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10 Questions That Skeptics Ask

Part 9: What About Good Works,
Don’t People Have to be Good to Go to Heaven?

Pastor Gary Buchman
Emmitsburg Community Bible Church

Part 8: Why are there so Many Hypocrites in the Church?

(3/11)  Object Lesson – Bottle of pure water/ Bottle of water with a pinch of dirt
Who wants to drink it?

I. - The Belief – Good Works are the Means to Salvation and Heaven
There were two very bad men, brothers who were notorious for cheating stealing and hurting people. One of them died. In preparing for the funeral the surviving brother offered $10,000 to any preacher that would preside over the funeral and say that his brother was a saint. One pastor after another declined the offer, until one said he would do it. On the day of the funeral, the pastor stood up and said, “Old Jack was a rotten scoundrel. You couldn’t believe anything he ever said. He hurt more than a few people and most of what he had he obtained by cheating and stealing from people. He was a bad man, but compared to his brother here, Jack was a saint.”
I have attended about 200 funerals and presided over about 150 of them. Many of them were of people I didn’t know. But I don’t know of many funerals in which the family believed the person was in hell. Just about all of them would say that though they weren’t perfect, they were good people and therefore they were sure they were in heaven. Is that true? Do people go to heaven because they were good?
As a pastor I have had the opportunity to ask a lot of people if they thought they would go to heaven and if so why? Many have said, that they thought they would go to heaven because they were good people. Some would say that while they may not have attended church or read the Bible much, they tried to be good and treat people well. Some would say that they did go to church, were baptized as a child, were christened, confirmed, took Holy Communion, etc.; therefore, they thought they would go to heaven. How about you, what do you think? Do any of these things assure us of heaven? What would you say to one who thinks that they do?

This is not a new thing. Every major religion in the world except evangelical Christianity teaches that the salvation of that religion is the result of a works system such as the 8 fold path of enlightenment in Buddhism; the 5 pillars of the faith in Islam; some form of the Mosaic code in Judaism; even our Catholic friends’ hold that God’s grace is earned by the keeping of the sacraments as the web-site Catholic Online states, “The Church Thus Teaches: There are seven sacraments. They were instituted by Christ and given to the Church to administer. They are necessary for salvation. The sacraments are the vehicles of grace which they convey.”

Many of have grown up with the philosophy that you get what you work for. You have to work hard to get what you want. You earn what you have. There are no free lunches. You get what you pay for. Many believe as I once did, that God would weigh your deeds on the scales of justice, all the good on one side and all the bad on the other and if the good outweighed the bad, you were in. That sounded reasonable to me. What do you think? The religious leaders of Jesus’ day taught a salvation that had to be earned. That was their mind set. Consider the question of the wealthy young man that came to Jesus in Matt. 19:16 and asked, “What good thing shall I do that I may have eternal life?” Or, the folks that asked Jesus in John 6:28; “What shall we do that we may work the works of God?” Or even the jailor in Acts 16:31, “What must I do to be saved?” The early church was entirely Jewish until Peter shared the gospel with Cornelius in Acts 10. Many of the Jews then thought that if Gentiles were to be saved they had to be circumcised and keep the laws of Moses. That is the whole point of Acts 15, the whole book of Galatians and Romans 3-4. Q #9 is, “What about Good Works, Don’t people have to be good to go to heaven?”

II. The Questions Concerning Good Works and Salvation – Immediately there are some questions that arise when we make being good the criteria for going to heaven. Questions like:

  • What are the criteria? Is it the Ten Commandments? The five pillars? The Seven Sacraments? The Golden Rule? Attending church or some other standard of goodness? What is the standard?
  • When does one have to start doing good?
  • What about the bad that we have done? What happens to that?
  • How much bad does it take to undo the good?
  • How do you know if you have been successful? Just hope for the best?
  • If Heaven is earned by being Good, Why did Jesus come and die on the cross and rise again? What was that about?

III. The Bible’s Teaching About Good Works and Salvation (Rom. 3-4) A large part of the book of Romans and the entire book of Galatians deals with this very subject because many Jews believed that the primary criteria for salvation was circumcision and living by the laws given to Moses.

