Thursday, January 18, 2007

Isn't Good good enough?

Second in a series of messages answering tough questions non-Christians ask about God and Faith.

Ephesians 2:8-9

You’ve heard it. Maybe you’ve said it. It usually sounds a little like this:
I’m a good person. I treat people right. I don’t steal or kill or anything bad like that. I know that God will see that and wouldn’t keep me out of heaven. After all, being good is good enough, right? Well, let’s look at that.
There is a story of Billy Graham when he was visiting a city for one of his crusades. He had finished writing a letter and began to look for a place to mail it.Walking around the city for a while, he came across a young boy. He asked the boy if he knew how to get to the post office. The boy gave Billy Graham the directions and before leaving, Billy said to the boy, “Come on over to the arena tonight and I’ll tell you how to get to heaven.”The boy looked at him and replied, “How can you know how to get to heaven? You don’t even know the way to the post office!”
Today I want to tell you that I do know the way to the post office, and more importantly, I know how a person gets to heaven, because the Bible tells us how. But I want to take a different route to that same goal, by focusing on how to NOT get to heaven.My purpose today is really to discuss the various ways people think they can go to heaven, and why those things do not work to bring us to heaven. I have a feeling that if you’re here to hear the answers to some tough questions, you may find yourself in one of these camps.Ready, here we go.
The first way to NOT get to heaven is…. Trust your good works. I once heard a story about a businessman who was once asked if he knew if he was going to heaven and why God should let him in. He replied, “Oh yeah, He’ll let me in. I give turkeys to poor people every year at thanksgiving, and other stuff, too.”
I wish our reply to that could be, “Congratulations! You made it into heaven! Way to go!” Unfortunately, that’s not what God says. Look at this verse with me: Ephesians 2:8-9 says:God saved you by his special favor when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it.And we’ve already talked about this at the open of this message.
You see, folks, there is no amount of charity, no amount of community service, no amount of kind words that will ever add up to be enough to get you into heaven.
I am not saying we should never do good works. In fact, we are commanded to do them. Let me read you the next verse, verse 10: For we are God’s masterpiece. He has created us anew in Christ Jesus, so that we can do the good things he planned for us long ago.Just because we do not get to heaven by good works does not mean we should not do them.
In fact, as we can see from this verse, we are to do them all the more. They simply don’t get us to heaven.
And there’s a certain reality that needs to be understood here. Because God does love us. God doesn’t want us to perish. But God is also completely holy. And nothing that is not also completely holy can be in the presence of a completely holy God. So we need to be holy for this God. And yet we’re not. How can we be holy? I’ll get to that later.
So if you want to NOT get to heaven, trust in your good works to get you there.
The next way to NOT get to heaven is…. Trust your traditions.
I like traditions. I’m a big fan of traditions. Some of my favorite traditions are things like singing “Take Me Out to the Ballgame” at baseball games. Actually, I like singing the national anthem at sporting events. Another favorite tradition of mine is the All-American Sunday afternoon nap. In fact, I’d put that up there with breathing as one of my favorite things to do.
But what I’m talking about here is mainly traditions of a religious nature. We will be talking in more general terms about religion in a bit, but I want to talk in specifics for a moment. As I’ve just mentioned, I like traditions, but if we are not careful, we can fall into the trap of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. In their desire to serve and please God, they added to the law of Moses hundreds of other laws. And it came to the point that these guys were putting all their faith in these traditions. Jesus had some things to say about this.Matthew 15:6 - And so, by your own tradition, you nullify the direct commandment of God.
“We’ve always done it that way!” becomes the rallying cry of the traditionalist. “Don’t bring that new Bible translation in here. Don’t bring them new-fangled ‘worship choruses’ here. If Rock of Ages and Amazing Grace were good enough for Jesus, they’re good enough for me!”
Tradition can get in the way of knowing what is behind the tradition. For instance, many churches say the Lord’s Prayer at every service.That’s a good tradition. But saying that prayer can become just a matter of rote if you don’t remember why that tradition was started.
I’m reminded of a story of a young newlywed couple. The bride decided to bake her groom a ham. But just before she put it in the pan, she cut off both ends of the ham. Her groom asked her why she did that, and she answered, “That’s the way my mother did it.” So the next time the groom visited his mother-in-law, he asked her about this. “Why did you cut off the ends of the ham before you baked it?” Her answer was the same as her daughter’s, “That’s the way my mother did it.” Well, this got the young man even more curious, so next time they visited his wife’s grandmother, he posed the question to her, “Why did you cut off the ends of the ham before you baked it?”Her answer was straightforward and simple, “Because my pan was too small, and that was the only way it would fit!”The tradition started out with a good reason, but it was lost over time.
Tradition, no matter how wonderful it is does not get you into heaven. So if you want to make sure you do NOT get to heaven, just trust your tradition.
Closely related to this is the next way to not get to heaven.... Trust your religion.
“What do you mean, Preacher? That’s why we’re here, isn’t it – to be religious?”
We come here to give God honor in worship and to listen to His Word so we can be better servants for Him.
Too many people come to Church three times primarily. They’re baptized, they get married, and they have their funeral service at the Church. The first time they throw water on you, the second time they throw rice, and the third time they throw dirt! (Mark Hensley – Sermon Central)
Folks, you cannot trust your church to get you to heaven. You cannot trust your denomination to get you to heaven. You cannot trust your baptism. You cannot trust your taking of communion. You cannot trust your Bible reading.You can’t trust any of that.
When you put your trust in your religion rather than a relationship with Christ, you run the danger of becoming a hypocrite. Hypocrites are religious on the outside, but still corrupt on the inside. They follow religious tradition and man-made teachings instead of the Word of God.
Jesus had something to say about these types as well.Matthew 15:7-9: You hypocrites! Isaiah was prophesying about you when he said, ’These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far away. Their worship is a farce, for they replace God’s commands with their own man-made teachings.’"
You see, there are lots of people who think that because they go to church on Sunday, or because they were baptized, or because they take communion, or whatever,they are okay with God and can go to heaven. Unfortunately, that’s not what God says. In fact, God says that the righteousness we bring on our own is nothing but filthy rags in his sight. We have nothing in the way of true religion on our own to offer God.
So trust your religion if you want to be sure to NOT get to heaven.

