God, Goodness, and Getting to Heaven

A logical fallacy is, in simple terms, an error of reasoning. When someone arrives at a position or tries to convince someone else to adopt that position, based on a false piece of reasoning, they commit a fallacy.

Here’s one example of a logical fallacy. Premise: Ducks are birds. Ducks swim in the water.
Chickens are birds. Therefore, chickens swim in the water. To expose this logical fallacy we plainly cite that not all birds swim in water, for swimming is not a necessary attribute for a bird to be a bird. We get that.

In the spiritual realm, there is a common and deadly logical fallacy that is ubiquitous in religion. It even exists within Christendom. What is it, you may wonder? Well, it goes something like this.

Premise: I’m a good person. Good people go to heaven. Therefore I’m going to heaven.

I’ve encountered people who believe this. How about you?

Jesus, Himself also encountered a person like this, a rich young ruler who was trusting in his goodness to get to heaven.

Goodness, humanly speaking is relative. We describe ourselves or others as good at this or that, but that goodness is relative, as we know. A standard of goodness may actually be a moving target. For example, my kids think I’m good at guitar because I’ve played guitar over 30 years. Then I show them an accomplished guitar player online and they see dad is really just okay.

In the spiritual, our view of goodness requires a different perspective. The very nature of human goodness, or lack thereof, is at the very core of the gospel. And to rightly understand “goodness” from a divine perspective, is to see that true goodness is absolute, not relative. More importantly, being humble enough to surrender to God’s declaration of who is good and who is not, is key to entering the Kingdom of God.

Two thousand years ago a rich young ruler engaged in a fascinating and instructive conversation with our Lord. This question was at the heart of the conversation. “Who is good and what “goodness” gets someone into heaven?”

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God” (Mark 10:17-18).

There is “nothing new under the sun.” For just as many people today believe they can get to heaven through good deeds, so it was in the time of Christ. Jesus addressed the rich young ruler’s question, “What shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?” But first He clarified that only One is good, namely God!

Ouch! When put in such distinct terms, Jesus was not only putting the rich young ruler in his place, but anyone who would make the claim, “I’m good.” Yes, the Lord has made man in His image, and He loves us with an everlasting love. Yes, we are of inestimable value, yet as image bearers, we’ve been corrupted by sin, and that sin separates us from a holy, perfect, and righteous God.

The Word of God is clear about the inherent condition of man. We are not good. We are sinful. David wrote, “Behold, I was brought forth in iniquity, and in sin my mother conceived me” (Psalm 51:5). In Jeremiah 17:9 the prophet stated, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; Who can know it?” Solomon wrote plainly in Ecclesiastes 7:20, “For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.”

Naturally, we don’t want to hear that we are born into and live in a state of depravity. We don’t want to hear that we are not good!

The late British journalist Malcolm Muggeridge put it this way: “The depravity of man is at once the most empirically verifiable reality but at the same time the most intellectually resisted fact.”

In the case of the rich young ruler, here was a person who thought he had it together, telling Jesus he had ‘kept all these things” – a reference to the commandments, from his youth (Mark 10:19-20). When Jesus commanded him to give up everything and follow Him, the man went away grieving:

“Then Jesus, looking at him, loved him, and said to him, ‘One thing you lack: Go your way, sell whatever you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross, and follow Me.’ But he was sad at this word, and went away sorrowful, for he had great possessions” (Mark 10:21-22).

Jesus was not looking for this man to be good or to do good. He was requiring the man to surrender all and follow Him by faith!

Following this interaction, Jesus provided a teaching moment for the disciples which is applicable for us today:

Then Jesus looked around and said to His disciples, “How hard it is for those who have riches to enter the kingdom of God!” And the disciples were astonished at His words. But Jesus answered again and said to them, “Children, how hard it is for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God.” And they were greatly astonished, saying among themselves, “Who then can be saved?” But Jesus looked at them and said, “With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:23-27).

In Jesus’ day, this fallacy was embraced by some people. Since wealth reflected God’s approval upon an individual, and those who had it could give more alms, it was rich people who were the most likely candidates for heaven! Jesus obliterated that notion, and along with it, the idea that anyone could merit enough favor, be good enough, or do good enough to get to heaven.

The gospel is not about our goodness, but rather the goodness of God, Who deals with our sinfulness through the person and work of Jesus! Salvation is not and cannot be about righteous deeds that I have done. Rather salvation is about my faith in the Righteous One, Jesus, and in His righteous deeds on my behalf, His death and resurrection. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

As we witness, may we pray that the Lord would reveal to people their true condition apart from Him, that they are not good. Pray that He would also through us and through His Spirit reveal the true nature of the goodness and grace of God found in Jesus, our Lord, the only hope for eternal life!

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).