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Chaplaincy institute 11

Why should faith in Christ be the only way into heaven? After all, aren’t there many “good” people who do not believe in Christ? God surely will not keep “good” people out of heaven, will He? No, God most assuredly will not keep good people out of heaven! All good people will be admitted. It says so in the Bible! Paul wrote the in book of Romans that on judgment day, God “will render to every man according to his deeds.” Those who persevere in doing good will gain eternal life.

That’s what I call GOOD NEWS. All that anyone has to do to gain eternal life is to persevere in doing good. (Romans 2:6-7) That shouldn’t be all that hard — we’re all pretty darn good, aren’t we? Or at least fairly good. OK, at least more good than bad, right? But what does it mean to persevere in doing good? According to Webster, it means “to persist against obstacles, to continue steadfastly.” Steadfastly means constantly, constantly means continuously, and continuously means always. Aye, there’s the rub, as Hamlet might say. Do you know anyone who has done only good? We tend, in our humanness, to think that perseverance means “keep trying,” when in reality it means “not ever failing.” The standard is perfection. Putting it into baseball terms, you must bat 1,000 your whole life through. One measly strikeout in your whole career will keep you from attaining that, no matter how many home runs you subsequently hit. You can talk about being a “good person” all day long, but are you willing to reveal your stats? Have you even taken an honest look at them?

Once perseverance has been factored into the mix, the GOOD NEWS may not sound so good anymore. But, when you consider what Paul wrote next, the situation becomes downright alarming! Here is the BAD NEWS —

“…to those who are selfishly ambitious and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, wrath and indignation. There will be tribulation and distress for every soul of man who does evil …” (Romans 2:8-9).

Trust me friends, you don’t want God’s “wrath and indignation” to happen to you! I certainly don’t. But wait a minute – Paul was writing about evil people here! Someone would have to do something awfully bad to be called evil, wouldn’t he? I could say yes but I don’t like to lie. No, “evil people” are described in the very first chapter of Romans, verses 29-32. What sins are these “evil people” committing? Pretty much the garden-variety sins of all humanity, I would say. Please note that gossip and disobedience to parents are listed right up there with malice and murder. All of a sudden the path to God and glory looks much more arduous! We’re going to have to be really, really good to earn our way in.

But Paul didn’t stop with the BAD NEWS of Romans 2. He wanted us to get the full picture – to see what a hopeless fix we’re in. So he spelled it out for dense humanity by delivering to us the BAD, BAD NEWS of Romans 3: 10-18. “There is no one righteous,” he declared, “not even one.” Uh oh.

This is a MAJOR problem for self-made saints. There has been only one good man in all of human history, and that man is Jesus Christ. God’s standard of goodness is Himself, and Jesus is God made flesh. Now generally, when we human beings refer to someone as good, we do not have God’s perfect standard in mind but are, in effect, grading on a curve. We mean that one is good when compared to someone “less good” around them. We don’t compare our performance to God’s standard of perfection, but rather to someone’s record that we can match or even beat. Conveniently, there are some very unsavory characters we can look at to feel better about ourselves (murderers, rapists, thieves, politicians), and we rely on our faulty conscience to tell us where we fit in the pack. It’s obvious, though, that human conscience is not a reliable guide. Even mass murderers who have sanctioned rape and torture do not necessarily consider themselves to be bad people! Pol Pot was interviewed by the Associated Press October of 1997. Pot, if you recall, was the Cambodian dictator who was responsible for the death of one to two million of his own people in the 1970s and the torture of countless others. Was he sorry? Not Pot. He defended his ordering of the executions of his political opponents, although he did admit that his regime had “made mistakes.” “But my conscience is clear,” he said. “You can look at me – am I a savage person?” Is the Pope Catholic? Yes. Pol, you are a savage if there ever was one, even if you do look just like somebody’s brother. I am one “kettle” who doesn’t mind calling Pot black, I guess. Yet, Pot impressed me with his insight that his best chance for escaping the judgment of the world and any consequent punishment for his crimes was to get us to look at him. Why is that? Human beings make most of their judgments by what their eyes tell them. Nevertheless, the problem is that one’s character, whether good or evil, is not stamped upon one’s features, and we are notoriously fooled by the way folks appear to us!

Well, back to the BAD, BAD NEWS of the book of Romans. Paul wrote in Romans 3:19-20 that, because we do not meet the righteous requirements of the law, all of us are accountable to God. We all are silenced — there is nothing we can say on our behalf. We cannot point to the greater misdeeds of others as any excuse, because it doesn’t make a dime’s worth of difference who is further from the mark. If God were to leave it at that — that the good will be blessed with heaven while the bad will be tormented in hell — none of us would have any more hope than Pol Pot, Hitler, John Gacy or Ted Bundy, since none of us are good, and all of us are bad. We can neither earn heaven nor avoid hell by anything we have done or can do.

Jesus is not only fully God, but He is fully man as well. Jesus alone, out of all humanity is truly good – sinlessly perfect. Think of the life He lived on earth in the context of the passage we’ve been looking at in Romans chapter 3. Jesus was righteous, He had understanding, He persevered in doing good — steadfastly, constantly, continuously, and always. He deserves heaven, and He is, in fact, the only person who does. Yet, He left heaven in order to rescue the helpless likes of you and me.

That is why I call Romans 3:21-26 the GOOD, GOOD NEWS. Paul wrote that there is a “righteousness from God” which we can receive by faith alone, without regard to our deeds. God has offered to give us, as a free gift, the very righteousness of His Son. In return, we give Him the only thing we have to offer Him — nothing. That’s a good trade, friends, so please do not neglect to receive God’s gift of righteousness.

A gift offered can be a gift refused. What do we do with this righteousness once we do receive it? We put it on, just like a beautiful garment, and “wear” it. When God looks at us from that day forward, He sees us “clothed” in the righteousness of His Son, and He credits that righteousness to our account as though we had earned it ourselves. God’s Son already has been voluntarily punished for our sins, so we are released from captivity when we take God up on His amazing offer. Furthermore, not only are we released from bondage, but we who were enemies of God are now at peace with Him.

“Therefore, since we have been justified through faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have gained access by faith into this grace in which we now stand.” (Romans 5:1)Ω

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