Among those who believe in life after death, and in heaven specifically, there seems to be complete agreement. From businessmen to busboys, college students to professors, executives to store clerks, if you want to get to heaven, you have to be good. The trouble is – how good is good enough? Is God satisfied if I am in church on Christmas and Easter? Or does He insist that I be there at least twice a month? Is it okay if I’m there now and then, or must I be there every time the doors are open?
What if I don’t go to church at all, but I live a better life than many of those who do? What if I haven’t been baptized? What if I have my act together from age 40 to 60, but prior to that I was an unholy terror? Do 20 years of good living make up for 40 years of wrong living? What about someone who dies young and does not have a chance to do as many good things as the average person? How good is good enough? After all, there are even different ideas of what constitutes goodness. A real estate salesman was once asked, “If you were to die, would you go to heaven?” He responded, “Yes, I think I would.” When asked why, he answered, “Well, (expletive), I’ve lived a pretty good life!” Obviously, he was looking at his life, not his language. But what does God look at?
Goodness or perfection?
Reading the Bible to determine the answer to “How good is good enough?” can be a real heart-sinker. “Wait a minute!” you might say. “Can’t four different people read the same verse in the Bible and come up with four different interpretations of it?” In some areas, yes. But in the area of how much goodness it takes to please God, He could not have spoken more clearly.
The Scriptures make it plain that God is not demanding goodness. God demands perfection! Good people don’t go to heaven – only perfect people do. Why? Because the yardstick God uses to measure everyone is His Son.
God is not asking us to be as good as the people we know. He is demanding that we be as perfect as His Son. With that in mind, the Bible declares, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). “Sin” means “to miss the mark.” Whether through a simple lie or chronic lust, a wrong thought or an unkind word, selfish living or shameful conduct, we have all missed God’s standard of perfection.
How good are we?
In his celebrated book, Abraham Lincoln, the War Years, author Carl Sandberg told of Lincoln traveling from Springfield to Washington for his inauguration. Those seeing the president-elect for the first time were most impressed with how tall he was. Curiously, many men stepped up to the train platform and stood back-to-back with him to compare their height to his. Only one man measured up to Mr. Lincoln. All the others failed.
To determine how good we are, God puts us alongside His Son. Alongside, Jesus, no one person measures up. We have all sinned and missed the mark. Even though we may say to ourselves, “I’m not as bad as a lot of people I know,” or, “I think I stand a better chance of getting to heaven than a lot of people,” we are only fooling ourselves. God’s standard is perfection – the perfection that characterizes His Son. And we have fallen short.
One might say, “But can’t God overlook some sin? Isn’t He a God of love? I thought hell was only for those who were really bad.” Yes, indeed, God is a God of love, but He’s also a holy God. A holy God has no choice but to do what sin deserves – punish it. The smallest sin cannot be overlooked. Therefore each sinner faces the eternal consequences of his own sin. God declares that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23). Each person faces eternal separation from God.
Recently I saw a bumper sticker that read, “Don’t follow me. I’m lost too!” Spiritually, that is right! Since each person has sinned, each is facing eternal separation from God. The man who has been to church every Sunday is no better off than the one who knows more about the inside a jail than he does the inside of a church. The town hero is no better off than the town drunk.
By now you’re probably feeling as hopeless as the man who was sitting on the side of a bridge contemplating suicide. A policeman rushed up to him and said, “Hold it! Let’s sit down and talk for a minute.” They sat together, talked, and reached a unanimous decision. They both jumped off the bridge!
You may be tempted to ask, “Why not jump from the bridge? Is there any use in prolonging what I know I’m going to face? The thought of dying and going to hell is not pleasant, but how can I enjoy life knowing I’m going to pay for everything I’ve ever done wrong?”
The news, however, is not all bad. Seeing us in our sin, God had a problem. His holiness demanded that we die. His love demanded that we live. Even though we are sinful, God still cares for us, so much so that He allowed someone else to take the punishment for our sin by dying in our place.
Whoever did that had to be perfect. One murderer cannot take the punishment of another murderer. Each must bear his own. Neither can one sinner die for another sinner. The only person who could take our punishment was God’s perfect and only Son, Jesus Christ. The Bible explains, “God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8).
