What It Takes to Get to Heaven

In America, the common hope of many people after we die is to go to heaven. There is also a common belief that, if someone is a good enough person, then heaven is the afterlife they deserve. Likewise, if someone is a bad person, instead, hell is their eternal destiny.

There is some truth in these ideas—good people go to heaven and bad (sinful) people deserve to go to hell. The problem is the issue of being a good person. A lot of people think that, if their misdeeds are minor and they try not to harm others, then they are good enough to go to heaven.

That is not what Jesus taught.

Three of the four Gospels record a moment when a wealthy young ruler approached Jesus and asked Him what he needed to do to get to heaven. Mark 10:17–18 records the young ruler’s initial question and Jesus’ initial response as follows:

Now as He was going out on the road, one came running, knelt before Him, and asked Him, “Good Teacher, what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?”

So Jesus said to him, “Why do you call Me good? No one is good but One, that is, God.”

Notice what Jesus says, “No one is good but One, that is, God.” This statement is very important for two reasons. First, Jesus does not reject the title, He receives it. However, He does correct the young ruler’s assumption that people can be good enough to get to heaven.

It is important to understand that God, not human beings, sets the standard of what is good. That standard is perfect alignment of our hearts and actions with God’s character. But, from the moment that Adam and Eve sinned against God in the Garden, all people have inherited a sin nature. This means all our thoughts and actions are polluted by sin. As Ecclesiastes 7:20 says,

For there is not a just man on earth who does good and does not sin.

And Romans 3:23 further clarifies,

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.

As sinners, every person who ever lives deserves hell. But, if that is true, how can anyone get heaven? In Mark 10:26, Jesus’ disciples asked a similar question, and Jesus answered,

“With men it is impossible, but not with God; for with God all things are possible.” (Mark 10:27)

No one can be good enough to earn their way to heaven. Everything we think and do is polluted by sin and falls short of God’s standard of goodness. So, how can anyone get to heaven? Jesus answers—what we cannot earn, God gives freely to all who believe in Jesus Christ.