Saturday, 29 December 2012

Won’t a good moral life get me to heaven?

Peter Ustinov, the famous actor, was asked in a television interview for his 'doctrine of man'. He gave the reply 'Man is essentially good!' and was rewarded with sustained applause from the audience.

Even among those who believe in the reality of heaven and hell, the popular conception is that the latter must be reserved only for arch villains like Stalin, Hitler or Genghis Khan - perhaps along with a handful of gang rapists and serial killers.

Most people, however, are thought good enough to pass the test. This sort of thinking is widespread but totally at odds with the Christian Gospel.

Our acceptance by God does not depend on our goodness, but rather on his mercy (Lk 18:9-14; Tit 3:5). In answering the question 'Won't a good moral life get me to heaven?' we need to bear in mind the following:

1.The Reality of Judgment

The Bible teaches that death leads not to extinction of perception, not to reincarnation, not to a disembodied existence of the soul - but rather to judgement (Heb 9:27). At this point there is a separation between those who are consigned to Hell, and those who are to receive resurrected bodies (Phil 13:2; 1 Cor 15:35-56; 2 Cor 5:1-9) and join Christ as his subjects in a new heaven and earth (Is 65:17-25; Is 66:22-24; Rev 21:1-5). Any who doubt the reality of Heaven and Hell should be reminded that this is the teaching of Jesus Christ himself and his apostles (Mt 10:28, 11:20-24, 13:37-43, 47-50; 25:31-46; Jn 5:22-30; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Rev 20:11-15).

2.The Pass-Mark of Perfection


God's standard is not that we be better than others, but rather that we be perfect (Mt 5:48). To stumble at just one point is to fail completely (Jas 2:10). Furthermore in God's eyes bad thoughts are no less evil than bad actions - lust is equivalent to adultery (Mt 5:27,28) and anger to murder (Mt 5:21,22). As we become conscious of God's real standards, it becomes apparent that even the morally upright fall short of them (Rom 3:20) - as the examples of the apostle Paul (Phil 3:4-7) and the Rich Young Ruler (Mt 19:16-30; Mk 10:17-30; Lk 18:18-30) clearly demonstrate.

3.The Universality of Sin

With this standard in mind it is clear that there is no-one 'who does what is right and never sins' (Ec 7:20). To the contrary all have fallen short (Rom 3:9-12, 23; Ps 14:2-3, 53:2-3). Even our good deeds are bad in God's sight (Is 64:6). Since we cannot save ourselves it follows that our only hope is to be rescued by God (Mt 19:25-26).

4.The Perfection of Christ

By contrast with man, the sinlessness of Christ is taught in the Bible as an established fact (Is 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). He can confidently challenge his accusers to find fault 'can any of you prove me guilty of sin?' (Jn 8:46). He is therefore the only way to God (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5).

5.Salvation only by faith

Eternal life therefore cannot be gained by our own efforts. It is a free gift of God which must be received by faith (trusting belief) in Christ (Rom 1:17; 3:22; 6:23; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8,9; Phil 3:9; Tit 3:3-6; Heb 11:6). If we could achieve it by our own efforts, it would not have been necessary for Christ to give his perfect life on our behalf (Gal 2:21). It is Jesus’ death on the cross on our behalf for our sins which is what makes it possible for us to be saved from what would otherwise be inevitable judgement (Jn 3:16; 1 Cor 15:3; Gal 1:4; 1 Jn 3:16).

Sometimes the question is put around the other way. If God is good then surely he would not send people to Hell? But this is to misunderstand the sinfulness of man and the holiness and moral purity of God. Sinful man simply cannot stand in God’s presence so could never exist in heaven.

On earth we are sheltered from the reality of judgement in order to give us a chance to come to God willingly to receive his forgiveness. He has furthermore, through Jesus Christ, done everything necessary for that to happen. But if we refuse that and thereby shake our fists at him in defiance then there is no other offer on the table. It is his universe not ours and there is only one other possible destination.

A good moral life cannot get us to heaven. It is not good people who go to heaven, for no-one is good enough. Good people (those who think they are good enough) go to hell. Bad people (those who realise they fall short of God's standards and look to his grace and mercy) go to heaven if they put their faith in Christ (Jn 3:16, 5:24).

