Think you are a pretty good person? After all, you try hard to do the right thing. Sure, you’re not perfect, but who is? Maybe you think that God—if there is one—is going to look at your heart and see that you made an honest effort. If there is a hell, you’re not going there, because that’s the place for the really bad people.
Take a moment and imagine that you are driving on the freeway. You look around and see other cars behind, beside, and in front of you. Now consider that each person there has a belief system regarding what will happen when he or she dies. All of these people base their life choices on these belief systems. Will life after death turn out to be exactly what they believe it to be? Can they all be right, even though their views may be wildly different? This is impossible since the most common views of the afterlife are mutually exclusive. Furthermore, it is unrealistic to think that we can imagine into reality what happens when we die.
Now let’s get back to the idea that your honest effort will be enough for God to let you into heaven. Here are two questions to consider:
- Why do you think you are correct?
- What is going to happen if you are wrong?
According to the Bible, only good people go to heaven, but since Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden (Gen. 2–3), there are no truly good people. Because of humanity’s rebellion against God, we are all inherently sinful and unable to stand before a holy God (Rom. 3:23). God must uphold his attributes of holiness, goodness, justice, and righteousness. Thus, we must keep God’s laws perfectly because his nature requires it, but none of us is able to do it. Without God’s intervention, we are all under condemnation (John 3:18). Yet, this is not the end of the story!
Because we are no longer deserving of heaven, due to our own tainted nature and works, God in his love and mercy sent his Son from heaven to us. The Son of God humbled himself by taking on human flesh, “becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross” (Phil. 2:8). He lived the perfect life we should have lived (but failed to), and he redeemed us (something we couldn’t do for ourselves) by offering himself up as the perfect sacrifice for our sins (Matt. 5:17; Rom. 10:4; Heb. 10:14). It is by God’s grace alone—through faith in Christ alone—that we have peace with God and enter into his presence. If Jesus, the Son of God, humbled himself to serve us, why should we think our pride-filled works could ever grant us access to God?
Jesus’ humility was both the means and the model for our own humility before God. In the book of Luke, Jesus taught about the necessity of a penitent heart:
He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and treated others with contempt: “Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, prayed thus: ‘God, I thank you that I am not like other men, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give tithes of all that I get.’ But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even lift up his eyes to heaven, but beat his breast, saying, ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ I tell you, this man went down to his house justified, rather than the other. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:9–14)
We don’t have to look very far to see that something is wrong with the world—terribly wrong. While there are various explanations for the presence of evil, the Bible says that rebellion against God is at the root of it all. We can never clean ourselves up enough—or do enough good works—to reach heaven by our own efforts. One day each of us will stand before God to answer for how we lived on this earth—whether we like it or not.
On that day, we can either humbly rest in faith upon the perfect work of Christ done on our behalf, or we can proudly proclaim to God a list of our own self-perceived accomplishments, which are nothing more than filthy rags (Isa. 64:6; Phil. 3:4–9). Thankfully, the Bible contains many verses that happily assure us that all who trust in Christ are no longer under God’s condemnation but instead are cleansed from all unrighteousness (John 3:17–18; Rom. 8:1; 1 John 1:9).
In the end, it won’t matter how you view yourself. The only thing that will matter is how God views you. Christ came to earth the first time in humility to serve, but the next time he will come in glory to rule. If you haven’t done so already, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, and receive Christ as your savior. Wanting something to be true doesn’t make it so. As Jesus reminds us, “You will know the truth, and the truth will set you free” (John 8:32).