The average person thinks he is going to heaven because he is "a good person." But what does that mean, and how "good" does a person need to be to go to heaven?
Jesus was asked once by a rich young ruler, in Mark, chapter 10, "Good Master, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?" (Mark 10:17).
Jesus had a surprising response, "Why callest thou me good? There is none good but one, that is, God" (Mark 10:18).
Jesus did not believe that the world was filled with "good" people. In fact, for Jesus there was only one good, and that was God Himself. In saying this to the young man, Jesus rebuked him for his flippant use of "good." Jesus also underlined the truth that He was indeed "Good Master," the only master who is truly good, and therefore God! The young man said "Good Master" as a polite form of address. Jesus wanted him to think about what he was saying, the implications of calling Jesus good. Jesus defined good by God’s commandments. This was right because the commandments are a reflection of God's own good character. God forbids adultery because He is holy; God forbids murder because He is the God of life; God forbids theft because He is sovereign; God forbids lying because He is truth; and God forbids idolatry because He alone is God and pure Spirit.
The young man said rather confidently, "Master, all these have I observed from my youth!" (Mark 10:20).That young man is like many people today: Have you murdered? No. Have you stolen? No. Have you committed adultery? No. The young man was confident: he was a good person. Surely, he had done enough to get to heaven?But Jesus looked at him straight in the eye and exposed his secret sin: covetousness!
Covetousness is the sinful desire after something which God has forbidden, and especially the love of other things rather than God or above God. Sin is not so much the bad things we do. It is a matter of the heart!
To expose covetousness in the young man, Jesus said to him, "One thing thou lackest. Go thy way; sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven; and come, take up the cross and follow me" (Mark 10:21).
Those words pierced the young man’s heart. Jesus knew that this man loved money and that he was very rich. Jesus knew that the young man loved money so much that he could never part with it. If following Jesus meant that, he could never do it. And so the young man walked away from Jesus "grieved."
Does this mean that all rich people must sell all their goods today? No. Jesus said that to the young man to expose the sin of his heart, a sin which he could not see until Jesus put his finger on it. Jesus had a way of exposing the particular sins of those who came to Him. To an adulterous woman, who was living with a man not her husband, He said, "Go, call thy husband and come hither" (John 4:16). To a self-righteous, religious leader, He said, "Except a man be born again he cannot see the kingdom of God” (John 3:3).
The fact is we are not good, not by the standards of God. Perhaps you think yourself better than your neighbour and certainly better than the inmates of the nation’s prisons. But, God says, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). Have you kept the whole law, without offending at even one point? Have you loved God with your whole heart, soul, mind and strength? If not, you are not good.
If we are ever to go to heaven, Jesus Himself must expose our sins. Part of our sin is our blindness, our ability to deceive ourselves that all is well when it is not. Jesus exposes sin today in the preaching of the Word of God. That is why preaching is not popular. People do not want to have their sins exposed, so they stay away; or they go to where they can be flattered.
But exposing our sin does not make us good. It only makes us see that we are not good, and certainly not good enough to please God. And when we see that, we no longer boast about being good. Instead, we cry out as another man in the Bible did: “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” Only then do we appreciate the good news that God sent His own Son to die on the cross for the sins of all those who believe in Him!