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2-1 Why Good People Won’t Go to Heaven

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MBC - 9/5/2004 - Pastor Doug Thompson

“Why Good People Won’t Go to Heaven”

Romans 2:1-3

ROM 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

ROM 2:2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

ROM 2:3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

Have you ever taken a word-association test? You are given a word, and you are supposed to say the very next word that comes into your mind. You aren't supposed to reflect or philosophize, just react:

            I say "apple," you say "sauce."

            I say "chair," you say "sit."

            I say “house,” you say “mortgage payment.”      

            I say "prison," you say "criminals."

            I say "Congress," you say "criminals."

Now let me ask you a question, and without pondering over your vast storehouse of theological knowledge or wondering what the Pastor wants you to say, in your mind, answer this question:

"Is heaven full of good people, or bad people?" Quick--what was your response?

Almost any person would respond "Good people." Heaven is full of good people! God is good. The devil is bad. Heaven is good. Hell is bad. Good people go to heaven. Bad people go to hell. Simple. Basic.

But wrong. As a matter of fact, it’s backwards. I want to propose to you this morning that only bad people will get to heaven, and good people will not be allowed in. And Jesus Himself is the One who said this. In Matthew 21:23 we read this:

Ø      MAT 21:23 And when He had come into the temple, the chief priests and the elders of the people came to Him as He was teaching..."

Jesus was talking to the religious leaders; the clergy, the pastors, those who kept the law of Moses. Good people or bad people? But look at what He said to them in v.31:

Ø      "Truly I say to you that the tax-gatherers and harlots will get into the kingdom of God before you."

Tax-gatherers--who made their living by extortion, and harlots who made their from fornication and adultery! Good people or bad people? But who were the more likely candidates for heaven?

Jesus told a parable to illustrate that good people don't go to heaven, only bad people:

Ø      LUK 18:9 And He also told this parable to some people who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and viewed others with contempt:

Ø      LUK 18:10 "Two men went up into the temple to pray, one a Pharisee [from aphorizo = separated one = holy!] and the other a tax collector.

Ø      LUK 18:11 "The Pharisee stood and was praying this to himself: 'God, I thank You that I am not like other people: swindlers, unjust, adulterers, or even like this tax collector.

Ø      LUK 18:12 'I fast twice a week; I pay tithes of all that I get.' [And he was probably telling the truth!]

Ø      LUK 18:13 "But the tax collector, standing some distance away, was even unwilling to lift up his eyes to heaven, but was beating his breast, saying, 'God, be merciful to me, the sinner!'

Ø      LUK 18:14 "I tell you, this man went to his house justified rather than the other.

The word justified means to be right before God--who was it? The man who admitted that he was "the sinner!"

But I think the real topper is when Jesus was hanging on the cross, being crucified as a common criminal. He is surrounded by people who were so religious, so fastidious about keeping the law that they wanted to get the bodies down from the crosses before the Sabbath began. But who does Jesus say is going to heaven that day? A convicted thief who is hanging on a cross beside Him--not a good man, a very bad man!

The Bible teaches that good people don't go to heaven, only bad people. In Romans 4:5, Paul said that the person who goes to heaven is the one who "believes in Him who justifies the ungodly." Beloved, to understand what it means that “God justifies the ungodly,” is to understand the central issue of the Reformation, what still divides Protestants from Catholics, the central issue over the current New Perspectives debate--and to understand what it means that God justifies the ungodly is to understand the heart of the Gospel:

Beloved, the requirement for heaven is not being good--it is being perfect! And since, there is none perfectly righteous--no not one--no one qualifies for heaven. Well, there was One. A thoroughly perfect Man who was tempted in all ways as we are, yet without sin, because He was God in human flesh. And the way to heaven is spelled out in this letter to the Romans: it is not through the vain pursuit of trying to be good enough to get into heaven by your own effort and merit, it is through renouncing your own goodness, and trusting wholly and solely in the Lord Jesus Christ, Who will give His goodness to anyone comes to Him in repentance and faith. He will justify the ungodly!

Ø      So good people don’t go to heaven, only helpless, hopeless sinners, poor and needy, weak and wounded by the fall--who have cast themselves upon Christ and His righteousness in place of theirs!

