Read Luke 18:9-14
9 Then Jesus told this story to some who had great confidence in their own righteousness and scorned everyone else: 10 “Two men went to the Temple to pray. One was a Pharisee, and the other was a despised tax collector. 11 The Pharisee stood by himself and prayed this prayer: ‘I thank you, God, that I am not like other people—cheaters, sinners, adulterers. I’m certainly not like that tax collector!12 I fast twice a week, and I give you a tenth of my income.’
13 “But the tax collector stood at a distance and dared not even lift his eyes to heaven as he prayed. Instead, he beat his chest in sorrow, saying, ‘O God, be merciful to me, for I am a sinner.’ 14 I tell you, this sinner, not the Pharisee, returned home justified before God. For those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted.” (NLT)
If you have trouble believing child rapists, suicide bombers, mass murderers and drug dealers are in heaven then you haven’t really grasped the nature of salvation or of the gospel itself.
We still have a residual sort of belief that really bad people who do really bad things can’t get to heaven. And a similar belief that jolly decent people may well get there because of the jolly decency. We are wrong on both counts.
This parable reminds us that being right with God, and thus eligibility for heaven, is based on our calling out to God for mercy. We may be people who have done outrageously bad things but if we genuinely recognise our need of forgiveness and genuinely turn to God for help in getting our lives on track, then we can enter heaven.
Then again, if we are generally upright people who shrug our shoulders at our imperfections and see no need of grace, then we will miss out. Our real yet relative goodness is not good enough to qualify us for eternal life.
The very worst of people can enjoy eternal life with God if they fling themselves on the grace of God. The very best people can miss out if they dismiss the grace of God. The one who takes the life of an innocent child may get in; the judge who justly sentences the murderer may not get in. Such is the nature of our gospel.