Can “good people” wind up in hell?
“How can God allow nice people to go to hell and bad people to go to heaven?”
We all know people whom we value, who seem like genuinely good, kind and honest. But the Bible makes it clear that even these people have sinned and fallen short of God’s perfect standards.
- Ecclesiastes 7:20
“There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.”
- Romans 3:23
“All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
God sees a person’s total heart, sees all of their actions and knows all of their words and thoughts. So God has a lot more info to use when judging someone. It is with this complete knowledge that God can judge us righteously. The Bible says in 1Samuel 16:7.
“God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart”
So how does this affect the whole heaven and hell question? It puts everyone on an equal playing field. The good people (people that we think are good) are in the same position as the bad people (people who we think are bad).
Because, in reality, from God’s perspective, no one follows His commands perfectly, His ways.
In every one of us, there is that inner drive that says, “I don’t care. I’m going to do it anyway.”
In fact, the Bible says that “All of us like sheep have gone astray, Each of us has turned to his own way” (Isaiah 53:6). All of us have forsaken God and gone our own way, away from Him, one way or another, in a big way or a small way,
What is the answer then? The antidote is to turn back to God.
The Bible calls this “repentance.” When a person truly turns back to God, there is no sin that is too big for God to forgive in that person’s life.
God provided the means of forgiveness of sin in Jesus Christ’s death on the cross. And God offers His forgiveness and eternal life to anyone who will believe in Jesus.
Heaven is a free gift offered to anyone who will ask for God’s forgiveness (His grace) and ask Jesus to come into their life. Here is how the Bible describes someone who turns to God in this way:
“As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world …All of us also lived …gratifying the cravings of our sinful nature and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature objects of [God’s] wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions — it is by grace you have been saved. …in order that in the coming ages he might show the incomparable riches of his grace, expressed in his kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith — and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God — not by works, so that no one can boast.”
Throughout the Bible, God makes it clear that we cannot gain heaven by our “good works” or “good life,” but that God offers it to everyone as a gift.
Instead of pretending to be good, we need to admit that we sin against Him.
We can focus on life after death, but what about our life right now?
We can interact with God and be guided by Him right now, and experience the life He created us for.
There is no relationship on earth as fulfilling and important as knowing God.
If you want that after death, you have to start it now.
“Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven?”
This is the proverbial million dollar question because if you ask anyone on the street what you have to do to get into heaven (assuming they believe in heaven or an afterlife), the overwhelming response will be some form of “being a good person.”
Most, if not all, religions and worldly philosophies are ethically based.
Whether it’s Islam, Judaism, or secular humanism, most believe getting to heaven is a matter of being a good person—following the Ten Commandments, or the teachings found in the Quran, or the Golden Rule.
But is that what Christianity teaches?
Is Christianity just one of many world religions that teach by being a good person you will get into heaven?
Let’s examine one of Jesus’ encounters found in the Gospels to help us get some answers.
The story is found in Matthew 19:16-26; it is the story of the rich, young ruler:
16 Someone came to Jesus with this question: “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” 17 “Why ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. But to answer your question—if you want to receive eternal life, keep the commandments.” 18 “Which ones?” the man asked. And Jesus replied: “‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. 19 Honour your father and mother. Love your neighbour as yourself.’” 20 “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,” the young man replied. “What else must I do?” 21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” 22 But when the young man heard this, he went away sad, for he had many possessions. 23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—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!” 25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked. 26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
The first thing we note in this story is that the rich, young ruler is asking the right question:
“What good deed must I do to have eternal life?”
In asking the question, he is acknowledging the fact that despite all his efforts thus far, there is something lacking and he wants to know what else must be done to obtain eternal life.
However, even though he is asking the right question, he is asking it from the wrong worldview—that of merit (“What good deed must I do...”);
He has failed to grasp the true meaning of the Law, as Jesus will point out to him, and that was to serve as a tutor until the time of Christ
24 Let me put it another way. The law was our guardian until Christ came; it protected us until we could be made right with God through faith.
The second thing to note is Jesus’ response to his question. Jesus turns the tables by asking him why he is inquiring into what is good.
In other words, Jesus is trying to get to the heart of the matter, namely, that no one is good and no one does good except God.
As noted earlier, the man is operating under a false principle, and that is by doing good you would be able to earn your way into heaven.
To prove his point, Jesus says to him that if he wants eternal life, he should keep the commandments.
