Objection: I don't need to be saved!
Updated: Mar 22
I’m fine, thank you very much!
Maybe you think you are a good-enough person with no debt to pay to your Creator. Whilst you may agree that you have never been perfect, you may question what possible 'damage to the universe' is going to be sustained from a few little white lies along the way, and the odd argument with family and friends? It’s not difficult to settle this debt – you just have to donate to the local foodbank, sponsor a child in a Third-World nation and plant a few trees! That would more than settle the score, right?!
In the Netflix programme, ‘The Good Place’, set in the Afterlife, no one qualifies for the ‘Good Place’ (Heaven) anymore because the world has gotten so complex. The programme offers the case study of one Good-Enough person who does a good deed buying his Gran some flowers (imagine that is worth +10 happy points to the Universe account). Unbeknownst to him, he has actually made the total suffering of the Universe worse off with this kind act because the flowers weren’t Fairtrade and were picked by exploited workers (-100 happy points).
Who has the knowledge to fathom the consequences of their daily actions to date? Particularly the unintended consequences driven by indifference or ignorance. Can you truly argue that your actions have NEVER caused someone, somewhere to suffer in this inter-connected, and unequal world in which we live? We see the effects of sin every day and it’s not hard to imagine that we have in some way contributed to the negative total.
But why not just do lots of good deeds to compensate? Well, that is quite a risky strategy, because how do you know when you have done enough? Christians alone, out of all the other world religions, do not have to worry about this existential issue; Jesus’ sacrifice is enough. You stand before your Creator in righteousness that is not your own; “you were bought at a price”. So, by all means try to cancel out your small debt with as many good deeds as you can cram into your short life, but forever live with a burden of worry. When have I done enough? Why not instead accept this astoundingly kind offer of God to pay the price for you?
But it’s just so unfair!
You may think what is the point trying to be a good person now if your deeds don’t contribute to securing your future salvation? What if Hitler repented of his evil actions and believed in Jesus just before he committed suicide? The Bible teaches that Jesus’ offer is open to all, so you’d have to conclude Hitler would receive Eternal Life. How is that fair?! Hypothetically, if Hitler had a genuine conversion then, in that moment of accepting Jesus, the 'old Hitler' died. The Bible teaches that we become a "new creation" when we believe in Him. Can you punish a "new creation" for the old version’s sins?
The Christian life is not just about accepting Jesus’ salvation, it is demonstrating that you are a new creation with actions that prove transformation of your character is occurring. The fruits of the Holy Spirit in your life should be “love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control” – as Hitler committed suicide, I would argue that no death-bed conversion happened to him moments before. But this hypothetical example of the worst humans in history potentially making it into the New Creation is extremely troubling.
If a mass-murderer does happen to repent at the end of their lives and enters the New Creation by the skin of their teeth (the Bible talks of people entering the Kingdom with little to show for their time on Earth "as one escaping through the flames") then they will find themselves in a Kingdom Hierarchy. Jesus said “many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first”. Those who are called great in the Kingdom of Heaven are children and those who receive the gift with child-like trust and wonder. Those who served others on Earth rather than desired honours, titles and prestige will be promoted.
Some refer to this as the topsy-turvy Kingdom – the rich man discovered this when the poor beggar Lazarus was allowed entry and he wasn’t (in Old/New Testament times, those who were rich were considered blessed by God and somehow deserving of the riches they acquired). Jesus instead endorsed very different categories of people: “blessed are the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, the persecuted, and those who hunger for righteousness.” My point is famously evil people may make it into Heaven, which many 'good-enough' people consider a great unfairness, but different positions of authority will be handed out in the New Creation.
To those who invested their “talents” wisely and received a great return on their investments (in the Kingdom currency of the fruits of the Spirit that is not monetary) they will be given even more because they have proven they can be trusted. Converted mass-murderers may make it, if their conversion was genuine, but will they have anything to show for it for all of Eternity? Don’t focus on the salvation of others and the rewards given to them or not -- you have your own race to run. Who are we to judge anyway? If God is just, we can trust Him to deal with the supposed unfairness. God said “it is mine to avenge, I will repay”.
To hit this message home, Jesus told a parable of the Generous Employer who hired people at the start of the day and offered to pay them handsomely for their labour. They readily agreed and set to work. The Generous Employer hired more people at the end of the day and they only clocked up one hour’s work. When the wages were distributed at the end of the shift, they were all given the same generous amount, but the workers that were hired first grumbled and said it wasn’t fair. They argued that they should have been given more than the one-hour workers; even though they agreed to the wages in advance and it was a lavish amount. The Employer rebukes them and says doesn’t he have the right to do with his money as he desires or are they jealous of his generosity? Hard-hitting words. Why do we find it so hard to focus on our own journey of transformation and not get side-tracked with comparisons? The gift on offer is more than generous. Focus on that, rather than potentially losing it because we aren’t happy with the terms offered to someone else.
If Jesus has paid the debt, won’t I automatically get in no matter how I live?
Why doesn’t Jesus’ death automatically save everybody? Like with any transaction you have to agree to the terms. God loves you so much that He gifted you with free will to make this decision. Free will is extremely costly, because it enables the possibility that some will choose to go their own way which has disastrous effects upon the Universe and other people within it. But God wanted to give you the choice to accept or reject His offer to spend Eternity with Him.
Eternity with God may not be everyone’s cup of tea:
you may have to live in the New Creation with those you feel shouldn’t qualify for it;
you have to enter not from your own credentials, but through Jesus’ sacrifice on your behalf;
you have to accept that your good deeds are like “filthy rags” which cannot qualify for the ultimate prize without the need of a Saviour.
No – Eternity with God may not be what everyone desires. Stalin died raising a fist in the air, defying God. I think he would rather choose Hell than to be with the Being he hated so much. God gives you freedom to choose because he doesn’t want to force anyone to love Him. Imagine if you could force your ideal partner to marry you by drugging them, even if they were highly undesirous of you -- would you want that? Would that make you feel good about yourself? Turning them into a puppet/prisoner being the only way you can get them to reciprocate your affections? We want people to choose to spend the rest of our lives with us because they love us, delight in us and freely choose to commit. That is the most valuable gift ever. Only free will enables this to happen. It is worth the risk to create humans with the ability to choose, even if they choose to abuse it.
The terms are set, the gracious offer is made. In your freedom, what will you decide?
References  1 Cor 6:20  Gal 5:22-26  1 Cor 3:15  Matt 19:30  Mark 10:15, Matt 19:14  Matt 18:1-5, 23:11  Luke 16:19-31  Matt 5:1-12  Luke 10:4  John 21:21-22  Romans 12:19  Matt 20:1-16  John 21:20-22  Gal 5:13, 2 Peter 3:9, Josh 24:15, Mark 8:34, Proverbs 16:9, Rev 3:20, Romans 13:2, Gen 2:16-17, Isa 55:6-7, Deut 30:19-20  Isa 64:6