At church today, my Pastor, Bret Truax at Calvary Baptist in Salem, OR, was preaching on baptism. Three kids from the church got baptized this morning, and the pastor used the occasion to remind the congregation about the origins and meaning of baptism in our faith.

But it wasn’t a comment about baptism that caught my attention. Bret was talking about how baptism in our denomination is a symbol and that the act does not get you to heaven. Then he basically said nothing you can do – no act – can get you into heaven. That’s the point I want to land on now.

For both Christians and non-Christians, one of the most difficult parts of the faith is that so-called “good people” don’t go to heaven without faith in Jesus. For a lot of people I’ve spoken with, they think it’s unfair and that God will see His way to let them in, because after all, they’re good people.

I promised this blog would be controversial, so let’s get into it!

There’s a problem with the premise of the argument that good people – regardless of faith – should go to heaven. Certainly, there are big-hearted non-believers who give to charity, take care of others, love their neighbor, live a clean lifestyle, and all the rest. In fact, their life may look better than some professing Christians!! No doubt we call those people good in our society. However, here’s the problem. That “good” is based on our worldly sense of good not on God’s holy sense of good.

Scripture tells us that all fall short of the glory of God. (Romans 2:23) The truth is that in our fallen state as sinners, not one of us is good – not one! And this is why we need Jesus.

See, if any of us were good on our own, Jesus would not have had to come and die on a cross for the sins of the world. There would be nothing for him to die for, because we could be good on our own and then it would be a choice we would make! But as fallen people with a sin nature, none of us are good, and not one of us can take any action on our own that would make us holy in God’s eyes.

To say that a non-believer should be allowed into heaven based on their own personal goodness instead of faith actually rejects the work on the cross. That is dangerous ground for us theologically, because in essence we are saying we don’t need Jesus for our salvation and instead we place our faith in ourselves.

I have a number of non-believer friends who I like very much. They are good people in the societal sense and if you didn’t know better, you may actually think they are believers. But they still reject faith, which is the real problem.

I wondered for a long time why people like this would reject believing in God when in their actions they are doing all the things God would ask them to do, but do for Him instead of themselves. Then it hit me: as “good” as my friends are, they don’t like the idea of being responsible to something larger than themselves. Honestly, what’s the difference between how you act today as a good person who is not a believer and a good person who is a believer? The difference is the motive of your actions. One is for your personal motives while the other is done for God.

Have you ever watched people’s faces when you say the words “obedience” and “submission” when talking about faith? You may as well have said, “broccoli” and “cauliflower.”  It just doesn’t seem to be a good fit with how we look at our lives. We pride ourselves on our independence and freedoms. Being obedient and submissive to God sounds oppressive and confining. No, instead non-believers think that the whole God thing is a crock, but agree that Jesus was a wise man who taught good lessons we all should live by, at least those lessons that had to do with loving your neighbor and taking care of the poor.

Jesus also said that the gate is narrow and he meant that getting to heaven takes more than just being a good person. Faith is hard and being a disciple of Jesus is even harder. It does mean obedience and submission, but it also means tremendous reward, because I don’t have to rely on my own strength to get to heaven. There is nothing I can do that’s going to get me there. But through my faith in Jesus I get the free gifts of grace, mercy, love, and yes, heaven.

Does any of this matter? I think so. Search your hearts and souls; do you think there is something more after this life? I would argue that there is an eternity for everyone, and a lot of good people are going to hell, because they would rather rely on their own strength than submit themselves to God. This is why Jesus commanded us to go out and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. God wants everyone to come home, but you have to be willing to take that hard step of faith and believe.

Here’s the hopeful part for good people. I believe the good they do is because God actually has put it on their heart to do so, even if they don’t recognize it is God. For me, this means there is always an opening to share with them how much God loves them and wants them to come into relationship with them.

So here’s my challenge to you. If you’re a good person reading this but not yet a believer think hard about why you reject God when in fact you may be doing what you’re doing because of Him. If you already are a believer and know good people who are not believers, don’t give up on them. God didn’t give up on you! Reach out and share God’s love with them. Good people need God’s grace, too!