Many of us are inclined to look at the lives of other people—people who model kindness, benevolence, tolerance, compassion—and say to ourselves, “That’s the kind of life that that will ensure a place in heaven.” Our world places a high value on deeds of kindness and selflessness, and rightly so. We are conditioned to think of our own lives in terms of what we have done for, or how much we’ve given to, people in need. Or we often justify ourselves by thinking, “I’m not prejudiced.” Or “I treat people fairly.” Or “I’m an honest person.”
The unfortunate truth is, however, that no matter how hard we try, and no matter how much we’ve done for others, we can never measure up to God’s standard of “goodness.” The Bible states simply, “for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” (Romans 3:23) In other words, everyone has failed to meet God’s standard of holiness. That includes all those who try to follow the path of kindness and integrity. Here’s how the Bible puts it: “But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.” (Titus 3:5) Our salvation—our acceptance before God—is received entirely on the basis of God’s mercy, not on the basis of our good deeds. To bypass God’s offer of salvation through Christ and to place our trust in our own good works is to totally miss it!
Here’s how one writer explains it:
This all comes down to one basic question: If it is possible for you and me to attain salvation by simply living a good life, why was it necessary for Jesus to endure the excruciating agony of the cross? Why didn’t he simply lay down a few guidelines, tell us to do our best and . . .? Because Jesus knew it would take more than guidelines to redeem us.
But God has worked his way to us in Jesus Christ. The punishment we deserve, justly deserve, was suffered by him. The only way we can be “good” is if we partake of Jesus’ goodness which, fortunately, he wants us to have.2
So does moral living have any value at all? Of course it does. But it can never save us! The strong and clear message of the Bible is that salvation comes through Christ alone. We simply have to acknowledge that we are sinners, believe in Christ’s substitutionary sacrifice and receive his forgiveness!