Dear Pastor Lawyer,
I’ve always thought that whether God accepted me into Heaven or not was based on the things I did or didn’t do. In other words, I’ve always thought that somehow if my good deeds outweighed my bad deeds, I would be worthy or would be accepted. What do you think about this?
Many people are struggling with just what you’ve asked here. In fact, if you were to study the religions in the world you would find your kind of thinking running through them all — except for Protestant Christianity and the Bible. Let me explain why man’s way of thinking falls short of God’s standards.
When you think of God’s justice as a balance (good deeds weighed on one side, against evil deeds weighed on the other) you need to take into account a couple of key things. First, the bad things we do are only bad (or good) because God says they are bad (or good). If there were no God, it would not make any sense to talk about things in terms of good or evil. This is what many people who try to deny God’s existence do with moral behavior. They say, “God doesn’t exist, so we can do what we want” or “you can’t legislate morality, who’s to say what’s right or wrong”. God does exist, however, and he has told us what things are wrong and what things are right — how we are to live.
Second, we have a tendency to think that we are the measure of all there is in the world. We forget that God is in charge of the game. It’s his ball, his field, his rules and we either play the game his way or get off the field. Like little children, we think we get to make the rules and set the standards. The reality is that we are dealing with a Holy, Righteous, and Just God. When we sin against him, we deserve death. It doesn’t matter how big the sin is in our eyes. What matters is whom the sin is against, and sin is always against God. Going back to your balance image, this means that every sin we commit causes the scale to drop to the bottom and sit there.
On the “good deeds” side of the balance we run into another problem. When God tells us what to do in a positive sense, he is telling us what he expects as the normal course of our existence. God leaves nothing undone and no part of our lives are untouched by his commands. Since this is the case, there is nothing for us to do that would be “extra”. Everything we do, that we used to think of as being “good,” is really our normally expected behavior. We are either living our lives as God expects, or we are living in opposition to him. If we are using the balance picture, we see that the evil lives we lead would weigh down the negative side, but the good things we do are expected and therefore carry no weight at all. Since the “good life” is what is expected, it is of no value in bringing the ‘bad’ deeds side of the balance off the floor.
As you can see, if we use the balance view of salvation and eternity, we are all in terrible trouble. There is nothing we can do to earn God’s favor, or to merit his friendship. There is nothing we can do to be worthy of his attention. We are all in trouble. Next time, I’ll give you the Biblical solution. I hope this helps…for now.