What if I were to tell you that I was a super fast swimmer. I go on to explain that I have been in hundreds of swimming races and have easily blown away my competition each and every time! But I don’t stop there. In fact, I begin to tell you how wonderful I am and how important my ability to beat every person that I race in a pool is to the sport of competitive swimming.
Impressed and maybe a bit put off by my arrogance, you ask me, “Who are the people who you have beaten in a competitive race?” With a proud look on my face, I point over to my four-year old twins and say, “I’ve raced them hundreds of times and beat them every time, therefore I am a wonderful, super fast swimmer!” You would say my twins are not the proper standard of measurement to rightly determine my swimming abilities. Bragging that I can beat a four-year old in a swimming contest would only make me look foolish and ignorant!
It’s quite easy to smirk at this silly little example and think that no one in their right mind would be so ignorant. However, this is the very problem that plagues a great number of professing Christians in America. If you were to ask a great majority of them, “Why would God allow you into His eternal Kingdom”, they would respond by telling you that they were good, Christian people. Some may answer the question by elaborating on the things they do to justify their self-professed goodness.
“I go to church.”
“I was baptized and repeated the sinners prayer.”
“I don’t cheat on my spouse.”
“I help people in need.”
The list is never-ending. And while all of these things are good things, none of them will warrant our salvation before God. When a person says that they are good, the question then must be asked, “Compared to whom?” Are you good compared to your next door neighbor who does not go to church? Are you good compared to the serial killer that you saw apprehended on the five o’clock news? If we say we are good, then their must be a standard of measurement for us to come to that conclusion. And that standard of measurement is other people. The apostle Paul addresses people like this who would measure themselves by comparing themselves to others.
“Oh, don’t worry; we wouldn’t dare say that we are as wonderful as these other men who tell you how important they are! But they are only comparing themselves with each other, using themselves as the standard of measurement. How ignorant!” 2 Corinthians 10:12.
The standard by which we measure our righteousness is not man, but God. Christ is the standard of measurement. Jesus tells us His standard for us in Matthew.
“You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” Matthew 5:48.
Perfection is the standard for measuring “goodness.” And put up against this high standard, we all fall exceedingly short. In fact, we don’t even come close. That is why Jesus said to the rich young ruler, “No one is good except God alone. (Luke 18:19). And when a person boasts of their goodness in an attempt to justify right standing before a Holy God, it is the very same thing as me telling you that I’m some great swimmer when my standard of measure is my kids. It is ignorant and foolish.
Think of it this way. The penalty for murder in our world is death. No one would argue this, because we all know that murderers in our world receive the death penalty by law. If you met someone and they were to tell you that they had murdered people, a sense of fear and disgust would come over you because of the horrendous nature of their crime. Not many would disagree that someone who kills others deserves the death penalty.
“When you did these things and I kept silent, you thought I was exactly like you. But I now arraign you and set my accusations before you.” Psalm 50:21.
Notice in the verse above the problem of the people God is addressing. God says, “You thought I was exactly like you.” That is the crux of our problem. We tend to think God thinks and operates like us. Even when it comes to the laws of God. Consider what many would perceive as a tiny sin like gossiping about someone you don’t like. Someone may say, “I’m a good person because I only gossip sometimes, but I’ve never killed anyone!” But God’s standards and His laws are higher than ours. According to Jesus, if you hate someone, then you have committed murder.
“Anyone who hates a brother or sister is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life residing in him.” 1 John 3:15.
Place yourself up against any of the ten commandments, and you will see that not only have you broken them, but you’ve broken them repeatedly throughout your life. Those commandments are God’s law. And if we have broken just one of those commandments just one time, then we are lawbreakers. When you break a law, there is always a fine that must be paid. The higher the law, the deeper the consequence for breaking that law will be. God’s laws are so much higher than man’s. Therefore, the penalty for transgressing against just one of the laws of God is death.
“For the wages of sin is death” Romans 6:23.
If we attempt to justify ourselves before God by pointing to the fact that we think we are good, then we are basically saying that we are willing to take on the law of God and that we can measure up to it with our supposed goodness. Look at what Paul says regarding this mindset;
“But the law is not of faith, rather “The one who does them shall live by them.” Christ redeemed us from the curse of the law by becoming a curse for us—for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who is hanged on a tree” Galatians 3:12-13.
Paul says that the law of God reveals us as cursed and depraved. And everyone who is under the curse of the law deserves to be crucified, which is to be hung on a tree. But if you think you can live up to the law of God and live by upholding them all, then Paul says you shall live by them indeed. But again, one transgression labels you as cursed and therefore deserving of death.
Are you beginning to see this bleak picture? No one is good. No one is even close. We are all evil and wicked by our fallen nature. Even the good works we do outside of a relationship with Jesus are viewed as filthy rags according to Isaiah. The law of God exposes us for what we really are. It removes our reliance on ourselves. It destroys the myth that all “good” people go to Heaven. Because when measured against the laws of God, we all deserve the death penalty.
So why is this so crucial to point out? Surly this is not a “feel good sermon.” In Acts chapters 2 and 3, we see Peter preaches three separate sermons to the unbelieving Jews. The first he preaches at Pentecost. And this is a synopsis of what He said to them in his first sermon.
“Let all the house of Israel therefore know for certain that God has made him both Lord and Christ, this Jesus whom you crucified.” Acts 2:36
Peter then went to the temple with John where after healing a crippled man, the people began to marvel at Peter and John. But Peter was quick to tell them that God healed the man, not them. Then Peter delivers his second sermon of the day. Peter said to the Jews at the temple,
“…. and you killed the Author of life, whom God raised from the dead.” Acts 3:15.
This bold preaching of the resurrected Christ greatly offended the Sadducees, who were the Jewish leaders. They arrested Peter and John and put them on trial. And it was there in the court room of the Hall of Hewn Stone that Peter delivered his third sermon saying to the religious leaders,
….let it be known to all of you and to all the people of Israel that by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead” Acts 4:10.
Do you see a pattern in Peter’s preaching? He is not preaching a feel good sermon. He is not telling the people how good and valuable they are. Instead, Peter is pulling away the blinders of their tendencies to think of themselves as good, religious people, and letting them see themselves rightly.
They are murderers. They are criminals. They are condemned sinners. They are us.
It is impossible to see Christ as valued savior unless you understand your desperate need for a savior! Until you understand the bad news, it is impossible to understand the good news of the Gospel. We all deserve death. We are all under the death sentence. This is the bad news. That we have broken the laws of God. And the wages of those transgressions are death. Someone must pay for our crimes. And here is the good news.
“For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” Romans 8:3-4.
God sent His perfect Son Jesus to live the perfect life that was required of us, fulfilling all the requirements of the law. And in His death on the cross, for all who are called by His name, Christ imputes His perfect life onto the transgressor, and takes the punishment for his sins on the cross. Some people say that when they get to Heaven, God will see what a faithful servant they had been in life. But that couldn’t be farther from the truth. For those that will stand justified, God will see nothing to warrant pardon from Him except the blood of His Son covering their sins.
That is why the old hymn rightly says, “Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to the cross I cling.”
We have nothing to boast in but Christ. We are saved by grace alone.