Many people think that because they’re a “good person,” they’ll go to heaven. Even large numbers in the Christian community believe that’s the way to eternal life. Of course, if they read the Bible and believed what Jesus and Paul said, they’d know the truth. In John 3:3, Jesus told Nicodemus:
“Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God.”
Then, of course, He told him in John 3:16-18:
“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God.”
Famously as well, Paul declared under the direction of the Holy Spirit in Ephesians 2:8-9:
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.
The Bible is clear that a special work of God must occur for a person to enter eternal life with Him; it’s not anything someone does on his own to merit God’s favor as to whether or not he is worthy.
That’s good news! The prophet said in Isaiah 64:6:
But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags; and we all do fade as a leaf; and our iniquities, like the wind, have taken us away.
Nothing any of us does to please God is of any use; our sins cover us as the filthiest of rags, and we’re unable to clean up ourselves. It’s a useless endeavor to even think that’s possible.
So, why is it that people think their good deeds will get them to heaven? Most of us have a sense of self-righteousness; this is heightened by Satan’s dirty little whisperings in our ears that we can do life ourselves without the need for God. After all, aren’t we our own gods?
I’d say, it’s a combination of our sinful thinking, along with Satan’s constant efforts to turn us from the truth. Naturally, this isn’t anything new. It’s been going on for as long as man has been on the earth, and Satan was determined to thwart God because of his hatred for Him.
Jesus encountered this attitude in the rich young ruler, who asked Him how he could enter eternal life. We learn in Luke 18:19 how Jesus responded:
And Jesus said to him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good except God alone.”
He proceeded to give this young man what today we call the Good Person Test that was popularized in recent years by Ray Comfort of Way of the Master.
The gist of the test is to ask whether someone thinks he’s a good person. Probably 99% of the people will reply that they are or they hope so. Our sense of self-goodness seems to be an engrained characteristic in most of us. Once we’ve established that they don’t know Biblical truth, we can go on to show them how flawed their thinking is.
A sequence of questions may be:
“Have you ever told a lie?”
“Have you ever stolen anything?”
“Have you ever looked at another person with lust?”
Most people try to evade these questions. Some will say they’ve never told a lie or stolen anything. Even if they declare their intentions have always been pure regarding how they’ve looked on someone else who is desirable, it’s easy to work through the Ten Commandments to find one they have to admit they broke. “Has your heart always been pure toward God? Have you loved Him each and every day of your life?” Oops, there goes Commandment #1.
This is what Jesus effectively did in this interchange. He had the young ruler congratulating himself that he was worthy of heaven by his good works. Once he’d puffed himself up in his own eyes by his self-righteousness, Jesus lowered the boom. In Luke 18:22 we see:
When Jesus heard this, he said to him, “One thing you still lack. Sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me.”
Riches and wealth were this fellow’s undoing. That was where his heart was – not toward the Lord. His possessions were his idol and his sin was the breaking of the Second Commandment. Upon Jesus revealing this to him, he knew that his own works were inadequate. The law had shown him the condition of his soul – just as it was intended to do.
That’s what the Good Person Test does even in this day for someone who is willing to examine his life and honestly wishes to know the truth. Ray Comfort has made hundreds of videos with him speaking to people and asking them Ten Commandment questions to get at the root of their “goodness.” I highly recommend them. If you watch the eyes of the people closely whom Ray speaks with, if the Holy Spirit has convicted them (because it’s all a work of the Spirit – not of Ray or any of us), you will see a change. Their eyes grow softer and troubled. At that point they are open to the Gospel. Conversely, many aren’t convicted and go away from the exchange still assured of their own righteousness.
We don’t know if the rich young ruler ever had a change of heart. We’d like to think so. Perhaps later the Holy Spirit convicted him with the seed that Jesus planted, and he followed Him as a true disciple. Perhaps not.
Just as with Jesus, we can only do our part to bring the light of truth to others. If we are obedient in this, then we’re pleasing to God. It’s all part of occupying where we’re at until Christ returns. After that, it’s on the person who heard the Word of God whether or not he will obey it.