Good boys and girls? Or good grace?

I spend a good deal of my time with a community of refugees, a couple different ethnic groups from Burma. Many are professing Christians, some from an ethnic group that is well known among evangelicals as Christians.

I love these people, and enjoy them a great deal. However, I have struggled with their Christianity, which too often seemed to me a name only. A "Christian" was a nice person, someone who God would see as a "good boy" or a "good girl."

I decided to do a little informal research, so I asked a friend what I thought was an easy question, at least for a professing Christian.

"Who goes to heaven?"

The reply was, "Good people go to heaven and bad people to ... somewhere else." The obvious following question: "Where will you go?" Answer: "I don't know. I am not a good person."

This is profoundly sad and it ruined my day and a lot more. So later, I asked yet another person, also a professing Christian, the same questions. Same answers.

And I am learning that that answer is held by nearly every person I know in that community.

That made me wonder about Americans who call themselves Christians. What would they answer? I expect there would be little difference. Most Americans tell researchers they believe there is a good place called heaven, and they expect to go there after death. And they expect bad people will not be there.

But I suspect that most people, even in evangelical churches, have no idea what the Bible says about the matter, because most people don't read the Bible. And this represents a tragic failure of the leadership of the churches: People can and do sit in church for years and never hear the truth, the Good News that Jesus lived and died and lives again for us, and that life is not about some phony standard of "being good," but about knowing and following Him.

The idea of going to heaven if we are good is utter nonsense and leads to either a life of denial or complete but honest hopelessness. What we might call "good" is not the standard.

The standard is nothing less than perfection.

In fact, when we try to define who is good, somehow we usually include ourselves in the group. And whatever identifies those who are not good - the bad guys who will certainly not be in heaven - seldom includes us.

Here's a news flash: Nobody, not one person of us, is good. None. I am not, and you are not. Only God is good (Mark 10:17-18). And the goodness of God far surpasses anything we might apply to ourselves or anyone like us: God is perfect. He is morally and in every other way without flaw or blemish. He has never told a lie. He has never stolen, even a candy bar. Nothing.

No human being who has ever lived has measured up or could. We have all lied, all stolen. We have all let our minds wander to places that we don't want to talk about.

So then, if only those who are perfect go to heaven, who has any hope? Not me. And not you, either.

Heaven is where God lives. It's a holy place. It's the most holy place. And nothing that would defile it is permitted to enter. That includes me. And you, too.

Of course, God knew all this from the beginning, and He did not leave us in this hopeless condition. He had a plan, and He put that plan in action. The plan has a name.


That's it. The beginning, the middle and the end are wrapped up in that one name: Jesus.

God well knew that, left to our own resources and inclinations, the task is impossible and we are without hope. And so He did the logical yet unthinkable thing, He took on flesh, became the man Jesus, and lived with us, without sin and without fault. And He both died and rose again to life, so that we might through faith in Him have life. So that we might through faith in Him have hope.

And where does that leave us? The Bible clearly teaches that our salvation and our hope come from one place only: through faith in Jesus, accepting the grace that God offers through him.

"For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes on him shall not perish, but have eternal life" (John 3:16).

"...'Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved....'" (Acts 16:31).

"For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9).

It's clear. It's not about good people and it's not about bad people. It's about Jesus.

Only Jesus.


That was wonderful, I have been telling people there works is not what saves them. Thank you so much.

I and my Father are one. His word have I hide in my heart, that I might not sin against thee.

love this message!

Sometimes, when I pray, I have to remind myself that the only hope I have in this world and the next rests on Jesus' promises to me. In some ways, we have made that a cliche statement, but when we really take time to think about what this means, it humbles me.

I think even those who have read the Bible cover-to-cover struggle with this notion of not being able to earn God's grace.

I know I do.

I think it is human nature to want to believe that we deserve this gift even thought nothing could be further from the truth!

Thankfully, our new spirit wrestles with our old and, sometimes, even wins out.

Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Norah. I certainly understand the problem of wanting to earn God's favor, or wanting to feel like I've done at least a little to justify God being so gracious to me. After all, I don't want to feel like a freeloader, right? But I can't either earn or in any way justify God's grace and gifts to me. And I think, further, that it's detrimental to focus on that, because it puts my attention on myself, rather than on obedience to God's call and mission for me in his kingdom. The way to not be a freeloader is, in profound gratitude, to live a life obedient to his will and purposes in the world. And to draw close to him, until our thoughts are his thoughts, and our hearts beat in synchrony with his.

My prayer might be, "God, I want to do something that matters for you, so that your investment of grace in me might be warranted (in my own mind.)." Or, ""Lord, help me to live so that I'll feel like you are more pleased with me." But those are not biblical or spiritually productive prayers.

Better might be, "Lord, I am so thankful for your graciousness toward me, though I am utterly unworthy. Father, help me to live out my thanks by honoring you in my life and by living and seeing life through your eyes. Use me in your service, Lord, in any way that you choose."

Leave a comment

Loading tweets:

Follow us on Twitter!

  • Larry Baden said:
      Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Norah. I certainly understand the pr...
  • Norah said:
      Sometimes, when I pray, I have to remind myself that the only hope I h...
  • christie said:
      love this message!...
  • geoffrey roberts said:
       I and my Father are one. His word have I hide in my heart, that I mig...
  • Sean Lofton said:
      That was wonderful, I have been telling people there works is not what...

home quodlibet journal theo blog sermons theology e-texts church history forum home