If you were to die and stand before God, and He asked, “Why should I let you into heaven?” what would you say? The most common answer to this question is “I am basically a good person” or “I’ve always tried to do the best that I can.” Many people think that the right way to approach God is to present their good works as an entrance pass to heaven. Jesus tells a story in Luke 18:9-14, where He makes it clear that the wrong way to approach God is by a person’s good works.
The story involves two men that went to the temple to pray. The first man was a Pharisee. In his prayer, he spoke about how he was good at giving his money to God and that he fasted twice a week, trying to impress God with his good works. This man had it all wrong. The Bible says, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast” (Eph 2:8-9 ESV). Our good works fail and will not grant us entrance into heaven.
The Pharisee continued by comparing himself to other people. He said that he was glad he was not like other people that are unjust, adulterers, or like the tax collector that was standing far away. He thought that since he was better than other people, he must be a good person. We cannot come to our own conclusion about our goodness based on what other people are like. We can always find someone worse than ourselves, but we are comparing ourselves to the wrong standard. God says, “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom 3:23 ESV). Nobody can be accepted into heaven through good works or by following their own standard of goodness.
Jesus continued the story with another man. He was the tax collector standing far away that the Pharisee mentioned in his prayer. He did not go into the middle of the synagogue, but rather hid in the corner because he was ashamed of his sin. He smote his chest and pleaded with God. His prayer was short but sincere. He said, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner!” He accepted his position before God as a sinner and simply asked for God’s mercy. He understood that he did not deserve kindness from God but rather deserved to be punished for his sin.
Jesus said this tax collector went home in a right position before God and the Pharisee did not. The conclusion of the story of Jesus is clear. Heaven will be filled with people who have accepted the mercy of God for their sins. How can a person do this today? Only through the work that Jesus did on the cross. The Bible says, “God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8 ESV). God is asking you to come as a sinner and simply trust the work that Jesus has done on the cross for your sins.