Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Perish

As an evangelical, I was taught that good people do not go to heaven; saved people do. Now that Jesus died, it is all about faith. Saved people go to heaven, no matter what they do, and people who do not believe in Jesus go to hell. Good or bad does not matter anymore.

It is easy to see how Protestants get that out of the New Testament. John 6:47, for example, says, “He that believes has eternal life.” Plain and simple, right?

The problem is that the same person who wrote that, the apostle John, also wrote:

One who says, “I know him,” and doesn’t keep his commandments, is a liar, and the truth isn’t in him. (1 Jn. 2:3-4)

Even more to the point, one chapter before Jesus said, “He that believes has eternal life,” He said:

For the hour comes in which all who are in the tombs will hear his voice,and will come out; those who have done good, to the resurrection of life; and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation. (Jn. 5:28-29)

I am using the WEB version, and I changed the last word of that quote to “condemnation” because I believe it as a better translation than “judgment.”

The “do good and receive life” quotes are not just a few. Here are some examples:

  • who will pay back to everyone according to their works: to those who by perseverance in well-doing seek for glory, honor, and incorruptibility, eternal life; but to those who are self-seeking, and don’t obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, will be wrath, indignation, oppression, and anguish on every soul of man who does evil, to the Jew first, and also to the Greek.” (Rom. 2:6-9)
  • God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. For he who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption. But he who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life. Let’s not be weary in doing good, for we will reap in due season, if we don’t give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let’s do what is good toward all men, and especially toward those who are of the household of the faith.” (Gal. 6:7-10)
  • “Or don’t you know that the unrighteous will not inherit God’s Kingdom? Don’t be deceived. Neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor male prostitutes, nor homosexuals, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor slanderers, nor extortionists, will inherit God’s Kingdom. Some of you were such, but you were washed. But you were sanctified. But you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus, and in the Spirit of our God.” (1 Cor. 6:9-11)
  • Know this for sure, that no sexually immoral person, nor unclean person, nor covetous man, who is an idolater, has any inheritance in the Kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words. For because of these things, the wrath of God comes on the children of disobedience.” (Eph. 5:5-6)

I could go on and on and on, but let’s pause here. Did you notice the “don’t be deceived” and “know this for sure” and “let no one deceive you” among the bolded words about doing good?

There are also bolded words about what Jesus came to do. After you believe in Jesus, you were unrighteous, like those who have no inheritance in the kingdom of God. But after Jesus’s washing, sanctification, and justification, you are not unrighteous.

Yes, saved people “go to heaven,” but that is because saved people are good and righteous people. If you are not good and righteous, then John says you aren’t really saved; i.e., you don’t know God (1 Jn. 2:3-4). Paul and Peter don’t say you’re not really saved; they just say you’re not going to have a part in God’s kingdom (above and 2 Pet. 1:5-11).

Some may ask, if we still have to do good, then why did Jesus die?

He died so that we can do good!

Jesus Died So We Can Do Good

I am not only going to talk about the atonement here, but also grace. The Scriptures lump those two things together a lot. Let’s look at two places they are lumped together:

For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation to all men, instructing us to the intent that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we would live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present age; looking for the blessed hope and appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify for himself a people for his own possession, zealous for good works(Tit. 2:11-14)

This paragraph is here just to convince you to read the passage I just quoted before moving on. Notice what it says about grace and about Jesus dying for us.

Okay, next passage:

For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, that no one would boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared before that we would walk in them. (Eph. 2:8-10)

It amazes how often people will hear me teach on this matter, then when I get to Ephesians 2:8, they say,”See! It’s grace, not works!”

Of course!

Let’s look at the New Testament pattern:

  1. We are slaves to sin and, as a result, we cannot live a life of ongoing good works, not even if God gives us a perfect law like the Law of Moses. (Rom. 3; Rom. 7; Eph. 2:1-3)
  2. Jesus died to rescue us from all this. That wonderful gift, that wonderful favor, we know as “grace.”
  3. After grace has come, teaching us that we should deny worldliness and lust (Tit. 2:11-12), we are re-created in Jesus Christ (Eph. 2:10), and sin has no more power over us (Rom. 6:14). We can do good works and, in fact, we are zealous for them (Tit. 2:13-14).

Because of that New Testament pattern, we must receive saving grace apart from works. If we are slaves to sin until grace comes, then grace has to come apart from our own righteous deeds. Once it comes, however, then we can do good works.

Jesus did not come to get us to heaven without good works. He came to get us to heaven by our good works.

That is why Paul told Titus to teach Titus 2:11-14 (see above) with all authority, not letting anyone give him a hard time (Tit. 2:15). He also told him to “affirm confidently” that God’s people must be “careful” to maintain good works (Tit. 3:8).

If you are still struggling with this idea, read Romans 7. Then, when you are done, go immediately into Romans 8, and in the first four verses, notice what the difference is between being under the Law of Moses and having Jesus died for us. Under the Law, we sin. After Jesus dies for us, we fulfill the righteousness of the Law. The rest of chapter 8 tells us how to fulfill the righteousness of the Law (by the Holy Spirit).

