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  • Pastor Jim French

How Good Do You Have To Be To Go To Heaven?

One of the things that many Christians struggle with is the question of, "What do I need to do to go to Heaven? How do I know if I've done enough?" Sadly, many Christians live under the false assumption that we must earn our way into Heaven. They think and hope and pray that the good they have done on the earth will outweigh the bad and that will give them everlasting life. But that is not what Jesus and the rest of the Bible teaches.

Every single one of us has sinned. There is no getting around it. We've all lied, we've all stolen things, (even little things), we've all committed adultery and murder in our hearts. We've all sinned and fallen short of God's standards. The only way to obtain eternal life is by putting our faith and trust in Jesus Christ for our eternal salvation. We need to rely on his perfect life and work on the cross and not our own flawed attempts at goodness. None of us are good enough to get to Heaven. Attempting to do so is a work of the spirit of religion.

The Spirit of What?

The religious spirit is a demonic spirit that works against the grace of God. The religious spirit tells us that we can somehow earn salvation by our good works. It tells us that if we do enough good, or do more good than bad we will go to Heaven. Beloved, as logical as this sounds, the Bible says that this is simply not true. Ephesians 2:8-9 is one of many verses in the Bible that tells us that we cannot "work" our way into Heaven.

For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9 ESV)

Note - we are saved by God's grace through faith in the finished work of Jesus Christ on the cross. We cannot save ourselves. Salvation is a gift from God. God's grace provides eternal life to us. It's a gift. He provides the gift of salvation and we receive that gift by faith.

We cannot obey the "rules" and get to Heaven! We simply cannot keep all the regulations of the law. It is impossible! But the religious spirit tries to get us to work and strive and then convince us that we have not done enough to earn salvation. The truth is that we can never do enough to earn our salvation. If we could, Jesus would not have had to die on the cross for our sins.

Religion (performance, rituals, traditions to try to please God) is a lie from the pit of hell. Beloved, God does not, nor will he ever owe us anything. Rather, we owe him everything.

Pastor Curt Landry defines the religious spirit as so: A religious spirit is a type of demonic spirit that influences a person, or group of people, to replace a genuine relationship with God with works and traditions.

How Religious?

Years ago I was a member of a very conservative traditional denomination and I had been selected to serve as an acolyte for that special service. We had been instructed that it was important that we do everything with proper form, etc. I took this to heart and I did my best to do everything without making a "mistake". But one Sunday as I was serving I suddenly realized that I was fearful of doing something wrong or out of order. I was actually afraid that I would be called on the carpet for doing something out of place. It was then that I realized that that was not worship. One should not be afraid of "messing up" when worshiping God. That was the spirit of religion (and the spirit of fear) at work in me and others serving with me. That's what the spirit of religion does. It ties you into knots trying to do everything perfectly. It squashes any room for Holy Spirit to move so the service becomes lifeless and without meaning. It becomes about us and what we do instead of being about Jesus. The religious spirit instills fear instead of love. Our worship should be an act of love.

Religion says, "You must not do any work on the Sabbath." Okay, but what is work? We need to define work. How far can you walk before it's work? How much can you cook before you break the Sabbath? Can you engage in sexual intercourse on the Sabbath? Is that work? Can you see how utterly absurd this is? And it gets even more ridiculous. The following is a list of a few of the Pharisees restrictions just for the Sabbath.

"The Pharisees’ Sabbath restrictions forbade the following activities: writing, erasing, and tearing; conducting business transactions; shopping; cooking, baking, or kindling a fire; gardening; doing laundry; carrying anything for more than six feet in a public area; moving anything with your hand, even indirectly (with a broom): a broken bowl, flowers in a vase, candles on a table, raw food, a rock, a button that has fallen off (you could move things with your elbow or your breath, but not with your hand). And this is just a partial list." 

The Pharisees actually add more commands to God's Word! If it wasn't impossible to keep the law before, they add to it and make it even more restrictive! They actually defined 613 rules and regulations the Jew had to follow in order to be righteous. Jesus himself said that they are so restrictive that they actually nullify (make void or worthless) God's Word!

The Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why don’t your disciples walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with unwashed hands?” He answered them, “Well did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written, ‘This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me. They worship me in vain, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men.' “For you set aside the commandment of God, and hold tightly to the tradition of men—the washing of pitchers and cups, and you do many other such things.” He said to them, “Full well do you reject the commandment of God, that you may keep your tradition. For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother;’ and, ‘He who speaks evil of father or mother, let him be put to death.’ But you say, ‘If a man tells his father or his mother, “Whatever profit you might have received from me is Corban,”’”that is to say, given to God, “then you no longer allow him to do anything for his father or his mother, making void the word of God by your tradition which you have handed down. You do many things like this.” (Mark 7:5-13 WEB AE22)

It is a sad truth that they were so focused on obeying the law that they had lost the real meaning, the real "spirit" behind the law. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus tells us the purpose and intent of the Old Testament law. He summarizes the entire law by quoting 2 verses from the Old Testament, Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18:

But when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together. And one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which is the great commandment in the Law?” And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets.” (Matthew 22:34-40 ESV)

Rules, Rules, Rules!

It is sad that so many people receive Jesus and are freed from the tyranny of the devil

only to become ensnared in the rules of a legalistic church. They become subject to rules for behavior, rules for dress, rules against playing cards or going to the movies, etc..... Rules! Rules! Rules! And if you don't meet the standards of this church then you are pushed out the door or in some instances told that you somehow have to do "penance" to earn God's favor again. So although you were saved by grace, you have to work to keep your eternal salvation! Can you see the utter absurdity of this? And this is exactly what Jesus was so adamantly against. The Pharisees created all these rules of behavior which they didn't (and couldn't) keep.  

This religious spirit works to separate people from God. The Pharisees actually created barriers between the people they were supposed to minister to and God with their rules:

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let in those who wish to enter.

Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You traverse land and sea to win a single convert, and when he becomes one, you make him twice as much a son of hell as you are. (Matthew 23:13 BSB)

The Religious Spirit at Work

We can recognize the presence of the religious spirit in several ways. In the Gospel of Luke we read of one such behavior:

Now he was teaching in one of the synagogues on the Sabbath. And behold, there was a woman who had had a disabling spirit for eighteen years. She was bent over and could not fully straighten herself. When Jesus saw her, he called her over and said to her, “Woman, you are freed from your disability.” And he laid his hands on her, and immediately she was made straight, and she glorified God. But the ruler of the synagogue, indignant because Jesus had healed on the Sabbath, said to the people, “There are six days in which work ought to be done. Come on those days and be healed, and not on the Sabbath day.” (Luke 13:10-14 ESV)

The utter callousness of the religious spirit amazes me. This woman had suffered for 18 years and the synagogue ruler would have been willing to keep her in bondage to satan just to "keep the rules"! Keeping the rules was more important to this religious leader than the very woman he was supposed to be ministering to. The religious spirit says that rules are more important than people.

How Did They Get There?

By 586 BC Israel had fallen into deep sin and idolatry and as a result they are exiled to Babylon. While there, the Jewish leaders determined that they were exiled because they had failed to keep the tenants of the law to the letter. In part that was true, because Israel had descended into horrible apostasy even going so far as to place idols in the temple of God (Ezekiel 8:6-11) and the worship of stars and planets! (Acts 7:42, Zephaniah 1:5-6) (Sadly this is reminiscent of what is happening in many churches today).

Once they had returned to Israel they determined to follow the law "to the letter", swinging the pendulum way too far in the other direction. They became very familiar with the details of the law, but they lost the spirit behind it. They became legalistic. They felt they had to do everything precisely correct. If they did God would not allow their nation to be destroyed again. Sadly, they missed the boat.

We can easily see that Jesus was not impressed with their behavior. (It's Jesus behavior that grants us eternal life, not ours).

The Essenes

The Essenes were a Jewish sect that advocated strict observance of the law, now made famous by the discovery of the "Dead Seas Scrolls" in the 20th century. Believe it or not, their laws were so strict that they include the prohibition of defecating on the Sabbath. You can easily see the implications of this "rule" upon people's lives including a frenzied rush into the desert (with shovel in hand) in the evening when sabbath ended. And believe it or not, they also prohibited having sexual intercourse on any day of the week but Wednesday:

They were so scrupulous regarding the observance of the Sabbath that they refrained from sexual intercourse on all days of the week except Wednesday, lest in accordance with their singular calculation of the time of pregnancy the birth of a child might take place on a Sabbath and thereby cause the violation of the sacred day (Niddah 38a, b). (The Niddah are the “Family Purity Laws”.)

