How Good Is Good Enough? ● Part 3 | "The Role of Rules"

Rules don’t get us into heaven, so why do we have them?

NOTE: The following content is a raw transcript and has not been edited for grammar, punctuation, or word usage.

Most folks, especially most Americans, believe there's an afterlife, believe there's some sort of heaven, if you wanna use that label. And most folks, especially most Americans, maybe because we're Americans, believe that they're gonna end up there. And they assume, and maybe you're one of the they, and that's fine, it's probably the majority, you assume that you're gonna get there.

People assume they're gonna get there because they're convinced of two things. They're convinced, number one, that good people go to heaven. And number two, that you're a good person. They are convinced, hey, I'm a good person. Good people go to heaven. I'm a good person. I'll end up in heaven. And as we've said throughout the series, this really makes a lot of sense. And there's reasons people hold to these assumptions. Number one, it's fair. If you live a good life and there's an afterlife, then you should be rewarded for your good life because you're a good person, it's fair. And this whole idea is consistent with the notion of a good God. If there's a good God and a good place after this life, then good God would wanna populate that good place with good people and you're a good person. In fact, that's the other reason people lean into this is because at the end of the day, you make the cut. Now, you're not sure what the cut is, but you're sure you make it because you're a good person and you're a good person, especially compared to, right? I mean, you know you're not as good as some people, but you're better than other people.

But as we said in both episodes before today, if you scratch beneath the surface or if you start asking too many questions, this whole system falls completely apart. To begin with, good is a moving target. And I won't go into detail. We talked a lot about this in week one. Good is a moving target historically. What was good a thousand years ago, we think is evil today, so who's right? Good is a moving target culturally, even in our world today, there are cultures you would go into and you're like, you can't treat children that way, that's horrible. You can't treat women that way, that's horrible. You can't treat the people who are different, that's horrible, but they think it's fine. They think that's how it's supposed to be. In some cases, they think they're doing the will of God.

And you're like, well, I don't worship the same God you do, but who's to say, who's right? Good, the point being good is a moving target. And Westerners and people in the United States in particular wanna say, no, no, no, good isn't a moving target. The Bible tells us what is good. But as we've talked about, the Bible is not helpful in this respect. The Old Testament doesn't even mention heaven. And there's certainly no list of things that if you do these things, you'll go to heaven. That's not there. In the New Testament, the followers of Jesus made it clear that nobody's good and nobody's good enough to earn their way to heaven. So if you're looking for an answer to this question, how good is good enough to earn a spot in heaven? If you're looking for an answer to this question, which most people think there must be a good answer, the Bible will not help you. In fact, the Bible will hurt you. But we said there's an even bigger challenge to this assumption that good people go to heaven and you make the cut. And that's this, if good people go to heaven, then God isn't good.

Because a good God would have made it clear exactly what we need to do so we know where we are in the process. Is it 50%, 70%? You know, what exactly is good? What's most important? Does he take our background into account? Does he take our age into account? I mean, do motives count? Do thoughts count? I mean, all these things, it's a complete mystery. So if good people go to heaven, and that's really how we get there, God isn't a very good God because God hasn't made the system clear. In fact, God would need to show up every generation or so to update the rules because of technology and because of the way that the world has changed. And it's not like God is like moving the goalpost, it's worse than that. It's like God is hiding the goalpost. Then to make matters even worse, and this is what we talked about last time, if good people go to heaven, then Jesus was clearly, clearly mistaken. In fact, Jesus was misleading because Jesus did not teach that good people go to heaven. On the contrary, Jesus implied throughout his ministry, just read the gospels, that bad people have the potential to end up in heaven, and the goodest of the good weren't good enough.

In fact, as we saw last time, Jesus raised the bar for good so high that it made all of us look bad. For example, and we talked a lot about this last time, have you ever mistreated another person? The answer is yes, and according to Jesus, that's a sin. In fact, that's kind of at the epicenter of all the sins as Jesus talked about what is sin or what displeases God.

And you can apologize to that person, but you can't roll back the clock. You can't make up to them what you took, because again, you can't go back in time. There's permanent damage that has been done because of the way you treated another person, the way you treated a person that God the Father loves. And according to Jesus, you can't be right with God the Father if you're mistreating someone God loves, just like you can't be right with me if you mistreat one of my children.

