And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good except God alone.” – (Luke 18:19, NIV)
There is a belief that has been around probably since the beginning of time, that generally goes as follows:
I should be able to go to heaven because overall, I’m a good person.
It seems logical enough, doesn’t it? A good many people seem to believe this, if the internet is any indication. I’d like to hope that isn’t the reality, but the internet spans quite a number of people so I’d be inclined to wonder…
The idea is that if we are generally “good”, then we ought to be allowed entrance into heaven. We shouldn’t be turned away, and we certainly shouldn’t be subjected to an eternity of torment. The question is, how do we determine what qualifies as “good”, and what then qualifies as “good enough” – to get into heaven?
There are a couple problems with this line of thinking. It’s easy to see how many people struggle with it because of all sorts of methodologies devised to avoid it. For example, many believe that everyone can work their way into heaven with enough good deeds, or maybe enough good deeds to outweigh the bad in a sort of 60/40 mindset. Others believe that God sent Christ to die for all people, therefore everyone who isn’t evil or wicked will be saved. You know, not the really bad guys but – everyone else. Some believe that Christ died for all people and therefore everyone will be saved regardless.
It’s fascinating to me that many people hold a strong objection toward the idea of needing to believe in Christ in order to be saved. That is, they will accept that He saved them – as long as it applies regardless of whether or not they choose to believe in Him. Oftentimes, it goes back to an argument such as this: I am a good person, so Christ’s death should save me also, even if I don’t believe in Him, if God is all-loving.
Now, I have never heard any one person use that specific argument. However, I’ve known of many people who have a general belief that if God is all-loving, He must save them too regardless of what or who they do or don’t believe in. He must save everyone, except those really evil people!
Well, we are again brought back to a point of, “Who determines what is good?” and, “Who determines what is evil?” and furthermore, “Who determines what qualifies as good enough to enter heaven?” This is where it comes back to the original argument – Well, I’m better than these people, or these people, or even most Christians I’ve met! Should I rather be like you – bigoted and hypocritical??
I haven’t heard that particular argument said to me directly, but I’ve seen a variation of it and heard the gist of it before. Sometimes not with the last part, but almost always with the first.
Now, sometimes people will go back to the 10 Commandments, or the golden rule. That is, don’t murder, don’t steal, don’t lie, treat others the way you wish to be treated… So if they keep those, they are good, right? They overlook all the other commandments, but that is not the point. Some people will also throw in other characteristics that aren’t listed – ones that they may even accuse many Christians of being, but that they don’t consider themselves to be – bigoted, judgmental, sexist, homophobic, etc. So what’s the problem with that person? He or she is clearly a “good” person, and may even be a better person than me! I should be the one ashamed and they should definitely be the one to enter heaven.
But, again. What qualifies as “good enough”? Why is it that we Christians think we are somehow good enough to be qualified to enter heaven, yet we think that these other people who are maybe even more morally upright than us, somehow aren’t? How can we be so utterly arrogant as to make such an implication?
Well, we aren’t “good enough”.
But, how then can we claim that we will go to heaven? How can we possibly claim that we are going to go to heaven and everyone else will go to an eternity of torment?! That’s ludicrous to suggest, right? What arrogance!
Now on the other hand, someone might see a Christian who is truly a living witness. They are living as Christ lived. Meeting them is almost as though you are meeting Christ face-to-face. Well, they should be good enough, right? Granted all Christians are called to be living witnesses, yet not so many are – and I do not exempt myself from that at all. I am absolutely not the living witness I should be. But, I and many people can see that my dad is like that. He is still goofy and silly, but at his heart he has many Christ-like qualities. And everyone who knows him, loves him, and appreciates all he does. So, going back to the idea of being good enough, am I suggesting that my dad would not even qualify? Is he not good enough to get into heaven??
No. He’s not.
How can I say that? How then do I qualify what is good enough?!
Well, that’s the question at hand, isn’t it? What is good, and what then is good enough? Well, I don’t decide what is good, let alone what constitutes good enough. God does. It’s His heaven. I am not the judge of who goes in, He is. That said, none of us are the judge of who enters, only Him. Only He can say who is good enough to enter heaven. But, this brings us back to the original argument, “Well, He should think me good enough since I am not like all these other people!”
Do you know the real heart of the matter? It’s pride.
Pride tells us that we should be good enough, pride tells us that we should be able to work our way into heaven. Pride tells us that at some point, we should be deemed good enough unless we know we’re really bad. Now, I can’t say, “And that’s fine,” but I can say that it’s understandable because we are all proud.
Now, with this idea one might be inclined to say, “I’m not proud! I don’t walk around all cocky like so-and-so! I am not a narcissist!” I know that I would certainly be saying that myself if someone just claimed that I was proud! I would say there’s no way. In fact, I’m largely self-defeating – isn’t that the polar opposite of pride? I put myself down and see where I fail more often than I build myself up and see where I succeed. How can that be prideful?
Well, this is where our human definition is different from God’s definition. And deep down, we are all proud. We don’t want to admit it, and we, like myself, often may not even see it. But it’s there. Pride is what makes us want to be like gods. Not in the fashion of Zeus or some other false god, but rather in the characteristics that God holds. He is not accountable to anyone. He is not dependent on anyone. He is (literally) better than everyone else. He makes the choices. He has the final decisions. He says, “This will happen this way,” and it does. He is worthy of respect, glory, honor, and praise. He issues rewards and punishments. He knows literally everything.
