Christians, 50 percent fully half of those responding believed that a person can attain salvation based on good works.
Among the population at large, Barna found that 64 percent of Americans believe they will go to heaven when they die. But 15 percent of these felt they were heaven bound because they had tried to obey the ten commandments. Another 15 percent believed this simply because "they are basically a good person."
Just last weekend, our pastor recounted stories of encounters with two elderly women who, on their death beds, told him they "hoped they had done enough" to get into heaven.
Simply put, you cannot be good enough for God to let you into heaven on your own merits. No one can. I repeat no one can be good enough on his or her own merits to attain heaven. Look at all the other religions of the world, and, as far as I can tell, you will find that they all other than Christianity will tell you that some form of "works" will get you into heaven.
Works always fall short among a sinful race. That's why God provided a Savior. Remember, if good works would have been good enough to get to heaven, it would have been unnecessary for God to send His Son to die for our sins. Saying you're "good enough" rejects the supreme sacrifice offered by Christ.
Sin separates man from God (Isaiah 59:2). It has since Eden. It always will.
But then how can anyone get to heaven? How can we say that heaven will be full of sinners? After all, the Bible tells us all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. (Romans 3:23.) Quite often, the world draws this distinction: you're either a "sinner" or a "non-sinner." They believe sinners are the "bad" people. Non-sinners are "good" people, like those who go to church, they say. But it's a false distinction. In absolute fact, there are no non-sinners, as that verse from Romans indicates.
So, are you a sinner? Take this simple test. Circle the correct answer from one of the following: (a) yes; (b) yes, (c) yes, or... (d) yes. Sorry, there are no other possible answers. Pencils down. The answer is self-evident.
So if everyone is a sinner, how will anyone get to heaven? How will anyone be allowed into such a perfect place?
Well, it won't be by just living a good life. If everyone is a sinner, and if heaven is going to have anyone in it at all, then somehow everyone who goes there must be a sinner. But the difference and it's an absolutely crucial one is that those who will inhabit heaven are sinners who have accepted Christ's substitutionary death as the payment for the penalty that God would otherwise need to impose for sin. They have asked, in faith, to be forgiven forgiveness which is freely granted by God in response to honest repentance. They have become sinners saved by grace (Ephesians 2:8). And once God accepts the price for sin that Christ paid through His death, he sees no sin in you. In common theological terms, your sins have been "covered by the blood of Christ." And God says, "their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 10:17.)
And that's what it takes to get to heaven.
Here's the Biblical key: "For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Ephesians 2:8-9. See also Acts 15:11 and 2 Timothy 1:9.) And this from Titus 3:4-7: "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us, by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost; Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior; That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life."
Christians know it's not their own "goodness" that saves them it is God's mercy, God's grace. But Christians have been called to do good works, too, and such good works are among the "fruits of the spirit." (See Eph. 2:10, Heb. 10:24 and Col. 1:10.) We do good works because God is good, and we want to be like Him. (See Matt. 19:17.)
So, Christians have the best of both! Christians are glad for both the goodness they can show as evidence of their salvation and for God's mercy which, through His grace, means heaven is our eternal destination. That's why the Psalmist can rejoice with these words, closing the popular 23rd Psalm: "Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever."
Note: The above column first appeared in this newsletter February 15, 2005.
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