So anyway, according to Jesus, no one is good enough to go to heaven. Good people don't go because no one's that good. The way he, again, defined good. According to Jesus, and this is where we left off last time, according to Jesus, forgiven people go to heaven. And Jesus claimed, this is audacious, Jesus claimed to have authority to forgive other people on behalf of God, which was ridiculous. Until he rose from the dead. And then it was like, hey, game on. Because as we say around here, anyone who can predict their own death and resurrection and pull it off, we just go with whatever that person says, okay? And Jesus' first century followers saw him crucified. They knew where he was buried. There was an empty tomb. They had breakfast with him on the beach. And they're like, you know what? You are who you claim to be. You are God and a bod. You are the resurrection and the life. And you do, in fact, have the authority to forgive people's sin on God's behalf. Clearly he had that authority. So here's what I wanna do for the next few minutes.

I wanna kind of turn the page. And I wanna talk about within the context of the Jewish tradition and the Christian religion, I wanna talk about a question that kind of takes us to the center of where all the confusion comes from around how good you have to be to go to heaven. Because the question is kind of this, if rule keeping won't get you into heaven, if rule keeping won't get you into heaven, then why all the rules? Why all the rules? And how did this get so confused? And where did the idea even come from that if you're good enough, you get into heaven? Who made this up? That you have to, if you clean up, you get to show up. Who did that? And this is important, look up here. The answer to this question, answer to that question is one of the primary reasons you should consider following Jesus or reconsider following Jesus. So here's what we're gonna do. This (Sarah - it might be that he stumbles here or that in the cut his audio got a bit garbled)place to start to answer this question is where sometimes the confusion emanates from. The 10 commandments, the 10 commandments. Now, this is a list that some people swear by, but don't live by, okay?

This is a list that some people swear by, they couldn't recite if their eternity depended on it. What about the 10 commandments? Well, let's name them. Okay, well, what about them? Do you even know where they are? They're in the Bible. Do you know where? I think it's the first part of the Bible, right? So it's like, it's just kind of a, it's kind of a smoke screen, the 10 commandments. Anyway, so we're gonna talk a little bit about this. The 10 commandments, is actually found in the second section, or we call them books, the second book of the Hebrew scripture, which is second section of the Christian scripture, and it's named Exodus. And the reason it's named Exodus is perhaps you know, is because the book of Exodus chronicles ancient Israel's Exodus from Egyptian slavery. Quick background on that. God called a man named Moses.

Moses goes to Pharaoh and he says to Pharaoh. Let my people go. And eventually Pharaoh did, but it was a pretty epic transition. We'll talk about that at another date. Anyway, so he says, let them go. And so Moses takes the nation and they exited, thus the name Exodus. Now, They've been a slave state for 400 years. They have no civil law. They have no constitution. They've never functioned independently.

And there's about a million of them. Some people say perhaps close to two million people exited Egypt to follow Moses to wherever Moses was choosing to lead them. So then God through Moses provides for the nation a constitution, some laws, civil law, including punishment and rules of how to conduct their lives. Because again, they've been under the boot of Egypt and they've just been told what to do. And again, what do you do with your freedom? You remember what you did with your freedom? You remember guys, the first time your mom or your dad said, okay, here's the license we want you to take the car and drive and you got to drive all by yourself for the first time. Do you remember how responsible you were? Exactly, so all of a sudden they've got all this freedom.

Like, what do you mean we're free? They don't even know how to act. So God in his mercy gives them this law. And the thing is this, and I don't have a lot of time to talk about this, but I wanna dip into it a little bit because the Old Testament law gets a lot of, it gets a lot of grief from people and culture. It's because they don't understand the context and you need to do that. The law that God gave the ancient Israelites, the law that God gave the ancient Israelites that you find in the first part of your Bible was so far ahead of its time that there's really no explanation for it, except perhaps it was in fact given by God. There are divine, there's a divine element to this law because there was nothing that paralleled it. In fact, it was so ahead of its time that some of Israel's ancient law has informed modern law. But here's the thing, the law that God gave Moses to give the people, it doesn't show up until chapter 20.