37 comments:

  1. This reeks of evangelical smugness.

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    1. No it doesn't.

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    2. Wouldn't smug be thinking that you're good enough to get into Heaven?

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    3. Indeed it would. In fact I'd say it would go well beyond smugness into self-deceiving hubris. But the author's entire point is that no one, including himself, is good enough to get into heaven. I don't find this smug at all.

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  2. In the current climate it is more essential than ever that Christians are united. We need to rely on God's grace and correspond to it. He will lead us. You are right that we cannot save ourselves by good behaviour but the doctrine of faith alone is not quite right. From my conversations with evangelicals, it does seem that in practice their position is coming closer to the Catholic one.

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    1. We are saved by grace through faith (Eph 2:8,9) but genuine faith will always be evidenced by good works (Eph 2:10)

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    2. Yes, I think that is fine. God does always act first. Faith itself is a free gift that we can correspond to by nourishing appropriately, and by asking humbly for more.

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  3. "...moral purity of god"...this is the same god so keen on sacrifice, murder, revenge etc etc etc ??? Surely about time humans grew up and stopped believing in fairy stories.

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    1. Indeed, the reason why we can is because eternal creative reason incarnate has showed us the true way. I am not quite sure what an atheist would even mean by growing up or by progress or anything. Indeed, why would he trust his own reason at all beyond what is clearly verifiable by his own senses? This would then be a very reductionist vision of reality. It would also be self refuting because he would not be able to verify its truth. No, faith and reason must work together.

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  4. Maybe I'm missing something here then. Regardless of your belief/faith, God in so many places in the bible is vengeful, cruel etc, delighting in wiping out hordes of people for the slightest perceived slur. How does that tally up with the supposed moral purity described above ? And what kind of pompous waffle was that ? Seems like you've decided god/bible etc is true - presumably the christian god as opposed to any of the others ? And is that just the nice god in the new testament, and therefore the old testament wasn't really true ? How do you decide which bits of this to believe ? And why should it be any more believeable than a mythology created around star wars or the lord of the rings ? The romans, greeks etc all thought they had it sussed, so what happened to make all their beliefs wrong and your bible the ultimate truth ?

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    1. Yes, you are missing a lot. There are gruesome stories in tje Bible but that does not mean they are a model for our behaviour, far from it. The point is in the middle if messy humanity the redeeming God appears. In Christ's genealogy there are unsavoury characters, as if going to show that Christ takes on human sins. I am nite meaning to be pompous, just trying to explain Christianity. You do not have to believe it but nor should you misrepresent it. Maybe you should read e.g. Scott Hahn's books and then argue against Christianity.

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    2. You don't address the issue of OT God's moral dubiousness at all.

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    3. Doesn't God have the authority to punish people the same way parents punish their children?

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  5. I guess you believe what you believe is true. Don't get this point. Seems like a get out to avoid debating the merits of the case.

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  6. Maybe I'll give them a try - it's something I just am unable to understand. Going back to my earlier point, what kind of moral purity is demonstrated by passages such as "Six days shall work be done, but on the seventh day there shall be to you an holy day, a sabbath of rest to the LORD: whosoever doeth work therein shall be put to death." ?

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  7. Genesis is full of theolgical meaning. There are specialist books in it. In ancient times the heavenly bodies, of which 7 are visible to the human eye in the sky were often thought to be divine. Genesis is saying that they are not, that they were created by the Word. It also happened ti set up a good social pattern among the Jews, ensuring that workers got a rest every 7 days and that debts were forgiven every 7 years.

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  8. So are you saying that anything where god is quoted as saying people should be killed in all manner of nasty ways, or where he is proud of the mass genocides, should be taken with a pinch of salt ? Or is the old testament god the nasty one, who has now fallen out of favour like zeus, apollo et al, to be replaced by the more politically correct god of the new testament ? If they are one and the same, then how can he be described as morally pure ?

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  9. No, he does not approve. God is able to act through human events. Human evil is not greater than God. As I say, there are plenty of good books on the OT.
    Nobody who believes in scripture intérprets it in the way you are suggesting or ever has, and there are millions of them. I think your point is a really empty one.

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  10. Sorry, who does not approve ? Really have no idea what on earth you are trying to say here.

    So far you have completely ignored my question about your gods moral purity - is it really that difficult to explain ?

