Can doing good get you into Heaven?

So, I’ve been studying my Bible.  I’m talking on 12th Nov about John 3  –  awesome!

However, what caught my eye and got me thinking were some verses in John 5.  ‘Where on earth does this fit in with modern Church teaching?’ I thought to myself.

Jesus talks about how dead people will be judged.  People get separated from God by sin.  That sin leads to death.  We (hopefully in all cases) want eternal, good, perfect life.

What got my cogs whirring was how that judgement takes place.

Faith

At church, we preach about how Jesus is the only way.  There are loads of Bible verses about it!  Here’s a few:

Yes, God loved the world so much that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him would not be lost but have eternal life.  –  John 3:16

They are made right with God by his grace. This is a free gift. They are made right with God by being made free from sin through Jesus Christ.  –  Romans 3:24

I mean that you have been saved by grace because you believed. You did not save yourselves; it was a gift from God. You are not saved by the things you have done, so there is nothing to boast about.  –  Ephesians 2:8-9

Jesus answered, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. The only way to the Father is through me.  –  John 14:6

These say it very clearly!  Belief leads to eternal life.  It’s a free gift from God, through Jesus Christ (through what he did on the cross.)

However, John 5:29 seems to tell it slightly differently:

Action

Then they will come out of their graves. Those who did good in this life will rise and have eternal life. But those who did evil will rise to be judged guilty.  –  John 5:29

This says it clearly too.  Doing good things leads to eternal life.  Doing evil leads to judged guilty.

And it’s not just in this verse  –  Jesus spoke a few times about what we do dictating which way judgement goes.

“Then those people will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty? When did we see you without a place to stay? Or when did we see you without clothes or sick or in prison? When did we see any of this and not help you?’

“The king will answer, ‘The truth is, anything you refused to do for any of my people here, you refused to do for me.’

“Then these evil people will go away to be punished forever. But the godly people will go and enjoy eternal life.”  –  Matthew 25:44-46 (Sheep and goats)

So… which is right?  Are we made right (justified) with God by faith in Jesus?  Or are we made right by what we do?

Two types of people

To find the answer, we need to make sure we don’t just look at things as isolated verses and ideas.  As you read the rest of the New Testament, things come together in a way that not only makes sense, but the issue hits home and brings a real challenge.

There are a couple of things going on here.  Firstly, there are people who either died before Jesus was born or were never given a fair chance to meet him  –  and there are plenty of people that this applies to today.  These people are definitely not judged on their experience of Jesus during earthly life.  As it says in John 5:29 (above), these people are based on their actions.

I would suggest that it goes one further than this.  The Bible talks clearly about how everyone has sinned and that even our best attempt at goodness is like dirty rags.  Pretty bleak!  None of us are good enough… hence the need for a saviour.

Judgement based on action therefore needs to exist only as a litmus test for the heart.  If a person was given fair (by God’s perfect standards) chance to place faith in him, then their actions of love, selflessness, purity, thoughts and attitude towards others is a good indicator as to outcome.

Believers

Secondly, there’s the Jesus-believer.  The person who tells others that their faith in Jesus is what saves them from Hell and gives them eternal life.

Jesus-believer  –  you will be judged.  You’ll be judged on what you’ve done.

I’m not saying you’re wrong about your beliefs.  Jesus said in John 3:18 that believers aren’t judged guilty.  But there’s a heavily recurring theme in the New Testament of how to tell what somebody believes.

You can tell what somebody believes by how they behave.

You can tell what you believe by how you behave.

Belief and behaviour

James writes about faith and doing good:

My brothers and sisters, if a person claims to have faith but does nothing, that faith is worth nothing. Faith like that cannot save anyone. 

Suppose a brother or sister in Christ comes to you in need of clothes or something to eat. And you say to them, “God be with you! I hope you stay warm and get plenty to eat,” but you don’t give them the things they need.

If you don’t help them, your words are worthless. It is the same with faith. If it is just faith and nothing more—if it doesn’t do anything—it is dead.  –  James 2:14-17 

I don’t think Jesus is just going to take your word for it.  I don’t think he’s going to be swayed by good thoughts.  If we actually believe what we say we believe, then it needs to be reflected in our actions.  

Jesus wasn’t the kind of guy who spent all of his time in prayer.  He was incredibly active and deeply spiritual at the same time.  He would spend the morning talking to his Father, then would go out and essentially work very long days of doing good.  I’d like to think he enjoyed a good board game too, but the Bible doesn’t say too much about that.

I like the way Paul puts it to the Corinthians.  He starts off talking about church, but goes on to describe building on the foundation of Jesus.

The foundation that has already been built is Jesus Christ, and no one can build any other foundation. 

People can build on that foundation using gold, silver, jewels, wood, grass, or straw. But the work that each person does will be clearly seen, because the Day will make it plain. That Day will appear with fire, and the fire will test everyone’s work. 

If the building they put on the foundation still stands, they will get their reward. But if their building is burned up, they will suffer loss. They will be saved, but it will be like someone escaping from a fire.  –  1 Corinthians 3:11-15

We build on faith in Jesus to save us.  What we make of our lives after that is up to us.

Will we look to Heaven and build something that will last?

Or will be scrape our way in, suffering loss on the way?

 

The challenge is real, the consequences look eternal, and the distractions are so very shiny.

Lord, help us to love you, love others and to live pure.  Help us to stand unashamed of what we have built on our faith in you when the Day comes.

1 thought on “Can doing good get you into Heaven?

  1. Hi James,

    You are right in that you can tell what someone believes by their behaviour, but their behaviour may be motivated by ‘behaving’ rather than by a genuine love of Christ. This is the righteous rags that Paul talks about. So in fact God is looking at our motivation as much as our behaviour. This is also clear from the Sheep and Goats: The Goats don’t do bad things, they just don’t good things either.

    So if we are motivated because we want to get to Heaven, or impress God, or impress the church… or anyone then we are not really doing good, even though the outcome might be good.

    But as a consequence, there may be others who are motivated according to their own abilities, but for whom ‘the spirit is willing (motivation), but the flesh is weak’. Thus we should not be judging other’s efforts, but try and deal with the plank in our own eyes (mixing a few verses here :)).

    I guess I am saying that the whole issue with faith and works is that we tend to judge people on their works, regardless of their faith, because that is what we can see, but God sees much further than us and can see the faith (or lack thereof) that motivates those works.

    In essence we shouldn’t be doing good because we think it will get us to Heaven, but because Christ died for us and we need to help bring the Kingdom of God into this world.

    And regarding John 5:29, Jesus was talking to Jews for whom the whole methodology was different – they had their own covenants with God and the Good would have taken that seriously (i.e. participated in the sacrifices, lived according to the law etc., whereas the bad would not).

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