One of the most common misconceptions among both Christians and unbelievers is that you can get to heaven just by being a good person.
The irony of that misbelief is that it completely ignores the necessity of Jesus Christ’s sacrifice on the cross for the sins of the world. What’s more, it shows a basic lack of understanding of what God considers “good.”
How Good Is Good Enough?
The Bible, God’s inspired Word, has much to say about humanity’s so-called “goodness.”
“Everyone has turned away, they have together become corrupt; there is no one who does good, not even one.” (Psalm 53:3, NIV)
“All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.” (Isaiah 64:6, NIV)
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone.” (Luke 18:19, NIV)
Goodness, according to most people, is being better than murderers, rapists, drug dealers and robbers. Giving to charity and being polite may be some people’s idea of goodness. They recognize their flaws but think on the whole, they’re pretty decent human beings.
God on the other hand, is not just good. God is holy. Throughout the Bible, we are reminded of his absolute sinlessness. He is incapable of breaking his own laws, the Ten Commandments. In the book of Leviticus, holiness is mentioned 152 times. God’s standard to get into heaven, then, is not goodness, but holiness, complete freedom from sin.
The Inescapable Problem of Sin
Since Adam and Eve and the Fall, every human being has been born with a sinful nature.
Our instincts are not toward goodness, but toward sin. We may think we are good, compared to others, but we are not holy.
If we look at the story of Israel in the Old Testament, we each see a parallel to the endless struggle in our own life: obeying God, disobeying God; clinging to God, rejecting God. Eventually we all backslide into sin. No one can meet God’s standard of holiness to get into heaven.
In Old Testament times, God addressed this problem of sin by commanding the Hebrews to sacrifice animals to atone for their sins:
“For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” (Leviticus 17:11, NIV)
The sacrificial system involving the desert tabernacle and later the temple in Jerusalem was never meant to be a permanent solution to humanity’s sin. All of the Bible points to a Messiah, a coming Savior promised by God to deal with the problem of sin once and for all.
“When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. He is the one who will build a house for my Name, and I will establish the throne of his kingdom forever.” (2 Samuel 7:12-13, NIV)
“Yet it was the Lord’s will to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life an offering for sin, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand.” (Isaiah 53:10, NIV)
This Messiah, Jesus Christ, was punished for all the sins of humanity. He took the penalty human beings deserved by dying on the cross, and God’s requirement for a perfect blood sacrifice was satisfied.
God’s great plan of salvation is based not on people being good — because they can never be good enough — but on the atoning death of Jesus Christ.
How to Get To Heaven God’s Way
Because people can never be good enough to get to heaven, God provided a way, through justification, for them to be credited with the righteousness of Jesus Christ:
“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16, NIV)
Getting to heaven is not a matter of keeping the Commandments, because no one can. Neither is it a matter of being ethical, going to church, saying a certain number of prayers, making pilgrimages, or attaining levels of enlightenment. Those things may represent goodness by religious standards, but Jesus reveals what matters to him and his Father:
“In reply Jesus declared, ‘I tell you the truth, no one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.’” (John 3:3, NIV)
“Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'” (John 14:6, NIV)
Receiving salvation through Christ is a simple step-by-step process that has nothing to do with works or goodness. Eternal life in heaven comes through God’s grace, a free gift. It is gained through faith in Jesus, not performance.
The Bible is the final authority on heaven, and its truth is crystal clear:
“That if you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.” (Romans 10:9, NIV)
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