To understand that we need to look closely to what Jesus is really saying. If you read it without carefully analysing the content then you could come to the same conclusion as the rich young man.
What Jesus, in fact, is saying is …that your righteousness does not depend on what you do or that you can earn it depending on the effort that you make. Keep the commandments he says.
That sounds like making an effort to me!
Let’s look at how amazingly Jesus once again uses the Old Testament Law to challenge this young man’s assumptions of earning eternal life by doing good.
He begins by displaying the man’s shallow understanding of the law and human ability.
The young man’s response is very expressive.
When Jesus told him to keep the commandments, he asks Jesus “which ones?”
If we were there with Jesus we would probably say to that young “Hey man, you should keep all of them! What a silly question.”
But Jesus continues to gently show the man the error of his ways by giving him the second table of the law, i.e. the commandments that deal with our relationships with other human beings.
You can almost sense the frustration in the young man’s response, when he replied, that he has kept all of these since his youth.
Jesus very skillfully highlights two points:
First, the irony in the young man’s response.
In saying “I’ve obeyed all these commandments,”
since my youth….. by saying that he has broken the commandment regarding false witness.
If he was truly being honest with himself, he would have said that, as hard as I tried to keep the commandments, I still fail on a daily basis.
That young man has a shallow understanding of the law and human ability.
Second, he still knows deep in his heart of hearts that he is not good enough;
Even his superficial keeping of the Law isn’t satisfying his soul.
So then he asked Jesus, “What else must I do?”
That was when Jesus gave him the final test regarding his
21 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect, go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” Jesus has perfectly diagnosed this young man’s problem of not understanding how to obtain eternal life.
Jesus exposed it by telling him his problem was his great wealth.
The man’s wealth has become an idol in his life, and if he truly knew the commandments, he would have known that the very first commandment says
“You must not have any other god but me.
This man’s ‘god’ was his wealth.
Furthermore, Jesus’ commanded the young man to follow Him, a command to follow the very Son of God, who himself is God.
This young man was a slave to his great wealth.
When he was told to give his wealth away and follow Jesus, he left feeling very disappointed and sad.
Jesus now turns to His disciples to teach them the moral of the story.
23 Then Jesus said to his disciples, “I tell you the truth, it is very hard for a rich person to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. 24 I’ll say it again—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!” 25 The disciples were astounded.
This was shocking to the disciples, they thought and understood that if God is well pleased with you then a sign of God’s blessing will be riches and wealth.
But what Jesus is saying is that it’s impossible for a rich man (or for that matter any man) to enter the kingdom of God.
His disciples understood this because, in essence, they asked the same question the rich, young ruler asked, but they ask it from the right perspective:
25 The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
26 Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But with God everything is possible.”
Who can be saved? If it depended on man alone, then no one!
Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven?
Jesus said to the young man in verse 2121 Jesus told him, “If you want to be perfect.
We can never be perfect because not a single individual in himself is a ‘good’ person; there is only one who is good, and that is God himself.
The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, no one is perfect.
Once again we must remember that the new testament of the Bible was only written 60 to 80 years after Jesus, but He gave the writers enough there that day when the young man asked him that question and that is whey Paul writes in
23 For everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard.
And again in Romans 6:23a
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
And he says that while we were in our sinful state, Christ died for the unrighteous
8 But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners.
Finally, we read in,
9 If you openly declare that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved.
23 For the wages of sin is death, but the free gift of God is eternal life through Christ Jesus our Lord.
Then he sums up what Jesus said and that is salvation in Christ is a precious gift and it is nothing that we can earn through our good works
8 God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God.9 Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.
The message of the gospel is that we can never be good enough or think that by doing good will get us to heaven. We must recognize the fact that we are sinners who daily fall short of God’s glory, and we must obey the command to repent of our sins and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ, who alone was good enough to earn heaven, and He gives that excellence to those who believe in His name.
Abraham was, humanly speaking, the founder of our Jewish nation. What did he discover about being made right with God? 2 If his good deeds had made him acceptable to God, he would have had something to boast about. But that was not God’s way.
In our study up to now, we may ask this question “Does that mean we should not do good at all?”
[Faith without Good Deeds Is Dead ] What good is it, dear brothers and sisters, if you say you have faith but don’t show it by your actions? Can that kind of faith save anyone?
