I was recently asked the question, “How good do I need to be in order to get to heaven?” The thought was as long as my good deeds outweigh my bad deeds, then I’m good … right? Doesn’t God have a big book that He writes all the good stuff I do and all the bad stuff I do, and when I die he pulls out that to measure the good against the bad? A follow up question goes something like this, “Surely God won’t send to hell people who are good people, doing good things.” The temptation in answering a question like this is to simply play God for a moment and try to figure out whether a person has done enough good things or whether or not the person has a good heart. Surely if someone is a good person, they will go to heaven. Right? Have you ever gone to a funeral and, deep down inside, thought to yourself that the minister was “preaching the person into heaven” based on all the good deeds they did in this life? I have. It’s awkward when you never recall the person making any kind of decision to follow Jesus, never saw them darken a church door, and possibly didn’t even know that they were as good as the preacher said they were, but somehow they were going to heaven. You just kind of went with it, saying to yourself, “Well, God is the perfect Judge and it is, after all, totally in His hands. That’s true. So, we really shouldn’t worry about that because it is in His hands. Or, should we? We want so desperately to think that everyone will be in heaven, but, is that the message we want to teach? Is the criteria really about being good enough and doing enough good things? This question of what is good enough is often asked by a culture who desires so much to get into heaven after they die, but are challenged by the notion that going to heaven somehow has to involve Jesus, going to church, or being a Christian. As I will say with all spiritual questions … it is a good question.
I mean, who wants to believe that God will punish good people for not being a Christian? If I were to honestly answer that question, I would say, “not me.” I don’t want to see anyone punished! (Except the bad guys ….) Let all the good people into heaven… what a generous God that would be. But that’s something that I would do. Because of the fact that I know my own flaws, I would probably just let in everyone because I am no better than they are. Who am I to judge? But, I am not God. No, it would take someone who had no flaws to judge whether or not someone was worthy of entering the kingdom of heaven. You mean a human being without any flaws, sins, or short-comings? This is why Jesus is the answer to the sin problem. And this is why He is worthy of making that judgment call.
Does it ever make you nervous to think that your personal performance with regard to the commandments of God will be the total determining factor of you receiving eternal life in heaven? I don’t know about you, but I fail every single day … and I consider myself a Christ-follower, disciple of Jesus, a Christian, or whatever word you want to use for someone who has accepted Christ as his/her Savior and Lord. I feel that if my personal performance were the only factor by which I was allowed into heaven or sent away to hell, then I might have some ground to make up. Or, how would I even know that? What if I’m one good thing short of making it into heaven? I had better get busy doing more good things in order to make sure I offset the balance anything bad I might have done to make sure there is enough good. Can you begin to see where this type of sin management system could be debilitating? Can I just say that it takes a lot of emotional energy to worry about this day in and day out. Can I also say, that God doesn’t want me to have to worry about this day in and day out? I can see where this kind of thinking would literally spiritually wear a person out. God doesn’t want that for me.
You know, I will never be “good enough.” There are not enough good deeds I could do to get to heaven. God’s standard of “good enough” is perfection. Uh, I don’t measure up to that myself. Jesus indicated to the Rich Young Ruler (see Luke 18:18) that no one is good except God. James 2:10 says that if I keep all of God’s commands and break just one of them, I have broken them all. There is nothing I can do on my own to do enough good works or deeds to get into heaven. I can not trust my own goodness to get me to heaven. Now, while that may be scary, it relieves me. Why? Because I can trust God’s goodness. Because if my good deeds are not what is the final determining factor of me going to heaven, then there must be something greater than me and my personal performance that is the determining factor. And there is … His goodness.
That’s where faith comes in. Now before you go, “Oh, I knew he was going to go there,” let me just say that your church attendance, the amount of money you put in the offering plate, the number of ministries you are a part of, and the level of importance you have on church committees and Christian organizations are not what the determining factors are either. No, I’m talking about trusting God to forgive your sins so you won’t have to rely on your personal performance any longer. Is it more draining in life to stew about whether or not you have done enough good things to get into heaven, or to simply trust God that He forgives your sin and has saved you from your sins?
God put on the human experience and came into our world as a human. He knew there was nothing we could do on our own to get us into heaven. So, He, the only “good” One, came to earth as a perfect God/Man and settled into humanity and went through life just like you and I do … with the exception that He remained perfect. His personal performance was exemplary. He never sinned. Therefore, He became the only right and perfect possibility for humanity to pay the great sin debt that we all have … you know, the sin debt that would keep you and me out of heaven without it being paid. So, God as a man paid it for you. Get that. God … became a man, in order to pay your debt … a debt that was owed to Himself.
We call this the gift of grace. Jesus was God in human flesh and his death on the cross was the sacrifice that was needed to pay for all of humanity’s sins. Therefore, the way to heaven is through Him … He is the only one that paid the debt. It’s on His terms. Not ours. Thank God!
What’s our part? Our part is to rely on God, to trust Jesus and to accept this free gift of grace … to believe God’s love for you and to receive Jesus as your Savior. We then can relax, knowing that our possibility of heaven rests in Someone else’s hands far bigger than ours. And then … you will want to do good deeds on His behalf. Out of a grateful heart for your salvation, the good deeds that spring from your life are ones that now become life giving. Faith without works is certainly dead faith … but works (doing good things) in and of themselves will never pave the way for eternal life in heaven.