Having just finished the Christmas season, have you noticed that there is a universal question asked of all children this time of year? “Have you been a good boy/girl this year?” And, without fail, the child nods their head in the affirmative. “Oh yes!” That kid could’ve burned down the neighbor’s house and he’ll still say he was good enough to stay on Santa’s nice list. Apparently, we need to do a better job of reminding kids that some children might get coal and switches from Santa at Christmastime!
Now, we can shake our heads and question our jobs as parents that every child regardless of their behavior thinks of themselves as little angels. Or, we can look in the mirror. Aren’t we just like them? Granted we aren’t so much concerned with Santa’s naughty or nice list, but we have an over-inflated view of ourselves too, don’t we? If asked if you’re a good person, most people would say yes. If asked if you are good enough to get to heaven, most people would ponder a moment and say, “Uh, yeah I’m a pretty good person.” Then we start comparing ourselves to others…always those who are worse. But we think, “Well, I don’t do really horrible things, so I’m pretty good.”
Pretty good?? Is that the standard for entrance to heaven? This is really how we should answer the question about whether or not one can get into heaven: what is the standard to get into heaven? I mean, if you asked a student if they were smart enough to get into med school, they can’t say, “Well, I’m smarter than this guy.” They have to know the criteria for entrance into med school and then determine if they were smarter than that. So just saying that you’re better than that guy over there who does terrible awful things doesn’t really tell you where you stand with respect to getting into heaven.
So what is the entrance criteria for heaven? We could use the Ten Commandments as a starting point, but atheists would view that as just religious propaganda, or really rules that don't apply to them. Other religions would say they have their own standard of behavior. So let’s look at the “major” things that all worldviews would agree on: stealing, lying, and killing. We figure we don’t steal (at least not big stuff, but maybe if you count charging time to our employer when we’re not really working); we don’t kill people (we just really hate some people); we don’t lie (maybe a little when the truth is inconvenient but not all the time). Yikes.
And that’s not even looking at the issues of the heart. Jesus defined our level of “good enough” not just by our actions but by our thoughts. That turns committing murder into just hating someone; adultery into just lust. We all stand guilty of those. Of course now I’ve inserted Jesus into this; other worldviews would push back on that. Why should they care what Jesus has to say about all of this? Well, all people look at the heart when evaluating human decency. We see as deplorable those people who act nice but are hateful in their hearts, even though they may do good deeds. We may even justify bad deeds by saying we had good intentions. Therefore Jesus saying that what goes on in our hearts has bearing on our "goodness" is something we already know, we just don’t like to acknowledge it about ourselves.
What about the rest of the Ten Commandments? We honor our parents (if we overlook all the rebellious teen years). We don’t covet (well not much, but we do have to have the latest technology before anyone else does). We don’t take the Lord’s name in vain (unless our favorite football team loses). What about the first commandment about ? We fail at that every day. We elevate ourselves in the place of God on a regular basis.
Given all that, maybe we’re not so good after all. I mean we can’t even meet the standard our mother set for our behavior. Who are we kidding, we don’t even meet our own standard of behavior! How often have we disappointed ourselves that we can’t be kinder and less selfish, that we lash out in anger or are hurtful in what we say to people? Although we may behave better as we grow older, time does not erase our sins of the past.
If we are all failing to adhere to our own standard of behavior, how do we measure up against the standard to get into heaven? And who gets to determine the standard for heaven? If it’s up to each individual, then we would all draw the line just past ourselves. That way the “really bad” people are excluded, and yet we’ve managed to include ourselves. Unfortunately, we don’t get to set the standard for entrance to heaven. God does. But we shouldn’t view it as God arbitrarily establishing some unattainable standard to keep everyone out. The standard is rooted in who God is as perfectly holy. Our failures to meet that standard is what separates us from His perfect holiness.
What can we do about that? Absolutely nothing. We have broken all those standards, violating the very purpose for which God created us. We can’t fix it ourselves; what’s been broken has been broken. We can’t time travel and undo what’s been done. Even if we could, we’ll still violate that standard tomorrow. So God out of His great love for us offered up Himself to cover over all of our brokenness – if we will just confess our brokenness and admit our need to be saved.
As we look back on 2018, we consider what was good and bad about it, and even what within us was good or bad or may need to change. May we remember that we all fall short of the glory of God and it forfeits our entrance into heaven, no matter how many seemingly good things you may have done last year. But God does not leave us helpless. He sacrificed Himself so that we may be forgiven. I pray that 2019 brings new spiritual life to those who have not found that forgiveness. For those who have, I pray that 2019 will bring a fresh commitment to follow intently the God who gave up His life for you.