There is one road to Heaven, a strait and narrow way. Also there is one road to Hell, according to the Bible, and it is a broad way, and many people go in thereat. But nevertheless it is essentially one. That must mean that whatever false hopes people have, they all center up in human goodness, human righteousness, human organizations. The narrow way is God's way, salvation offered freely through the atoning blood of Jesus Christ who died for sinners. Only those who trust Him are saved. It is a strait gate, and few there be that find it, out of the earth's population. But more people are willing to depend on themselves, on their righteousness, their good deeds, on their church, and so more people go in at the wide gate and travel the broad road that leads to destruction. Many who say, "Lord, Lord," are not saved because they do not do the will of the Father, that is, follow God's plan of salvation by simple trust in Jesus Christ.
Today when I asked a man, "Are you a Christian?" he answered rather hesitantly, "Well, I try to live it. I do the best I can."
But I assured him that trying to live a good life was not being a Christian . Remember the Pharisee who went up into the Temple to pray. Doubtless he lived a better life outwardly than any man who reads this. He fasted twice a week. He tithed all his possessions. He went to church. He prayed, even prayed in public. He was not unjust, not an adulterer. Really, he was a wonderfully good man - that is, outwardly. He was a mighty good man in men's sight; yet he went down to his house lost. And to Pharisees like that Jesus said: "Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye make clean the outside of the cup and of the platter, but within they are full of extortion and excess. Thou blind Pharisee, cleanse first that which is within the cup and platter, that the outside of them may be clean also. Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men's bones, and of all uncleanness. Even so ye also outwardly appear righteous unto men, but within ye are full of hypocrisy and iniquity" (Matt. 23:25-28).
To people like that the Lord Jesus will say, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity." Some people boast that they do the will of God, and they depend upon that for their salvation. But if it is good works that they are depending upon, they have not done the very first thing that is in the will of God for every sinner - they have not confessed themselves hopelessly lost and condemned sinners and trusted in Jesus Christ who died for sinners to be their Saviour and Redeemer. "This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent" (John 6:29).
All who trust in good deeds have too shallow a remedy. They patch up the outside of the life where men can see. The best they can they make a good appearance. But they cannot touch the filthy heart which is so black it must bring upon them the wrath of God. The trouble with the Pharisees was that they made clean the outside of the cup and the platter, but within they were full of extortion and excess. They appeared outwardly righteous unto men, but within they were full of hypocrisy and iniquity, Jesus said. And so are you, poor sinner who reads this, if you are depending upon your own good life, your morality, your good deeds to get you to Heaven. God's Word says that your righteousness is only as filthy rags in His sight (Isa.64:6). You appear good to men, but you are not good. Your outward goodness covers over an unregenerate, wicked heart. That guilty heart must be cleansed, your sins must be forgiven, your nature must be changed before you can ever meet God in peace. Many there be that will say to Jesus, "Lord, I have done many good deeds in Your name. I have given to the poor, I have gone to church, I have treated my neighbors well. I have provided for my family. I have made a good name . I have paid my debts." But to all such who depend on their own righteousness, Jesus will say, "I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity" (Matt. 7:23).
Men do not want to acknowledge their sin. Men do not want to admit that their case is hopeless without Christ. Men do not want to admit that their poor rotten hearts must be changed or they must spend eternity away from God.
That was the trouble with the Jews in the time of Paul. He said concerning them, "Brethren, my heart's desire and prayer to God for Israel is, that they might be saved. For I bear them record that they have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, have not submitted themselves to the righteousness of God" (Rom. 10:1-3). That is the trouble. Instead of doing the will of God about salvation and trusting Jesus Christ and His blood which has already been shed to pay for every sin; instead of accepting God' s righteousness which is offered free and imputed to the believer, men go about to establish their own righteousness. Men want to get to Heaven on their own goodness. They want the credit for it. They want to exalt self instead of humbling self. They want to ignore sin instead of confessing it and condemning it. That is simply a part of the wicked rebellion of carnal man. The natural heart is not willing to confess its sin, not willing to bow the knee to Jesus Christ as man's only Saviour. The man who went to the wedding feast without a wedding garment was simply a picture of those who choose to depend upon their own righteousness instead of the pure righteousness of the sinless Saviour who died for us.
From the Sermon "Religious but Lost" by John R. Rice