“So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.” (Romans 8:8)
A point of contention and controversy among skeptics and many liberal church denominations involves the eternal destiny of the “virtuous” non-Christian. Examples are often referred to of individuals who lived a morally upstanding life, yet never accepted Jesus Christ as their Savior. What about the great leaders of some of the Eastern religions? Mohandas Gandhi? The Dalai Lama? The noble gurus and swamis of Hinduism who seem to have dedicated their entire lives to the betterment of mankind? Would God condemn people such as these to an eternity in Hell, the same Hell reserved for murderers and hardened criminals?
The implications of such musings are, of course, that God would be unjust if He did not take into account the “good deeds” and virtue of people who have lived a life dedicated to helping their fellow-man. And if that is so then, maybe, He will take into account everybody’s “virtue” and “good deeds” and let us all slide in through the back door of Heaven. Even if my life isn’t quite up to par with Gandhi’s or the Dalai Lama’s, maybe that time I volunteered an afternoon at the local soup kitchen or that one Christmas Eve I dropped $5 in the Salvation Army kettle might count for something!
It might make us feel good to speculate that God is grading on a curve and only the most wicked and vile sinners will end up in Hell, but such a notion in no way lines up with what the Bible actually says. The verse before us now, Romans 8:8, states unequivocally that those who are in the flesh cannot please God. If we have any doubt as to who is in the flesh, then verse 9 makes it clear that it is those who do not belong to Jesus Christ (a topic I wish to further develop next time, Lord willing). If we are not trusting in Jesus Christ for salvation, then we are in the flesh. If we are in the flesh, then we cannot please God. If we cannot please God, then we cannot be reconciled to Him. And if we are not reconciled to God, then we will remain forever separated from Him in the age to come.
Those who are not trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ are not saved and will spend eternity in Hell, away from the presence of God. It makes no difference whether they performed “good deeds” or lived a morally upstanding life. As we saw back in Romans 3:23, it is the glory of God to which a man must compare himself if he is to be saved through his own efforts – his behavior must not just be outstanding and his morals impeccable, he must live a life completely void of any moral shortcoming, sinful act, or even a single lustful thought.
No one can meet God’s holy standards through their own effort and every thing that we do for God in the flesh, apart from His Spirit, is but a “filthy rag” (cf. Isa. 64:6). Though our charitable acts of kindness might earn us the respect and admiration of our fellow man, though our piety might win for us the applause of the poets and philosophers of this world, and though our generosity might inspire the local Rotary Club chapter to award us with an ornate plaque, we cannot please God until we have done the very thing that He requires of us.
Until we believe on the Lord Jesus Christ for Salvation and trust Him for the remission of our sins, then anything else we do will never satisfy the righteous requirements of God.
To God goes all glory. In service to Him,