So you see, faith by itself isn’t enough. Unless it produces good deeds, it is dead and useless
When you have been saved you have the urge to do good deeds, not because you think that it would mean something to God or by doing that you might win God’s favour,
You do it because you want to not because you have to. Doing good is a result of your salvation.
So, my dear brothers and sisters, this is the point: You died to the power of the law when you died with Christ. And now you are united with the one who was raised from the dead. As a result, we can produce a harvest of good deeds for God.
“Watch out! Don’t do your good deeds publicly, to be admired by others, for you will lose the reward from your Father in heaven. 2 When you give to someone in need, don’t do as the hypocrites do—blowing trumpets in the synagogues and streets to call attention to their acts of charity! I tell you the truth, they have received all the reward they will ever get. 3 But when you give to someone in need, don’t let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. 4 Give your gifts in private, and your Father, who sees everything, will reward you.
“What does it mean to not grow weary in doing good”
9 So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up.
After exhorting the believers in Galatia and warning them of the things they should avoid in Galatians 5:1-6,8
Paul may have known they would be feeling overwhelmed with the responsibilities of the Christian life.
So he encourages them with the words of verse 9: “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.”
Paul knew, perhaps better than anyone else, how wearying the spiritual battle can be.
He ends his warnings about sin, the works of the flesh, and the deceitfulness of the world by encouraging the Galatians, and all believers, to remember the joyful harvest we will reap if we persevere in doing good.
“As we have opportunity,” Paul says in the next verse, “let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers”
We all know what it means to do good and not evil.
Paul has just summarised the works of the flesh (which is to do evil) and the “fruit of the Spirit” (which results in doing good) in Galatians 5:19–26.
Doing good involves yielding to the Spirit and exhibiting the fruit He produces—love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control. When these things are dominant in our lives, doing good is the inevitable result.
We need this encouragement to not grow weary in doing good because “the spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” Mark 14:38
In view of our own natural weakness and the opposition of evil spirits and evil men, the best intentions for doing good can be easily derailed. Christians often feel there is so much work to be done that we cannot possibly do it all. There are so many needs, so many calls on our time, energy, and finances, and there is often so much ingratitude among those we try to help that we can easily become exhausted and disheartened.
Doing what’s right is not easy in a fallen world, especially when it seems no one notices and there is little reward for all our troubles.
Is it worth serving the Lord? Paul says, “Yes!”
Growing weary in doing good is an ever-present danger in the Christian life. But there are things we can do to minimise weariness.
Jesus scheduled times of rest, and so should we
31 Then Jesus said, “Let’s go off by ourselves to a quiet place and rest awhile.” He said this because there were so many people coming and going that Jesus and his apostles didn’t even have time to eat.
Overcommitting ourselves is a primary cause of weariness among Christians. We want so much to contribute and to respond to God’s love by pouring ourselves into ministry for His sake that we risk burnout.
Discernment is essential. God will provide for each need He wants to fulfil. He is, after all, in charge of it all.
Not a sparrow falls without His seeing it Matthew 10:29
He will determine the means to accomplish His ends. Sometimes all He really wants from the overcommitted is for them to quiet their hearts and be still before Him Psalm 46:10
10 “Be still, and know that I am God!
I will be honoured by every nation.
I will be honoured throughout the world.”
40 But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, “Lord, doesn’t it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me.” 41 But the Lord said to her, “My dear Martha, you are worried and upset over all these details!
You can be so busy with the things of the Lord, that you don’t make time for Lord of the things .
Paul points us past our labours to the prize at the end: those who persevere in doing good are promised to reap rewards. When we become disheartened, the comforting presence of the Holy Spirit brings relief and gratitude to our hearts and glory to God.
Our watchword or motto should be.
We will not give up because our Lord is faithful.
1 Corinthians 15:58
58 So, my dear brothers and sisters, be strong and immovable. Always work enthusiastically for the Lord, for you know that nothing you do for the Lord is ever useless.
“What is the Golden Rule?”
The “Golden Rule” is the name given by Bible translators to a principle Jesus taught in His Sermon on the Mount. That is to say, the actual words “golden rule” are not found in Scripture, just as the words “sermon on the mount” are also not found. These titles were later added by Bible translation teams when describing different passages of Scripture in order to make Bible study a little easier. The phrase “Golden Rule” began to be ascribed to this passage of Scripture during the 16-17th centuries, as it was already a popular saying at that time. This is important to note because when talking about the Golden Rule, Christians sometimes unknowingly and incorrectly ascribe it to Jesus’ actual words.
