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.