So the question is, what's going on for the first 19 chapters? And here's what was going on. For the first 19 chapters of the story, God is demonstrating his love and his concern for a group of people that he considered his own. His people that he delivered, not because they kept his law, they didn't have a law. Not because they were obeying the rules, they didn't even know what the rules were. He delivered them pre-law. And do you know why God delivered them from Egypt? Because he wanted to. And here's kind of the bottom line for our discussion today. When it comes to the God of the Old Testament, the God of the New Testament, the God that we worship as Christians, relationship always precedes the rules. Relationship always precedes the rules. God did not give Israel the law as a means of establishing a relationship with him. God gave Israel the law because they were already in relationship with him. It wasn't a condition. It was a confirmation that they were in the family. So anyway, so three plus months after they leave Egypt, Moses leads them to the foot of Mount Sinai and God provides this extraordinarily, I mean, if you read it, you're just like, how much more of this is there? This extraordinarily detailed constitution or law in order to guide the people. And listen, in fact, I just want you to listen to how this whole thing begins. It doesn't begin with thou shalt or thou shalt not. Here's the preamble to this ancient constitution. This is fascinating. Here's how it starts. I am the Lord, your God. In other words, we've already got something going on. I'm the Lord, your God. There's already some sort of relationship established. And by the way, if you wanna know exactly who I am, a little flashback 30 days ago, who brought you out of Egypt and out of the land of slavery. Just a few months ago, God would say. A few months ago, you belonged to Pharaoh. Now you belong to me.

A few months ago, you belonged to Pharaoh, no freedom, no land, no future, no hope. Now you belong to me. And you belong to me without me requiring anything from you except a single expression of trust. All I ask was that you put the blood of a lamb on the doorpost of your home as a symbol of the fact that you trusted in Yahweh. I asked for one single expression of trust and you are in. And now that you know I have your best interest in mind, I want you to follow me and I want you to obey me. And then he gets to the first real command. Okay, here it is.

You, now that you know who I am, you shall have no other gods before me. And they're thinking, you are not even kidding, we're not gonna have any other gods before you. Did you see? I mean, we saw what you did to Egypt's gods. We saw what you did to all the gods of Egypt. I mean, you know, God's message to Pharaoh is essentially this, these are my words, not God's, but basically the message to Pharaoh was, hey, you got something that belongs to me and I'm not leaving here without it.

The fact that Yahweh left wherever he was and showed up in Egypt, he went into their stadium. They had the home field advantage and he wreaked havoc with god after god, after god, after god, after god, humiliating the entire pantheon of Egyptian gods. The next command is amazing. It flows from the first one. He says, and by the way, I'm the Lord your God. You're gonna worship me and me alone. And little detail, again, what he says next, we read it like, oh yeah, whatever. Unprecedented, unprecedented.

It would take, it would be 1500 years before the next civilization caught up with this next statement. I'm the Lord your God. You shall not make, this is amazing. You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything in heaven above or the earth beneath or in the waters below. No image. You can't, there is nothing that represents me accurately. Therefore you will have no idol. I'm telling you a system of worship without an idol was unheard of. It didn't make any sense. In fact, if you know the story, it wasn't long before they broke this rule because they just couldn't imagine worship without an object of their worship. And Yahweh was saying, I'm the object of your worship. And there is nothing that can explain me and there's nothing that can contain me. I am the Lord your God. I am mobile. I showed up in Egypt.

I can be wherever I need to be. No image. Again, it would be almost 2000 years before non-Jewish people caught up with this whole idea. Then later, later in the commandments, He said, oh yeah, by the way, I want you to take a day off. What? We'll starve. No, you won't. I'll take care of you. What do you mean a day off? Yeah, there's gonna be a day when no one works. Get this. Again, not even your slaves. This was entirely, there's no way to even begin to understand the magnitude and the significance of giving all of the slaves and the servants a day off. Why? Because God was beginning to teach them something. It would take them a long time to learn. It was like breadcrumbs, that every human being is valuable to me, that everyone has dignity to me. And so we're gonna take care of the lowliest and the great, we're gonna take care of the children.

Everyone matters to God. So in this ancient, ancient, ancient law, God reveals something, sort of an ethic, a value system that was unknown and unheard of and was such a stretch, even for the people of Israel. Then, you know, the next six are basically, hey, here's how to treat people and honor other people. So to summarize the whole thing, it was kind of this. Honor me because I rescued you, honor others, they're made in my image, and treat slaves with justice because you were once a slave yourself. Do not forget where you came from. It's amazing. But that's, you know, this is the top 10. This is like a table of contents. There were like 600 plus other commands. And why so many? Because this was their civil law. This had to touch on every single aspect of their life. And why did God give them such a detailed law? Because God cared about his people. The point simply being this, when it comes to God, relationship precedes the rules. The Israelites did not behave their way in. And read the rest of their story. They were not able to misbehave their way out. I mean, when you start reading the Old Testament and you get to the prophets and it just sounds like a bunch of angry guys, you know, just they're ranting and raving, they're mad and this is gonna happen, that's gonna happen.