    The statement "god is able to act through human events"...firstly, what did that have to do with any of the comments so far ? And secondly, what events does he act through ? I've never seen any evidence of that. What human events are you talking about ?

    To be honest, there have been millions of people through the ages who have carried out all sorts of abominations due to their interpretation of the bible. I'm assuming you'd agree they were all wrong ? So why are you so certain your current views are any better ? Not sure what point of mine is empty here - just trying to understand, but all I get back are vacuous statements saying "he does not approve", "human evil is not greater than god". Your god doesn't seem to do a very good job when it comes to counteracting human evil such as hitler, stalin etc etc. Still very confused.

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    1. We are seeing an incomplete story. All human beings have sinned and all fall short. That includes, Hitler, Stalin, you and me. We all deserve judgement and hell and we will all die one day by whatever means. And then judgement and ultimate justice will come.

      But because his mercy God delays that judgement and ultimate justice to give us a chance to repent, put our faith in him and receive forgiveness. He has made this possible through Christ's death and resurrection on our behalf.

      It is up to us whether we respond or not. But it is hell and not death that you need to worry about. Death is nothing compared to the horrors of hell. And the greatest pleasures of life are nothing in comparison with the joys of heaven

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    2. So basically in stead of giving a logical answer, you choose to come back at this with the age old threat of hell? Better accept God's moral purity or burn in hell for all eternity. See the irony in the statement? Would a loving God really want you to threaten people? You have no right to judge anyone.

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  11. You seemed to be asking whether God approved of people murdering one another. The answer is no. Neither does God approve of adultery. However, some of Jesus' ancestores were adulteres and muderers. The point is that God acts in the midst of this human reality.
    Christianity does not claim that God stops evil - it says that he did not even stop the evil done to Himself in the crucifixtion. I have come to the conlusion that the key to this riddle lies precisely in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ. Christianity also teaches that evil does not have the last word - that there will ultimately be justice. The oppressed and the opprssors will not just sit down at the heavenly banquet as though nothing had happened. There will be a purification. Of course, atheism does not believe this and so must give up any hope of any ultimate justice. Sometimes atheism has tried to create the perfect society, with devastating consequences. Atheism believes that after life on earth here, there is no ultimate satisfaction, just annihilation. Atheism has to relinquish hope. It can make young, healthy individuals feel better for a time because it gives them license to persue their desires, whatever they may be, but it should not pretend to be an attractive belief beause it certainly is not, Whenever it has been imposed by the state, disaster has ensued. Atheists like to pass themselves off as rational - but where do they think that this rationality comes from and what exactly is there to be rational about? I am not saying that you have to believe in Christianity but I think you should approach it with a more open, listening attitude. It may strenthen you in your own beliefs. When I read Dawkins' books, I was certainly stenghthened in my Christianity.

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  12. The point I am still trying to understand is how anyone can describe someone as morally pure who carries out acts described in the bible such as this: "and he smote the men of Beth-shemesh, because they had looked into the ark of the LORD, even he smote of the people fifty thousand and threescore and ten men: and the people lamented, because the LORD had smitten many of the people with a great slaughter."

    As to having a more open attitude, I am trying to understand what it is, amidst the mass of contradictions, that people find in religion. The christian god doesn't really sound like a very pleasant character - all the murder, jealousy, vengeance doesn't sound like the best basis for for eternal happiness.

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    1. The God of the Bible gave us life, the universe and everything in fellowship with himself. But we spurned these gifts, turned our back on him and chose to live our own way.

      At great cost to himself he sought reconciliation with us through Christ and offers us forgiveness and an eternity of joy and satisfaction. The offer is free and now.

      It's your choice. You can accept it or call God a liar and a bully and reject it. But if you choose the latter course you are cutting yourself from God, life and everything good and there will only be hell to look forward to - a place form which God and everything good are excluded.

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  13. So this benevolent god of yours not only commits genocide against people he doesn't like, but says anyone who doesn't worship him is doomed to eternal torment even if they have lived a good life ? It sounds like a major insecurity complex to me.


    Is the threat of eternal damnation all that keeps god-fearing (now that's an interesting phrase for a benevolent god) christians on the straight and narrow ? I'd have thought a more commendable approach to life would be one where people treat each other decently and behave in a civilised manner because they are good people, rather than with threats of fire and brimstone from a 2,000 year old book.

