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By Samuel Stoddard


June 29, 2022

One of the most dangerous misconceptions about the Christian faith is the belief that when you die and are judged by God, everything you've ever done is put on some sort of scale, and if the good things outweigh the bad things, you get to go to heaven.

This would be a bizarre and unjust way to imagine an earthly courtroom working. If you are arrested and put on trial for something, the purpose of the trial will be to determine your guilt or innocence of the charges -- not whether everything you've ever done meets some nebulous standard of goodness as to let the crimes slide. It wouldn't be justice if you could be found innocent of crimes just because of your standing within the community. If it's not just in an earthly court, why would it be in a heavenly one? God is just, which means sin must be punished.

We can look at the ten commandments to see how we measure up. Have you ever told a lie? Have you ever taken something that wasn't yours? Have you ever dishonored your parents? That's only three of the ten, but any one "yes" is enough to be found guilty. Romans 3 says "There is none righteous, no, not one" and "all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God." Then, in Romans 6, "The wages of sin is death."

But there is good news. Let's go back to that earthly courtroom. Say you committed a traffic violation and are fined for it. For justice to be served, the fine must be paid. But let's say someone stands up and says "I'll pay your fine" and forks over the required amount. Justice is served, and yet you've escaped punishment.

This is the whole reason Jesus Christ, the Son of God, came down to earth and died on the cross. For all the physical pain he endured -- being scourged, mocked, beaten, given vinegar to drink, then nailed to a cross and hung up to die -- when he cried out it was not over this pain; rather he said, "My God, My God, why hast thou forsaken me?" (Matthew 27:46) for the greater suffering was that God was punishing him for the sins of the world. Three days later, he rose again from the dead, was seen of many, and ascended into heaven.

Why? So that we don't have to die in our sins. In Acts 29, a man asks the apostle Paul what he has to do to be saved. Paul's answer isn't to do good things to make up for bad things; rather he says simply, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ."

Titus 3:5 says "Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us," and Ephesians 2:8-9 says "By grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast." Nobody who goes to heaven earns their place there by being better than anybody else. Forgiveness is God's gift. Like any gift, it can be refused, but it is given freely to all who ask for it.

In Luke 18, Jesus tells the story of two men praying to God. One stands on the strength of his good deeds, first thanking God that he is a good person, then declaring how he fasts and tithes. The other merely prays, "God be merciful to me a sinner." Jesus says of this second man, "I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other."

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