How to get to heaven:
We have looked at a number of things that people are trusting in order to get them to heaven, but the truth is that none of these will give us favor with God allowing us into heaven.
None of these will make us holy. And one of the things I have been stressing this morning is that God says we can’t trust these things.
Now, it’s easy to trust a minister, because we think that ministers know it all. Then again, most of you know me well enough to know that’s just not true, amen? So one of the things I have challenged you to do over the last couple of years is to get into the Word of God. The main reason is that because God’s Word is perfect. I am not perfect (no amens from peanut gallery), so you need to be in the Bible to make sure I am communicating truth to you.
A person once asked me why we should believe the Bible instead of the minister who contradicted the Bible. My answer was, “If God’s Word isn’t good enough, what is?” If you can’t trust God’s Word, than how can you trust a man’s word? The key to this is to see what God says about stuff, and particularly about what God says about going to heaven, because you will spend way more time in eternity than you will spend on earth. Get the idea?
So what can we do to get to heaven? Only one thing: Trust in Jesus.
Romans 10:8-10: Salvation that comes from trusting Christ – which is the message we preach – is already within easy reach. In fact, the Scriptures say, "The message is close at hand; it is on your lips and in your heart." For if you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is by believing in your heart that you are made right with God, and it is by confessing with your mouth that you are saved."
This is the absolute grace of God. That our creator would give up His only son to set things right between himself and his creation. And this is how we are able to be holy and thus be in the presence of that holy God. You can do nothing except trust the work that Christ has done for you. We need to trust in the redeeming work of Jesus Christ on the cross.
How do you trust Christ? You call out to Him, believing that He has done everything necessary for you to get to heaven. The Bible says that all who call on the name of the Lord will be saved. So you are going to have the opportunity to do that this morning.
I hope that if you have never done that before, that you will take advantage of this time to make sure you have a home in heaven. Remember, you can’t get there on your own. Your only hope is the Lord Jesus Christ, and trusting Him as your Lord and Savior. I am going to lead us in a prayer. I want all of us to pray together.
Let’s pray.
(Lead a sinners prayer)

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