top of page

Being good gets you to Heaven?

If you ask most people what you must do to get into Heaven (assuming they believe in Heaven or an afterlife), the overwhelming response will be some form of “be a good person.” Most, if not all, religions and worldly philosophies are ethically based. Whether it’s Islam, Judaism, or secular humanism, the teaching is common that getting to Heaven is a matter of being a good person—following the Ten Commandments or the precepts of the Quran or the Golden Rule. But is this what Christianity teaches? Is Christianity just one of many world religions that teach that being a good person will get us into Heaven? Let’s examine Matthew 19:16–26 for some answers; it is the story of the rich young ruler.

Being Good

The first thing we note in this story is that the rich young ruler asks a good question: "What good deed must I do to have eternal life?" In asking the question, he acknowledges that, despite all his efforts to be a good person thus far, something is lacking, and he wants to know what else must be done to obtain eternal life. However, he is asking the question from the wrong worldview—that of merit ("What good deed must I do?"); he has failed to grasp the true meaning of the Law, as Jesus will point out to him, which was to serve as a tutor until the time of Christ (Galatians 3:24).


The second thing to note is Jesus' response to his question. Jesus asks a question in return: why is he inquiring into what is good? Jesus gets to the heart of the matter, namely, that no one is good and no one does good except God. The young man is operating under a false premise: that a reasonable person can earn his way into heaven. To make His point, Jesus says that if the young man wants eternal life, he should keep the commandments. In saying this, Jesus is not advocating a works-based righteousness. Instead, Jesus challenges the young man's suppositions by showing man's shallow understanding of the Law and human ability.


The young man's response is telling. When told to keep the commandments, he asks Jesus, "Which ones?" Jesus gently shows the man the error of his ways by giving him the commandments that deal with our relationships with others. You can almost sense the frustration in the young man's response when he tells Jesus that he has kept all of these since his youth—he insists that he's been a good person. The young man's response is ironic. He said he had kept all those commandments since his youth, but he had broken the commandment regarding false witness. If he were truly being honest, he would have said that, as hard as he has tried to keep the commandments, he has failed. He has not been a good person. He has a shallow understanding of the Law and an inflated opinion of his ability. Also, he feels that he is not a good enough person, and he asks Jesus, "What do I still lack?"


Jesus then confronts the young man's self-righteousness and his attachment to wealth. He tells him that he must sell all he has and follow Him to be truly good. Jesus accurately diagnoses the man's "lack"—his idolization of wealth. The man's great wealth has become a barrier to his relationship with God. He claimed to have kept all the commandments, but in reality, he couldn't even keep the first one, to have no other gods before the Lord! The young man, faced with a difficult choice, turns his back on Jesus and walks away. His decision is a poignant reminder of the challenges we face in our journey toward salvation.


Jesus then turns to His disciples to teach them a principle: "Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God." This shocked the disciples, who believed riches were a sign of God's blessing. But Jesus points out the obstacle that riches often are in their tendency to fuel self-sufficiency. His disciples ask, "Who then can be saved?" Jesus answers by reminding the disciples that salvation is of God: "With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible."


Who can be saved? If left up to man alone, no one! Why is being a good person not enough to get you into heaven? No one is a "good" person; only One is good, and that is God Himself. No one can keep the Law perfectly. The Bible says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23). The Bible also says that the wages of our sin are death (Romans 6:23a). Fortunately, God did not wait until we somehow learned to be "good"; while we were in our sinful state, Christ died for the unrighteous (Romans 5:8).


The central message of this story is clear: salvation is not based on our goodness but on Jesus' goodness. If we confess with our mouths that Jesus is Lord and believe in our hearts that God raised him from the dead, we will be saved (Romans 10:9). This salvation in Christ is a precious gift, and, like all true gifts, it is unearned (Romans 6:23; Ephesians 2:8–9). The gospel's message is that we can never be good enough to reach heaven. We must recognize that we are sinners who fall short of God's glory, and we must obey the command to repent of our sins and place our faith and trust in Jesus Christ. Christ alone was a "good person"—good enough to earn heaven—, and He gives His righteousness to those who believe in His name (Romans 1:17). This reiteration of the main point helps the reader understand the theological argument and its implications for salvation.

Source: Got Questions -

bottom of page