Sermon: Have You Earned Heaven?
Scripture: Matthew 5:20
In this week’s lessons, we see that no amount of human righteousness can ever please God, but only the righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ will lead to eternal life.
Theme: From Paul’s Righteousness to Christ’s Righteousness
Paul lists seven achievements in these verses, including four that were inherited and three that were earned. First, he was a Jew, for he was born of the stock of Israel. This exposed him to all of the spiritual blessings—the law, the covenants, the promises—that God had given to the Jewish people. Second, he was a pure-blooded Jew, for he was born of two Jewish parents (“a Hebrew of the Hebrews”). Third, he had been circumcised on the eighth day of life, which meant that he was no proselyte nor an Ishmaelite, who was circumcised in the thirteenth year. Fourth, he was of the tribe of Benjamin, the one tribe that had remained with Judah in the south at the time of the civil war in Israel. This meant that he belonged to one of the two tribes that had remained faithful to the temple worship and to the law.
Then, too, there were considerable advantages that Paul had won for himself. In the first place, as regards his attitude to the law he was a Pharisee. This was the strictest sect of Judaism, and to become a Pharisee was a matter of personal choice. Moreover, Paul was a zealous Pharisee, a fact proved by his early persecution of the church of Jesus Christ. Finally, he worked so hard at his calling that he actually came to consider himself blameless as a Pharisee before the law’s standards.
This was a tremendous list of assets from a man’s point of view. But the day came when Paul recognized that these things were worthless in the sight of a just and holy God. It was the day that he met Jesus. Before this happened he thought that he had attained righteousness by keeping his conception of God’s law. Afterwards he knew that all of this righteousness was as dirty in God’s sight as filthy rags. He had once said, “As touching the righteousness that is in the law I am blameless.” He now said, “I am the chief of sinners.”
You see, Paul had something like a balance sheet in his life. Under assets he had listed all of the things he had achieved for himself up to his encounter with Christ on the Damascus road—his birth, his education, his achievements, even the murder of Stephen. But when he met Christ he came to know what true holiness was. He came to see what righteousness was. And as he looked at all of the things that he had been accumulating in the white light of God’s righteousness, these things seemed filthy. He had no other word for them but “dung.” He crossed it all out. Thus, he moved the whole column of the things he had considered assets over into the column of liabilities. He said, in effect, “These things have actually kept me from God’s righteousness.” And under the column of assets he wrote, “Jesus Christ alone.”
That is what salvation is all about. Is that what you believe? Or are you still among those who are spending a lifetime accumulating things that you think are going to earn heaven? If you are doing the latter, let me warn you that those things will take you to hell. Hell is full of human righteousness. Actually, you need to recognize the imperfection of this righteousness and instead accept the righteousness of God. Christians have always known this, and as a result they have written it into a number of their hymns. One of the great hymns says:
Nothing in my hands I bring,
Simply to thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to thee for dress,
Helpless, look to thee for grace;
Foul, I to the fountain fly;
Wash me, Savior, or I die.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me;
Let me hide myself in thee.
If you will pray that prayer, God will wash you. God will cleanse you. And he will give you the righteousness that is above anything that man can attain, and receive you on the basis of that righteousness into heaven.
Read Philippians 3:4-9. List and explain the various advantages on which Paul relied for his right standing before God.
How does the world view the issue of the way one gets to heaven? What does that reveal about their view of God himself?
Application: Are there family members or friends who are trying to earn their way to heaven in some way? Pray for a clear opportunity to show them how their approach will always fail, and to point them to the need for Christ’s righteousness.
For Further Study: Download and listen for free to Donald Barnhouse’s message, “Christ, Our Righteousness.” (Discount will be applied at checkout.)