By Rev. Mark Creech
Christian Action League
August 14, 2020
The late and renowned evangelist, Dr. Billy Graham, once said: “There are many who sit in churches week after week, year after year, without hearing the whole Gospel and knowing what it is to be born again. They hear a gospel which is incomplete, and consequently not good news at all.”
On another occasion, Graham quoted Quaker theologian Elton Trueblood, who had said, “Our main mission field today, so far as America is concerned, is within the church membership itself.”
Such sentiments were recently verified by a survey which was conducted by the Cultural Research Center at Arizona Christian University. The study found that 52% of the people who describe themselves as Christians in America today believe in a “works-oriented” means of salvation.
According to the Christian Post, Len Munsil, president of Arizona Christian University, said the results of the survey serve as “a wakeup call for the church.” Munsil admonished that church leaders desperately needed “to speak, teach and work to restore biblical truth.”
“Many souls will be lost if people are misled by the false notion that we can earn our way to heaven, rather than recognizing the truth that Christ alone and His righteousness are the basis of our salvation,” said Munsil.
What does the Bible say about working our way to heaven? It says the following:
All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23).
There is none righteous. No, not even one (Romans 3:10).
For the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23).
Therefore no one will be declared righteous in [God’s] sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin (Romans 3:20).
These texts and a host of others make it abundantly clear that no one can earn the favor of God and get into heaven by being good enough.
God doesn’t grade on a curve.
In a great little book titled, “How Good is Good Enough?” Andy Stanly, the senior pastor of North Point Community Church in Alpharetta, Georgia, insightfully writes:
“If you believe good people go to heaven, then this is a relevant question. What percentage of your good deeds do you think need to be allotted to the positive side of the balance sheet in order to secure a slot in heaven?
“Let’s assume that God is extraordinarily merciful and that only 10 percent of your deeds need to be good enough to get you into heaven. Even then, you could find yourself one good work shy of a passing grade. Imagine that! You miss out on heaven because you’re short one lousy act of kindness.
“Or what if God’s holiness and perfection outweigh his mercy and requires ninety percent of our deeds to be good? Or what if God grades on a curve and Mother Teresa skewed the cosmic curve, raising the bar for good deeds beyond what most of us are capable?
“While we are in ‘what if’ mode, consider this: Under the good people go scenario, you could simply run out of time. Think about it. Right now, it could be that you do not have enough time to do the good deeds necessary to make up for the bad ones.
“The majority of us cling to the hope that good people go to heaven and we are the good ones. Granted, it is comforting to imagine a God who values our strengths and pretty much ignores our weaknesses. But that is the God of our imaginations, not necessarily the God who exists.”
The point is that our redemption is not based on our good works. God’s standard is far above our ability to meet – far above that of even someone like Mother Teresa.
Jesus said of the most devout religious leaders of his day:
For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20)
These people were “professional do-gooders,” Stanly correctly asserts. “Their job was to stay so pure before God that they would be able to hear from him and thus direct the people accordingly.” But Jesus said even they weren’t good enough to merit eternal life.
Jesus also said:
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48).
Obviously, a better righteousness than our own is needed. This is why Christ, the God-man, came into the world. He came to do for us what we are unable to do for ourselves. The life he lived in his perfect humanity earned the infinite merit of God – the reward of which is the basis of our salvation. Without Christ’s faultless righteousness imputed to our account, we are in terrible trouble. His life, which was flawlessly lived unto God, and in our stead, the Father will count as our righteousness, if we abandon hope of redemption in any other means except Christ.
In other words, we can never be saved until we come to the end of ourselves and realize our helplessness as sinners to attain salvation by being worthy enough. Christ has already done everything necessary to save us. He lived the life that God requires of us. Furthermore, his death on the Cross covers and atones for all our sins. He paid the price or the wages for our sins, which was death. He rose bodily from the grave and defeated the power of death. He purchased a place in heaven for us and now offers salvation as a free gift to anyone who will put their faith in him as their personal Savior.
This is what it means to be saved, converted. This is what it means to be “Born Again” in the biblical sense. When we experience that moment that we see ourselves as we actually are, unworthy sinners, unable to save ourselves, and we trust in Christ alone and his finished work on our behalf, then we are changed. We don’t do good works to be saved. Instead, we do them heartily out of gratitude for the salvation God has already given freely in Christ.
R.C. Sproul, the late Presbyterian theologian, put it this way:
“A person who is truly trusting Christ and resting on Christ for redemption receives the benefits of Christ’s merit by faith. But if that person has true faith, that true faith will manifest itself in a life of obedience. Simply put, I get into heaven by Jesus’ righteousness, but my reward in heaven will be distributed according to my obedience or the lack of it.”
The apostle Paul said it this way:
For by grace [God’s unmerited favor in Christ] you are saved through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift – not from works, so that no one can boast. For we are his creation – created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared ahead of time so that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:8-9).
It’s stunning that so many people within the church possess a false hope of salvation. They erroneously believe their good works will merit them eternal life. What an indictment this is to our churches that so many in the pews aren’t hearing the good news.
The good news is not that good people can earn eternal life. The good news is that sinners can be saved.