It's like, gosh, how much is, you know what? This was God's way of warning the people he loved. That if you give up my law, you give up your freedom. But through all their rebellion and through all their, they would revert back to idol worship, all this stuff. God never abandoned his people because he had an agreement with his people. And they were his people before he gave them the first, thou shalt or thou shalt not. And then this is where the music changes. 1500 years later.

About 1500 years later, Jesus gathers, this is so amazing, gathers with the 12 apostles in a room in Jerusalem to celebrate Passover. And Passover was the annual celebration of God delivering the nation from Egypt. They remembered, they remembered. And it was so difficult in the first century, during these days, it was so difficult to celebrate Passover. When you were basically, you know, you were basically a vassal state of the Roman Empire.

They had no freedom. All the freedoms, all the joy, all the things that they celebrated under Moses, most of that was gone. And yet they're still celebrating God's faithfulness to the nation. So they gather, and Jesus says something and does something so blasphemous, they should have all gotten up and walked out of the room. They should have walked out or they should have stoned him. The only, I don't, there's not an equivalent, but my best shot, I've shared this with you before, what he does next would be like me showing up the first weekend of December and saying, hey, you know, in December, we celebrate the birth of Jesus, but from now on, we're gonna celebrate my birth.

Yeah, you would leave or I would leave. Something would happen, right? I mean, you just don't do that. Okay, what Jesus is about to say to them was, that doesn't even compare to how audacious and how strange and how crazy that would sound.

He says, gentlemen, from now on, when you celebrate Passover, from now on, you keep celebrating, but from now on, when you celebrate it, I don't want you to do this in remembrance of what happened 15 or so, hundred years ago. From now on, I want you to do this in remembrance of me. In other words, what God did for our people all those centuries ago, he is about to do for the entire world. He is about to invite the entire world to form a single expression or embrace a single expression of trust that will then introduce them into a relationship with God, our Father. He goes on to say this, this cup that they had taken so many times, they knew what it represented. He said, no, we're gonna do this different. This cup is now the new covenant, a new relationship, a new order, a new kind of approach. This is something brand new. It's a new covenant. And it's gonna be in my blood, which made no sense to them that night, but the next day he would shed his blood for them and for you and for the entire world to establish this covenant.

That first covenant with Israel was done with the lamb's blood on the side of a door. And Jesus says, I am the final one. And they're thinking back, they remember that day, some of them, not all of them, when John the Baptist looked at Jesus and said, you remember this? Behold, the lamb of God who comes to take away the sins of the world and suddenly it all comes together for them. That the nation of Israel was the backstory to the main story, but it was the essential story to get them to this point in history. And God was about to do something new, a brand new covenant, not simply with a nation, but for and with the world. He was saying, just as God delivered our people from slavery in Egypt, he's about to deliver the world from slavery and from the ultimate consequence of sin. And the term and the condition would be the same as it was 1500 years ago, a single expression of trust. Isn't that amazing? Paul, who again was on both sides of the aisle, he was a Pharisee, he considered himself like the greatest Pharisee ever. Then he becomes a Jesus follower and he considers himself the chief of all sinners.

He understood the parallel between what God had done for the nation 1500 years ago, and what God had done through Jesus for the entire world. And he writes, he says, look, just as God demonstrated his love for the nation, his love for Israel, God demonstrates his own love for us in this. That while we were, this is so powerful, that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. I gotta explain this word real quick, this is so important. You see, when we read this verse, especially if you grew up in church, you've heard this, while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. It's like, okay, I know what he's meaning, but okay, I wasn't still sinning when he died for us, 'cause when he died for us, I wasn't even alive, but anyway, I'm sure this means something important. Here's why this is so important to how Paul wrote it. You see, Paul was alive when Jesus was crucified.

