Why Being a Good Person Isn’t Enough to Get You to Heaven
- Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, PhD
- Updated Oct 05, 2017
Misconception: “Being a good person is enough to get to heaven.”
Some time ago, I (Sean) had an in-depth discussion with a college student about the morality of hell. Even though I provided every philosophical and theological justification I could muster, he simply couldn’t accept that a loving and just God would send anyone to hell. After about an hour of conversation, it finally dawned on me. His primary problem was that he believed in the essential good- ness of mankind. From his perspective, hell seemed like total overkill for basically good people who commit a few small indiscretions. In one sense, he’s right. If hell were the consequence for small missteps, it would seem remarkably unjust. C. S. Lewis has rightly observed, “When we say that we are bad, the ‘wrath’ of God seems a barbarous doctrine; as soon as we perceive our badness, it appears inevitable, a mere corollary from God’s goodness.” (Lewis, PP, 52)
The Bible has a very stark view of human nature. While human beings are the most valuable creation of a loving God, we have utterly rebelled against our Creator. We are deeply affected by sin. Theologian Wayne Grudem explains: “It is not just that some parts of us are sinful and others are pure. Rather, every part of our being is affected by sin—our intellects, our emotions and desires, our hearts (the center of our desires and decision-making processes), our goals and motives, and even our physical bodies.” (Grudem, ST, 497) Thus, God doesn’t send good people to hell; there is no such thing as a good person. And that includes you and me! King David wrote, “They have all turned aside, they have together become corrupt; there is none who does good, no, not one” (Ps. 14:3). The apostle Paul wrote, “For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells” (Rom. 7:18) and, “To those who are defiled and unbelieving nothing is pure; but even their mind and conscience are defiled” (Titus 1:15). Jesus said, “What comes out of a person is what defiles him. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, sensuality, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person” (Mark 7:20–23 esv).
This depiction of human nature can be confirmed by looking at the history of humanity. Apologist Clay Jones has spent decades studying the problem of evil. He closely examined the evil perpetrated in the twentieth century by Nazis in Germany, communists in Russia, China, and Cambodia, the Japanese in World War II, and other nations including Turkey, Pakistan, Uganda, Sudan, and the United States. After immersing himself in these human tragedies, Jones concluded:
I first began to study human evil so that no one could disqualify me for having glossed over the immense sufferings that people perpetrate on each other. I didn’t want anyone to say that I had gotten God out of the problem of evil the easy way: by making evil seem less serious than it really is. But as I read about one sickening rape or torture or murder after another, something strange happened: I was struck that evil is human. I realized that heinous evils weren’t the doings of a few deranged individuals or even of hundreds or of thousands, but were done by humankind en masse. I studied continent after continent, country after country, torture after torture, murder after murder and was staggered to discover that I hadn’t taken Scripture seriously enough: humankind is desperately wicked. (Jones, CDTH, 1)
Human fallenness makes the gospel powerful: we can only appreciate the extent of the work of Christ when we understand the evil and corruption we and the world truly contain. This does not mean unbelievers cannot do some good in society—of course they can! However, sin has separated us so deeply from God that we have no power to save ourselves apart from God’s grace (Eph. 2:1, 2). Paul makes it clear that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23). And this “falling short” is not merely a matter of our actions, but primarily a matter of the heart (1 John 3:15; Matt. 5:21–30).
This is why Jesus came. Although Jesus was (and is) fully God, he humbled himself to take on human flesh (Phil. 2:5–7) and experience the death that humans deserve. As a result, we can experience forgiveness for our sins and come to know God personally (John 17:1–5). Jesus explains:
For God so loved the world that He gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life. For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world through Him might be saved. He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. — John 3:16–18
So, is it enough to be a “good” person? It’s true that many people may live outwardly good lives, but for Jesus evil is a matter of the heart. According to Jesus no one is good (Mark 10:18). Anyone who honestly reflects upon his life, and sincerely probes his heart, knows that this is true. Our only hope is found in Jesus Christ, the one mediator between God and man (1 Tim. 2:5).
Taken from Evidence that Demands Verdict by Josh McDowell and Sean McDowell, PhD. Copyright © 2017 by Josh McDowell Ministry. Used by permission of Thomas Nelson. www.thomasnelson.com.
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With the original Evidence That Demands a Verdict, bestselling author Josh McDowell gave Christian readers the answers they needed to defend their faith against the harshest critics and skeptics. Since that time, Evidence has remained a trusted resource for believers young and old. Bringing historical documentation and the best modern scholarship to bear on the trustworthiness of the Bible and its teachings, this extensive volume has encouraged and strengthened millions. Now, with his son Sean McDowell, PhD, Josh McDowell has updated and expanded this classic resource for a new generation. This is a book that invites readers to bring their doubts and doesn't shy away from the tough questions.
The modern apologetics classic that started it all is NOW completely revised and updated—because the truth of the Bible doesn’t change, but its critics do.