…but my book doesn’t count!
Among more “nominal” Christians it is common to hear various expressions of the sentiment that heaven is full of “good” ladies and gentlemen who live upright lives.
These people don’t worry about the afterlife much because they believe they have lived “upright” lives in the eyes of their fellow man. They continue to reason that if a “good” God does actually exist, His own goodness will oblige Him to let them through the pearly gates.
In today’s, relativistic, multicultural and largely secular society this quaint idea of Heaven, as with all the other nominal/liberal views of Christianity, is crumbling under the weight of its own inconsistencies.
Moral relativism, fuelled by multi-culturalism and promoted by secularism has destroyed any consistent idea of what a “good” man actually looks like, leaving only fluffy meaningless platitudes to associate with “goodness”.
Most men can fit themselves into the open-ended, fluffy definitions of goodness promoted by the nominal Christian and so that is as far as their inquiry into spirituality goes. Sadly for true Christianity this is not the standard required for Heaven as taught by the God of the Bible, the book that informs people about Heaven in the first place.
God’s Standard Is Not Society’s Standard
Most people like to judge themselves based on the lowest common denominator of all the people they know.
“I’m no Mother Teresa, but compared to Joe Drug Dealer down the road I’m pretty close!”
Somewhere deep in the back of their minds is the vague notion and perhaps even a Bible verse they learnt in Religious Studies at school (Matthew 7:1-3) about being judged by the same standard by which you judge others. They then reason that if they don’t condemn Dave Drug Dealer or Alfie Adulterer, God won’t condemn them. Everybody wins!
On the surface this seems very noble and forgiving, something that God would be proud of you for. The reality is that it is only secularists and other moral relativists who would be proud of you for such reasoning, although I doubt many would admit it.
By calling the actions of Dave and Alfie wrong you are not casting judgement upon them, you are proclaiming God’s judgement of their respective sins. You are not condemning them for their sins, you are trying to lead them to God’s salvation from their sins, just as Jesus did (John 8:10-11, John 3:17-18, John 12:47).
An essential part of the Christian gospel is that everybody violates God’s moral judgements (Romans 3:23), but God has provided you a royal pardon through the death, burial and resurrection of His Son over 2000 years ago, to pay the penalty for your transgressions. The reason that secularism/moral relativism is so repugnant to Christianity is that they hide mankind’s need for God’s salvation from sin – Jesus Christ.
God’s Standard of Righteousness
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” -Matthew 5:48
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus teaches that to even get into heaven your righteousness must exceed the righteousness of the Scribes and Pharisees.
God has called people to a higher standard than simply being better than their neighbour! The Scribes and Pharisees were the professional “law-keepers” of Israel and there is no way that even the most pious individual today in our Western culture would compare favourably when pitted against them.
The righteousness that God requires from man is nothing short of PERFECTION (Matthew 5:48). Both external perfection in our actions but also internal perfection in our thoughts and motivations (Matthew 5:17-18, Matthew 5:28).
The Pharisees were very “righteous” on the outside with all their lawful deeds but internally, in their thought life and motivations they were like “filthy rags”, as is the heart of all unregenerate men (Isaiah 64:6, Matthew 23:27).
This understanding of God’s standard of righteousness compared to our own, is an essential for salvation as it points to the impossibility of man being saved by his own works. Salvation must come from above!
Why Such A High Standard?
“Children, how difficult it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich person to enter the kingdom of God. And they were exceedingly astonished, and said to him, “Then who can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man it is impossible, but not with God. For all things are possible with God.” – Matthew 19:23-26
Most of us at some point in our lives have at some point wondered why God had to send His son to die for our sins. We wonder why the all-powerful God could not have just lowered the bar to get into heaven. Surely an all-loving God would want to let as many people into heaven as possible. In fact, why did Jesus have to die at all? Could not God simply let everybody into heaven?
Whilst I believe a complete understanding of the substitutionary atonement of Christ for our sins is impossible for us in our current state, we can certainly go some way to answering these very important questions.
The foundational point to understand when considering God’s salvation of mankind is to understand that God’s standard of righteousness is not to do with His volition, but rather to do with His nature. God does not choose the standard of righteous required for heaven.
God’s righteous standard is determined by His righteous nature and even the all-powerful God cannot change who He is (Numbers 23:19, Malachi 3:6, 1 Samuel 15:29). Therefore God can still love the world (John 3:16) yet have many souls who choose to reject His offer of His righteousness (and in turn salvation) going to Hell.
A High Standard For A High Calling
A second point to consider when pondering the standard that God demands to get into Heaven is the nature of Heaven itself.
The Heaven of the Bible is not a mystical world just above the clouds akin to the home of the care-bears, neither is it a place where you get to indulge all of your carnal desires that you worked so hard to deny yourself down here.
Biblically, the notion of Heaven is related more to a proximity and intimacy with God rather than it being a physical place. The whole idea of Heaven as an actual location becomes problematic when it is inhabited by spiritual/non-physical beings. What is location without matter?
In the end, Heaven has to do with our relationship with God and the fulfilment of the calling for which we were created. The reason the standard for Heaven is so high is that God has called us to such a high calling.
Our calling as mankind is nothing less than to share in His divine nature, in perfect communion with Him, the all-powerful, all-loving, all-righteous, all-holy perfect God of the universe (2 Peter 1:4). The LORD and Creator of all things who, through His offer of salvation through Christ His Son, we can now call “Abba” our Father.
“Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and all that is within me,
bless His holy name!
Bless the LORD, O my soul,
and forget not all His benefits,
who forgives all your iniquity…” –Psalm 103:1-3