It was the end of World War II and Hitler had just committed suicide. His soul flew off to the afterlife and Hitler found himself waiting in a queue to stand before the Judge with three other soldiers in the line in front of him.
The first soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The soldier replied: â€œWell, I was flying over Germany and Iâ€™d run out of bombs, bullets and was low on petrol. I was about to land in a field when I saw a convoy of Nazi tanks and so I decided to sacrifice my life and fly my plane into the convoy, killing several Nazis including one commanding officer.â€
â€œWell done!â€ the Judge said, and with an angelic sound the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.
The second soldier was a German SS Officer and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The SS Officer replied, â€œWell, once, I torched a whole village to the ground because the mayor refused to say â€˜Hail Hitlerâ€™.â€
The Judge shook his head and pulled a level, opening up a trap door underneath the Officer. He screamed and fell down to hellfire.
Then the third soldier stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
The soldier replied: â€œI helped smuggle seven Jewish families out of the country and when I was discovered, I was shot in the town square.â€
â€œWell done!â€ the Judge said, and once again the gates of Heaven opened and the soldier walked in.
Hitler was next and he was terrified, not knowing what he was going to say to save him from Hell. Then he got an idea.
He stepped forward and the Judge asked, â€œWhat was your greatest sacrificial act?â€
He replied proudly, â€œI killed Hitler!â€
This is a silly joke, but it does express a few things about how many people perceive the final judgment. Or at least, it’s how some people think Christians perceive it.
I once had a non-Christian work colleague say to me, “Yeah, but you HAVE to do that because you think that will make God love you.” I was baffled as to how she got that perception of how I, or indeed any Christian, thinks about their realtionship with God.
The perception that Christianity teaches that “good people go the Heaven and bad people go to Hell” is one that is still out there, both in our secular society and indeed, I expect, amongst those who might think of themselves as Christians.
But that is not the gospel.
The Bad News part of the Good News
The first part of the gospel message of Jesus Christ teaches that no one is “good enough” to go heaven. Jesus himself said the words “No one is good, but God alone” (Luke 18:19) and other passages, like this one, make it even clearer:
…Jews and Gentiles alike are all under the power of sin. As it is written: â€œThere is no one righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands; there is no one who seeks God. All have turned away, they have together become worthless; there is no one who does good, not even one.â€Romans 3:9-12
No one can stand before the Judge of the Universe and claim innocence. We are all guilty, no matter what selfless act of sacrifice we can claim to have done. The standard that God expects from us is not that we have one really impressive thing on our resume, or even that we have done more good things than bad things.
Jesus explains the standard to a Teacher of the Law in Mark 12:28-30, when he explained the two greatest commands of God: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.â€™Â The second is this: â€˜Love your neighbor as yourself.”
This is what it means to be a “good” person.
And so, the line “good people go to Heaven” is sort of true. The problem is that, no one fulfills this “goodness” other than Jesus and so no one deserves to go to Heaven but Jesus.
Now, the word “gospel” means “good news”, but the reality is that everyone stands guilty before God is not really good news. But it is the problem that Jesus came to solve. It is when we accept this bad news, that we see our need for a Saviour and hear the good news that he came to declare.
The Good News
The Good News is that God does not leave us to face the Judge and the Judgement without hope of forgiveness.
Jesus came to not only show us how to truly be “good”, but also to take the punishment of behalf of the “bad”.
Jesus came to call people to turn from their sin and to put their trust in him.
Jesus came to offer forgivess and freedom and eternal life and reconciliation.
And all those who would see their need and respond to his call, can stand before the Judge when they die and not pretend that they are good enough for Heaven. They can be honest about their deservedness for judgement because they know that that judgement had already been taken for them in Jesus’ death on the cross.
That is why the gospel is not “good people go to Heaven and bad people go to Hell”.
The gospel is “There are none good enough to go to Heaven. In fact, those who think their good enough end up in Hell. And bad people like you and I are offered Heaven as a free gift in Christ.”
Or to simplify it: “Good people go to Hell and bad people get to go to Heaven”.