What God says goes, every time.
Now, think for a minute with me. Regardless of how mopey we might feel at times, regardless of how self-loathing we might feel at times, or regardless of how good we feel about ourselves at times, let’s look at these characteristics.
- When was the last time you wanted to be treated with respect, if not demanding it?
- When was the last time that you wanted to be or feel independent of others?
- When was the last time that you thought, in some way, that you were better than someone else?
- When was the last time that you wanted to have the final say on a particular decision?
- When was the last time that you – secretly or openly – wanted recognition or praise for something you’d said, done, or even just how you are?
- When was the last time you wanted to tell someone what to do?
- When was the last time that you thought you knew how to handle a particular situation better than someone else did?
Is it possible that you wanted one or more of those…today? Yesterday? Within the week? Have you ever felt like that? This is where pride really rears its ugly head, because even when you seem the opposite of proud, you can almost certainly agree with one or more of those above points. This is where I am convicted! I frequently use self-defeating humor and often I feel what seems to be the opposite of proud. And yet, when it comes down to it – boy, do I ever get angry when someone cuts me off in traffic, or tailgates, or when someone gets recognition for something good that I said or did at work!
How dare they?! Who do they think they are?!
Have you ever had a thought like that? What follows that line of thinking? We sometimes stop there – accusing the other person of thinking that they are so high and mighty. Yet, underlying that is frequently, if not always, a thought that they are doing it to us. We “do not deserve“to be treated that way!
Consider when we see someone cut someone else off in traffic. Or speed excessively. Or run a red light. What’s our reaction then? When it isn’t happening to us directly, we might have a similar reaction of “Who does that person think they are?” or “Gee, they think they own the road, don’t they?” but we typically won’t get fuming mad if it is happening to someone else. Why is that? Why don’t we get just as mad to see it happening to someone else as we get when it happens to us? Or, alternatively, why don’t we stay as calm when it happens to us as we do when it happens to others?
More so, why don’t we hold ourselves to the same standard? If we are getting tailgated, we might get furious at the person doing it. We might do things like slow down to make them angrier (guilty…) or make a (hopefully not) obscene gesture at them, depending on how well we can keep our calm. But, if we are tailgating someone, well, we have a reason for it. We are trying to get somewhere! It’s important! THE BANK CLOSES IN 10 MINUTES, CAN’T YOU GO ANY FASTER?!
Again, it’s because when it happens to us, the perception is that we are being slighted. It is almost like a sort of personal attack, offense, or insult against us! But when we do it to others, we justify our behavior. We have reasons for it. And if someone gets mad at us for the same behavior that we get mad at, well, they’ll just have to deal with it. Or, if they would just hurry up, or move over at least!
OK, I went off on a pretty big tangent, but you can see where it goes. Traffic, incidentally, is a great illustration for our pride. We get behind the wheel and often morph into someone vastly different than who we are face-to-face. But it all boils down to the same thing – we think we’re important! We think we are important and that we deserve respect. We take disrespect personally and it angers us.
Now, how did Christ feel?
This is a very tough pill even for a believer to swallow. We get so angry about petty things because we think ourselves of high value. We think ourselves worthy of respect, and maybe even praise.
We think that we are good people. Yet, we’re not.
We all sin and we all do embarrassing, faulty, shameful, reprehensible, perverted, deceptive things. If we are truly honest with ourselves, we can admit that we have all done things like that. Maybe we haven’t done all those things. Maybe we don’t do them that much or maybe not that bad. That doesn’t matter – we still do them.
We think that we are good because we want to be like God. We want to be so much like God that we want to act as our own god. I am not exempt from this behavior and likewise, other believers aren’t either. We all have the sin nature, and we all have the desire to act as our own god. We all have the desire to be like God, not to know God. We want to make the decisions, we want to show we are better, we want to be worthy of praise and respect, and we want to think that we are good.
Well, it’s not an easy think to accept, which is I think why so many don’t. Again, there are so many methodologies and theories to try to get around this because our pride blinds us to the fact that we even have it! We think we are good people, so we don’t want to see that we are, in fact, vile. Job, a man “proclaimed blameless and upright” by God Himself was overtaken with self-righteousness. When God confronted him on it, he said:
Behold, I am vile; what shall I answer you? I will lay my hand on my mouth. (Job 40:4, AKJV)
I think that one of the biggest things that keeps people from believing in Christ is accepting that they are actually not “good” people. But, Christians are no different. None of us are “good people”. The reason we turn to Christ is simply that we don’t see ourselves as being good enough to enter into God’s presence out of anything that we can possibly do. We can’t say enough, do enough, serve enough – nothing that we do or say could ever possibly be enough to deem us worthy to enter God’s presence. There’s only one Person who is. His Son. His Son, who lived a perfect life on earth only to sacrifice Himself in our place. Because He knows we aren’t perfect, and He knows we aren’t good enough – and never could be. He knows that the only way that He can bring us into His presence is to provide the only worthy sacrifice – that is, Himself.