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Is Being Good Enough Good Enough to Get Me to Heaven?

Is "good enough" good enough? Consider, if you will, that if 99.9 percent were good enough ...

  • The IRS would lose 2 million documents this year.
  • 22,000 checks will be deducted from the wrong bank account in the next hour.
  • Telecommunications companies will misdirect 1,314 telephone calls every minute.
  • 2,488 books will be shipped with the wrong covers on them each day.
  • More than 5.5 million cases of soft drinks in the next year will be flat.
  • 20,000 incorrect drug prescriptions will be written each year.
  • 12 babies will be given to the wrong parents each day.

Obviously, being good enough is not good enough for life in modern society. So why do we think that being good enough is good enough to get us into heaven? You've heard people ask, "If I try my best won't God let me into heaven?" or "Doesn't God just require me to be better than the average human?" or "Don't I have to just live a good life to be a Christian?" or "How could a loving God send good people to hell?"

Martin Luther, the reformer, wrote, "The most damnable and pernicious heresy that has every plagued the mind of man is the idea that somehow he could make himself good enough to deserve to live with an all-holy God." A Bible teacher used to say, "Man is incurably addicted to doing something for his own salvation." What does the Bible say about being good enough?

God's Standard is Perfection

In one sense, one can be good enough to get to heaven, but they would have to be perfect. Because God's standard for entrance into heaven is perfection. On one occasion Jesus identified the two most outwardly religious groups of people in his day, the Pharisees and the scribes, and told his listening audience, "For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven" (Matthew 5:20). On another occasion Jesus said, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48).

God's standard never falls short of complete righteousness and holiness. Anything less than perfection is sin. Think about heaven for a moment. Heaven is a place of the "no mores" — no more tears, no more sadness, no more pain, no more sickness, no more death. All of those things are caused by sin. If those "no mores" don't exist in heaven, it is because there is no more sin. Heaven will be wonderful, not only because of what is present — God, but also because of what is absent — sin.

God's standard of perfection is not arbitrary. God does not grade on the curve. He does not say, "Oh, you are close enough" or "You have tried really hard to live a good life." That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if you jump thirty feet and set an Olympic record, you still splatter. God does not compare. "Well, Bill you are better than John so you are in and John is out; Betty, you are better than Sue, so come right on in." That would be like trying to jump the Grand Canyon. So what if you jump farther than any other human, you still splatter.

Now don't get me wrong, for the most part we are all pretty good. I don't suppose there are any rapists or murderers among us. If we were grading ourselves on goodness we would rank right up there pretty high on the scale. Let's call ourselves Danny or Debbie Decent. From our perspective, we do everything right. We pay our taxes, pay our bills, pay attention to our family, and pay respect to our superiors. We are good people.

But God sees us differently. God sees what Danny and Debbie Decent choose to overlook. For as decent as we are walking through life, we make mistakes. For example, we stretch the truth. We might fudge, ever so slightly, on our expense report. We gossip about the new employee. From our perspective, these aren't big deals. But our perspective does not matter. God's does. And what God sees is a person wrapped in mistakes.

So let me ask you, is there any sin in your life? If so you are not perfect. You have not met God's standard of perfection.

God's Solution is a Pardon

Fortunately, there is good news. There is a solution, a remedy to our imperfection. God's solution is a pardon found in Jesus Christ. Here's how it works: "Christ made a single sacrifice for sins, and that was it! . . . It was a perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people . . . Our sins are taken care of for good" (Hebrews 10:12-18). The apostle Paul described it this way: "God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God" (2 Corinthians 5:21). When Jesus Christ, God's Son, went to the cross he took our sins, our mistakes, our evil, and our unrighteousness. He was the ultimate sacrifice.

R.G. Lee was visiting Gordon's Calvary at Jerusalem, possibly the site where Jesus was crucified. Lee told the Arab guide he wanted to walk to the top of the hill. At first the guide tried to discourage him, but when he saw that Lee was determined to go, he went along. Once on the crest, Lee removed his hat and stood with bowed head, greatly moved. "Sir," asked the guide, "have you been here before?"

