The idea that good living people could spend eternity in hell is a hard concept to accept. This is especially true when you think about your relatives and friends, your neighbours and co-workers. Whoever they are, you always enjoy being in their company where they pick up your spirit and make your life worthwhile. So yes, it is hard to think that such folk could ever end up in hell. And besides that – isn’t hell a place for those who are bad and heaven a place for those who are good?
Are there good-living people in your life, who are not Christians and have absolutely no connection to any faith or church group? What about those who are a member of some faith group in your community and who seem both good and wholesome? I’m sure that we all know such people and enjoy having them in our lives.
But have you ever questioned if they are going to heaven? If not, is it because you think they’ll go there simply because they are good people? It even seems like there are good people who are not Christians and some bad people who are. So, who goes to heaven?
Actually neither, because being good, is not by itself, a passport to our heavenly home.
As difficult as it is to accept the idea that good, moral living people could ever end up in hell, the Bible is very clear that people don’t go to heaven because they are good but because they are made good (righteous and acceptable to God) through the goodness of Christ. If this is not the case then why did Christ need to die for the sins of the world? Why did God send Him to the world to die in our place? Everyone needs to be forgiven of their sins and imbued with Christ’s goodness to make them good and acceptable in God’s sight.
We’re all aware of many people who have influenced our lives in some way for the good. They have left a lasting impression upon us that has, to some degree, shaped and directed our lives for the better. So it’s natural to think they deserve to be in heaven. But heaven is a place designed by God to be occupied by those who have exhibited a genuine faith in Him and obedience to his will. Heaven is God’s dwelling place not ours. He decides who is privileged to go there, not us. And the only way one can enter heaven is through His goodness and His way and, of course, that way is Jesus Christ (John 14:6).
Sometimes funerals can leave the wrong impression that a life well-lived is an automatic ticket to the pearly gates. Have you noticed that most of the memories shared at a funeral are all about the many wonderful things that the deceased had done for their family, church family and others in the community. I believe that it is important to honour the life of each individual by sharing such memories. It helps everyone to pay tribute to a life well lived or those aspects of a life that are praiseworthy. But I also think it important to bring Jesus into the picture when expressing hope for the deceased. Hope for eternal life rests upon the goodness of Christ and not that of our dearly departed. It is grounded in a relationship with Jesus as saviour and Lord. Such hope is absent when a ‘good’ person who was not a Christian passes from this life.
Living a good life is important and valued. But good people still need Christ’s goodness to get to heaven. Helping an old lady across the street on a cold wintry day is a lovely act of kindness but not one deserving of heaven. Nor is helping the poor in your community. Such deeds make the world a better place. Just imagine if everyone was this kind. But to get to heaven we need Jesus, for our acts of goodness do not remove our sins.
Have you ever felt good enough to go to heaven? On the basis of how you have lived your life do you ever feel you deserve a place in heaven? How good is good enough? When will one feel comfortable enough that they have done enough to merit eternity with God? I have never met anyone who has told me they have achieved the level of goodness required to enter heaven.
I would like to think that people are good because God has been good to them. I would like to think that people want to live a Godly life because of the life Jesus lived on their behalf and for no other reason (Luke 17:5-10). I would like to think that people are good not to earn their salvation but because of their salvation (because they are saved).
In the Bible we read of good people who still needed God’s goodness to get to heaven. They led impressive lives and were well spoken of by the community yet they still needed to obey the Gospel to have any hope of being in heaven.
There was a Gentile named Cornelius in Acts 10:22 who was a righteous and God-fearing man who was well spoken of by the entire nation of the Jews. An angel of the Lord had appeared to him in a vision (Acts 10:1-3). And later, while Peter was talking to Cornelius and his household, the Holy Spirit fell upon them and they began speaking in tongues and exalting God, signifying God’s approval that the Gentiles were also to be included among God’s people along with the Jews. At the moment when the Holy Spirit fell upon them, were they good enough to go to heaven? They were not! That’s why Peter commanded them to be baptized in the name of Jesus for the forgiveness of their sins (Acts 10:48; 2:38). And when they obeyed, they experienced God’s goodness, His acceptance and grace and became His children. And as His children, they became heirs of His with a living hope that this world can never offer – the hope of eternal life with God in heaven (Galatians 4:1-7; I Peter 1:3-5).
Judas, along with the eleven apostles, was sent by Jesus to heal the sick, to raise the dead, to cleanse the lepers and cast out demons (Matthew 10:1-8). In so doing he would be hated by all on account of the name of Jesus (Matthew 10:22). As far as we know, Judas did what Jesus commanded. Would we conclude then that after Judas’ death he had the hope of going to heaven because of the good that he had done in his lifetime?
The Pharisees were leaders of God’s people. They were avid law keepers, yet in Matthew 23 Jesus calls them hypocrites because they trusted in their own righteousness and not in the righteousness of God. Even some Christians in the early church did good by praying but prayed with the wrong motives (James 4:3). Anyone can do good things but not necessarily for the right reasons.
We conclude, therefore, that people who have done good things in life will end up in hell for refusing to accept Christ’s goodness and for trusting in their own. And though it may be of little comfort Jesus wants us to know that there will be degrees of punishment in hell. He said, “It will be more tolerable for the land of Sodom and Gomorrah in the day of judgement, than for the city that did not receive the apostles” (Matthew 10:14-15).
Some may question the justice of God by asking: “How can a just God send someone to hell for eternity for the wrong they’ve done in just a few years here on earth? Should not the punishment more nearly fit the crime?” Yet the same people fail to question why God’s love would offer them eternal life after they’ve done wrong in those few years of their life here on earth. You would think that it was not ‘fair’ for the only man who had never sinned, to die for the sins of others. Yet He chose to do so, to enable God, the Father, to pardon and to forgive their sins (John 3:16).
God has so ordained it, that decisions made early in life and made on earth, have consequences going forward. And once we part company with our bodies, there is no going back. The opportunity to repent is withdrawn. The word of God makes this very clear, taking away our excuses.
God has clearly made it known that He wants every soul to be with Him in heaven for eternity. Is that our desire as well?
So the real question is…has God made you good enough to go to heaven? Only He can do so, but we must be willing to accept His forgiveness and to embrace His goodness through faith and obedience.
Owen Sound ON