I recently read a book challenging the notion that good people go to heaven. Andy Stanley discusses this in a simple, easy-to-grasp way in How Good Is Good Enough?
There are a lot of people not only in the world who hold the belief that good people go to heaven, but also in Christian churches. It’s something we may not have been taught deliberately, but many Sunday school lessons, the kind I received as a kid, focus on what we do, how we behave, whether we’re obedient. Teachers post sticky stars on charts for the whole class to see, ranking us on things like attendance and bringing our Bible. As adult church-goers, we don’t receive stars like that, but there’s something in us that says there’s still some cosmic chart tracking our behavior.
Stanley’s little book (less than 100 pages) is fantastic for people who are searching to know and understand God, whether they’ve never been to church before or if they’ve been “saved” for a long time. He breaks down the commonly-held view that adherence to things like the Ten Commandments and overall morality will assure us a place in heaven.
Stanley says the problem with the good people go view is that we have nothing to measure against. Look at the world religions and you’ll see all kinds of answers for this predicament, but surely they all can’t be right—as some like to claim, that they’re all an avenue to God. Religion’s intent has been to help us where our conscience gives only a vague sense of when something’s amiss, sort of like the all-encompassing engine light.
That warning light on my dash tells me something’s wrong, but I have to take it to a mechanic to see what’s going on inside. Religion is like that mechanic. Though there are a lot of garages out there offering service, religion is as useless as I am at fixing cars. It can’t fix us. And, in fact, it’s misdiagnosed the problem for thousands of years.
The Big 10
Back to the Ten Commandments … If you read the Gospels, the accounts of Jesus in the New Testament, you’ll see that he was constantly clashing with the Pharisees, who held that obeying the law was how you garnered righteousness—that is, a right standing with God. However, perfectly obeying the law is impossible. Just one violation condemns us. The problem with the idea that good people go to heaven, Stanley says, is that no one is good. That means no one is going. But Jesus came to fulfill the law: where the law pointed out our disease, Jesus showed himself to be the remedy.
The crux of Jesus’ life and message is that where we have failed he has succeeded. He spoke about his Father, who promised not to give us what we deserve—that’s mercy—and instead to give us what we don’t deserve—that’s grace. Stanley asks, “Is Christianity fair?” No, it isn’t, he answers, and we wouldn’t want God to be fair.
Wonderfully insightful and humorous at times, Stanley’s short book is great to share with friends and family who have questions about God. I think it’s also a must-read for church attenders who still think there’s a chart with stars on it and wonder where they stand with God. Stanley clarifies Scripture, especially the Apostle Paul’s writings, in helping us understand the truth about how we can come to know God, which cannot be earned by our own efforts. None of us is good. But God is. And he has made a way for us to know him.