Everyone wants to get to heaven. In our own minds, we’re good people, and we’re going to make it, along with all of our family and friends, because they’re all pretty good people too. Even our dog is gonna make it.
But if you subscribe to this mentality, you’ve effectively forgotten that you’re a human, infested with error and mortality, and that you are definitely not God, who is perfect and eternal. There’s some ground to make up if you plan on kicking it with God after you kick the bucket.
The Bible is pretty clear about our humanity:
The fool has said in his heart,
“There is no God.”
They are corrupt,
They have done abominable works,
There is none who does good.
The Lord looks down from heaven upon the children of men,
To see if there are any who understand, who seek God.
They have all turned aside,
They have together become corrupt;
There is none who does good,
No, not one.
Humans suck. Sorry, bro. You likely react to this realization in a couple of ways. Read on.
Paul is in the middle of defending himself before one of Rome’s lackey governors assigned to the eastern provinces. So far, no one has any dirt on Paul besides the Jewish leaders themselves, and no authority, including Festus nor Agrippa, is able to find a reason to convict him.
However, Paul is being held because he has been preaching a contradictory doctrine to the people around Asia Minor, who the Jews have tirelessly enforced their religious standards upon (though even the Jews squabbled among themselves about those very standards).
If this is just about religious tenets, why are people so upset? Even today, unless it’s the justification for a malicious act, the intellectual skeptic will conclude that religion is frivolous and just a coping mechanism for a chaotic world, soon dismissing the faithful’s claims as nonsense. Belief in fantasy might draw a chuckle, but not anger. As long as you’re obeying the law, you’re in good shape to everyone around you.
What fires up the Jews the most, however, is this proclamation in verses 19 and 20:
“Therefore, King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the heavenly vision, but declared first to those in Damascus and in Jerusalem, and throughout all the region of Judea, and then to the Gentiles, that they should repent, turn to God, and do works befitting repentance.
Paul, a Jew, is proclaiming that non-Jews are allowed to receive Jesus Christ. Additionally, the order of the final three statements is not flippant:
The first step is repentance, a blatant turning-away from your previous lifestyle. This is the most difficult step, because it implies that what you’re doing might be wrong and selfish,
The second step is turning to God. While coming to the Lord requires no work in itself, your heart must first be in a position of humility.
The third step is to do some work as a result of repentance. It is not the work that leads to repentance and salvation; instead, the work is the fruit of your repentance. Otherwise, it’s just self-centered good deeds, no matter how you dress it up.
The Jews at that time, and even many of today’s religions, reverse the order and attempt to “work their way into heaven”. This is tempting because either a route to heaven through Jesus Christ seems too easy, or the idea that Jesus being the only way to heaven is too narrow.
This mode of life, this “religion”, if you will, is unpopular, despite 2 billion purported adherents to Christianity. In fact, living life this way will make people angry, because it insists on a life not lived for yourself, and it indicates that all of others’ “goodness” and contributions are worthless without an attitude of humility and a heart for Jesus Christ.
But it does equate to making it to heaven. It is through Jesus alone that this is possible, and the essential factor that makes you good enough for God.