Not much is free in life. We have to work hard to earn the things that we have. Maybe that’s why many people who believe in Heaven believe they have to earn their way there (whether that’s subconscious or forefront mentality). Go to church, be a good person, read your Bible, avoid doing wrong things, believe in God — is this how you get there? Nothing is free in life, could entrance into the eternal presence of your Maker be?! Can you earn your way to Heaven?
In Matthew 19, a rich young man was having an exchange with Jesus. He wanted to know what good thing he must do, to ensure his ticket into eternal life. Let’s read this conversations, Matthew 19:16-19:
Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.” “Which ones?” he inquired. Jesus replied, “‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, honor your father and mother,’ and ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’”
Jesus states that there is only “One” who is good, referring to God (Himself), but continues to say that if you want eternal life, keep the commandments, then rattles off some of the big ten. Jesus was saying if you can keep all the commandments (of which there were 613 of them in the Old Testament), this is how you could earn eternal life… He continues, Matt 19:20-22:
“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.
Apparently the young rich man knew the rules well, and was trying hard to keep them! But he knew something was still missing. Knowing the man was wealthy, Jesus pressed into an area where he may have difficulty keeping commandments, tells him to sell everything and follow. Jesus was not saying that no people with a lot of money can be granted eternal life, he was pointing out that man could not keep all the commands. Greed kept him from loving others like he loves himself - certainly if he loved others like himself, he’d do everything in his power to make sure the poor were taken care of. And beyond loving others as himself, he put his money before God - loved money before God (breaking the very 1st commandment to not put anything above God).
Jesus made the point that no one can keep all the commands perfectly, but perfection is the standard we’re held to. In Matt. 5:48, Jesus said, “You must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” To be “good enough” to be worthy of eternal life, perfection is required — keeping all the commands is required.
So, can you earn your way to Heaven? The answer is not unless you’re perfect. The point I am trying to make is that there is no amount of going to church, reading Bible, doing good things, avoiding bad things, or being nice that can earn your way to have a relationship with God. James 2:10 says that even if you kept the entire law perfectly, but failed once, you are guilty of all — meaning, just one mistake, that’s all it takes to tarnish the standard of perfection. So if you have lied a single time, cheated once, disobeyed your parents in a single moment — that’s all it takes for a separation from perfection… Galatians 2:16, Paul states three times (in this one verse alone), that we cannot be made right by the things that we do.
I am not intentionally trying to make us all feel bad, simply getting us to think through that there is a problem that we need a solution for! Every single one of us messes up, and just one mistake keeps us from God’s presence (because of His perfection and holiness), so perfection is required! If the story of the Bible ended there, we’d be in trouble, but it doesn’t end there. God isn’t some God that coldly makes us obey all these rules, and if not, you’re toast (rules btw, that are in place for OUR GOOD — see blog Do’s and Dont’s). Because of God’s great love and mercy, He sent His Son Jesus to be our perfection. Read Ephesians 2:1-5:
As for you, you were dead in your transgressions and sins, in which you used to live when you followed the ways of this world and of the ruler of the kingdom of the air, the spirit who is now at work in those who are disobedient. All of us also lived among them at one time, gratifying the cravings of our flesh and following its desires and thoughts. Like the rest, we were by nature deserving of wrath. But because of his great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.
We are going to talk all about that grace next week, but for now, consider… is this something that you have already been aware of, you know your sins and you have been saved by grace — is this a reminder that you needed, to maybe bring you back to a place of repentance and closeness to Jesus? Or at least a reminder of what Jesus did for you, a reminder to be grateful? Or, is this a new revelation for you? Have you been trying to “be good” and earn your way to Heaven, without realizing that’s impossible to do? Ask for the forgiveness of your sins and accept the free gift of grace that only Jesus - in HIS perfection, death, and resurrection - can offer!