“For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God. We are justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” Romans 3:23-24.
We’ve all wondered about what happens to “good,” upstanding people who do not believe in Christ when they die. The humanist nature within us wants to believe that God smiles upon their “goodness” and allows them a free pass into Heaven. This notion, however heartwarming it may be, is wrong.
We must understand one basic concept before we can go any further in this discussion. There are two competing definitions of what is “good”: there is God’s definition, and there is the world’s definition.
Let’s begin by looking at the world’s definition of “good.” According to the world, a person is “good” if they adhere to noble ethics and adopt a strong sense of morality. Is it possible to lead an ethical and moral life without believing Jesus is the Messiah sent from God? Certainly. Christ does not own the market on moral teachings. Many great thinkers and philosophers have given us very good and moral guidelines as to how we should lead our lives; following any one of these schools of thought would certainly make a person moral and “good.” The world also says that people who are kind to others, and charitable with what means they have are “good.” Surely, kind and charitable people are “good,” at least as far as the world is concerned. It is when we look at people through the lens of the world’s vision of “good” that causes us to wonder about the eternal well-being of “good” people who do not believe in Christ. It is this lens that complicates matters for us.
God’s definition of “good” is much less complicated or confusing. His ideal of what is “good” is contained in the Scriptures and is comprised of, though not limited only to, the Law which He gave the Israelites. In addition to the Law, God’s view of “good” is expounded upon by the teachings of Christ. But, because of sin, we are not able to keep God’s Law, nor are we able to fully carry out the teachings of Christ. As Paul said in the verse above, all of us “have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” In the Old Testament book of Ecclesiastes, it is written “there is no man on this earth who is righteous and never sins” (Ecclesiastes 7:20). We all fall short of God’s standard of “goodness,” therefore none of us are “good.” We are all equally guilty of sin before God.
If the story ended here, things would be very bleak for humanity. Thankfully, God knows that we are unable to do anything about our sins. He knows we cannot live up to His standard, so He does something to help us. He gives us a gift that we do not deserve–He gives us grace. This grace was paid for by Christ laying down His life for us, and paying the price for our sins. It is through the shedding of Christ’s innocent and holy blood that grace was made available to mankind. Again, as Paul wrote to the Romans, we receive God’s grace “through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus.” What is redemption? It means to pay for, to buy back, or to free from captivity. When Christ died for us, He literally bought us back and freed us from the captivity that sin holds us in. In other words, Christ gives us His “goodness.”
There are no good works or deeds that we can perform on our own to earn salvation from God. Even the most moral and ethical people come up infinitely short in this regard. Furthermore, a person who thinks they can go through life being “good” and possibly get into Heaven without believing in Christ is sadly mistaken. When a person adheres to this school of thought, it is the same as saying to God, “I’m good enough to do this on my own. I don’t need Your forgiveness. I don’t need Christ’s blood. I don’t need Your grace. I’m good enough without You.” It is a rejection of Christ and a rejection of God. It is man making himself into his own god. To say that “good” people get into Heaven, regardless of their belief in Christ, is to fundamentally undermine the most basic doctrine upon which Christianity is built. If man were able to be “good” enough on his own to get into Heaven, then Christ died for nothing.
If we were “good” enough, we wouldn’t need a Savior. But the simple fact of the matter is this: we are sinners, and we need someone to redeem us from our sins. That someone is Christ, and He willingly gives us grace and forgiveness from God so that we may enter into a relationship with Him and the Father, and so that we can enjoy life everlasting with God. But this is the only way; Christ said it Himself, “I am the way, the truth, and the life. No one can get to the Father except through me.”
You don’t have to take my word for it. Take Christ’s.