You don’t have to be good to get to heaven.
Does that statement surprise you?
Aside from Christianity, every other major religion in the world depends on man working their way to God, justifying themselves in some way. Each person must do something, reach some level of goodness or higher-consciousness to eventually make themselves worthy of whatever reward is supposedly there for the taking.
This makes sense to us, for we are used to working for what we get; If we behave we get ice cream, if we get good grades we get to go to the water park, if we work hard we get a raise or promotion and a nicer house, car, and toys. The flip side is the same in reverse; don’t behave and you don’t get ice cream, bad grades make you stay home on water park day, don’t work hard and you get fired, no raise or promotion.
Reward and punishment, the merit system. We have been playing by these rules our entire lives. It is what we know, it makes sense to us even if we don’t necessarily like it. Therefore, this idea of heaven for free does not compute easily for most of us. There must be something required of us, some sacrifice– give more to the poor, fix a single mom’s car, quit drinking, help little old ladies across the street, give up our golf day to feed the homeless… something. There is a cost for everything, so the ultimate reward cannot be free.
But Paul, who calls himself the worst of sinners(he persecuted, imprisoned, and executed Christians before his own conversion) tells us in no uncertain terms that our salvation has nothing to do with our own efforts.
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith–and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God–not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:8-9
If it isn’t computing yet, let me make it crystal clear; Heaven is not earned–it is a gift. You don’t have to be good. I know! Crazy, isn’t it?
There is not a never-ending line of holiness hoops you have to jump through. Your good deeds do not have to outnumber the bad. There is only one thing required of you; faith. You have to believe that Jesus aimed his earthly life towards that cross for you, that he purposely laid down his life to pay your debt to God–to free you from guilt, to free you from shame, to free you judgement.
Not by works… entire Christian denominations miss those three little words and hence try to put the crushing weight back on the believer that Jesus died to take off. The believer is saved by grace alone, not by the good things he does, not by works. Look at that passage again. From front to back and top to bottom these two verses say it six different ways. Salvation is free to all who believe, all who have faith. Not a single one of us can boast that we earned what Jesus did for us. It is a free gift of grace. All you have to do is reach out and take it–you have to believe.
Completely free. But, once we believe, if we don’t want to live like Jesus told us to live after what he did for us, then there is something wrong. If we Christians think that floating in an ocean of grace frees us to stay as we are and live like he did nothing for us, then we have missed the point and we are definitely not listening to God’s Spirit within us. Or, we never truly believed in the first place and God’s Spirit does not live in us.
Someone who sees grace as permission to sin has missed grace entirely. Mercy understood is holiness desired. Max Lucado
We Christians are called to live differently. From cover to cover the Bible tells us how we should behave. We are supposed to stand out as lights in this dark world. Why? Not to get to heaven, our ticket is punched. Then why, if we know beforehand that we will be forgiven, should we behave like God wants us to?
If we truly love Jesus because of his great love for us, then we will want to do what he asks of us. Our lives should steadily change, and God has put his own Spirit in our hearts to help make that happen.
Thus, if you have really handed yourself over to Him, it must follow that you are trying to obey Him. But trying in a new way, a less worried way. Not doing these things in order to be saved, but because He has begun to save you already. Not hoping to get to Heaven as a reward for your actions, but inevitably wanting to act in a certain way because a first faint gleam of heaven is already inside you. C.S. Lewis
Belief in the Gospel won’t suddenly turn you into Jesus Junior, growth takes time. But your heart is changed. Jesus calls it a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Our old ways of life will not satisfy us anymore. We have far more important business ahead of us.
P.S. We have only one or two more posts to go in this series. I hope you have been enjoying it. I have. If you just jumped in, I encourage you to check out the rest. It is the Gospel in plain language. You can find the first post in the series if you scroll to the bottom of the main page.