For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.Ephesians 2:8-9 NIV
How would you respond to the following statement? “A person who is generally good, or does enough good things for others, will earn a place in heaven.” The American Worldview Inventory 2020, conducted by Barna Research, asked this question in a recent poll of Americans. And the results are sad, although not surprising. About 48% of adults approved this statement. And 41% of those who identified as evangelicals also agreed with it.
Yet that is contrary to what the Scripture teaches. And nowhere more explicitly than in this passage. Paul tells us that it is by the grace of God that we are saved. And that works are not a part of the equation. Being generally good, or doing enough good things for other people will not gain you a place in heaven.
Yet, if earning a place in heaven was based on the good we do, I wonder just how much good we would have to do. Would there be some kind of scoring system? Would different kinds of good actions score differently? And would our negative actions deduct from our score? It should be obvious that anything less that a perfect life would leave room for doubt as to whether we were good enough. But even that is a problem, since none of us are capable of living a perfect life.
A Gift of Grace
But, fortunately, salvation is a free gift that God graciously offers to us. It is not something we can earn by living a good life. Nor is it something that any of us deserve. Yet God freely offers it to all who will receive it by faith. It is by grace that we are saved, not by our works or by being good.