A. No One Is Good Enough to Go Heaven – No One – No Exceptions! Look at 3:9-23. All are under sin (9), none are righteous (10), none who does good (12), the law shows that the whole world is guilty (19), because all have broken the law, all can not be justified (declared innocent, v.20), all have fallen short of God’s standard (23). Here is what the Bible teaches. It just takes one sin in a person’s life to condemn him or her forever! Remember Adam and Eve. They were not chronic criminals. They committed just one act of disobedience and brought sin and death upon themselves and the whole human race (Romans 5:12). Often people will say, I try to obey the 10 Commandments. If I ask them if they have kept them perfectly, they honestly say, “no.” Sometimes I ask specifically, “have you ever told a lie; taken something that wasn’t yours; used God’s name in an empty manner; or coveted something someone else has; or desired something or someone more than God?” People always admit to the fact that they have not kept the laws perfectly. James 2:8-12 says that if you break just one law you are guilty of breaking them all. Now think about this. Sin is any wrong thought, any wrong words, any wrong action, or right thing that we neglect to do. Solomon would say, “There is not a just man on all the earth who does good and doesn’t sin,” (Eccl. 7:20). How often do you sin? How much sin does it take to negate the good in your life? Just One! The Reason:

B. God’s Standard is Perfection-Absolute Holiness! Matt. 5:48 says, “Therefore you shall be perfect as Your Father in Heaven is perfect.” God is absolute holiness (Lev. 11:44). Like this bottle of pure water. But our lives are like this bottle of water with dirt in it. Its just a little dirt but we think God should approve it. The Law of Moses shows us the standards of holiness and also shows us that since we can not and do not keep it perfectly, we need Grace (Rom. 3:20). Every human being has missed the mark of God’s holiness. And it gets worse. There is a penalty for missing the mark, a debt to pay for our sins.

C. The Penalty for Our Sin is Separation from God – Death and Hell. (Genesis 2:17; Ez. 18:4; Romans 5:12; 6:23; cp. Isaiah 59:1-2). God’s glory would be marred like this water if He permitted us with our sin in His presence. His holiness actually repels sin like trying to put two north ends of a two magnets together. What usually attracts and pulls metal to it, repels the other magnet. Just so God’s holiness repels our sinfulness.

D. Heaven; Salvation is a Gift of God’s Grace apart from Good Works.

1. Salvation is provided by means of substitution; that is, God from the beginning said He would accept the death of a sinless person for our death. He stated that he would provide that person for all of us (Gen.3:15), but until then He would accept the death of an innocent animal as an act of faith until the sinless man would come. Their blood would be atonement or covering for our sins (like a credit card) until the actual payment was made. Because of His love for us sinners, and His enemies, He sent Jesus to die for us (Romans 3:25-26; 5:8; 2 Cor. 5:21; 1 Peter 3:18; Heb. 10:1-14, cp. John 3:16). Propitiation is a word meaning, the satisfaction of justice. Jesus because He is perfect and because He is the infinite Son of God, was able to pay the infinite penalty for all of our sins and satisfied His own Holy Justice.

2. Salvation is acquired as a gift through the exercise of faith. (Romans 3:22-30; 6:23; Ephesians 2:8-9; Titus 3:5). A gift is something that someone makes, has, buys, etc, and gives to another without charge. Salvation is a grace gift. By definition, grace is something good that is received without merit or cost. There are several reasons why this has to be the way of salvation:

  • We all have sinned and our sins negate our good works
  • Good works are a means of pride and boasting (4:1-2; Eph. 2:9). We would for eternity be, ‘one upping’ each other.
  • Good works would place God in our debt. He would owe us the salvation and rewards that we think we deserve (4:4). Who can say to God, “You owe me…?”
  • We would be asking God to overlook the evil we have done. Suppose a man committed a murder when he was young and wasn’t caught until the Cold Case team put it together 25 years later. The man is brought to trial. The defense says, “My client has kept the law all of his life and has been a model citizen except for this one murder, therefore he should be set free.” Should the judge set him free because he has basically been a good person, only once breaking the law with this one murder? I don’t think so. Do you?

3. Salvation is given by Imputation (not amputation; 4:2-8; 22-24). Imputation is the act of placing on one’s account. Like money in a checking or savings account or a charge on a credit card. Salvation or Righteousness, God’s Holy standard, is placed on our account, (credited to us) by God when we exercise belief in who Jesus is and what He did for us on the cross. Now there are a few things about this belief or faith that you must understand.

