“For they being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and seeking to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes.” Romans 10:3–4

Being good is the bane of childhood and adolescence. Every parent tries to find some gentle way to remind their kids as they head out the door to “mind your p’s and q’s.” I never quite understood that phrase so I did not use it often. Instead I would often challenge my teens with “don’t do anything I wouldn’t do.” Some day they will feel free to share what went through their minds every time I said those words.

Being good echoes from the earliest days of childhood. A perennial Christmas song repeats the lyrics, “He sees you when you’re sleeping, he knows when you’re awake, he knows if you’ve been bad or good, so be good for goodness sake! O! You better watch out! You better not cry! Better not pout, I’m telling you why, Santa Claus is coming…to town.” Every adult that matters in a little child’s life seems to back up the warning when they say, “You better be good if you want gifts at Christmas!”

Grownups retain something of this mythological theory when faced with the question of where they will spend eternity. Their theoretical logic runs generally like this: “God is all kindness and goodness. He knows that I am imperfect. He knows that I am trying really, really hard to be good. I will do my best to do good until the day of my death. God will overlook my faults and see how good I have tried to be. Therefore, God will have to let me into Heaven, I hope.”

But, just like little children trying to be good, grownup efforts at heavenly goodness fail the standards of divine perfection, holiness, righteousness, and justice. This is especially so when we remember that we have “good forgetters,” just like we did when we were “trying to be good” for Santa. We always prefer to be judged “on a curve” because everyone around us is imperfect too. As a matter of fact, we have never met a perfect person; some may have come close, but all have their faults and “feet of clay.” Hey, after all, if we were successful at fooling the all-knowing, all-seeing, all-observant Santa, then dealing with God will be a cinch! I mean, there is not much difference between gifts for Christmas and the gift of Heaven! “Isn’t abiding by the Golden Rule the only divine rule that is still required in the 21st century?”

But, what does God say? Is receiving the gift of Heaven the same as qualifying for gifts at Christmas? Is all I have to do to earn Heaven to live a “good” life? Scripturally, the answer is a clearly articulated “No” (Romans 3:10–12).

First, we all need a clear view of God and His nature. In the early chapters of Genesis we read a rather exceptional statement of God. Genesis 1 tells us that as each of His creative days came to an end, “God saw that it was good.” It was not until the end of the sixth day that we finally read, “Then God saw everything that He had made, and indeed it was very good.” In this very first chapter we learn that God values absolute perfection. God had made everything. There was no sin. The universe was complete. Complete perfection is very good in God’s sight (Psalm 119:68).

We do not hear such an unequivocal, unqualified description of pleasing God again until we read about our Savior’s immersion in Luke 3:21ff: “and a voice came from heaven which said, You are my beloved Son; in You I am well pleased.” Here we learn that the Savior Jesus Christ is perfect and sinless. We also note that what pleases God is sinless perfection. It is the nature of God to expect perfection from all who desire to be accepted by Him. Just because you have never seen another perfectly good person does not matter—God has!

Second, no one starts out in life like Jesus did. He alone had sinless perfection from His conception. The rest of us start life as sinners by nature and we fulfill our nature by being sinners by choice. Though we tend to forget, overlook, explain away, and plead ignorance, God seeks only perfection. He sees in us, all alike, total depravity (meaning that though we may not be as bad as we can possibly be, we are defiled and corrupted by sin and therefore under the curse—Galatians 3:10, Isaiah 64:6). Even trying to live good will not get us to first base with God because, “man is not justified by the works of the law…” (Galatians 2:16, James 2:10).

Therefore, if you are to have any hope of the gift of Heaven you have to forsake your sin and your self-effort and be united with Christ, the sinless One, through faith in Him and His finished work on the cross of Calvary. Titus 3:5 states, “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to His mercy He saved us…” (1 Timothy 1:9, Ephesians 2:8ff).

God knows your heart (1 Samuel 16:7), He knows whether you consider yourself a sinner (1 John 1:10), and He knows whether you are His (2 Timothy 2:19). Galatians 2:16 concludes with these words: “justified…by faith in Jesus Christ, even we have believed in Christ Jesus, that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by works of the law….” Trust and obey.