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I've lived a pretty good life. I'll go to heaven, if there is one, won't I?

Image confused person Some people say, "Well, I'm a Christian. I believe in the Ten Commandments. I try to keep the Golden Rule."

The belief that goodness earns eternal salvation is the single most prevalent misconception about Christian teaching. The question is, by whose standard are you "good"—God's perfect standard or man's imperfect one? Jesus commands us to "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect" (Matthew 5:48). Yet, as Jesus was implying, no one can meet this standard. No one is good enough to earn salvation. Paul, in Romans 3:10b-11 says, "There is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, no one who seeks God."

You either think you are perfect, or you are asking God to accept some evil, some imperfection. In either case, the sin of pride would condemn us. Sin is anything that fails to meet God's perfect standard. It is sin that separates us from God.

In law and in theology, even a single violation renders a guilty verdict. Christianity recognizes the further truth that our guilt is more than just one or two trespasses, but a continual condition of sinfulness. Not a day passes but each person fails to measure up in some way.

Most people who say they try to follow the Ten Commandments couldn't even name more than two or three of them. Certainly nobody keeps all the Ten Commandments all the time. Yet Christ teaches us an even more profound meaning of sin. He made us aware of the sins of the heart. If we hate or are angry with our brother, we have committed murder in our heart. The sin of lust is adultery in the heart.

These characteristics expose the true nature of what is in each of us: prejudice, resentment, jealousy, envy, arrogance, self-centeredness, self-indulgence, greed, covetousness, malice, backbiting, deceit, sloth, unfaithfulness, thoughtlessness, hurtfulness, failure to forgive, rejection of God, and idolatry. If these things were not enough by themselves, our failure to admit our shortcomings is lying. An aspect of our sin is our effort to justify our failings.

Christianity teaches that the sins of omission are as important as the sins of commission. For example, failure to do something good for one's neighbor is as much of a sin as harming one's neighbor. Whom do you know that loves every person in the world as much as he loves himself, and loves God with all of his heart, soul, mind, and strength (Mark 12:30-31)? That is the standard of goodness set by Jesus!

Of all religions or worldviews, only Christianity has as its foundation an understanding that all men are sinners and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, also Genesis 6:5, 8:21,  1 Kings 8:46, Job 25:4-6, Psalm 14, 51:5, 53:1-3, 58:3, 130:3, Proverbs 14:12, 20:9, Ecclesiastes 7:20, 7:29, 9:3, Isaiah 53:6, 55:8-9, 64:6, Jeremiah 17:9, Mark 7:20-23, John 3:19, 8:34, 44, Romans 3:9-12, 5:12-21, 7:14-25, Ephesians 2:1-3,  1 John 1:8). The question is—Is this true?

Consider this. Would you be willing to let everyone see your thoughts for the last 24 hours projected on the wall in living color? Samuel Johnson used a one-liner, "Every man knows that of himself which he dare not tell his dearest friend."And G.K. Chesterton in his book Orthodoxy, p.15, states, "Certain new theologians dispute original sin, which is the only part of Christian theology which can really be proved."

There is a dark side to humanity. God's light reveals everything about us, including our dark side. Yet we tend to run away from the light.

One way to expose the lie that man is really basically good, is to look at communism. Based on the notion that man will work toward the common good (or is at least perfectible through law and evolution), communism has been the greatest failure to those under its ideology.

The evidence of man's sinful nature is overwhelming, as world history cries out to this truth. Anthropologists tell us that one-third of all humans who ever lived died at the hands of other humans. In the twentieth century alone, the most advanced ("enlightened") in all history, well over 100 million people have been murdered by their own governments (Russia, Germany, China, Cambodia, etc). Every day the newspaper headlines prove the truth of man's sin nature. Ninety-nine percent of Americans will be a victim of theft at least once. John Stott (see resource list) notes that every house in America not only has a door, but a lock as well.

We are reminded that hell is a reality. Jesus discussed hell more than any other biblical writer. Hell was in fact his most discussed topic (with angels being number two and love number three). It cannot be overstated that we are so far from the standard of God's holiness that we all deserve eternal punishment in hell. This is very serious business indeed.

The Christian message is one of human beings created "very good" by God, but who are separated from God by their own sin and must be redeemed to become what they were meant to be. Ask yourself whether you are perfect and living a life pleasing to a holy God. Are you absolutely honest, pure, loving, and selfless? Do you love your neighbor as yourself? The human condition is that there are no innocent people. The need for a Savior is evident. Only Christianity provides an ultimate resolution to this dilemma (Romans 3:23-24, 5:8, 6:23, Colossians 1:13-14).

For an expanded view of man's nature, go to this article also on our site: The Nature of Man.

Well, do you still think you are a "good person?" Take a couple of minutes to take this Good Person Test. (See middle right of the page.)

"Because morality has been sublimated into ideology, great numbers of people, the young and educated especially, feel they have an adequate moral identity merely because they hold the 'right' views....They may lead narrow, self-indulgent lives, obsessed with their physical health, material comforts, and personal growth, yet still feel a moral advantage over those who actively work to help the needy but who are, in their eyes, ideologically unsound."  --Christina Hoff Summers, "Where Have All the Good Deeds Gone?"

"He that wishes to attain right views about Christian holiness must begin by examining the vast and solemn subject of sin. He must dig down very low if he would build high. A mistake here is most mischievous. Wrong views about holiness are generally traceable to wrong views about human corruption. I make no apology for beginning this volume of papers about holiness by making some plain statements about sin.

"The plain truth is that a right knowledge of sin lies at the root of all saving Christianity. Without it such doctrines as justification, conversion, sanctification, are 'words and names' which convey no meaning to the mind. The first thing, therefore, that God does when he makes anyone a new creature in Christ, is to send light into his heart, and show him that he is a guilty sinner." --J.C. Ryle, Holiness, James Clarke, Cambridge, 1952, p. 1

See this section in our Christian Cram Course.