  • It is not just mental assent; it is an act of trust. It’s like a parachute. One can believe that parachutes can safely get one from 10,000 feet in the air to the ground. That is mental assent. Real belief or faith is strapping one on and jumping out of an airplane at 10,000 feet. Or, like the tight rope walker Blondin, who had a wire stretched over Niagara Falls, and walked over and back, and then hoisted up a wheel barrel and walked it over and back. The crowd cheered and then he asked, “How believe I can put a man in this wheel barrel and safely take him over and back? The whole crowd cheered. He then asked, “Who will get in the wheel barrel?”
  • God will forever see us through the righteousness of Jesus. When Jesus died on the cross, all of our sins were charged, placed on His account. He was charged with every lie, every gossip, every murder, every wrong thought, every theft, every unholy action that you or I have ever committed and Jesus suffered and paid for it all. When you exercise faith, God, in terms we can understand, charges us with the righteousness of Jesus. He places it on our account. Our billing statement at the end of our lives will read, 0 balance, paid in full, Righteousness of Jesus applied. A little boy had a balloon and said to his daddy, “Daddy, daddy, you are an orange daddy.” The dad said, “Why do you call me an orange daddy?” The boy said, “Because I am looking at you through his balloon and you look orange.” Brothers and sisters, when you believe in Jesus, God looks at you through Jesus and what He sees isn’t orange, He sees purity and righteousness and He writes that on your statement. It is imputed to your account (2 Cor. 5:21). That is Awesome!
  • Because it is a gift of Grace, it is part of the New Covenant and therefore the recipient can rest with the absolute certainty of going to heaven when he or she dies (John 5:24; 1 John 5:13; 1 Pet 1:3-5). That is a peace that Good works can not give (Rom. 5:1)

IV. The Place of Good Works and Salvation (James 2:14-20; Eph. 2:10). James says, “Faith without works is dead.” He said that because of what we talked about last week, hypocrisy. A person that has been forgiven and given the righteous standing of Jesus, adopted as God’s child (John 1:12) begins to live and act as Jesus. He or she sees life differently and like Jesus, wants to do what he or she can to relieve misery and suffering and live obediently to God. Listen carefully; Good works are the result of faith, not the means of faith. They are the fruit of faith, not the root of faith. They are the purpose for which God has rescued us and left us here on earth (Eph. 2:10).

V. A story. Fiorello LaGuardia was the mayor of New York during the Depression. Sometimes Mayor LaGuardia would preside as a judge on the night court as a means of staying in touch with his citizens. One such night a homeless and hungry man was arrested for stealing a loaf of bread and brought before Mayor LaGuardia’s bench. The Mayor fined the man ten dollars and then reached into his wallet and pulled out a ten dollar bill and gave it to the man to pay his fine. Before dismissing the man, the Mayor turned to the rest of the court room and ‘cited,’ everyone in there for living in a city that did not reach out to help people like this man. The fine was 50 cents each. The Mayor then passed around his famous fedora and fifty dollars was collected in the courtroom that night. Mayor LaGuardia took the money and gave it to the homeless thief who left the courtroom in tears. (from Ken Boa, and Larry Moody, I’m Glad You Asked, Victor books, 1982, Wheaton, Ill. pp. 183-184). The man found grace. That is what every person, no exceptions, finds when he or she believes, exercising faith and trust in who Jesus is and what He has done on the Cross.

Two things I want to close with.

1. Go to the website and print this sermon. Give it to anyone who you think is trusting in their works and not in faith in Jesus. Or study it to be able to give an answer to anyone who thinks that being Good is good enough.

2. Remember Good people don’t go to heaven. Forgiven people do. Remember that thief beside Jesus on the cross. He was a bad man, but he found grace before he died and he was promised heaven by Jesus. He was forgiven. Are you? Look at Romans 4:6-8. Are you forgiven? Have you been trusting in something you have done or in the thing Jesus has done for you? The next step is placing your faith, right now in who Jesus and what He has done and not in some religious or good thing that you have done. Will you do that now?

Lord Jesus, Right now, I repent of believing I could do anything to earn your grace; by faith, I am trusting in nothing but who you are and what you did for me on the cross when you died for my sins. Your resurrection proves to me that my sins are paid for. From this day on, I will do my best to do good out of gratitude and the certainty of your grace and purpose for me. Amen.

Benediction – Jude 24-25, “Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, And to present you faultless Before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy,25 To God our Savior, Who alone is wise, Be glory and majesty, Dominion and power, Both now and forever. Amen.”

Part 10: What Will Happen to Those Who Have Never Heard of Jesus?

Read other thoughtful writings by Pastor Gary Buchman