Being a Good Person Is Not Enough
There was a certain man in Caesarea called Cornelius, a centurion of the band called the Italian band, A devout man, and one that feared God with all his house, which gave much alms to the people, and prayed to God alway. He saw in a vision evidently about the ninth hour of the day an angel of God coming in to him, and saying unto him, Cornelius. And when he looked on him, he was afraid, and said, What is it, Lord? And he said unto him, Thy prayers and thine alms are come up for a memorial before God. (Acts 10:1-4)
And they said, Cornelius the centurion, a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews, was warned from God by an holy angel to send for thee into his house, and to hear words of thee. Acts 10:22
And Cornelius said, Four days ago I was fasting until this hour; and at the ninth hour I prayed in my house, and, behold, a man stood before me in bright clothing, And said, Cornelius, thy prayer is heard, and thine alms are had in remembrance in the sight of God. Acts 10:30-31
There are many good people in the world. There are people who do a lot of good works, organizing and running nonprofit organizations to benefit those less fortunate. There are people who give lots time and money to charities, putting their money where their mouth is, and proving their dedication to helping others. There are people who are fine, upstanding citizens, upholding and living by the laws of the land. There are those who dedicated their lives to justice and equality for all people. There are even those who are very devout, praying frequently, and fearing God. There are even those who practice self-denial, or fasting, on a routine basis, as a way to bring them closer to God.
We can all agree that all of these things are good things. However, none of these things will save you in the day of judgment. None of these things will get you into Heaven. It doesn't matter how good you may be; it doesn't matter how good you try to live your life; it doesn't matter how many good works you do; it doesn't matter if you devote yourself to serving others. Unless you have believed the Gospel message, and received Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, you are lost, and will not get into heaven.
In our text today, we read about Cornelius, a centurion. A centurion is a military officer in command over about a hundred soldiers, a man of position, respect, and authority in the community. Cornelius was a God-fearing man, who tried to live life right. Because he was known as a just man, he had a good reputation in the community that he was sent to rule over. He was well-liked and well respected; he was a very good person.
But according to God's own word, being a good person is not enough. Being a good person will not save you in the day of judgment, and being a good person will not get you into Heaven. Being a good person is not enough. The Bible says you must be born again. Jesus himself taught this very basic truth to another good man: Nicodemus.
There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. (John 3:1-3)
This teaching was very confusing to Nicodemus. He was a Pharisee, and the Pharisees were considered the most spiritual persons in all of Israel. They were the ones that tried to be pleasing to God by keeping Godís laws, even adding stricter requirements to them. They were also the ruling sect in Israel.
However, Jesus made it quite clear to Nicodemus, that keeping laws, being spiritual, or having positions of power and authority are not enough. Being a good person is not enough. Jesus made the answer very clear: you must be born again. This teaching was so confusing that Nicodemus questioned Jesus about it.
Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. (John 3:4-5)
The apostle Paul was another good person. He was also a Pharisee, a good person in the eyes of men. In fact, he was of the elect people, of the elect tribe, keeping the law blamelessly, and a teacher of the law himself. He was a zealous for the word of the Lord, to the point of persecuting any in opposition to the established religion. He recognized that, as men count such things, he had been a ďgood" person.
Though I might also have confidence in the flesh. If any other man thinketh that he hath whereof he might trust in the flesh, I more: Circumcised the eighth day, of the stock of Israel, of the tribe of Benjamin, an Hebrew of the Hebrews; as touching the law, a Pharisee; Concerning zeal, persecuting the church; touching the righteousness which is in the law, blameless. (Philippians 3:4-6)
Paul was, in the eyes of man, a very good person, with much reason to have confidence in his own goodness. And yet, even for Paul, being good wasnít enough. He had to have a spiritual re-birth, just as Jesus had said. Prior to this experience on the Damascus Road, Paul did not know Jesus. He had not been born again. This was the turning point in Paul's life, when he realized that neither his ancestry, nor his own righteousness, nor keeping the law, nor his own zeal could save him. He realized then that all his "goodness" was nothing at all in Godís eyes.
All three of these people were good people, doing the best they could. And there are many people today that are just like them: trying to live a good life, and doing the best they can to be good people, to do well, to help others. But trusting in our own goodness is a terrible mistake that far too many make. In fact, Scripture makes it clear that there is no such thing as a righteous person, in their own efforts. Rather shocking, isnít it?
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one. (Romans 3: 12)
We make a terrible mistake today if we are depending on our own goodness, or the things that we do, to make us pleasing and acceptable to God. Even those things that make us seem good and righteous in the eyes of man, are not enough to save us. Next, we'll look at seven specific things which are all good and desirable, but will not get us into heaven, any more than they did Cornelius.