Paul's friends, the people that Paul knew were alive when Jesus was crucified, but he was nowhere close to it. And he realizes, this is kind of his own testimony, I realize now, while I was 100% wrong about God, I was so wrong that when I heard the message of Jesus, I began to persecute the Jesus followers. I was wrong, I was an error, I was an enemy. And while I was alive on this earth and God knew everything I was about to do, his son died for my sin anyway. While I was still a sinner, Christ died for me, for us. Before we did anything, before we knew there was anything that needed to be done, he did something for us, two verses later, he writes this. He says, for if while we were God's enemies, talking about himself and talking about some of us and all of us to some extent, right? While we were still God's enemies, before we did anything, before we knew there was anything to do, he went ahead and he reconciled us to him. And how did he do it? He tells us through what? Through rule keeping, through doing our best, through making more promises, he says, no.

He would say, look, I was the Pharisee of Pharisees, I tried that route, there's no peace. You never know where you stand, you just become judgmental. You mistreat other people thinking you're right with God. No, we're done with all that. Through.

And this is the jumping off point for some of you, because this is the fork in the road. How do you find peace with God? He says, I'll tell you how, I try the other way, through the death of his son. The reason that the gospel, the reason that the arrival of Jesus, the reason the message of Jesus is good news, is because we don't good our way in. We don't behave our way in, any more than my children behave their way into our family. Best news of all, we can't bad our way out. Any more than my children can misbehave their way out of our family. They are my children, I am their father, regardless.

He's offering a gift, take it. It's why Jesus didn't say, you must behave again. John was there for this, when Jesus was talking to Nicodemus. Nicodemus was a smart, educated guy, and he was a leader in the temple system, and he's trying to figure this out. And Jesus didn't say, come on, Nicodemus, you gotta behave again. He said, no, Nicodemus, you must be born again. Because the law was simply confirmation of God's love for a people. But you're born into a family, and God is inviting you to be born again into his family. So, if you're wondering where you stand with God, and you keep looking at how well you're doing, according to Jesus, who rose from the dead, you're looking in the wrong place. Why all the rules? Well, for Israel, God was not attempting to make bad people good. God was keeping free people free. The same is true for you, and the same is true for me. With God, with God, as with all good parents, the relationship always precedes the rules.

And the rules are simply God's way of saying, because I love you, here's how I want you to live. Because I love you, here's why I want you to forgive. Because I love you, here's why I want you to serve one another Because I love you, here's why I want you to treat your enemies.  Because I love you, and I know what brings the most happiness and fulfillment and peace. To follow the cue, to follow the life, to follow what my son modeled on earth. We are reconciled to God, are made to be able to fit with God by grace. We choose to follow, we choose to obey out of gratitude. And Jesus summarized it so, he made it so simple. He said, here's all I want you to do. Here's what it looks like to follow and obey me. Here's your one rule. I just want you to treat other people the way that I have treated you. Do not forget that once upon a time, you too were a slave. (Sarah, we can end here is we need time, but I thought it was good for our audience to hear the apology if we have time!) This content adds 2:44 but I’d rather cut some more background from earlier to include this section…

To close, I wanna kind of turn another page and I wanna say something for two minutes to those of you who are not Christians or not Jesus followers, or maybe you used to be and you got away, or maybe you're part of a different religion or different faith system. And I really wanna apologize. If one of us Christians has attempted, has attempted to impose one of our Christian rules on you, I'm sorry. Anyone who said, but the Bible says or Jesus said or God, you know, and they just try to impose one of our Christian rules on you, I just want you to know, I am so sorry. How you choose to live your life is really none of our business. In fact, The apostle Paul, who again wrote half the New Testament, about half the New Testament.

He said, make it your ambition. That is, you need to focus. This is a big deal, front and center, every single day. Make it your ambition to lead a quiet life and you should mind your own business. You're like, that's not in the Bible, uh-huh. And he goes on to say, you should mind your own business and work with your own hands and take care of your own family. Just do your thing. Why? So that your daily life may win the respect of outsiders.

So, Christians, let's mind our own business. And for those of you who've been offended by us because we didn't, I'm sorry, we got it wrong. But one last thing. While the rules don't apply to you, God's love definitely applies to you. In fact, he loves you as if you are already in the family and related to him. So his invitation to relationship is a standing invitation, an invitation accepted not through promises to do better, an invitation that's simply accepted by acknowledging what he has already done for you. For, again, this is John, who spent all his time with Jesus. For God, your father, did not send his son into the world to condemn the world. God did not send his son into the world to condemn you. And if you have felt condemned by us, it's because we got it wrong. God did not send his son into the world to condemn the world but to save the world through him.

Who goes to heaven? Forgiven people go to heaven. And how do we find forgiveness? Through Jesus Christ, our savior and our Lord.