A few weeks ago, as I was driving my 8 year-old son to school, the topic of theology came up. Surprisingly, it often does – kids are very curious about God, and that’s a good thing. We were discussing Heaven, which is a very cool topic. In the middle of our conversation, he said something that caught me off guard. He said “Good people go to Heaven, and bad people don’t, right?” There is was. It was the salvation question wrapped up in an inquiry from my kid. I was excited that he asked, but it also struck a chord. Out of all the questions about God, the “how” of getting to eternity is the one that is muffed all too often.
Unfortunately, quite a few people (who may mean well) tend to answer this question incorrectly.
In life, we are taught that things should be black and white, with no shades of gray. I remember as a kid playing cops and robbers, cowboy and indian (I know, it was insensitive, but it was what we did), and a myriad of other games we would invent where there were good and bad guys. We had a high moral compass; we knew the difference between good and bad. Our favorite TV shows were about good guys vs. bad guys; show like GI Joe, Thundercats, or even Road Runner vs. Coyote! It is no different when it comes to the current generation of children.
Unfortunately, a lot of this concept can easily get carried along in life and applied to the act of salvation that God provides to us humans. A perfect verse that could sum up this logic would be Revelation 21:8:
“But cowards, unbelievers, the corrupt, murderers, the immoral, those who practice witchcraft, idol worshipers, and all liars—their fate is in the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death.”
Well, this paints a pretty picture, don’t it?! I know I’ve told a few lies in my time, so I must not be bound for Heaven. I’m out. My fate is sealed. I won’t get to enter the pearly gates of eternity.
But, much like many of the ideals that are tossed around in churches, radio programs, TV shows, or Internet ramblings (this blog excluded, of course), it it not a true lesson on salvation.
The concept that John was trying to get across is that we are all undeserving of Heaven. Not one of us has earned the right to enter into the presence of God. In fact, his buddy Paul put it very bluntly. In Romans 3:9-12, Paul writes:
9 Well then, should we conclude that we Jews are better than others? No, not at all, for we have already shown that all people, whether Jews or Gentiles, are under the power of sin. 10 As the Scriptures say,
“No one is righteous—
not even one.
11 No one is truly wise;
no one is seeking God.
12 All have turned away;
all have become useless.
No one does good,
not a single one.”
Ouch! Is he actually saying that there is no one that is good? What about the boy scouts that help their community? What about the people that handle the soup kitchens, serving food to the homeless? What about the missionaries that give up everything to live in third-world countries? Aren’t they good? The answer, according to the Scriptures is, no.
Then, we should give up, right? What’s the point of trying to help others if it doesn’t get us any browny points with the Big Guy upstairs? I’m not saying we shouldn’t try to do good things. We just can’t think that they earn us any favor with God.
In fact, Jesus wanted to make this point very clear. Here is how he puts it in Matthew 7:21-23:
21 “Not everyone who calls out to me, ‘Lord! Lord!’ will enter the Kingdom of Heaven. Only those who actually do the will of my Father in heaven will enter. 22 On judgment day many will say to me, ‘Lord! Lord! We prophesied in your name and cast out demons in your name and performed many miracles in your name.’ 23 But I will reply, ‘I never knew you. Get away from me, you who break God’s laws.’
You see? The reality here is not the good things you do, but who you know.
Think of it this way. If one night, a complete stranger comes to my door and asks to be let in, I won’t let him in. I don’t know him, his intentions, or whether or not he is safe to be around my children. Though I may make a phone call or two on his behalf, I generally wouldn’t allow him to just move in and make himself at home.
Perhaps he will tell me that he is trustworthy, and that he is a good person, often giving to the poor. However, I don’t know him. How can I trust him?
Jesus is making the same point. He doesn’t want to live all eternity with strangers. He wants to live all eternity with his friends, family. He wants to open the doors to his kingdom and welcome home his sons and daughters. He wants to know us, and we should want to know him.
This is why God made our salvation independent of anything we do. As Paul says in Ephesians 2:8-10:
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. 9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. 10 For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.
Probably the most notable example of how this works is found in the Gospels. It is a story about salvation, even though the person receiving it has completely wasted their life, and has no power to do good things to make amends. This is grace, and it is found in Luke 23:32; 39-43:
32 Two others, both criminals, were led out to be executed with him. 33 When they came to a place called The Skull, they nailed him to the cross. And the criminals were also crucified—one on his right and one on his left.
39 One of the criminals hanging beside him scoffed, “So you’re the Messiah, are you? Prove it by saving yourself—and us, too, while you’re at it!”40 But the other criminal protested, “Don’t you fear God even when you have been sentenced to die? 41 We deserve to die for our crimes, but this man hasn’t done anything wrong.” 42 Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your Kingdom.”
43 And Jesus replied, “I assure you, today you will be with me in paradise.”
Do you see it? The criminal, who had been sentenced to die for the things he had done, was given salvation in an instant. He literally could do nothing (as he was pinned to a cross) other than ask Jesus to save him. In that moment, we see the love of God shining through. There was no moral condemnation. Jesus didn’t angrily yell at him for what he had done. No, instead, Jesus showed the criminal grace, and saved him.
He wants to do the same with you, and everyone else on this planet. You may not think you deserve that kind of love. You may not think you are good enough to be saved. You are correct. You don’t. But:
Christ came at just the right time and died for us sinners. 7 Now, most people would not be willing to die for an upright person, though someone might perhaps be willing to die for a person who is especially good. 8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners. 9 And since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation. 10 For since our friendship with God was restored by the death of his Son while we were still his enemies, we will certainly be saved through the life of his Son. 11 So now we can rejoice in our wonderful new relationship with God because our Lord Jesus Christ has made us friends of God. (Romans 5:6-11)
Jesus wants a real, lasting, eternal relationship with you. He doesn’t ask you to be perfect. He loves us in spite of the dumb things we’ve all done.
Do you want to feel loved like never before? Do you want to have peace and hope? Do you want to live an eternity in the most amazing place you can imagine? It is yours for the asking. Ask Jesus to be your best friend, and he will give it all to you.
As we continued driving down the road towards the school, I told my son that everyone can go to heaven if they ask Jesus to take them there. None of us are good guys, but Jesus loves us all anyway. His response was “Cool!” Indeed, it is cool.