But before Paul tells his readers how people can get to heaven, he has to tell them how they can’t, and they can’t get there via their own goodness or their best efforts. Why? Why won’t good people go to heaven? Because--

Lesson 1: There are no good people.

He begins with the Gentiles, anyone who was a non-Jew, who didn’t have the Scriptures. The Jews just wrote these people off as far as any consideration of gaining heaven. The Rabbis taught that they were created to fuel the fires of hell. Today, we might think of the "bad" people as drug-dealers, prostitutes, pedophiles, or idol-worshiping savages on some remote island. They act like bad people. And Paul's first point is, yes--

            A. The bad people are bad. (ch.1)


And we spent several weeks hearing his argument: God has revealed Himself, clearly, unmistakably, objectively and subjectively, through His creation. People know there is a God, and that He is to be honored and thanked--but they reject Him. V. 28 says that they “disapprove” of God, they give Him thumbs down. And because they don’t want to acknowledge Him, worship Him, or obey Him, God says, “You got it, I’ll just let you have your way. And when God removes the restraints and man is given over to his own innate desires, the result is hideous: godless thoughts and theories--like the theory of evolution, secular humanism; they indulge in every immorality, spiraling down to homosexuality and worse until they act worse than animals. And they give hearty approval to those who do the same!

Paul has made his point. The bad people are bad. No doubt about it. And up to this point in the letter, most Jews reading this letter would have been right behind Paul: "Preach it, brother! We long for the day when those wicked people get what they deserve!"

Ø      But none of it applied to them. They weren’t guilty of such sins. They weren’t idolaters or homosexuals. They weren’t haters of God. They were God’s chosen people! Listen to this quote from 2 Esdras: “Now therefore weigh in a balance our iniquities and those of the inhabitants of the world; and so it will be found which way the turn of the scale will incline. When have the inhabitants of the earth not sinned in Thy sight? Or what nation has kept Thy commandments so well?”

Ø      From the Wisdom of Solomon: “For when the Jews were tried, though they were being disciplined in mercy, they learned how the ungodly were tormented when judged in wrath. For Thou didst test them as a father does in warning, but didst examine the ungodly as a stern king does in condemnation.”

You see, a Jewish person at this time saw himself as part of a group, the nation of Israel, the covenant people of God, and that was his ticket into heaven. He wasn’t going to stand before God as an individual to account for his sins.

Ø      The rabbis said “All Israelites have a share in the world to come.” And they taught that father Abraham stood at the gate of hell to turn back any Jew who might have accidentally gone the wrong way!

Ø      The 2nd century Jewish scholar Trypho said this in a debate with Justin Martyr: “The everlasting kingdom will be assuredly given to those of the dispersion who are of Abraham after the flesh, although they be sinners, and faithless, and disobedient towards God.”

But didn’t John the Baptist run into this attitude when he was baptizing at the Jordan?

Ø      LUK 3:7 So he began saying to the crowds who were going out to be baptized by him, "You brood of vipers, who warned you to flee from the wrath to come?

Ø      LUK 3:8  "Therefore bear fruits in keeping with repentance, and do not begin to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham for our father,' for I say to you that from these stones God is able to raise up children to Abraham.

(Jews throughout history seem to forget that all their Arab enemies can also say, “We have Abraham as our father too!--through Ishmael . . .father Abraham has many sons!)

And Jesus absolutely offended the Jews in Jn.8--

Ø      MAT 8:11 "I say to you that many will come from east and west [Gentiles!], and recline at the table with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in the kingdom of heaven;

Ø      MAT 8:12 but the sons of the kingdom will be cast out into the outer darkness; in that place there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth."

Ø      On a theological note: The theological term for what the Jews believed is “covenant nomism” from Gk. nomos = law. They believed that their corporate election into the covenant people of God, together with a sincere intention to keep the law would be enough to get them into Abraham’s bosom--heaven. And believe it or not, this is exactly what some folks today are saying: justification is a matter of being part of God’s covenant people, through infant baptism, and then exhibiting enough “covenant faithfulness”--i.e. law-keeping, that you stay in the covenant, and God declares you justified at the final judgment. (Read “Covenant Confusion” on our web site) . . .

