There is something about this message that I haven’t been able to shake for the past few days. Something about it that has been burning inside of me with a need so deep to share these truths because in my mind there is no time to waste. And I wonder so much why the focus of our lives isn’t preaching the truth of Christ but it is because so many of us have bought into the lie. The lie that sounds so right and true in so many ways–that simply being a good person is what gives us entrance to Heaven. And I want to share this out of the utter desire for my friends and family to simply know the truth because there is nothing that is more important.
From the very beginning, I could sense there was something off about that statement. Like so many other kids do, I remember asking how you know you’re going to Heaven when you die. And now being an adult on the other side, I can see how we so much want to give a simple answer that kids can understand, but also one that doesn’t beg more questions to things we are not sure we have the answers for. There is so much about following God that is such a mystery. Right now we only see in part, as in a dim mirror. But someday we will see in full (1 Corinthians 13:12). When the old passes away and the new comes. When Jesus comes back and ushers in eternity. Heaven. And we won’t see it and know it from being a good person. This well meaning answer that so many give that is really a lie that can hold someone back from actually knowing the truth.
That’s what I grew up hearing. Whether from family or the church that I grew up in, that is what I was taught to believe. And I think it is because that is what so many others have believed before me. It makes me so sad now. Sad that we believe this. Sad that we have been taught this. Because it keeps us from knowing complete freedom in Christ. It keeps us in a bondage that we aren’t meant to bear.
And I just want to say before I go deeper that none of this is coming from a place of calling people out for saying the wrong thing, but out of a pure desire for people to know truth. I grew up in the Catholic church, and for me personally, I was taught that it was the things that I do that matter. That it was doing the sacraments and being a good person. It wasn’t until I was fifteen years old and diving into the Bible on my own for the first time as part of a year-long pursuit of my soul by my loving God that I finally understood what had been missing from the theology I had been taught my entire life.
The reality is, you can’t have an opinion on how to get to Heaven. There is what is true and what is not true as it is laid out in Scripture. And after overhearing a conversation the other day just like the one I remember having as a child–a little kid asking how he knows he is going to Heaven–my heart is just yearning for truth. To share the truth that I wasn’t taught as a kid. The truth of what the Bible has to say. And spoiler alert: it is NOT about being a good person. And PRAISE GOD for that.
It goes back to the very beginning. The Garden of Eden. The fall of mankind. Adam and Eve banished from the garden. Sin entered the world and it has been wreaking havoc ever since. No one is immune from it. No one can escape it. We are all born into a broken and fallen world, and that broken and fallenness lives inside of us as well. It is part of who we are. Our spiritual DNA. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,” (Romans 3:23). “None is righteous. No, not one,” (Romans 3:10).
So if we all fall short and no one is found to be righteous, then how can we think we could ever be good enough to earn a spot in Heaven?
And that is part of the problem right there as well–thinking we can earn it. What an absolutely presumptuous thing to think that we have some sort of control over working out our own salvation, as if it is something that God and us conspire on together to make happen. That lessens the utter sovereignty of God. He alone is the righteous one. If righteousness could be found within us–if there was goodness in us enough to earn us a place in Heaven–we never would have need of a Savior. Saying that our own goodness can save us lessens the death and resurrection of Christ.
It’s become the American gospel–this gospel of prosperity. That if we do good things, God will reward us for it. And if we are bad, He will punish us. And don’t get me wrong, God is coming back to judge the world. But if the good people get all the good things, then they can’t really be all that good, can they? Because I know a lot of good people. And being good wasn’t enough to save my mom from being murdered. Being good wasn’t enough to keep my best friend from losing her little girl. Being good hasn’t been enough to keep family members from getting sick or dying too soon or having to face a stream of really hard things. So have they just not been good enough, or does it really have nothing to do with being good enough?
Because that is what the prosperity gospel teaches. That being good is something that is rewarded. Oh, obedience to God matters, but it absolutely is not what saves our souls.
It is God’s goodness that saves, not our own.
