Imagine three homeless beggars clothed in rags arguing about who looks the nicest. It is a pathetic site, because all three are filthy, smelly and dirty. Their clothes are tattered and worn, barely protecting them from the cold. It is conceivable that one beggar might look slightly better than another, but on the whole, not one of them will make it on the cover of a fashion magazine.
Looking good for a beggar is a relative term. Being good for any human being is also a relative term. When we compare our lives to each other, we often seem okay. We tend to think that there are a lot of people in the world that are more sinful or immoral than we consider ourselves to be. But when we compare ourselves to God, our reliance in our own goodness cannot hold up. In contrast to the holiness and moral perfection of the Creator, our paltry morality seems evil by comparison.
The Bible says that before God, no one is moral enough to gain access to his presence. No one is worthy, no one has enough inherent goodness in their lives to deserve the privileges associated with fellowship with God (Romans 3:11-18).
The OT prophet Isaiah calls human righteousness “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). He had seen a vision of the thrice-holy God of Israel and had cried out in his presence, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty” (Isaiah 6:5).
If the sins of a righteous prophet are enough to condemn him before the presence of God, why should we think that our “morality” is enough to earn us entrance into God’s holy presence in Heaven.
The apostle Paul wrestled with the issue of good works and eternal rewards. In his writings, he made it clear that “all peoples, Jew and Gentile, have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23). Nothing we do gains merit before Him. We are morally bankrupt, unable to buy admission into His presence. Heaven is inaccessible, no matter how good we think we are.
Paul understood this hopeless situation and pointed to the Gospel, God’s provision for human inability. Even as he poured out his life for Jesus Christ, he knew that salvation could not be attained by “good works”. Only faith in Christ as a gift of grace made him a child of God.
In surmising his life, Paul said, “… I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ—the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith “ (Philippians 3:8-9).
A “good moral” life will not get you into heaven. But the most despicable sinner can enter boldly into God’s presence, when he repents and believes the Gospel, trusting in the atoning blood of Jesus Christ (Hebrews 9:14) and gaining “the righteousness of God which is by faith”.