What we call the Golden Rule refers to Matthew 7:12: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets.”
Jesus knew the human heart and its selfishness. In fact, in the preceding verse, He describes human beings as “you who are evil.” This is important to grasp because, as He continues to say in v. 16, human beings still know how to give good gifts to their children even though they are evil and selfish by nature. This verse leads into the Golden Rule which says to actively pursue and treat others as we would like to be treated in all things.
The English Standard Version translates it well: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets.” By ending the “rule” with the “Law and the Prophets,” Jesus has condensed the entire Old Testament into this principle. This was something the Jews of Jesus’ day would have known by their knowledge of the Old Testament Scriptures, as Moses wrote: “Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbour as yourself. I am the LORD” (Leviticus 19:18).
Again, we see even here the implication that people are naturally self-lovers due to sin (Jeremiah 17:19), so it gave the audience a place to start in how they should treat others: how they want to be treated.
As good as the Golden Rule is in its command to treat others, it also reminds us how selfish we really are! Jesus’ audience could relate to this command (as the Jews of Moses’ day could) because people universally demand respect, love, and appreciation whether they deserve it or not. Jesus knew this and used it to show how His people should treat others: how they themselves wanted to be loved, respected, and appreciated. This rule to treat others with such high regard is also the second in the greatest of commandments, followed only by the command to love God Himself (Matthew 22:39).
What is interesting to note about this tenet of the Christian Scriptures is that no other mainline religious or philosophical system is its equal. The biblical Golden Rule is not the “ethic of mutual benefit” that is so commonly adopted by non-Christian preachers.
Frequently, liberal critics and secular humanists attempt to explain the golden rule as a common ethic shared by all religions. This is not the case. When Jesus gave this command in Matthew 7:12, it was radically different from all other forms of it—except for the Jewish Torah—used up to that time or since.
The difference is subtle but very important.
The biblical Golden Rule is a positive command to show active love, as opposed its negative, passive equivalents. A quick survey of Eastern religions and philosophies will expose what is described as the “silver rule” due to its inverted command:
• Confucianism: “Do not do to others what you do not want them to do to you” Analects 15:23.
• Hinduism: “This is the sum of duty: do not do to others what would cause pain if done to you” Mahabharata 5:1517.
• Buddhism: “Hurt not others in ways that you yourself would find hurtful.” Udana-Varga 5:18
The Golden Rule as stated by Jesus is radically different in that it is an active, positive command to do good to others, as opposed to the negative, restraining commands to not hurt others.
The command to love is what separates the Christian ethic from every other system’s ethic.
In fact, the Bible is so radical in its command to actively love that Christians are told to love even their enemies, something unheard of in other religions (Matthew 5:43-44; cf. Exodus 23:4-5).
Obeying the Christian ethic is imperative and a mark of a true Christian to love others (John 13:35).
In fact, Christians cannot even claim to love God if they don’t actively love other people as well because, 1 John 4:20 says
“20 If someone says, “I love God,” but hates a fellow believer, that person is a liar; for if we don’t love people we can see, how can we love God, whom we cannot see?”.
The Golden Rule summarises this idea and is unique to the Judeo-Christian Scriptures.
So, you want to learn how to be a good Christian?
There’s no magic formula for how to be a good Christian. In fact, it’s impossible.
Good Christians are like unicorns: a lovely idea, but completely mythical. Consider the story of the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17. This young man approached Jesus and addresses Him as “Good Teacher.”
Jesus responds by saying “Why do you call me good?
No one is good except God alone.”
It’s as if Jesus is saying “You must know that I’m God because I know you wouldn’t be using the word ‘good’ to describe a mortal man.”
The point is simply: God is good, and man is not.
So, if we can’t be good, what are all those commands for?
And the answer is in Romans 7:7
7 Well then, am I suggesting that the law of God is sinful? Of course not! In fact, it was the law that showed me my sin. I would never have known that coveting is wrong if the law had not said, “You must not covet.”
The law is there to show us that we’re not good.
It is there to prove that our nature is opposite to that of God’s nature.
Good cannot exist without God.
God defines good.
God makes good what it is.
If you want to know, “What makes water wet?” Well, water makes water wet.
Similarly, God makes goodness what it is, the essence of good is God.