But this is exactly what Paul refutes in chs.2&3, and later in chs.9-11: Under the OC, entrance into the kingdom of God was not simply a matter of being born a Jew and having the mark of circumcision. It was a matter of having a circumcised heart and trusting in the mercy and grace of God, and under the NC, salvation isn’t a matter of being born into a family of Christians and being sprinkled with water--that does not bring a person into the NC! What brings a person into the NC is the New Birth, a new heart, and trusting in the mercy and grace of God. 

But the point is, that after ch.1, most Jews wouldn’t have a problem with what Paul was saying. They were experiencing no conviction, because that wasn’t them. “Go Paul!”

*And many good church-going people would chime in. They were born and raised in church. Good Christian folks, who put out a lot of sweat and effort to be good. It's only right to want to see people punished who don't even try. And these good folks would love to volunteer for jury duty on Judgment Day! The bad people are bad! But Paul turns and looks the "good" people right in the eyes and says--

II. The good people are just as bad.

Look at what he says--it’s devastating:

Ø      ROM 2:1 Therefore you have no excuse, everyone of you who passes judgment, for in that which you judge another, you condemn yourself; for you who judge practice the same things.

Ø      ROM 2:2 And we know that the judgment of God rightly falls upon those who practice such things.

Ø      ROM 2:3 But do you suppose this, O man, when you pass judgment on those who practice such things and do the same yourself, that you will escape the judgment of God?

By the very act of judging someone else, we acknowledge that there is a standard not being met. But that same standard must apply to us as well. And the truth is that we do not live perfectly by any standard, even our own. Therefore, we are without excuse too.

But Paul isn’t pointing out the sin of being judgmental--that might be a sin, but His real point is a mindblower. He is saying that the “good people” are guilty of the very sins they judge the bad people for. Did you hear what I said? He is saying that the people with Bibles on their coffee tables do the same things as those people who have never seen a Bible. He said “You do the same things.” The very same things.

Now there are two very different reactions when people hear this:

Some of the folks get real quiet. How did Paul know that they do the very same things?


            A.) The quiet group.

Doesn’t this remind you of the scene in John 8, when the scribes and Pharisees dragged an adulterous woman before Jesus, demanding that she be stoned for her sin. Jesus says, “Fine. He who is without sin among you, let him throw the first sin.” Quiet. Then beginning with the older men, they all hung their heads and walked away.

Ø      They're on the "Committee against Pornography" in their community. But when they are away on a business trip, they watch the very same stuff in their motel rooms, or on the internet.

Ø      They rant and rave about drunk drivers and the drug problem in their town. But they are closet alcoholics, or smoke a little pot on the side, or abuse prescription drugs.

Ø      They are madder than blazes over welfare fraud--we are the ones who get stuck with the bill for that! But they cheat the government on their own taxes--who ends up paying for that?

Ø      No--they don't do these things openly. They publicly condemn such sin--and then do the same things secretly. Or they would if they could, if they had the opportunity--if they knew for sure that they wouldn’t get caught. The only reason they haven’t done the same disgusting, illegal, shameful things that they condemn in others is that urge and opportunity simply haven’t come together--yet. That makes them hypocrites. They are worse than the bad people!

Is this the quiet group? My friends, I find that person when I look in the mirror--do you? And the truth is that sometimes, what angers us the most in others is what we don’t want to face in ourselves. It’s easier to hate in others than it is to deal with it in ourselves. We are great at finding specks, but not so good with logs.

But then there is another reaction.

            B. The defensive group.

Some in the “nice guy group” ready to explode. They stand up with red faces and deny what Paul is saying. This is the defensive group. "Paul, you are wrong! I am not a hypocrite, and you can't pin any of those sins on me. Don't tell me I'm not a good person!"

I think a lot of people would respond this way. If you would ask most people, “Do you think that you are going to go to heaven when you die?” Most people would say, “Yes.” Then if you asked them, “Do you think that you are a good person?” They would say, “Yes.” They honestly believe that--because they are honestly ignorant of what God’s Word says about sin. I want to quickly show you--

Three devastating truths about sin:

            1.) Sin is missing perfection.

