What will the next twelve months hold in store for me, my loved ones, the world?
What could I do to become a better person?
If this is my last year on this earth, am I ready to face the Day of Judgement?
Have I done enough good deeds to get to paradise? Am I good enough to go to heaven?
If there is a heaven, good people go there. This is obvious, because if heaven were full of bad people it would not be heaven. Or is it so?
True or false?
Good people go to heaven because a good God who dwells in a good place only wants good people there.
Most religions teach that how you live your life determines what happens next. The problem is that no one really knows whether they have been good enough. How good is good enough, anyway? Where is the line? What is the standard? Do you have enough time left to counterbalance your bad deeds? Most really good people hope that they will go to heaven one day, but they are not sure about it. Why? Because nobody can tell you how good you have to be to go to heaven. Ask different religious leaders and they will give you a lot of information, different formulas but at the end you will be back to “I hope so.”
If good people go to heaven then we need a clear and consistent definition for what is good. We need a list. Imagine you sign up for a race. You stand at the starting line and see ahead of you the road forking off in five main directions. There are no signs, flags or markers. The race official gives you no map and no clue about the distance you have to run. He says, “Just run, we will tell you when the race is finished, assuming you find the right way.” Suddenly the starting gun is fired and everyone runs in different directions. It just wouldn’t work!
If God acted like that race official, would he really be good? If there was a pass-mark when it comes to goodness and God neglected to tell us exactly what it is, then God would not be fair – neither would He be loving or good.
Yes, we do have a sense of right and wrong. Many people agree that it is wrong to kill, steal, lie and commit adultery. This knowledge must come from God. How else could we believe that these rules are right, even though we have little desire to keep them and even less success in keeping them? It is as if two forces are at work in us. The sense of right and wrong reminds us that we are not perfect, but it gives us no direction in terms of how perfect we must be to get to heaven. Also, our sense of right and wrong can change as time passes. Which standard does God use?
While the first part of the Bible seemingly ignores the question of how people can get to heaven, the second part of the Bible is full of words about heaven and hell. But again we are not told how many good deeds one has to do to go to heaven. We only learn how things look like from God’s perspective:
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23)
“There is no one right with God, not even one. (Romans 3:10)
“For the wages of sin is death.” (Romans 6:23)
“Therefore no one will be declared right in (God’s) sight by doing what the law says; rather, through the law we become aware of sin.” (Romans 3:20)
So the statement, “Good people go to heaven” will not help anyone to get to heaven, for no-one could be sure that they were actually good enough.
True or false?
Only good people go to heaven because there are no other options.
There are not many options when it comes to getting to heaven; in fact, just one: Jesus Christ. His shocking and unique teachings can be summarized by saying that God loves bad people and that bad people can go to heaven.
And what are we to make of his other words, when he told people that he had forgiven their sins even though he was not the injured party? Surely the only person who can forgive is the one who is wronged? If that was not confusing enough, Jesus reinterpreted the Old Testament law in such a way as to make it impossible for anybody, even the Pharisees, to keep it.
“For I tell you that unless you do more good deeds than the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:20)
Besides, he seems to contradict himself. One minute he was assuring bad people that they have a place in God’s kingdom:
Then one of the criminals who were hanged blasphemed Him, saying, “If You are the Christ, save Yourself and us.” But the other, answering, rebuked him, saying, “Don’t you even fear God, seeing that you are under the same condemnation? And we indeed justly, for we are getting the reward we deserve for our actions; but this Man has done nothing wrong.” Then he said to Jesus, “Lord, remember me when You come into Your kingdom.” And Jesus said to him, “Assuredly, I say to you, today you will be with Me in Paradise.” (Luke 23:39-43).
Next, he was warning the religious leaders, who were professional do-gooders, that they were completely on the wrong track. As he himself said:
“I did not come to call the righteous, but sinners, to repentance.” (Matthew 9:13)
He never shied away from offending them, calling himself ‘the way to God’, in contrast to the prophets who were preparing the world for his arrival.
Jesus was operating on a basis unknown to this world. He came to establish a new order. It is no wonder many refused to accept his teachings and ‘good people’ crucified and killed him in the end. However, God turned bad to good: He placed the punishment for our sins on Jesus. He was that perfect, final and sinless sacrifice foreshadowed in ancient times. Finally, God showed His enthusiastic approval of Jesus: He raised Him from the dead.
