Good People Don’t Go to Heaven

Image of landscape painting 

The wind circled the small coffee shop, rustling the leafless trees.

“I’m a good person. I go to church pretty often. . .and even give up my weekends to volunteer,” she dropped the comment in mid-conversation.

I gazed at my new friend, confused how we went from our favorite restaurants in Atlanta to that comment.

I smiled.  I had that gut feeling that God wanted me to engage with her on the topic she just seemingly pulled out of thin air: what makes a person good?

“Andie, I’d love to hear your thoughts on what makes a person good. Do you think being good determines where we spend eternity?”

I started to sweat, despite the cool air that seeped through the large glass windows.  She’s certainly going to drop her coffee & run. It was one of those moments  where you feel lighter than air. When you’ve said something uncomfortable for a reason beyond where you can see.

“Umm. . .”  She rapidly stirred her coffee, making a screeching sound on the bottom of the ceramic mug. I winced. I hate that sound.

“I guess God is forgiving and as long as we do the best we can, then we get to go to heaven. I mean no one’s perfect.”

I responded, “Do you know what the Bible says? Good people don’t go to heaven. Forgiven people do.”

“I mean. . . yeah, that’s what I meant. Being forgiven & good. . .”, she trailed off.

“And stuff,” she added.

“What if I told you church attendance & serving the poor & abstinence doesn’t get you into heaven?” I asked her. Yep, we were going there. I bit my upper lip.

“What do you mean?” She asked, pressing her lips against the brim of the mug.

Living a completely selfless life is useless—utterly meaningless—if you aren’t forgiven.  If you haven’t trusted Christ’s death a payment for your sins. You see, our works are supposed to be a sign of gratefulness to God for what He has done in our lives—but doesn’t have anything to do with our salvation status.

“So people who aren’t good can go to heaven?” she asked.

“Actually, I’d take it further. You won’t find any good people in heaven. You’ll find thousands and thousands of bad people—some worse than others—who have chosen forgiveness.”

My friend Andie represents dozens of men and women I’ve spoken with over the years who consistently ask the question,

“How good is good enough?”

Church attendance. Abstinence. Giving up your weekends to serve in domestic violence shelters. Tithing. Loving others as God loves us. All of it might make us good, but it doesn’t make us forgiven. Unfortunately, many Christians in America don’t understand this simple truth. Goodness is often associated with a ticket to heaven, when Jesus clearly tells us we can never be good enough.

The Bible says two things: 1.) If we could save ourselves by our acts of service & moral living then Christ died for nothing (Gal. 2:21) 2.) Salvation is a free gift from God and we can never ever, ever do anything to deserve or earn this gift. (Ephesians 2:8,9)

Brennan Manning describes who Jesus came for beautifully in his book The Ragamuffin Gospel:

“Jesus comes for sinners, for those as outcast as tax collectors and for those caught up in squalid choices and failed dreams.

He comes for corporate executives, street people, superstars, farmers, hookers, addicts, IRS agents, AIDS victims, and even used-car salesmen. Jesus not only talks with these people but dines with them—fully aware that His table fellowship with sinners will raise the eyebrows of religious bureaucrats who hold up the robes and insignia of their authority to justify their condemnation of the truth and their rejection of the gospel of grace.”

This truth changed my life.

 So what about you? Are you good?  Or are you forgiven?

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18 Responses to “Good People Don’t Go to Heaven”
  1. Cortney says:

    Hi Ruthie! I listened to this sermon this morning that dealt with exactly your topic of discussion today as well as the purpose of the Old Testament Law. Very insightful. Give it a listen—pastor-tullian. I’ve really enjoyed reading your blog!

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Courtney, thanks for reading my blog! I’ll have to check out the sermon. All the best to you & yours.

  2. Ana Sofia says:

    Thank You Jesus, I am forgiven.

  3. L says:

    Forgiven thank goodness. Otherwise I would never manage to get to heaven by myself!

  4. Tatuu says:

    I am forgiven!!! Glad I am! Woohooo!

  5. Angel Yang says:

    Wow! That is very hard conversation. You did it Ruthie! I remember myself engaged in similar conversations and sweat. I also remember times that I lost my guts when people bragged about how good they are, and just remained silent.

    • Ruthie Dean says:

      Hi Angel, I have definitely been silent as well. It is always hard to speak up & not remain silent, but I try to think about eternity instead of focusing on their current perceptions of me. I’m so glad we’re sisters!

  6. Leann says:

    Oh Ruthie. You have really hit this on target. What a great post to give us to share with our friends. Thank you for writing and sharing this.

  7. Mayra says:

    Ruthie thanks!

    It is quite true, I know people who believe that their works of charity, will be in heaven, that great lie of the devil is this! (Ephesians 2:9 Not of works, lest anyone should boast.)

    Only Jesus can give us salvation and eternal life! (Acts 4:12 Neither is there salvation: for no other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved.)

    receives a big hug!
    Mayra Mex.

  8. Danelle says:

    Only because I am forgiven, can I choose to have goodness as a fruit of the Spirit in my life. Praise Him! Thank you for sharing this conversation. Everyone needs to hear this amazing truth!

  9. Cassie says:

    Ruthie! What a God-give open door that situation was. The Lord couldn’t have scrounged up a better opportunity than that – and such wise words you spoke to your friend!! Oh so very true and such a wonderful reminder to us believers when we get caught up in “doing works”. We all too often forget that if works were our ticket into heaven, then we wouldn’t need grace or mercy! Man, I’m definitely that individual right there! Get it together Cassie! :)

  10. violet says:

    That’s right. Good people don’t go to heaven. You may be surprised there are more of those in jails — the murderers, the rapists and kidnappers, etc. you will find in heaven than those who are living in the “free” world. Simply because they have aceepted Jesus Christ as their Savior and transformed their lives! Yes, I oftentimes visit the state’s prison and I know the Lord has touched their hearts for Him.

  11. Simone says:

    This is eye opening and a answer to my inner thoughts(heard by God).
    I have grown up Apostolic my whole life, and I feel that since my eyes have been opened to the lies I and others have been taught are being destroyed. I am not saying Apostolic is wrong, I am saying that the approach now days is becoming more of a prosperity teaching and some what hate message and abusive. I have experienced being called out in front of others because I didn’t stand to worship when the minister told us to(I don’t believe in being told to worship God by others who force others too), I have been told I was disobedient because of it and been told I am disobedient because I didn’t repeat words. All I front of visitors who may not have known Jesus.

    Anyways, reading this has given me something to think about. In spite of me and my dirtiness, God is STILL God and that will NEVER change.

Check out what others are saying…
  1. Ruthie Dean says:

    […] “Yes, I see.” She said slowly, seemingly to acknowledge her inability to ever be good enough. […]

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