It’s a sin not to be perfect--

Ø      ROM 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

The word for sinned here is hamartano--it means to miss the mark, like an arrow that misses the bullseye, it falls short. And the target we have to hit is “the glory of God,”--i.e., the standard is God’s own perfect righteousness. Anything less than perfect falls short, and is sin. In the words of the Shorter Catechism "Sin is any lack of conformity unto, or transgression of, the law of God."

Ø      Most people measure themselves against other people, and no matter what they do, they can think of someone who has done worse, “Well at least I have never done that!” But even after King David committed adultery and murder, he prayed in Ps.51:4, “Against You and You only I have sinned and done what is evil in Your sight!” Sin is measured against the perfect holiness of God--not other sinners!

You say, "Now hold on. Nobody's perfect! God can't expect perfection. If anyone is going to get into heaven, He's going to have to grade on the curve!" But Jesus said very clearly--

            MAT 5:48 "Therefore you are to be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect."

Well maybe that’s not really what Jesus meant. Well, Peter was there when He said it, and Peter later wrote:

Ø      1PE 1:15 but like the Holy One who called you, be holy yourselves also in all your behavior;

Ø      1PE 1:16 because it is written, "You shall be holy, for I am holy."

So the first devastating fact about sin is that anything that falls short of perfection is sin.

            2.) Sin is not just in actions, but in thoughts.

Ø      MAT 5:21 "You have heard that the ancients were told, 'You shall not commit murder' and 'Whoever commits murder shall be liable to the court.'

Ø      MAT 5:22 "But I say to you that everyone who is angry with his brother shall be guilty before the court; and whoever says to his brother, 'You good-for-nothing,' shall be guilty before the supreme court; and whoever says, 'You fool,' shall be guilty enough to go into the fiery hell. (Anyone left to throw a stone?)

Ø      MAT 5:27  "You have heard that it was said, 'You shall not commit adultery';

Ø      MAT 5:28 but I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (Anyone left to throw a stone?)

Do you hear what Jesus is saying? Perhaps you have never committed the act of murder, or the act of adultery--but have you ever--even once--committed murder in your heart? Adultery in your thoughts? Even once? A human judge can only know what you do, he can’t judge you for what you think. But God is an omniscient judge--

Ø      ROM 2:16 . . . according to my gospel, God will judge the secrets of men through Christ Jesus. {Do you have any secrets? No, you don’t.}

Ø      ECC 12:14 For God will bring every act to judgment, everything which is hidden, whether it is good or evil.

Ø      LUK 8:17 "For nothing is hidden that will not become evident, nor anything secret that will not be known and come to light.”

Ø      1CO 4:5 Therefore do not go on passing judgment before the time, but wait until the Lord comes who will both bring to light the things hidden in the darkness and disclose the motives of men's hearts;

Sin is falling short of God’s perfection, sin deals within the inside, not just the outside, and the third devastating truth about sin is this:

            3.) One sin, and you are condemned.

We can call this, “God’s one strike law--one strike and you’re out.” It doesn’t matter that you keep some of God’s laws perfectly, or even most of them perfectly--inside and out. Unless you keep them all, perfectly, from the heart, you are as condemned as if you had broken them all continually. I’m not making this up. James wrote this:

Ø      JAM 2:10 For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles in one point, he has become guilty of all.

Ø      JAM 2:11 For He who said, "Do not commit adultery," also said, "Do not commit murder." Now if you do not commit adultery, but do commit murder, you have become a transgressor of the law.

James says, “God’s law isn’t a bunch of individuals laws, it is one law--one lack of perfection, in deed or in thought, and you have broken the whole law.

You’ve heard my illustration--

Ø      When you get home, take a round piece of glass and a permanent marker. Mark off 10 pie shaped pieces and number each section from 1-10. These are the 10 commandments. Now take a hammer and try to break out one section--just one--without breaking any of the others. What happens? You break one, the whole thing is shattered.

Paul said in Gal.--

Ø      GAL 3:10 For as many as are of the works of the Law are under a curse; for it is written, "Cursed is everyone who does not abide by all things written in the book of the law, to perform them."

Sin is falling short of perfection, sin is measured by the heart as well as the actions, and one sin and you are condemned. Now if you were in the defensive group, you have been silenced too!

Why won’t good people go to heaven?