It has always been true that those who live eternally are those who live a righteous life. Wicked people die. People who were righteous, then become wicked, also die. People who were wicked, then repent and become righteous, live. God considers this justice, and he defends that manner of judgment as just (Ezek. 18:20-30).

Jesus did not die to change that manner of judgment. As we see above it is still the same. He died so that we could do good and live eternally because of that manner of judgment.

Jesus marveled that people did not get that. “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord’ and not do what I say?” (Luk. 6:46). In another place, he said, “Not everyone who calls me ‘Lord, Lord’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only those who do the will of my Father in heaven” (Matt. 7:21).

Going to Heaven

I hope this does not take away from anything I have written above, but I have to touch on this. The New Testament does not use the phrase “go to heaven.” It talks about inheriting the kingdom of God (in the Gospel of Matthew, “kingdom of heaven”). The kingdom of God is coming to earth (Rev. 20), where we are going to live forever on a renewed earth (2 Pet. 3) with no tears or suffering or death (Rev. 21:4).

About Paul Pavao

I am married, the father of six, and currently the grandfather of two. I run a business, live in a Christian community, teach, and I am learning to disciple others better than I have ever been able to before. I believe God has gifted me to restore proper foundations to the Christian faith. In order to ensure that I do not become a heretic, I read the early church fathers from the second and third centuries. They were around when all the churches founded by the apostles were in unity. I also try to stay honest and open. I argue and discuss these foundational doctrines with others to make sure my teaching really lines up with Scripture. I am encouraged by the fact that the several missionaries and pastors that I know well and admire as holy men love the things I teach. I hope you will be encouraged too. I am indeed tearing up old foundations created by tradition in order to re-establish the foundations found in Scripture and lived on by the churches during their 300 years of unity.
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9 Responses to Good People Go To Heaven; Bad People Perish

  1. KatieAnn says:

    Hello Paul,

    The question below has been in the back of my mind for a while. Your post touches on this a bit, but I am still seeking clarity.

    What about good people who don’t believe in Jesus or are not born of the Spirit? What if those people live righteously and even believe in God and seek Him, but still do not ‘have the Son’? Do you believe they will go to heaven? I recall Paul’s words in Romans 2: (“For as many as have sinned without law will also perish without law, and as many as have sinned in the law will be judged by the law (for not the hearers of the law are just in the sight of God, but the doers of the law will be justified; for when Gentiles, who do not have the law, by nature do the things in the law, these, although not having the law, are a law to themselves, who show the work of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and between themselves their thoughts accusing or else excusing them) in the day when God will judge the secrets of men by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel.).

    Then, however, we have Jesus stating in John 3, “He who believes in Him is not condemned; but he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.”

    Right now, I am leaning towards the opinion that righteous people who have an inherent love of God and seek to please Him and do good will go to heaven. But they will be judged on their own works alone. Since they will not have been cleansed with the blood of the Lamb, they will have to rely completely on their own strength and merit. This may be completely unbiblical, but I just have a hard time believing that a loving, merciful Father could send somewhat like that to hell.

    Those who believe in the Lord have a great advantage because they have received the Holy Spirit to guide them and will not have to rely completely on their own strength. That is not to say that believers will have it easy. As a matter of fact, more is expected of them and they will have to continue to ‘fight the good fight’ and possibly be persecuted in the process.. Their prize, however, will be greater. It says that the saints will even judge the angels.

    Sorry for the rather long-winded question. I’d love to get your thoughts on this.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      I don’t know what to do with that question. Could God reward a good, unsaved person with eternal life because they obeyed their conscience? Maybe, but if they ran into you or me and rejected the Gospel, then their end will not be favorable. God is going to take vengeance on those who do not obey the Gospel (2 Thess. 1:8).

      • KatieAnn says:

        You know, after I asked you this, and considered it further, and felt it was perhaps unfair for me to pose this question. I do apologize. I think I should just be satisfied with the fact that God’s judgement is perfect and righteous. It’s not my business how He will deal with each person. But while here, I should focus on what I can do for Him. At least I can understand that much.

      • Paul Pavao says:

        Hi KatieAnn: I’m not sure why you think that question was unfair, but the rest of your comment is a perspective I agree with.

  2. Caelon Loving says:

    sorry about repeating my message.

  3. Caelon Loving says:

    I have always have a hard time understanding if heaven is going to come to earth or its not of this world because there are a lot of Christians that I know of that are divided on that issue. Because of the contradiction John 18:36.

    • Paul Pavao says:

      Why do you consider John 18:36 a contradiction?

      I think it is clear that our eternal destination is here, on a new, re-created earth, as 2 Peter 3:13 suggests. Revelation 20 says that the heavenly city descends to earth and the kings of the earth will bring their glory in and out of it.

      • Caelon says:

        I guess I’ve never was thought that as much I was always taught it was one or the other but now that you say that it makes more sense it will be here on earth.

      • Caelon Loving says:

        I guess I’ve never was though that as much. I was always taught it was one or the other but now that you say that it makes more scene it will be here on earth. I have a mom that is Lutheran a dad that is Evangelical and step dad that my mom married after my mom divorced was seventh day Adventist and a step mom after my dad divorced that gravitates towards some form of Lutheranism. all in all I was always confused what was what when it came to the end times because they all will have there own doctrine and belief on the end times.

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