"Yes," replied Lee, "2,000 years ago."

And so have we. We were there because our sins nailed Jesus to the cross. Now we must go there to find redemption, to find pardon for our sin.

So, when it comes to salvation, whether we are more like Hitler with our evil or more like Mother Teresa with our purity, our sins are no longer the issue. The issue is what we do about Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is God's solution to our not measuring up to his standard. Jesus has already paid the price for our sin. Jesus is the perfect sacrifice by a perfect person to perfect some imperfect people. Jesus now offers us a pardon, a release from our sin.

Think about it this way: If a criminal were handed a pardon that would release him from prison, the issue is no longer the crime but rather what he will do about the pardon. If he refuses, he will remain in prison. The questions, "Why he is in prison?" and "Why is he not out of prison?" have two different answers. He is in prison because he is a convicted criminal. He is not out of prison because he refused the pardon. Likewise, the answer to the question, "Why will a person be in hell?" is because he is a sinner, but the answer to the question, "Why will he not be in heaven?" is because he did not accept the pardon offered in Christ.

Let me see if a story will help clarify this issue. Many years ago a young boy shot and killed a man while gambling. In those days, murderers were sentenced to hang. But the townspeople were so concerned about the young lad that they signed a petition asking the judge to pardon the boy. Finally, the judge agreed but only on one condition. The judge would wear a clergyman's robe and collar and carry the pardon between the pages of the Bible.

As the judge approached the boy's cell, he could hear the young man cursing and swearing at him. "Get out of here, preacher, I don't want what you have to offer."

"But, son," the judge replied, "You don't understand."

"I understand fine," said the boy. "I don't want what you have to offer."

The dejected judge left the jail. Later the guard told the boy that it was the judge who was dressed like a minister. Between the pages of the Bible was an authorized, sealed pardon for his release.

When the day of execution arrived, just before they put a black sack over the boy's head, they asked if he had anything to say.

He replied, "I am not dying because I killed a man. I am dying because I rejected the pardon."

You see, the issue is not your sin. The issue is what will you do with Jesus Christ. Our fault before God is not necessarily our sin-he made a remedy for that. Our fault before God is rejecting the pardon.

"Yea, but," I can hear some people say. And then comes the question: "How could a loving God send good people to hell?" The question itself reveals a couple of misconceptions. First, God does not send people to hell. He simply honors their choice. Like the judge honored the choice of the condemned boy who rejected the pardon. Hell is the ultimate expression of God's highest regard for the dignity of man. He has never forced us to choose him, even when that means we would choose hell. As C. S. Lewis stated: "There are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, 'Thy will be done' and those to whom God says, in the end, 'Thy will be done.' All that are in hell choose it."

No, God does not "send" people to hell. Nor does he send "people" to hell any more than the judge sent the boy to be hung. That is the second misconception.

The word people is neutral, implying innocence. Nowhere does Scripture teach that innocent people are condemned. People do not go to hell. Sinners do. The rebellious do. The self-centered do. The ones who reject God's pardon do.

So how could a loving God send people to hell? He doesn't. He simply honors the choice of sinners.

God's Salvation is through Personal Faith

So what must we do? We must, by faith, accept Jesus' finished work on the cross as God's only accepted way to enter heaven. God's salvation is through personal faith in Jesus Christ. We must trust in what he has done for us.

Ten of the eleven world religions teach a salvation by good deeds. Christianity stands alone with its emphasis on faith rather than works for salvation. The Scriptures say, "For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Salvation is a gift — we don't work for it, we don't deserve it, we don't earn it. We simply trust God for what he has done through his son, Jesus Christ.

It is like a medicine. You can believe a certain medicine will help you, but until you trust it enough to take it, it won't do anything for you. Faith is more than believing in God. It is trusting in him to the point of receiving Christ into your life.

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William Richard Ezell, D.Min., is the Senior Pastor of Naperville Baptist Church, Naperville, Illinois and the author of Hitting a Moving Target and Ministry on the Cutting Edge.
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