Because there aren’t any! The bad people are bad, and the good people are bad. No one is good enough to get to heaven--you aren’t good enough for heaven. Not even close.

Do you believe that? Whether you were in the quiet group or the defensive group, do you see now that you fall short of God’s perfect holiness? That you sin in your heart, even when you don’t sin in your actions? And can you bring yourself to say that you deserve the prescribed punishment of hell? 

Ø      I run out of words here. I can't convince you of that. No person can. Unless the Holy Spirit opens your eyes, you will leave here saying to yourself, "Interesting sermon. . .But I still say I'm not a bad person. I think I am a pretty good person!" And you will still be on your way to hell, even though you don't believe it. There is no verse of Scripture that says there won't be many surprised people in hell!

I don’t want you to miss what Paul is doing here: He is absolutely destroying any person’s hopes of making it to heaven if heaven has anything to do with their own goodness--whether you are a Gentile or a Jew, with or without a Bible. He has leveled the playing field. He doesn’t one person to cling on to one thread of confidence in himself or herself--

Ø      ROM 3:9 What then? Are we better than they? Not at all; for we have already charged that both Jews and Greeks are all under sin;

Ø      ROM 3:10 as it is written, "There is none righteous, not even one;

Ø      ROM 3:11 There is none who understands, There is none who seeks for God;

Ø      ROM 3:12 All have turned aside, together they have become useless; There is none who does good, There is not even one. . . "

Ø      ROM 3:19 Now we know that whatever the Law says, it speaks to those who are under the Law, [i.e., all of this applies to good Jews as well as bad Gentiles] so that every mouth may be closed and all the world may become accountable to God; [the verdict is in: the entire world is guilty and deserving of hell, no exceptions--why?]

Ø      ROM 3:20 because by the works of the Law no flesh will be justified in His sight;

i.e., Lesson one: Good people won’t go to heaven because there aren’t any! So how is it that when John gets a glimpse of heaven in the book of Revelation, heaven is full--it’s overflowing. And not only that, but it’s chock full of people from all over the globe?

Lesson 2: There is another way to heaven.

Here is the good news:

Ø      ROM 3:21 But now apart from the Law the righteousness of God has been manifested, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets,

Ø      ROM 3:22 even the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all those who believe; for there is no distinction;

Ø      ROM 3:23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,

Ø      ROM 3:24 being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus;


What is Paul saying? What couldn't be done by man was done for man! The perfect righteousness that God demands is provided by God Himself in Jesus Christ. Paul says that the Good News is "apart from the law," i.e., it has nothing to do with how well you keep the law, because you can't. It has to do with how well Jesus kept the law--and He kept it perfectly! Here is the Gospel: If you will stop trusting in your own futile efforts to please God, and will trust in what Jesus did in your place, you will be saved!  

You have to be a perfect 10 to get into heaven. You’re not. You won’t make it if that’s what you’re counting on. Jesus is God’s perfect 10, if you trust in Him, God counts you a 10--in Him. There are really only two choices: Will you keep hanging on to a false hope that your own goodness will get you into heaven, or will you trust in Christ’s goodness that is guaranteed to get you into heaven?

Jesus told a parable:

Ø      MAT 13:45 "The kingdom of heaven is like a merchant seeking fine pearls,

Ø      MAT 13:46 and upon finding one pearl of great value, he went and sold all that he had and bought it.

All his life that man had been looking for the most beautiful pearls. And when he finally saw that pearl of great value, he counted everything that he owned to be worthless compared to that pearl.

Salvation is an exchange: something worthless, for something of incomparable value. We have seen in the Scriptures that your goodness is worthless, but Christ's is priceless. Will you make that exchange?

William Beveridge:

“I cannot pray, but I sin. I cannot hear or preach a sermon, but I sin. I cannot give alms or receive the sacrament, but I sin. Nay, I cannot so much as confess my sins, but my confessions are still aggravations of them. My repentance needs to be repented of, my tears need washing, and the very washing of my tears needs still to be washed over again with the blood of my Redeemer.”

We will not be able to stand before God on the great and terrible day of judgment and open our mouths to say anything in our own defense. We will stand guilty as charged. God's judgment will be just. And our false morality will be exposed for the hypocrisy that it is.

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