Summary: Salvation is by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone. How then, can Jesus link our eternal destinies as "sheep" or "goats" to what we have done; i.e., whether we have served one another?
All right. Everybody buckled up? Good. We may get jostled about a bit this morning, but our destination will be worth the drive.
Let’s start with a question. It’s an important question, one of the most important questions that we are confronted with. The good news is that the gospel of Jesus Christ provides an answer. The bad news is that although you may think you understand that answer, you probably don’t. At least not fully. What I’m going to do this morning is ask you to think more broadly and deeply about this fundamental question, so that the choices you make will be consistent with what it truly means to follow Christ.
So here’s the question: What do you have to do to get to heaven? Most of us would agree that’s an important question. What do you have to do so that, once your life on earth is concluded, you will be admitted to the good place, instead of the bad place. Have you seen the TV show, “The Good Place”? It’s on NBC. Here’s a photo [Good Place photo]. A woman named Eleanor Shellstrop, played by Kristen Bell, wakes up after a freak accident that has caused her demise, and she finds herself in an office with Ted Danson, who informs her that she is in the “good place”. I won’t give away too much of the plot, but after a series of mishaps Eleanor comes to the conclusion that she doesn’t really belong in the good place. But she doesn’t think she belongs in the bad place either. Making her case to Chidi, the moral philosopher who is trying to instruct her, she says, “I was a medium person! I should get to spend eternity in a medium place, like Cincinnati!”
Now let me hasten to say that I don’t suggest you construct your theology of the afterlife by watching a television show. Especially in this case, because if you did, you would have some seriously messed-up views on personal eschatology that would involve giant flying shrimp. But even though it’s just a silly show — one which is NOT, I repeat, NOT to be confused with actual Christian teaching — it does bring up some interesting questions. Such as, is there a medium place? And the Bible says no. The Bible talks about a very good place; heaven, and a very bad place, which is referred to as hell, or hades, or gehenna. And so, although a lot of people would think, with Kristen Bell’s character, that they should end up in a medium place, maybe not paradise, but not all that bad either, in the Bible there’s no such thing. There’s only a good place and a bad place.
Another obvious question which the show brings up is, if there really is a good place, not the pretend good place in the TV show, one with a TCBY yogurt store on every corner, but a real good place, a place the Bible calls heaven, a place of inexpressible joy, and beauty, and love, and gladness, and peace — if there really is a place like that, how do I get there? In the TV show, you get there by being a really, really good person. And that’s what most people assume. You get to heaven, the good place, by being a good person. Seems reasonable.
But this is where the alert evangelical, or anyone who has been paying attention on Sundays here at Providence, will say to themselves, but that’s not true. You can’t earn your way to heaven. None of us is good enough, none of us meets God’s standard, because he is a pure and a holy God and his requirement is holiness; that is, moral perfection. And none of us meets that standard. As Paul writes in his letter to the church at Rome,
“There is no one righteous, not even one” (Rom. 3:10)
And further on,
“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God’s sight by the works of the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of our sin.” (Rom. 3:20)
And a few verses later,
“for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23)
As the Psalmist wrote, considering his own spiritual condition,
“If you, Lord, kept a record of sins,
Lord, who could stand?” (Psalm. 130:3)
What’s the answer to that question? No one. No one, in light of our universal sinfulness, can stand before a holy God. And therefore, unless some other provision is made, no one can enter into the place where God dwells, which is heaven. We are all doomed.
That’s the bad news. And it is very bad news. You are not an exception to the rule. I am not an exception to the rule. No one in this room is an exception to the rule. According to God’s holy standard, “There is no one righteous, not even one”. We all fall short.