Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Chapter 4.2c "Good People Go to Hell

So far, in "Chapter 4: Goodness" We have explored the idea that the value of a human is not first and foremost in what he does, but in who he is. Learning from Jesus that God alone is good, we began to reassess what we mean by the word "goodness" in order to learn that there are two kinds of "goodness." What we do is one kind, and, while good, it cannot conquer death. We need the kind of goodness only God does. In the section "Of Earth and Heaven" we further explored the differences between these kinds of goodness, especially seeing how it is by pursuing our own "doing" goodness in place of God's "given" goodness that Adam and Eve first fell in the first place. We also saw how perfect our own "doing" goodness ought to be and faced the sad fact that our attempts at it are not "good" enough. On top of that, the goodness we need most, outside of Jesus, is terribly missing. In "Cows and Arithmetic," we explore the purpose of the Ten Commandments as a blueprint for "doing goodness," and tackle the tough reality that what the commands demand they do not help us achieve. We also learned that humans respond two different ways to this realization about our limitations. One is to repent. The other is to reject even "doing" goodness altogether. In "Beggars and Life-Guards," we contemplate how continuing to try to please God in the face of our predicament is not only the continuation of our original sin, but the greatest hindrance to our receiving the one thing we need most. Today, in "Good People Go to Hell," we look at the doctrine of how all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a free gift in Christ our Lord.


The life which you strive to live can be a very good thing.1 Honor and justice, rare as they seem to be in the United States, are real, and they are wonderful. The right and duty to pursue goodness, to be “civilized,” is a true reflection of how God created the world to be. Love, chivalry, service – these are virtues.2 Being virtuous is not a spiritual crime. It is God's will for us, even as we dwell in this veil of tears. But morality is not what Christianity is about.3 Christianity is about the Christ.4

This has become very unpopular in recent years. The Bible's clear teaching that no person who dies outside of Jesus will escape being cast into hell5 doesn't jive well with the countless others “standards” of “goodness” that we have run around setting up. This is where our understanding of the two kinds of goodness becomes incredibly helpful.

When Christians run around saying that “Jesus is the only way to heaven,” we make very little sense to a world that understands “goodness” primarily a matter of what a person does or does not do. “Believe in Jesus or you'll go to hell” is is not very good news. It makes Jesus into a problem. But the problem is not that everyone who doesn't accept Jesus is going to hell. The problem is that everyone is going to hell to begin with.6

Even the best people – the most civil, the truly upright – everyone who dies and is buried does so because they are flesh born of this fallen world.7 Even the real goodness that most of us do manage from time to time is not the kind of goodness needed to remove this curse of “sin.”8 Death and spiritual evil are not overcome through moral, human actions. To overcome these things, you need God's holiness. So, the reason people who don't have Jesus' blood covering them will go to hell, the reason Jesus is the only way to salvation, is because he is the only human who actually has that kind of goodness.9

The life, death and resurrection of Jesus, as the one man who was infused with God's essential, holy goodness, is actually enough to be the bearer of a new epoch of humanity altogether.10 This is the great miracle of that better kind of goodness. It is not only good enough to help otherwise “good” people not go to hell. It is good enough to help bad people – sinners like you – go to paradise.11

Even the filthiest rags of your life – the hidden secrets, the past regrets, the deepest lies – all of your wickedness, in Jesus, is completely justified by the sheer holiness of his better kind of goodness.12 Where human spirituality, temperance and good conduct, by themselves amount to little more than vanity, inside of who Jesus is and what he did, all human unbelief, extravagance and bad conduct are made nothing less than completely holy.13

This is not an excuse. This is redemption.14 God has said that your every last action is damning and that the best efforts of your life are fallen, but with this hard truth comes his gracious promise that, at the same time, all your greatest failures and most wicked, hidden thoughts can no longer condemn you because they have been taken away by the person and work of Jesus.15 With all that you are able to do already condemned (along with the rest of the world), even your worst mistakes are wiped clean and made perfect (in the perfection of Jesus.) This pure grace alone gives you the freedom to confess that your situation is indeed dire, even evil, but your need to undo the evil has been completely undone by the complete forgiveness of that evil in the resurrection of God's Christ.16

Faith and repentance are then a life of calling these things what they are. Half of the story is continuing to face your own heart and works honestly, recognizing that no matter what other men may think of you, the true judge is the Law of God. The other half of the story is discovering both the beauty of the Law – how it teaches one to rightly love other people – and the beauty of the Gospel – how there is a better goodness which can never be achieved because it is always, always given.17

The crucified Son of God is a thing that the world will and does call a great evil, but God proclaims it the greatest good in the history of the world. It is a better goodness, one that even good people cannot earn, yet one that even bad people can receive. It is the only way to be saved.18 You cannot do it. It is done, once and for all, in the lashes, blood, thorns and cross of Jesus the Christ,19 and, for that reason, it can only be believed. That is the entire point.20


1. Romans 3:31 “Do we then overthrow the law by this faith? By no means! On the contrary, we uphold the law.”
2. Philippians 4:8 “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things.”
3. Romans 2:14-15 “When Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do what the law requires, they are a law to themselves, even though they do not have the law. They show that the work of the law is written on their hearts, while their conscience also bears witness, and their conflicting thoughts accuse or even excuse them.”
4. Acts 11:19-26 “Now those who were scattered...who on coming to Antioch spoke to the Hellenists also, preaching the Lord Jesus. ...And in Antioch the disciples were first called Christians.”
5. John 14:6 “Jesus said to him, 'I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.'”
6. Psalm 89:48 “What man can live and never see death? Who can deliver his soul from the power of Sheol?”
Romans 11:32 “For God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all.”
7. Romans 6:23 “The wages of sin is death.”
8. Romans 3:20 “For by works of the law no human being will be justified in his sight.”
9. 1 Corinthians 1:30 “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.”
10. Romans 5:17 “If, because of one man's trespass, death reigned through that one man, much more will those who receive the abundance of grace and the free gift of righteousness reign in life through the one man Jesus Christ.”
11. Mark 2:17 “When Jesus heard it, he said to them, 'Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.' ”
12. 1 Corinthians 16:11 “You were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.”
13. Romans 10:4 “Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.”
14. Ephesians 1:7 “In him we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of his grace.”
15. Colossians 2:13-14 “You, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross.”
16. 1 Peter 1:3 “He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead.”
17. John 10:9 [Jesus said,] “I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture.”
18. John 15:16 “You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide....”
19. Romans 6:10 “The death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God.”
20. Ephesians 2:8 “By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God.”

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