Sadly, their attempts to earn God's favor went beyond silly. Did they really think they could please God by abstaining from sex on certain days or not defecating on a sabbath? The Pharisees, Saducees and even the Essenes thought they could do enough to earn God's favor and their salvation. But they fell short of God's righteousness. They didn't see that God gave the law so that we would see we could not live up to his standards, that we would see our need for a Savior.

Trying to earn our way to God's favor is a symptom of an infection of the religious spirit.

This pattern is an easy one to fall into, even for the mature believer. Just because a Christian lives under the Covenant of grace does not mean we cannot fall prey to this spirit. As a matter of fact it is easy to become subject to it.

Recognizing the Religious Spirit in Our Own Lives

There are several tell-tale signs that we are influenced by the religious spirit. In looking at my own life I see that I have been trapped in most of these.

  • We become concerns with outside appearances of being holy and righteous.

  • We attempt to earn God’s love and salvation.

  • We crave a position of honor in the Church.

  • We develop a harsh, judgmental attitude toward others.

  • We become unwilling to receive correction.

  • We are always right.

  • We become ridged and refuse change.

  • We feel that we are a better Christian than someone else (Spiritual elitism/spiritual arrogance)

Yep - been there, done that, got the tee-shirt. We ourselves must be cautious to not fall under the influence of the religious spirit. Remember, Jesus did it all! The only thing we need to do is receive what he did for us by faith. That is it! We are faithful to him and we obey his commandments because we love him. It's as simple as that. We do not try to earn God's favor because we already have it because we are his children!

Who Did the Healing?

Now he was casting out a demon that was mute. When the demon had gone out, the mute man spoke, and the people marveled. But some of them said, “He casts out demons by Beelzebul, the prince of demons,” (Luke 11:14-15)

Jesus had just cast a demon out of a man which was proof that the Kingdom of God had come (in the person of Jesus). Incredibly some of the people actually attributed this action which was clearly God at work, to satan! Think about this for a moment. There is no verse in the Old Testament where anyone; priest, prophet, or king was able to cast a demon out of a person. If it were so it makes sense that it would have been recorded in the Old Testament. Here the people are witnessing something that had never been seen before - proof that that God was at work - and some attribute it to satan. That is another evidence of the religious spirit at work. The religious spirit attributes the works of God to satan.

Who is the Most Holy?

We're all familiar with the parable Jesus told about the Pharisee and the tax collector:

Jesus also told this parable to people who were sure of their own goodness and despised everybody else. "Once there were two men who went up to the Temple to pray: one was a Pharisee, the other a tax collector. The Pharisee stood apart by himself and prayed, 'I thank you, God, that I am not greedy, dishonest, or an adulterer, like everybody else. I thank you that I am not like that tax collector over there. I fast two days a week, and I give you one tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector stood at a distance and would not even raise his face to heaven, but beat on his breast and said, 'God, have pity on me, a sinner!' I tell you," said Jesus, "the tax collector, and not the Pharisee, was in the right with God when he went home. For those who make themselves great will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be made great." (Luke 18:9-14)

Notice the attitude of the tax collector. He actually approaches God arrogantly. In essence he is saying, "God, look how awesome I am! Look at how pure and holy I am! Look at all the stuff I do for you! Look how much better I am that everyone else!" Jesus tells us, "Blessed are the humble..." (Matthew 5:5). We are blessed when we see and acknowledge our need for God.

Summing it Up

As you can probably tell, the religious spirit really pushes my buttons. That's because I was ensnared by it for so many years and I still see myself falling into the "performance mentality" on occasion.

As we read through the Gospels we can see that Jesus was not angered by the prostitutes, the tax collectors and those that the "religious" people avoided. Instead he was angry at those the religious leaders who imposed heavy burdens on his people. Matthew 23 is a great example of this. I read this chapter in church one Sunday before preaching and as I began I heard an audible gasp from a congregant. Apparently she was surprised by Jesus' "frank words". Jesus was ticked! Jesus was really angry at the religious men who separated God from the people he loved so much. That is what the religious spirit does.

We cannot do enough to earn our way into Heaven. Our goodness won't do it. Our works won't do it. Our prayers and Bible reading won't do it, only relying on the finished work of Jesus Christ gives us eternal life. He did it ALL for us!




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