The message in of the New Testament is clearly and totally opposed to the idea that people can be good enough for heaven. No one will reach God by trying to be good. Only forgiven people go to heaven: forgiven by Jesus who sacrificed himself to rescue those he loves.
True or false?
Good people go to heaven because it is only fair.
In reality, things are just not that simple. Bad things happen to good people all the time.
God wanted a loving personal relationship with Adam and Eve, so he gave them the necessary freedom of choice to respond to his love by free obedience. When Adam and Eve ate of the forbidden fruit, they – not God – introduced sin and all its consequences into their fair, just and perfect world. In that moment, absolute fairness was gone.
God the Father was determined to produce a 100% effective remedy for our sorry, sinful condition. And so, He laid aside fairness and chose to have mercy. In order to do this, He had to send Jesus to this earth to die for sins he did not commit.
Why was such an extreme measure necessary? The following illustration will help: Imagine you own the shiny new car of your dreams. One morning you discover in horror that someone had scratched some marks on to its hood. You ask your children and it turns out that it was 2-year-old Amir! What are you going to do? There would be no way for you to explain to Amir the meaning of what he had done and what it was going to cost you in money, time and difficulty to get it fixed. He has no context for understanding any of that.
Maybe it would be fair for him to pay the damage but totally out of reach. Should you stop the relationship or stay angry? No, the best thing would be to tell him not do it anymore, to reprimand him appropriately for his age. You would, of course, continue to love him as much as ever. The reason why you could treat him with grace and mercy and not according to fairness is because you yourself would pay for the damage he caused.
Similarly God who is holy and perfect sees your sin as something horrible, a debt you can not pay. There is no point in asking you to because you have little idea what you have done from his perspective. To think that being good somehow makes you OK before God would be like Amir offering to sit angelically for two minutes on the time-out chair after being told how much it would cost to repair the car.
Such a nice offer would not pay you back your expenses or fix the car. The message of the Bible is better than fair. Everybody is offered mercy, forgiveness and a relationship with God on the same basis. What could be fairer than that?
True or false?
Believing that good people go to heaven is good for society. It keeps everyone on their best behaviour.
You would think that even the most troublesome person would become self-controlled if they know that their going to heaven depends on it: “if only good people go to heaven you had better be good.” The trouble is that people are not controlled by logic; they are controlled by their needs and the social systems around them.
In the modern world, societies do not give a clear message about heaven and hell. Rather the media tell us “spend, spend, and you will be happier”. Heaven and hell are cartoon-realities to the modern world – nothing is to be taken too seriously.
So the prospect of heaven when you die does not of itself make people good or keep people good. Only God can do that.
God intensely desires to have a relationship with us – a relationship motivated by love and not by fear. After all, how would you feel if your children would only be with you because you threaten them and not because they freely and willingly love you? Love is a much more powerful and effective motivator than fear!
The miracle is possible: Jesus is able to forgive you all your sins and reserve you a place in heaven! You can start afresh with a clean slate. All your wrong decisions and actions can be shared with your Creator. He will help you move forward, and His commands are for your best.
“Thank you so much, Jesus, for taking the shame and punishment of my sins upon yourself and paying the prize for it on my behalf with your life! I now place my faith in you as my Saviour and Lord. I give you my whole life. Please show me your will and what you want me to do. Live in me and give me strength to do what you say. I will never be able to repay you but out of thankfulness I want you to help me in doing good. Thank you for your promise of your powerful Holy Spirit to live in me to give me the ability to be different. Use me for your honour and joy. Amen!”
Forgiven people who are going to heaven are the ones who will really make a positive difference in society.
God’s transformation of their lives makes them good and caring citizens, for, as God says in His Word:
“If a man says, I have love for God, and has hate for his brother, his words are false: for how is the man who has no love for his brother whom he has seen, able to have love for God whom he has not seen?” (1 John 4:20)
What do you think about who Jesus is and how to get to heaven? I’d love to know. Contact me by writing to Oskar1@live.co.uk
Answer to test questions: All are false.
[Based on: Andy Stanley. How good is good enough? (LifeChange Books)]