The January 1976 issue of Reader’s Digest told of a father and his 12-year-old daughter Sharon and 11-year-old son David, who hiked up Mount Ranier in Washington on Memorial Day weekend in 1968. It was their first long hike – a five mile climb. An hour after they started hiking, a blizzard struck high on the flanks of the great mountain, trapping the father and his two young children. The temperature dropped to 22 degrees, with wind and snow blowing at 60 mph. Snow fell in thin, wet sheets. It was impossible to see or move. A few steps in the wrong direction could mean certain death. So the three of them tramped around in a six-foot-circle, making a depression in the snow. Then they spread a tarp over the trench. The father helped David and Sharon into their sleeping bags. Then he placed himself near an opening in case the wind blew the tarp off. In that way his body protected his son and daughter from the howling wind.
Just before six o’clock the next morning, a search party found the trio. The two children were alive; their father was dead. Sharon explained to the search party: “Dad gave his life for us.”
What to do to get to heaven
Jesus Christ gave His life for us. He saved us by dying in our place. The anger of God against sin was poured out on God’s Son, and God punished Him when He should have punished us. Jesus saved us by dying for us. The moment He did, the anger of God against sin was satisfied. God accepted His Son’s death as payment for everything wrong we’ve done. When Christ arose the third day, the payment for sin had been made, He arose victorious over sin and the grave.
That is why you cannot do anything to get to heaven. Everything that needed to be done was done the moment Christ died for you.
One person observed that it took him 40 years to learn three things: 1) He could not do anything to save himself; 2) God did not expect him to; and 3) Jesus Christ had done it all. He is right! Everything that needed to be done for you to be saved was done when God’s Son died for you. The price has been paid. God can now extend eternal life as a free gift. He declares, “The wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom. 6:23).
Gifts, however, must be received. For that reason, Jesus said, “He who believes has eternal life” (Jn. 6:47). “Believe” means “to trust or depend.” God is asking each person to come to Him as a sinner, recognize His Son died on a cross, and trust His Son alone as his only way to heaven.
The Bluewater Bridge is the east-west connection between the United States and Canada. It connects Port Huron, Michigan with Sarnia, Ontario. That bridge was completed in October of 1938 at a cost of more than $3 million. It is nearly one and a quarter miles long and 38 feet wide. It has a vertical clearance of 152 feet to allow large ships to pass underneath. Every year it carries several million vehicles from one side to the other. It doesn’t matter if it is a small VW or a large semi-tractor trailer-rig – if one walks across, bicycles across, or drives across, each must trust the bridge to hold up. Everyone must depend on it to get from one side to the other. It doesn’t matter how good you have lived, how religious you’ve been, or whether in the minds of others you’ve been a sinner or a saint. God is asking you to depend on Christ alone as your only way to heaven. Coming to God as a sinner, you must trust in Christ to get you to heaven and give you eternal life as a free gift. The moment you do, an exciting and divine transaction takes place. God looks at your sin as covered by the blood that was shed on the Cross. He extends to you the perfection of His Son. When God looks on you, He no longer sees your sin; He sees only the righteousness of His Son Jesus Christ.
The Bible says you are now “justified.” Previously unacceptable to Him, there is now nothing standing between you and God. You are forever His. Romans 5:1 assures you, “Therefore having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
Coming to terms
No amount of goodness will get you to heaven. Regardless of how good you have lived, you can’t be good enough. The only basis on which God can accept you is that His Son took your punishment. A national magazine told of a man who had a serious eye problem. His family doctor recommended that he see an eye specialist, but warned him, “You’ll need a lot of money. The fee will be very large.”
The man decided that if he had to use all his life’s savings to correct his eye problem, he would do it. The specialist confirmed that he did indeed need a very expensive operation, and stated his fee, adding, “And I never accept less than that.” The man answered, “Then I’m afraid I’ll have to go blind. I don’t have that much, and I can’t even borrow enough to pay you.”
The doctor answered, “You can’t come up to my terms, and I can’t come down to yours. But there is another course open to us. I can perform the operation for free. And that is what I’m willing to do.”
You cannot come up to God’s standards; you cannot be as perfect as He is. He cannot come down to yours. But because Jesus Christ has taken the penalty for your sin by dying for you, God can give you eternal life as a free gift if you will simply trust in Christ alone as your only way to heaven.
If you wish to trust Christ right now, you may want to use this prayer to express to God what you are doing:
“Dear God, I know I am a sinner. Nothing I do will get me to heaven. But I believe that Jesus Christ died for me and rose from the grave. He took my place and my punishment. Right now, I put my trust in Christ alone as my only way to heaven. Thank you for the free gift of eternal life I now have.”
Once you’ve done that, read and even memorize John 5:24. That verse promises that having trusted Christ, you have eternal life guaranteed!