The disciples were astounded. “Then who in the world can be saved?” they asked.
Jesus looked at them intently and said, “Humanly speaking, it is impossible. But not with God. Everything is possible with God.” Mark 10:26-27 (NLT)
I believe that the most prevalent false notion I’ve witnessed thus far in my journey is that our salvation is somehow dependent on our goodness or badness.
It is a very human trait to ascribe reward to merit. As children we are generally rewarded for doing our chores, getting good grades and keeping our noses clean. If we are bad, Santa Claus will give us a lump of coal, but if we are good he will give us a lot of presents under the tree. In extra-curricular activities we are rewarded when we work hard and display exceptional abilities. As adults we learn that if we do good work our employer will not only pay us, but might also give us a bonus. Conversely, our “bad” deeds may earn us fines and punishment.
How easy, then, to slip into the belief that the God of the Universe operates on the same human paradigm. If we are good we will go to heaven. If we are bad we will go to hell. So, we carefully consider our behavior and try to keep the “good” side of the ledger ahead of the “bad.” If we start getting a little concerned about how things will shake out, we begin to play the comparison game as if to prepare our case for admittance through the Pearly Gates. “Sure,” we say to ourselves, “I’m not perfect, but at least I didn’t kill millions of people like Hitler or swindle people out of their life savings like Bernie Madoff.”
Jesus made a few things abundantly clear in His teaching:
- We can’t avoid having enough check marks on the “bad” side of the ledger because our sinfulness is not a matter of our bad deeds but the condition of our hearts. Like a drop of food coloring in the cake batter, one drop of “bad” taints the entire being and renders us unacceptable to God. As Jesus put it, the person who shouts “you idiot” in anger is as guilty as the mass murderer in God’s economy.
- We can never be “good enough” to earn our way into heaven. No amount of good deeds can wipe away the sin that taints the very core of our being (see #1). Go ahead and try to keep a list if you want. It will never be long enough. Jesus said it himself. It is humanly impossible to enter God’s kingdom.
No lack of badness or amount of goodness can merit the entry fee to God’s kingdom. The only way to enter is by going directly to Jesus, who paid the entry fee for us when He died on the cross and took upon Himself the penalty for the “badness.” God loved us so much that He gave His one and only Son, so that whoever would simply believe in Him would not perish, but have eternal life.
And, that’s the true reason to be excited about Christmas.