Why Is Being a Good Person Not Enough to Get into Heaven?

If universal salvation was real, then Christ did not need to die. He could have healed bodies and taught morality without forgiving sin. Instead, he went willingly to the cross, forgiving sinners the whole time.

Candice Lucey
Man sitting on a bench under a tree

The gospel tells us that we only get to heaven through Jesus (John 14:6). Yet, universalists are confident that no one is going to hell; in fact, studies have shown that most people think they will go to heaven when they die. Many so-called Christians are disseminating a lie: That good people will go to heaven. Why isn’t it enough to be good?

Two Destinations

There are only two possible destinations after death: Heaven or Hell.

Heaven is “the dwelling place of God” and kingdom of perfect reconciliation between God and his fallen creation. Here, there will be no more pain or suffering. “We will complete the very love-works we are meant to do on Earth,” “love God wholly,” and “love our neighbor as ourself.” 2 Peter 3:13 says, “According to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”

Revelation 22:1-5 describes “the river of the water of life” flowing “bright as crystal [...] through the middle of the street of the city” with “the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit” blossoming along its banks. Here there will “no longer [...] be anything accursed” and inhabitants “will need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever.”

The alternative is Hell, eternal separation from God, “the lake that burns with fire and sulfur, which is the second death” (Revelation 21:8). In this “fiery furnace,” there will be “weeping and gnashing of teeth” (Matthew 13:50). Anyone whose name is not written in the book of life, who rejects Christ as Savior, will be sent here (Revelation 20:15). Even people who believe Jesus was “good” and who are themselves “nice” people will spend eternity in Hell if they do not believe in him for salvation.

To the Father Through Jesus

When we tell people that God gave his Son so that whoever believes in him will have eternal life (John 3:16), we are talking about Christ who died on the cross and was resurrected before ascending into heaven. He is one with God (John 10:30) and the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17).

Those who believe they can come to God by following the teachings of a good but mortal man named Jesus of Nazareth miss the point. He forgave sins, which only God could do. He told the disciples they would have to eat his flesh and drink his blood. (John 6:54) Jesus called the Pharisees “a brood of vipers” (Matthew 12:34).

C.S. Lewis is often quoted as saying, “either this man was, and is, the Son of God, or else a madman or something worse.” We cannot intelligently argue that Jesus was merely good and that we can be good by following his lessons, thereby entering the gates of heaven without honoring and glorifying him as our Lord.

The older son in Christ’s parable of the Prodigal Son wanted exactly that. “All these years I’ve been slaving for you and never disobeyed your orders. Yet you never gave me even a young goat so I could celebrate with my friends” (Luke 15:29). The older son did not love the Father. God desires “mercy, not sacrifice, and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings” (Hosea 6:6).

No one is righteous. (Romans 3:10) “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all” (Isaiah 53:6). We can never be good enough to make up for our badness. When we expect heaven as our just dessert, we are actually bypassing the justice of God, which could condemn the older son’s slavish obedience as much as the younger son’s depravity.

Forgiveness is a gift we do not deserve. We “have utterly rebelled against our Creator. We are deeply affected by sin.” Every part of us has been corrupted and we are incapable of earning our way into heaven.

All-Loving God

God is frequently defined by Christians and non-Christians as “all-loving.” “Those who argue that all good people go to heaven” believe it’s “obvious that He would allow them into heaven.” Love doesn’t allow “good” people to go to hell. However, besides the fact that no one is good except God (Mark 10:18), this definition of “love” is weak.

“Perfect love drives out fear” (1 John 4:18), and “greater love has no one than this: to lay down one's life for one's friends” (John 15:13). Love is not light and fluffy but active, sacrificial, and powerful. “To stand by and allow murder and violence would be unloving and unchristian.” Yet, we learn from Jesus to be motivated by “love and justice, not retaliation or revenge.”

Mercy is the outworking of love in the midst of justice. We were under the law until Christ fulfilled the law. In Christ alone, we can be confident that nothing will separate us from the love of God (Romans 8:38-39). By his death, we are mercifully released from the just consequence of sin: Our own death. We are also humbled and released from the burden of having to judge who is worthy of salvation.

We Are Evil, Not Good

God’s people must have wanted to exact revenge on wrongdoers, for God asserted that “vengeance is mine” (Deuteronomy 32:35). Naturally, we want criminals to be punished. We tend to think of other people as “evil,” but Jesus declared “whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment” and whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire” (Matthew 5:22).

Society classifies few people as truly “evil,” although historical examples of “heinous evils” were not “the doings of a few deranged individuals or even of hundreds or of thousands but were done by humankind en masse.”

When considering “the immense sufferings that people perpetrate on each other,” we find that in “continent after continent, country after country, torture after torture, murder after murder,” it’s clear that “humankind is desperately wicked” and we “haven’t taken scripture seriously enough.”

We were God’s enemies, the evil against which he defended his people until we became his sons and daughters by adoption. That unchanging, reliable love and power demands justice for his sake, not ours. Without a glorious and holy God who demands justification of sin, what hope would we have against sins committed against us or against the “bad” desires of our own flesh?

We blame Satan, chemical imbalance, brain injury, upbringing, but the problem is sin. And as far as God is concerned, all have “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). We are all evil, but the potential for salvation is a free gift extended to everyone. God did not say “all who are evil will go to hell” or “I’ll let the nice people into heaven.”

He said “all who believe in Jesus” will have eternal life with him. “Human fallenness makes the gospel powerful: we can only appreciate the extent of the work of Christ when we understand the evil and corruption we and the world truly contain.”

God offered a way of reconciliation, which is not a scale against which to judge one’s relative goodness. No one is good or worthy. True belief in Christ changes hearts and motivates good behavior, but at one’s death God only asks, “did you believe in my Son for salvation?” The answer to that question determines where a person spends eternity.

Grace Plus Works

In spite of God’s word on the subject, many Christians persist in teaching one must believe and also do good works in order to be saved. “The righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever” (Psalm 37:29). “Ordinarily, people are declared to be righteous in human courts on the basis of their good behavior.” In that case, they are “in the right” and if they committed the crime for which they are being tried, they are “condemned.”

True, whole-hearted trust in Christ will change a person, leading to kindness, faithfulness, gentleness, and so on. But the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5) is a result of salvation and spiritual maturity, not a prerequisite. One is not saved by believing in Christ plus something else.

We are saved by grace, through faith, not by works (Ephesians 2:8) “so that no one may boast” (1 Corinthians 1:29). The Father wants us to boast in his Son. Importantly, a life lived trusting this is far more compelling and alluring to the unsaved than an exhausting life lived on the hamster wheel of good works.

Christ Died for a Reason

If universal salvation was real, then Christ did not need to die. He could have healed bodies and taught morality without forgiving sin. Instead, he went willingly to the cross, forgiving sinners the whole time.

The price for sin had to be paid, and only sinless, untainted blood was good enough. “According to Jesus no one is good” and “anyone who honestly reflects upon his life, and sincerely probes his heart, knows that this is true.” “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace” (Ephesians 1:7).

Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ookawaphoto


Candice Lucey loves Christ and writing about His promises brings her much pleasure. She lives in the mountains of BC, Canada with her family. 


Originally published July 31, 2020.