Why Can’t We Earn Our Way Into Heaven By Our Good Works? #230
Happy Thursday, friends! The answer to our big Bible question is…WE CAN, in fact, earn our way into Heaven with good works. More on that in a minute. But first, I want to talk to you about your car insurance. Life comes at you fast, and you never know when you are going to be riding down the road listening to a podcast and the host implies that you can earn your salvation, which makes you immediately swerve off the road, wrecking your beautiful Honda Civic. The insurance company I want to tell you about today is on your side – they will put you in their good hands, and you will save more than 15 percent on the rates of other insurers. Like a good neighbor – like a really good neighbor that you actually talk to, and will watch your house when you’re gone, and collect your mail, and text you when they see prowlers sniffing around – not like the bad neighbors that when you see them outside, you drive around the block to avoid any awkward conversations – like a good neighbor, this company will be there for you.
Okay, now you see why I am in ministry and not jingle writing or insurance selling. If one of you giant insurance companies want to support the pod, I’d be glad to bring you onboard, but I’m not holding my breath, and I guess we’d better start. Today’s readings include 1 Samuel 3, Jeremiah 41, Psalms 17 and Romans 3. Our focus passage is in Romans 3, and is all about how to get into Heaven. Our big Bible question is a doozy: Can you earn your way into Heaven? As near as I understand the question – the answer is yes – you can earn your way into Heaven IF, as Jesus says, your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees.
20 For I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never get into the kingdom of heaven.
The only problem with that is that your righteousness would have to FAR exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees. In fact – it would have to be perfect. I suppose you could say that it is technically possible to never sin, in much the same way that it would be technically possible to bowl a 300 game in bowling 300 times in a row, or to hit an 18 on 18 holes of golf 1800 times in a row, but those things – as unlikely as they are – are about 540,000 times more likely than somebody being able to be sinlessly perfect for one month – let alone a whole lifetime. What would be involved in sinless perfection? Well – for one – there are 1050 commandments in just the New Testament – many more in the Old Testament. Some of those commands might be, lets say, relatively easy to keep. For instance, I’ve never murdered anybody, so I’m good there, maybe, unless I’m lying to you – which would be two sins right off the bat. However, have I ever hated anybody who was a Christian? (1 John 3:15, “Everyone who hates his brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.) I don’t know that I have…but it is certainly possible. The fact is – and this is self evident when you think about it – everybody has sinned sometime in their life. It is true that some have sinned more than others, but that matters not at all when we are talking about perfection – only 100% sinless people who have never stumbled in the least can get into perfect Heaven. Are there any such people, apostle Paul?
There is no one righteous, not even one.
11 There is no one who understands;
there is no one who seeks God.
12 All have turned away;
all alike have become worthless.
There is no one who does what is good,
not even one.
23 For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God
Romans 3:10-12 and 23
You might think – “wait a minute, that’s not fair?!” But I’d counter with the fact that Heaven is a perfect place and perfect reward – does anybody unperfect deserve Heaven? I think not…so be careful what you call fair and unfair. Imagine a multi-billionaire had a contest. The winner would receive his entire net-worth – 75 billion dollars. All you have to do is to be the first person to hit a 1 centimeter square bullseye 100 yards away with an arrow 500 times in a row. Of course, such a contest wouldn’t be fair, but the reward is so amazing that anything short of a breathtaking feat shouldn’t be allowed to win such an amazing prize, should it? Well – let’s ponder perfection and sin, and Heaven and hear some better news than what I’ve given you so far today as we read Romans 3.
Lot’s of people have memorized Romans 3:23, and rightly so, as it is an excellent verse to present the good news…but the good news is not in Romans 3:23 – that’s the BAD news. The good news is in Romans 3:24 and proceeding, and is summed up really well in vs. 28:
28 For we conclude that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.
Justified – (I.E. Made JUST in the eyes of God (and able to enter into Heaven) happens by FAITH not by works of the law. This is monumental and the very central truth of Christianity – that we don’t please God and earn eternal life by works of the law, but by faith in the perfect work of cross and the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. Let us close with some choice words from Spurgeon pointing us to the beauty of justification and salvation by faith and not works:
WE have not so clear a view of him as we could wish; we know not the heights and depths of his love; but we know of a surety that he is too good to withdraw from a trembling soul the gift which it has been able to obtain. If we have faith as a grain of mustard seed, salvation is our present and eternal possession. If we cannot clasp the Lord in our hands with Simeon, if we dare not lean our heads upon his chest with John, yet if we can venture in the press behind him, and touch the hem of his garment, we are made whole. Courage, timid one! thy faith hath saved thee; go in peace. “Being justified by faith, we have peace with God.”
C. H. Spurgeon, Daily Help (Baltimore: R. H. Woodward & Company, 1892), 197.
…Conscience accuses no longer. Judgment now decides for the sinner instead of against him. Memory looks back upon past sins, with deep sorrow for the sin, but yet with no dread of any penalty to come; for Christ has paid the debt of his people to the last jot and tittle, and received the divine receipt; and unless God can be so unjust as to demand double payment for one debt, no soul for whom Jesus died as a substitute can ever be cast into hell. It seems to be one of the very principles of our enlightened nature to believe that God is just; we feel that it must be so, and this gives us our terror at first; but is it not marvellous that this very same belief that God is just, becomes afterwards the pillar of our confidence and peace! If God be just, I, a sinner, alone and without a substitute, must be punished; but Jesus stands in my stead and is punished for me; and now, if God be just, I, a sinner, standing in Christ, can never be punished. God must change his nature before one soul, for whom Jesus was a substitute, can ever by any possibility suffer the lash of the law. Therefore, Jesus having taken the place of the believer—having rendered a full equivalent to divine wrath for all that his people ought to have suffered as the result of sin, the believer can shout with glorious triumph, “Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” Not God, for he hath justified; not Christ, for he hath died, “yea rather hath risen again.” My hope lives not because I am not a sinner, but because I am a sinner for whom Christ died; my trust is not that I am holy, but that being unholy, he is my righteousness. My faith rests not upon what I am, or shall be, or feel, or know, but in what Christ is, in what he has done, and in what he is now doing for me. On the lion of justice the fair maid of hope rides like a queen.
C. H. Spurgeon, Morning and Evening: Daily Readings (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1896).