You’re alright in my book…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 upstanding ladies and gentlemen who have lived good 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. After all, they pay their taxes, they’ve never killed anybody and they have probably given some of their hard-earned money to charity over the years as well! By most accounts they are good people!
In today’s relativistic, largely secular society this quaint idea of Heaven, as with most other nominal notions of Christianity, is crumbling under the weight of its own inconsistencies. Most of us can fit ourselves into the open-ended, fluffy definitions of goodness promoted by secularism and so are lulled into a false sense of spiritual security.
By downgrading goodness to a purely human concept, secularism makes goodness attainable by our own effort and instills in us a false sense of moral pride. We do not “hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matthew 5:6) because we think we are righteous enough, thank you very much!
Sadly, this fairytale is an invention of fallen man to fight against the work of God as He convicts “the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8). In their rebellion against God, secularists have removed God from goodness, leaving nothing but a “whitewashed tomb – beautiful on the outside but filled on the inside with dead people’s bones and all sorts of impurity” (Matthew 23:27). Goodness according to secularism may outwardly appear similar to goodness according to God, but behind the superficial similarity the two concepts are as far apart as Heaven and Hell.
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 Dave 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 a good God would repect. 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 righteousness in light of their respective sins. You are not condemning them for their sins, you are leading 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 standard (Romans 3:23). If people are deceived into believing there is no sin, or that they are not guilty of any sins, it follows that they do not need God’s forgiveness and salvation from their sins. The reason that secularism/moral relativism is so repugnant to Christianity is that they attempt to short-circuit the gospel message by denying sin and thus hiding 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 God (Genesis 22:8)!
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 salvation, go 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 your carnal desires that you perhaps denied yourself down here.
Biblically, the notion of Heaven is related more to a proximity and intimacy with God rather than a specific 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