The Claim: If you’re lucky and good enough, you’ll go to heaven.
"Some preachers and writers, drawing on particular passages in the Bible, have recently revved up thousands of people, mostly in America, to believe that soon a few lucky ones, chosen for their goodness, will suddenly shoot up into the sky and disappear into heaven. This ‘Rapture’ will herald the promised “Second Coming of Jesus.”
Richard Dawkins, Outgrowing God, Chapter 2: But is it true?
I will argue against Dawkins’s suggestion that the Bible portrays salvation as “a few lucky ones, chosen for their goodness” going to Heaven. Instead, the Bible shows us that salvation (which leads to Heaven), is rooted in God’s grace - not luck or merit.
Goodness is impossible without God
If goodness is the key to Heaven, as Dawkins suggests, then people must have the ability to choose to be good. However, the Christ-follower who knows and adheres to the Word of God is well aware that the journey to goodness always, and without exception, begins with depravity. Not someone else’s depravity. Not this person or that person’s depravity, but personal, firsthand depravity.
We see evidence of human depravity many times in the Bible. Nowhere in the Word does Jesus (or His disciples and apostles) declare someone saved (or able to enter Heaven) because they were “good.” (Indeed, while the faith of the centurion and the lack of deceit in Nathaniel were admired, these actions were praised because they revealed that God was doing a work in their hearts.) No one was ever praised or singled out for being good in his or her own strength. In almost all cases, it was quite the opposite:
“You brood of vipers!” - John the Baptist in Matthew 3:7 and Jesus in Matthew 12:34
“You are of your father, the devil.” - Jesus in John 8:44
“You foolish (idiot) Galatians!” - Paul in Galatians 3:1
Throughout the Bible, individual people and whole nations were repeatedly called out for lack of obedience to the law of God. This law:
- was put into effect for the purpose of increasing our awareness of sin (Romans 5:20).
- demanded nothing less than perfect and complete submission at all times (Deuteronomy 27:26)
- was an impossible burden to bear and the equivalent of a death sentence for us all (Romans 7.8-10).
The law revealed that it was impossible for any of us to be good without God’s intervention. Dawkins’s idea that goodness is a choice stands in direct contradiction to this Biblical truth.
God’s anger against our sin (lack of goodness) is rooted in the fact that He loves us
Do the above accusations and verses seem harsh? Does God appear to be some divine despot or angry tyrant waiting for us to slip up in forgetting to dot the i and cross the t so He can display His power and wrath?
One day as I was thinking about this and wondering if it could be so, a question came to my mind:
What makes you angry, Mary Beth?
As I thought about it, there were two things, that, when jeopardized, lead to anger:
- Something I care deeply about
- Someone I dearly love
Then, I realized that it is the same for God.
- John the Baptist and Jesus were angry at the Pharisees because they were leading astray God’s people, whom He loved (Matthew 3:7; Jesus in Matthew 12:34).
- Jesus said that the Pharisees had the devil as a father because He wanted them to understand the love of their true Father, God (John 8:44).
- Paul calls the Galatians foolish because he loves them and doesn’t want them to fall into the trap of false teachings (Galatians 3:1).
If Jesus did not care about the Pharisees or the Jewish people, he would not have cared about the fact that the Pharisees were confounding scripture. However, Jesus loved them enough to respond with anger. This anger roused some to recognize their need for a savior and they believed (John 8:30). In the same way, if Paul didn’t care about the Galatians, he would have let them follow a false Gospel. Instead, he reproofed them so that they could get back on the right track.
Because God loves us, He reveals to us the reality of our own depravity. When we realize that it’s impossible for us to be good and go to Heaven on our own accounts, we turn to Him.
Salvation is by grace, not works
God’s love did not stop at revealing our inability to be good. If that was the case, we’d be barred from Heaven. But that’s not the end of the story. As we read in Ephesians,
But because of his great love for us, God, being rich in mercy, made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions - it is by grace you have been saved. Ephesians 2:4-5
Because God loved us, he made a way for us to be saved through Jesus. He decided to show us grace by providing a perfect sacrifice, one whose goodness was never compromised. John 3:16 and Romans 5:8 sums this up:
For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son so that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life. John 3:16
But God demonstrates His own love for us in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for the ungodly. Romans 5:8
We no longer will perish because of our inability to be good. We could never earn our way into Heaven by good works, so God made a way for us through Jesus. This is grace.
A Picture of Grace
To understand grace, I’d like to tell about an experience I recently had.
I live in an area where the deer roam about. One day, not too long ago, a baby deer got stuck in the bars of my wrought iron fence. She struggled and struggled to free herself, and then I tried to get her out under the watchful and pleading gaze of momma deer. It was no use. She was stuck. By the time an officer came, the poor thing was completely worn out and could only lay between the bars, hope deferred and dejected. The policeman immediately went to work on her behalf to set her free and was successful within a couple of minutes.
As I recalled that memory, it occurred to me that I had just witnessed a beautiful picture of law and grace. That policeman chose not to do what was within his authoritative and legal right to do (kill her). Instead, he put his legal right aside and extended grace and mercy to this bound and helpless creature of God. Imagine how much greater the grace would be if to rescue the deer, it was necessary for the policeman to become stuck between the bars, even to the point of death!
The Word of God stands in glaring contrast to Dawkins’s claim that “a few lucky ones [will be] chosen for goodness.” Without Jesus, none of us would be lucky or chosen for our goodness. As Paul in Romans 3:10 says, “There is no one who is righteous (good), not even one.”
For every follower of Jesus, the brutal revelation and painful reality regarding our own personal depravity become even starker in the face of the unmerited, unearned, amazing grace of God.
We can take heart in the fact that where sin abounds, grace abounds much more (Romans 5:20).
True goodness, in all of its essence, entirety, beauty, and love, is found only in God. When His law is at work on our behalf through Jesus Christ for the purpose of our freedom, we experience salvation. There is no luck, no judgment of our own merit. Instead, there is only Jesus, and the relationship with him that opens Heaven’s doors. This is the goodness of our God.