And in many ways it is hard to hear. It is a truth that grates. Because we want to believe that we are good enough. It doesn’t sit well with our pride to be so dependent on another. We don’t like the control not being ours. Because it means surrender. It means dying to ourselves in order to receive something we could never earn. It means admitting we are unworthy to receive the gift of God’s amazing grace–that He would lay down His life to save us. It’s accepting a mercy so severe that we could never payback no matter how “perfect” we try to live our lives.
It’s also hard because we don’t want to think that God will not let good people into Heaven. We want God to be loving and kind and accepting–and He is all of those things. But He is also righteous and true and just and He can’t stand for any unclean thing. And whether we are good in this life or not, we all fall short, remember?
And I’m going to be honest with you, having to accept this about God has been one of the hardest things I have had to face. Because I had to ask myself when I accepted Christ if I wanted to believe in a God that wouldn’t let someone I love deeply into Heaven simply on the basis of them being a good person. I had to ask myself if I could still call Him good. This is the part we collectively don’t like to think about. We don’t want to face it. We quickly spout off that we get to Heaven by being good but I also feel like that is a cover up statement that relieves us of having to wrestle with the reality that God created both Heaven and Hell. And it is NOT His desire that anyone should be lost, but it also doesn’t mean that everybody is automatically saved (2 Peter 3:9).
This world–it is so much bigger than us. God is bigger than we could possibly fathom. We forget so easily that we are part of His larger story. That we were made to glorify our Creator. That as much as He loves and blesses us and walks with us through every trial we will ever face, it was always meant to be about Him. Not because He is arrogant and attention-seeking, but because He is GOD and and He is good and He is worthy of all praise.
It all goes together in so many ways. The questions that people timidly ask but also hide behind and are too afraid to hear the truth. Why do bad things happen to good people? Why does God allow suffering?
It all goes back to Him giving us free will. Giving us a choice. And we chose wrong, even in the garden. He created Adam and Eve out of a love so great. He created them to glorify Him. He loved them with a love that is unconditional–just like He loves us. He created a world so beautiful and placed His people in a garden out of His love. He wanted them to love what He created, too. He wanted them to love the One who created it all. And that meant giving them a choice from the beginning. They could choose whether or not to love Him. He wasn’t going to force them. That would be bondage, and God is a God of freedom. So just as we can choose to love God, we can also choose not to. We can choose to be good and we can choose not to. Sin in this life is just a reality of this temporary world, and we chose it.
And the same goes for our salvation. God didn’t create us to force us to do His bidding. He didn’t create slaves. Instead, He came to serve us. He came and gave us the choice of whether or not to choose Him. Whether or not to call Him Lord and Savior.
If we could see ourselves with unveiled eyes as we truly are, we would realize just how not-good we are. If we could see Him in all His enormity as He truly is, we would realize what an undeserving blessing it is that He even offers us a place in Heaven.
But that invitation isn’t there because we are good people. Being good doesn’t give us a qualifying spot in Heaven. It is because of Christ. It is because no goodness could be found anywhere in all the earth that God sent His Son and allowed Him to die for our sins. It is BY GRACE that we are saved–not from works. Not from being good enough. But grace through faith. Hear it exactly as it is recorded in Scripture: “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works (or being good enough) so that no one may boast,” (Ephesians 2:8-9, emphasis mine). It is our God who makes us alive in Christ–not our own doings. It is His grace. His mercy. His doing (Ephesians 2:4-7).
What He so longs from us is to accept. To acknowledge that there is nothing within us that makes us worthy of His love, but that we want it anyway. He is so eager to give it. For us to lay down our burdens and our way of doing things and accept that He is God and He is purposeful and that His plan even when it makes no sense to us is far better than anything we could make up on our own. He wants us to see that being weak is not a fault but actually our greatest strength because it allows us to rest in His sovereignty and His power at work within us. It’s about surrender and choosing the will of the One who made us.