But man is made of different stuff
10 As the Scriptures say, “No one is righteous— not even one”.
God’s Law tells us three things
God gave us the Law to show us three things:
1. To see clearly just what and who we are.
2. To see clearly who God is.
3. To recognise our deep and desperate need Him to enter and regenerate our dead souls
4 But God is so rich in mercy, and he loved us so much, 5 that even though we were dead because of our sins, he gave us life when he raised Christ from the dead. (It is only by God’s grace that you have been saved!).
Asking how to be a good Christian is like asking your dog to talk. It is not possible. It’s not in its nature to do so. It’s not in my nature to be good, so I need to change and become the person that God wants me to be.
2 Corinthians 5:17 confirms it:
17 This means that anyone who belongs to Christ has become a new person. The old life is gone; a new life has begun!
You are a new creature if you are in Christ.
Being in Christ, means you now become the right kind of person.
But it doesn’t mean that suddenly now you know how to be good. So, how is that accomplished?
What did Jesus say to the rich young ruler? He didn’t say, “You haven’t measured up.” He simply loved him and told him that if he wanted to be perfect, he should sell all his possessions and follow Christ. And the rich young ruler went away sad because he had great wealth. The lesson is that Christianity is not a matter of being a good Christian, or following the rules, it’s a matter of desire.
Why do you want to be good?
- Are you looking for praise from men?
- Is your goodness a sort of currency, or a bargaining chip? Thinking God will bless you if you’re good?
- Or is your desire for God?
If you desire God above all else, then don’t be worried about how to be a good Christian, because you’ll be too busy loving a good God.
The person who is in Christ will do two things.
1. You will love God. You will be fascinated by His goodness and by Who He Is.
2. You will trust Him to create goodness in your heart and life. Not by trying to be that by yourself.
Go to the Source of goodness to get goodness.
There’s no way to manufacture it on your own, even as a new creature.
Even though your desires have changed, you are still empty of goodness.
If you want goodness in your life, stop trying, start by being active when it comes to love, and passive when it comes to goodness.
Does this mean one shouldn’t care when you see sin in your life?
No ! You should first of all want goodness in your life.
Matthew 5:6 says, “ 6 God blesses those who hunger and thirst for justice, (Or for righteousness.) for they will be satisfied”.
See the passive language there?
If you hunger to see goodness in your life you will be filled.
You can’t fill yourself, you will be filled.
You start by praying for God’s Spirit to enter you and fill you with all His attributes: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness, goodness and self-control.
And as you love Him and reflect on Him, His goodness will fill you and shine out of you.
You will have the privilege of being a vessel for His goodness.
But never forget where that goodness comes from
We as His children are simply jars of clay, filled with treasure; the carriers of precious cargo.So, stop thinking about how to be a good Christian, and focus instead on the One who:
Holds goodness in His hand
And can pour it out into your heart.
“What is the Sermon on the Mount?”
The Sermon on the Mount is the sermon that Jesus gave in Matthew chapters 5-7. Matthew 5:1-2 is the reason it is known as the Sermon on the Mount: “Now when He saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him, and He began to teach them…” The Sermon on the Mount is the most famous sermon Jesus ever gave, perhaps the most famous sermon ever given by anyone.
The Sermon on the Mount covers several different topics. It is not the purpose of this article to comment on every section, but rather to give a brief summary of what it contains. If we were to summarise the Sermon on the Mount in a single sentence, it would be something like this: How to live a life that is dedicated to and pleasing to God, free from hypocrisy, full of love and grace, full of wisdom and discernment.
5:3-12 – The Beatitudes
5:13-16 – Salt and Light
5:17-20 – Jesus fulfilled the Law
5:21-26 – Anger and Murder
5:27-30 – Lust and Adultery
5:31-32 – Divorce and Remarriage
5:33-37 – Oaths
5:38-42 – Eye for an Eye
5:43-48 – Love your enemies
6:1-4 – Give to the Needy
6:5-15 – How to Pray
6:16-18 – How to Fast
6:19-24 – Treasures in Heaven
6:25-34 – Do not worry
7:1-6 – Do not judge hypocritically
7:7-12 – Ask, Seek, Knock
7:13-14 – The Narrow Gate
7:15-23 – False Prophets
7:24-27 – The Wise Builder
Matthew 7:28-29 concludes the Sermon on the Mount with the following statement: “When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at His teaching, because He taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.” May we all continue to be amazed at His teaching and follow the principles that He taught in the Sermon on the Mount!