Vol. 4, No. 6
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Ask anyone you meet if he or she believes in God, and the response will usually be an emphatic "Yes!" Ask further if they expect to be in heaven, and the answer will almost invariably be "Yes!" Now ask, "What steps have you taken to secure your place in heaven?" The response now may be a confused look, or words to this effect: "I am a good person ..." For practically every person we know, something good can be said -- they are terrific singers or good managers or kind-hearted, etc. But, are these the criteria for which we will be either accepted or rejected at heaven's gate? Is this all we have to do to gain eternal life, just regard ourselves or be regarded by others as "good people"?
"What then? are we better than they? No, in no wise: for we have before proved both Jews and Gentiles, that they are all under sin; As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one ... For all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." (Romans 3:9-11, 23, Emphasis mine, sps)
Compared to God's righteousness, we are all lacking. That's not to say there is no good in anyone. It's all a matter of perspective. The story is told of a young girl who visited her grandfather's sheep farm in the springtime. As she observed the sheep on the lush green hillsides, she remarked, "Oh! How white the sheep are!" But, the same girl observing the same sheep in winter, on a pristine snow covered hillside could only see dirty gray/brown sheep. The difference? Perspective! When viewed against a grassy backdrop, the sheep appeared to be pure white, but up against the snowy hillside, all their faults were apparent. We too, appear to be good when we compare ourselves to other men. In fact, we can always find those who are much more wicked than we. But, from God's perspective, we all appear as the sinners we are!
This was the problem with the Jewish leaders in Jesus' day. In Luke 18, our Lord tells the story of an outwardly religious Pharisee who went to the temple to pray, and said, "God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican." (Luke 18:11) When compared to other men, this Pharisee could comfortably assure himself that he was a righteous man. However, we will not be judged by human standards on the last day. It is the Son of God, totally pure and righteous, who will judge us by the divine standard. "For the Father judgeth no man, but hath committed all judgment unto the Son" (John 5:22).
Isaiah the prophet brought it all into focus when he told the Jewish nation, "But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags" (Isaiah 64:6). No matter how good we are, we have still sinned before God. ALL OF US! "... the scripture hath concluded all under sin" (Galatians 3:22).
The Publican in Luke 18 realized this when he offered his prayer before God. No excuses, no fancy words, no longwinded speeches. In just seven words he uttered his effectual prayer, "God be merciful unto me, a sinner." Jesus said that this man went down to his house "justified" rather than the other (Luke 18:13-14). That is, he was more right than the Pharisee, and under the Old Testament law, God would certainly be more merciful to him in his humility, than to the arrogant Pharisee.
We have established that no man can measure up to God's righteousness, and that the Scriptures conclude we are "all under sin." We have further seen that God is more pleased with us when we recognize this, and in humility ask him for mercy, as in the case of the penitent publican in Luke 18. However, there is still a problem. Even if we say we will never again commit sin, (which the Scriptures point out is not wise; see 1 John 1:8), we are still guilty of what we have already done. To put it another way, we have committed a crime and must pay the penalty for that crime.
Suppose a murderer is brought to trial and found guilty, and just as the judge is about to pronounce his sentence, the guilty man asks to address the court. With the judge's permission he says, "I'm sorry for what I did and I will never do it again." Should the judge let the murderer go free? Suppose the one he murdered was your spouse, your son or daughter. How would you feel if the judge simply let the man go because he promised to do better? Why, you would be outraged, and properly so! Instead, the judge, if he wants to uphold the law would say something like this: "Son, I understand you must feel remorse for your actions and truly you do not intend to ever commit another murder, but the fact is you have killed another human being. According to the laws of this state, you must be punished." With that, the sentence of either life in prison or execution is pronounced and the gavel is brought down with finality.
We too, have committed crimes against the Almighty. We "all have sinned" and "the wages of sin is death." (Romans 3:23; 6:23 ) If this "death" were only physical that would be terrible enough, but there is another death awaiting us (Revelation 20:11-15):
"And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell (Hades or grave, SPS) delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death. And whosoever was not found written in the book of life was cast into the lake of fire."
Words fail us to describe the pain, utter despair and hopelessness of this "Second death." Suffice it to say that hell is a place of darkness, flame, torment and most horrifying of all, it is eternal -- AND THIS IS MANKIND'S DESTINY!
Fortunately for us, we have a God who is "... not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). Because he loves us so much, he was willing to send his "only begotten Son" to pay the price for our sins (John 3:16). You see, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord."
Remember the judge passing sentence on the murderer? Picture now another courtroom where you have been found guilty of a crime. The punishment is either a one million dollar fine or twenty-five years. You can't afford to pay the fine, but just as the judge is about to bang his gavel and send you off to prison, someone unknown to you bursts into the courtroom and says he will pay your fine. This person obviously has the means to do so, but you are at a loss to explain why he would want to do such a thing for you. The man explains, "Because I love you."
Jesus did this very thing by dying a cruel death on the cross. Since the price for sin was death, one who was sinless had to die in order to atone for the sins of mankind. None of the human race qualifies because we are all sinners, but Jesus came to live life as one of us. He came to experience the joys, griefs, pains and disappointments of human life. But, most importantly, he came to "taste death for every man" (Hebrews 2:9). He did this out of tremendous love for us. In fact, "Greater love hath no man than this that a man lay down his life for his friends" (John 15:13). He also told us, "The word that I have spoken, the same shall judge [you] in the last day" (John 12:48).
The Word of God functions like a mirror to show us our helpless estate. (See James 1:23ff.) Imagine looking into the mirror in the morning and seeing your face is dirty. Just gazing into the mirror will not cleanse your face, but seeing the need should motivate you to seek water to wash it.
When faced with these same conclusions, men and women in the New Testament asked the aforementioned question in various ways. Upon hearing the Word of God about the sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross for their sins, the sum total of what each of these individuals did was:
Believe -- "... if ye believe not that I am he, ye shall die in your sins." "... without faith it is impossible to please him ..." (John 8:24; Hebrews 11:6).
Repent -- "I tell ye nay, but except ye repent ye shall all likewise perish" "Repent and be baptized everyone of you..." (Luke 13:3, 5; Acts 2:38).
Confess faith -- "Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven." "With the mouth is confession made unto salvation" (Matthew 10:32; Romans 10:10).
Be Baptized, (fully immersed in water) -- "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved ..." "Repent and be baptized, everyone of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the remission of sins ..." (Mark 16:16; Acts 2:38).
Everyone today could be saved in this same way if they would just submit their wills to God's will and be obedient to the Gospel. So to answer the question, "Am I good enough to go to heaven?" - -NO! Nobody is. But, we have a sinless Savior who was willing to pay the price for our sins.