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Won't a Good, Moral Life get Me to Heaven?

In a recent television interview Peter Ustinov, the famous actor, was asked for his 'doctrine of man'. He gave the reply 'Man is essentially good!' and was rewarded with sustained applause from the audience. Even among those who believe in the reality of heaven and hell, the popular conception is that the latter is reserved only for arch villains like Stalin, Hitler or Genghis Khan - perhaps along with a handful of gang rapists and serial killers. Most people, however, are thought good enough to pass the test. This sort of thinking is widespread but totally at odds with the Christian Gospel.

Our acceptance by God does not depend on our goodness, but rather on his mercy (Lk 18:9-14; Tit 3:5). In answering the question 'Won't a good moral life get me to heaven?' we need to assert the following:

  1. The Reality of Judgment.
    The Bible teaches that death leads not to extinction of perception, not to reincarnation, not to a disembodied existence of the soul - but rather to judgement (Heb 9:27). At this point there is a separation between those who are consigned to Hell, and those who are to receive resurrected bodies (Phil 13:2; 1 Cor 15:35-56; 2 Cor 5:1-9) and join Christ as his subjects in a new heaven and earth (Is 65:17-25; Is 66:22-24; Rev 21:1-5). Any who doubt the reality of Heaven and Hell should be reminded that this is the teaching of Jesus Christ himself and his apostles (Mt 10:28, 11:20-24, 13:37-43, 47-50; 25:31-46; Jn 5:22-30; 2 Thes 1:7-10; Rev 20:11-15).
  2. The Necessary Pass-Mark of Perfection.
    God's standard is not that we be better than others, but rather that we be perfect (Mt 5:48). To stumble at just one point is to fail completely (Jas 2:10). Furthermore in God's eyes bad thoughts are no less evil than bad actions - lust is equivalent to adultery (Mt 5:27,28) and anger to murder (Mt 5:21,22). As we become conscious of God's real standards, it becomes apparent that even the morally upright fall short of them (Rom 3:20) - as the examples of the apostle Paul (Phil 3:4-7) and the Rich Young Ruler (Mt 19:16-30; Mk 10:17-30; Lk 18:18-30) clearly demonstrate.
  3. The Universality of Sin.
    With this standard in mind it is clear that there is no-one 'who does what is right and never sins' (Ec 7:20). To the contrary all have fallen short (Rom 3:9-12, 23; Ps 14:2-3, 53:2-3). Even our good deeds are bad in God's sight (Is 64:6). Since we cannot save ourselves it follows that our only hope is to be rescued by God (Mt 19:25-26).
  4. The Perfection of Christ.
    By contrast with man, the sinlessness of Christ is taught in the Bible as an established fact (Is 53:9; 2 Cor 5:21; Heb 4:15; 1 Pet 2:22; 1 Jn 3:5). He can confidently challenge his accusers to find fault 'can any of you prove me guilty of sin?' (Jn 8:46). He is therefore the only way to God (Jn 14:6; Acts 4:12; 1 Tim 2:5).
  5. Salvation only by faith.
    Eternal life therefore cannot be gained by our own efforts. It is a free gift of God which must be received by faith (trusting belief) in Christ (Rom 1:17; 3:22; 6:23; Gal 2:16; Eph 2:8,9; Phil 3:9; Tit 3:3-6; Heb 11:6). If we could achieve it by our own efforts, it would not have been necessary for Christ to give his perfect life on our behalf (Gal 2:21).


A good moral life cannot get us to heaven. It is not good people who go to heaven, for no-one is good enough. Good people (those who think they are good enough) go to hell. Bad people (those who realise they fall short of God's standards and look to his mercy) go to heaven if they put their faith in Christ (Jn 3:16, 5:24).

Bible References

Our acceptance by God does not depend on our goodness, but rather on his mercy.
Lk 18v9-14
'But the tax collector stood at a distance. He would not even look up to heaven, but beat his breast and said, 'God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God.'

