“The goodness we have reached is a house built on piles driven into black slime.”
“One, two, three, four, five, six, seven / All good children go to heaven.”
So sang Paul McCartney in the Beatles’ 1969 song, ‘You Never Give Me Your Money.’
“Many people mistakenly believe that the message of the Christian faith is, ‘Be a good person and you will be saved’ — a misconception that is often reinforced by the presentation of Christianity in the media and sometimes, sadly, even by the Church itself.”
Now this may just be a silly little ditty. But the sad fact is that many people mistakenly believe that the message of the Christian faith is, “Be a good person and you will be saved” — a misconception that is often reinforced by the presentation of Christianity in the media and sometimes, sadly, even by the Church itself.
Inevitably this leads to the line of thought which runs, “If being a good person is what I need to do to be saved/get to heaven, then what do I need Jesus for? And what do I need the church for?”
It was refreshing, therefore, to see the gospel — the good news of Jesus — that which Christians actually believe — clearly proclaimed in an article by Giles Fraser in the Guardian on 16th November.
The article was headlined:—
Salvator Mundi went for $450m. But you can have the real thing for free
The only way out of the trap of the human condition is to admit our moral incapacity and call on God for help
Rev. Canon Fraser went on to explain:—
A painting by Leonardo da Vinci, circa early 1500s, has just been sold for $450m. That makes it the most expensive painting ever. It is called Salvator Mundi, and depicts Christ, hand raised as if about to give a priestly blessing. He is the saviour of the world, says Leonardo. It was probably only a few years after Leonardo finished this great work that, on the other side of the Alps, a German monk would come up with an idea about this act of salvation that would totally transform the intellectual landscape of Europe.
He then goes on to explain Martin Luther’s key intellectual breakthrough — the idea that man cannot do anything to make himself good enough for a holy God.
Living as a monk, Luther wrestled with the thought that, despite his rigorous standard of living, nothing he was capable of as a human being would ever be good enough for God. And that, if God was entirely just – that is, if God judged us according to our merits – then all of us are in deep trouble. Hamlet makes the same point in a conversation with Polonius: if you treat everyone as they deserve, “who shall ’scape whipping?”
Rather, as Luther discovered, God does not treat us fairly, but instead lavishes his grace upon men and women far beyond their deserving.
“The Christian believes that it is precisely not by doing good that we hope to obtain heaven — but purely and simply by trusting in God’s Son Jesus Christ, who was born among mankind in order that he might be acceptable to God on our behalf.”
Hence, the Christian believes that it is precisely not by doing good that we hope to obtain heaven — but purely and simply by trusting in God’s Son Jesus Christ, who was born among mankind in order that he might be acceptable to God on our behalf.
It is by accepting this free gift of the grace of God in Jesus Christ — and not by anything ‘good’ we do — that the Christian believes he or she will obtain eternal life with God.
Thus, the message of Christianity, when properly understood, actually makes Christians acutely aware of our personal unworthiness. Or as Rev. Canon Fraser puts it:—
The upshot of this shift in thinking is that Protestant Christianity is not really all that interested in morality. You can’t get yourself saved by being good. It’s not that morality is a bad thing per se – but that it does not reach into the darker parts of human nature. For what if, deep down, we are all a bit more like the Harvey Weinsteins of this world than we care to admit?
“What if, deep down, we are all a bit more like the Harvey Weinsteins of this world than we care to admit?”
Giles Fraser, The Guardian, 16 November 2017
I have been critical of the Guardian in the past, for printing what clearly implied that believing Christians have no right to take part in central government (the presenting issue was the loose coalition, which was then in the offing, between the Conservative party and the DUP). But on this occasion I warmly commend the Guardian for printing a piece which not only presents Christianity in a fair light, but actually explains the gospel that Christians believe correctly.
After all, we call it ‘good news.’ Even we Christians are not so dumb as to think that the doctrine, “Be a good person and you will be saved,” qualifies as good news in anyone’s book.
What is the gospel then?
First of all, Christians do not believe that anybody gets to heaven by “being a good person.”
Nor do Christians believe that we are morally superior to others. Our moral superiority — even if we had it — would not be our ticket to Paradise.
In fact, reading the pages of the Bible shows us very clearly how unworthy we Christians are.
“And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.”
The Apostle Paul, Letter to the Romans, 4:5
And that is precisely the point. It is as we recognize our own utter inability to live up to God’s standard, that we understand our need for a Saviour — one who is at once utterly righteous and worthy of God; and yet utterly merciful, that he might reach down to us.
That Saviour is Jesus of Nazareth — the God-Man who was born one of us, died the death that we deserve, and yet lived again, having beaten death itself.
I would urge anybody reading this article not to sneer when they read these words, but to consider seriously, “Could this be true?” And the best way to answer that question is to read the pages of the New Testament itself. Whether that’s one of the four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke or John), or some of the New Testament letters which Jesus’ apostles wrote to the fledgling churches of the 1st century A.D.
Why not find a New Testament — you can obtain them quite cheaply and in modern English — and read it, asking yourself, “Could this be true?”
For if it is true, then it really is the best news ever.
And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness.
Paul’s Letter to the Romans, 4:5
etimasthe.com is something I do outside of full-time employment. Consequently I generally only post new material on here once or twice a week.
Please note that etimasthe is no longer on Twitter or Facebook. See announcement here.
Scripture quotations are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version® (ESV®), © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.