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    1. You need to read the blog above more carefully. No one has lived a good life. That is the whole point. All deserve judgement and hell - even you!

      We are all kept from falling into hell only by God's patience and mercy because none of us can live in his presence.

      He's offering to rescue anyone who desires to be rescued but Jesus said that there are two types of people in this world - those who recognise their sinfulness and repent and those who rather lay all the blame at God's feet.

      You appear to be currently in the latter camp - self-righteous and blaming God. I urge you to reconsider your position.

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  14. I think you are thinking of God as an important man or as a superman, maybe as a kind of dictator who wants to impose his will on ours. Christianity says that he is none of those things. He is the author of life itself, the source of all, of love. Indeed that He is love. He created us out of love and for love, to share in His own divine love. We do not have to, we can choose independence from God or try to become gods ourselves. I know many people who have tried to snatch at life rather than give themselves to others in life. Many people seem to want to pursue a life of pleasure or to try to laud it over others by professional success or by gathering riches. We cannot find God in this way. Hopefully these people through God's mercy, will be forgiven and change. God is very merciful. He is not angry at anyone. He is very much in the business of forgiving. But I know people who through living for themselves have become addicted to things and have become unhappy. They are not where God is. There is also the possibility of ultimate rejection of God. Remember God is. He is love. He is goodness. Outside God we will not find anything except his absence i.e. Hell.God warns us about these things. He cannot but do otherwise. But please do not confuse him with a human dictator. That is precisely another of the points of Genesis. In Genesis - which is a story to teach us about God - it talks about Adam and Eve meeting the devil. They had just been walking with God in the garden, so the devil does not try to convice them that God does not exist. They would not have believed that - they still had a keen sense of his presence. Instead he tries another ploy - he tells them that God is not their father but their master i.e. someone who wants to dominate them. This ploy is being used again now. But the saints have never thought about God in this way - only people who reject Christianity think about Him in this way. Christians think of God as their father who wants to give to them Himself. Again, you do not have to agree with me but do not imagine that the Christian God is a dictator. I know many christian families and I can assure you that their children are taught not to be frightened of God, that God is a loving father. Of course, without God there is no hope. That is clear. This is precisely why I believe atheism is ultimately a pernicious philosophy.

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  15. For goodness sakes, what's up with the repetitive "Anonymous" theme?

    Can't you chaps identify yourselves by a name, ANY name, or even an initial? It needn't be your own. Anyway, it's not like it's possible to tell who you are just from your first names. What are you afraid of?

    All this "anonymous" posting is mighty confusing, given that there there seem to be *several* anonymouses.

    As for the vengeful God of the OT, Peter hates to admit it, but we need to remember that the Bible was written by mere mortals. They surely projected their own feelings and emotions onto the God of the Bible. And the genocides were carried out by the very same blokes who claimed that they had divine sanction. Hardly likely that it was *God* who gave them the go-ahead, eh?

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    1. James, The God of the NT is just the same as the OT and the most dreadful words of judgement come from the lips of Jesus Christ himself. No, the truth is that God can take the life of anyone he likes whenever he chooses and it's only his mercy that causes to hold back to any extent at all to give us a chance to repent. Genocide is nothing compared to Hell, so we need to keep it all in perspective, Peter

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  16. You're missing the point as usual, matey. And preaching to the converted too.

    I can assure you I know (in case it wasn't crystal clear already) that the God of the OT is the same as the God of the NT.

    Permitting genocide is not the same as decreeing it - you seem unaware of the difference.

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  17. God decrees when everyone dies. But death is not the end of the story. It is the end of the story according to atheism - how nasty!

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    1. Christians believe that most of humanity is heading straight to hell where they are going to get tortured with fire forever and that only like 5% of humanity is going to be happy with god that is what I called NASTY!! I don't see how one can live knowing that many of the people they have known and perhaps even their own children and people they have love are going to hell to get tortured with fire without mercy there is no such thing as free will saying that one has free is saying that you act dependant from god one does not choose to be a girl or a boy or even to be brought to life one does not choose who their parents are going to be or where they want to be born

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  18. Only Jesus can save our lives, not even ourselves, not our money, neither families nor religions. Because Jesus is the only way.

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