Tit 3v5
He saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of re-birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit.

The Reality of Judgement

Heb 9v27
Just as man is destined to die once, and after that to face judgement.

Phil 3v2
Watch out for those dogs, those men wo do evil, those mutilators of the flesh.

We will not all sleep, but we will all be changed - in a flash, in the twinkling of an eye, at the last trumpet. For the trumpet will sound, the dead will be raised imperishable, and we will be changed.

2 Cor 5v1-9
Now we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands.

Is 65v17-25
'Behold, I will create new heavens and a new earth.'

Is 66v22-24
'And they will go out and look upon the dead bodies of those who rebelled against me; their worm will not die, nor will their fire be quenched, and they will be loathsome to all mankind.'

Rev 21v1-5
a new heaven and a new earth.. no more death or mourning or crying or pain..

Jesus and his disciples taught this.
Mt 10v28 afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.

..more bearable for Sodom on the day of judgement than for you.

..weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father.

The angels will come and separate the wicked from the righteous and throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.

All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.. Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.

Jn 5v22-30
'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life... those who have done good will rise to live, and those who have done evil will rise to be condemned.

2 Thes 1v7-10
He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will be punished with everlasting destruction and shut out from the presence of the Lord and from the majesty of his power.

Rev 20v11-15
The dead were judged according to what they had done as recorded in the books...The lake of fire is the second death. If anyone's name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.

The Necessary Pass-Mark of Perfection.

Mt 5v48
Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

Jas 2v10
For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.

Mt 5v27,28
But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.

Mt 5v21,22
But I tell you that anyone who is angry with his brother will be subject to judgement.. anyone who says, 'You fool!' will be in danger of the fire of hell.

Rom 3v20
Therefore no-one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.

Phil 3v4-6
If anyone else thinks he has reasons to put confidence in the flesh, I have more.. But whatever was to my profit I now consider loss for the sake of Christ.

Mt 19v16-30
'Teacher what good thing must I do to get eternal life?'

'..sell your possessions and give to the poor.. Then come, follow me.'

'..Who then can be saved?' ' With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'

The Universality of Sin.

Ec 7v20
There is not a righteous man on earth who does what is right and never sins.

Rom 3v9-12
'There is no-one righteous, not even one; there is no-one who understands, no-one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no-one who does good, not even one.

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

Ps 14v2-3
.. All have turned aside, they have together become corrupt;

Ps 53v2-3
there is no-one who does good, not even one.

Is 64v6
All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away.

Mt 19v25-26
'..Who then can be saved?' ' With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.'

The Perfection of Christ.

Is 53v9
He was assigned a grave with the wicked, and with the rich in his death, though he had done no violence, nor was any deceit in his mouth.

2 Cor 5v21
God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.

Heb 4v15
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who was tempted in every way, just as we are - yet was without sin.

1 Pet 2v22
'He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.'

1 Jn 3v5
But you know that he appeared so that he might take away our sins. And in him is no sin.

Jn 8v46
'Can any of you prove me guilty of sin? If I am telling the truth, why don't you believe me?'

Jn 14v6
Jesus answered, ' I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.'

Acts 4v12
'Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved.'

1 Tim 2v5
For there is one God and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.

Salvation only by faith.

Rom 1v17
For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: 'The righteous will live by faith.'

This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe..

For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord.

Gal 2v16
(We) know that a man is not justified by observing the law, but by faith in Jesus Christ. So we, too, have put our faith in Christ Jesus that we may be justified by faith in Christ and not by observing the law, because by observing the law no-one will be justified.

Eph 2v8,9
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift from God - not by works, so that no one can boast.

Phil 3v9
(I may) be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ - the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.

Tit 3v3-6
he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy. He saved us through the washing of re-birth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour.

Heb 11v6
And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.

Gal 2v21
'I do not set aside the grace of God, for if righteousness could be gained through the law, Christ died for nothing!'

Jn 3v16
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

Jn 5v24
'I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life.'

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