Saturday, 29 December 2012
Won’t a good moral life get me to heaven?
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).