We don’t get to Heaven by being good. And thank God. Because that means we can lay down all our striving and ceasing. We can lay down the guilt and shame of already knowing deep down inside that we can’t do it on our own and we don’t have what it takes to hold the world up on our shoulders and we were never meant to. It opens our hearts up to grace. Grace that flows like a river and covers all the areas in our lives where we fail and can’t do it and aren’t enough. We don’t need to be our own gods because we already have One. We just need to accept it. Accept Him. Accept this grace that means that He is faithful to us even when we aren’t faithful to Him. A love that is unconditional even when we chase after other things. An identity as a son or daughter of God that is the truest thing about us–not our failures, not our weaknesses, not our pride. It’s not about getting to this place in our lives where we suddenly become worthy of God’s time and attention. He wants us right here, right now, in the middle of our messy lives. He wants to step in and change our hearts and do this journey with us, even in all its grit and realness. He is a God that is present with us and who never leaves us. Who wants us just as we are and demonstrated that to the fullest by sending His Son to die for our sins so that He could have us back.
It’s about Him. First and foremost, it is about Him. His love. His mercy. His grace. We are dead in our sins (Ephesians 2:1). He is the One that makes us alive again. We just have to allow Him. To accept Him into our lives.
It isn’t about what we do, it’s about what God has already done for us.
It isn’t about who we are, it’s about who He is.
It isn’t about our own merit and worth, it’s about His amazing grace.
It isn’t about our faults and failures, it’s about the One who offers forgiveness of sins.
It’s about God. This is His story that He lovingly has invited us into. But it is just that, an invitation. And we get to choose whether or not to accept.
We must believe in Him. Believe in the One who loves us dearly and who died for our sins (Acts 16:30-31). That’s what the Bible says (John 3:16; John 14:6; John 20:31; Mark 1:15; John 1:12). We all have sinned. We all fall short (Romans 3:23). We must believe in the One who came to right all the wrongs of this world and who came to set us free. There is not freedom without Him. We must believe in our hearts and confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord (Romans 10:9-13). That we are stuck in sin and only our God can give us a way out. That it is about His work in our lives and not our own that brings about transformation. It is about faith. First and foremost, it is about believing in the One who was sent to save us.
So do you believe in Him? Because that is where this all starts. And even in that, there is grace. Grace to help our unbelief (Mark 9:24). But we must choose Him. First we must choose Him. That is where it all begins. All else is just an expression of a life that has been transformed from within. Baptism is an outward expression of an inner faith (Mark 16:16). Good deeds and obedience are an outward expression of an inner faith (John 14:12). But that’s where it all starts. With Jesus. In believing in the One who loves us so much He made a way to to free us and make us His forever. And as much as we may want to believe and struggle to accept, that isn’t an all-inclusive statement that gives everyone eternal life. We each in our own hearts have to choose Him.
And He promises that if we believe, we will never be alone. He gives us His Spirit to literally and figuratively live in our hearts and walk through life with us (John 14:16-17; Romans 8:11; 1 Corinthians 3:16; John 14:26). That in the shifting sands of this world, we have a Rock to plant our feet on. We have a hope and future, because of Him. But it is grace, my friends. Grace that saves. The grace He freely gives that is so not dependent on our deeds and our performance.
At the end of the day, it is about faith and not religion. It isn’t about worship style or what denomination of church you go to. It isn’t about a more ritualistic service or a more contemporary style or what songs you sing and if there is an electric guitar or not or if you take communion every week or not. It is about Christ. Believing in Christ. Believing in the One who has made a way for all to be saved if they would so choose.
Because this is God’s story. We’re all just living in it. And He lets us choose the role that we want to play. But it is His utter desire that you should choose Him. And my goodness, that is the prayer of my heart as well. That you would choose Him.
He loves you, dear friend, more than you could possible fathom.
[Disclaimer: this post was something that God put upon my heart to write and share. My heart’s desire is to point others to truth. And the thing is, God is God whether we believe in Him or not. Truth is true in the dark whether we can see it or not. His sovereignty and salvation don’t depend on our belief in Him, it’s completely the other way around. God is sovereign and He offers salvation to all who believe in Him. I’m a little nervous to release these words to the world because I already know there are people that will disagree. But this is what the Bible says, and whether you believe it or not, it is still Truth. If some of these truths and concepts are difficult for you, then tell Him. Tell God. He can take it. He wrote it. I just want everyone to know Truth. It is everything, my friend. He is everything.]