DO GOOD PEOPLE GO TO HEAVEN?
works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved
us” Titus 3:5
An evangelist stopped at a gasoline station, and when the attendant finished filling his tank, he paid him and said, as was his custom, “could I ask you for some directions?” “Of course,” came the reply. “I’d like to know how to get to heaven,” he said, to the attendant’s surprise. After a moment the reply came. “Be good, sincere, try to do the best you can. No one can ask for more than that,” came the confident reply. To the attendant’s surprise, the evangelist looked shocked and nearly angry. His brow furrowed, he stared at the man and in a stern voice said, “Man, I asked you the way to heaven, and you told me the direct way to hell! No one gets to heaven by trying to be good. People who trust in good works or sincerity are not good. On the contrary, they disbelieve and reject what God said. Ephesians 2:8-9 says, ‘By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest any man should boast’.”
Many are those who believe similarly that if you do your best and are sincere you’ll get there. It is a fatal error. They think, “no one can ask more than that,” but they are mistaken. God demands more than that. He is perfectly righteous, good, and holy, and nothing less than that is His standard for heaven.
God does not accept good works as an entry fee to heaven. He does not forgive and save people who try to do their best. “NOT BY WORKS,” says the sacred text in Titus 3:5. It is so simple and clear. Yet to most people nothing could be more difficult to understand or accept. They just don’t get it. A preacher named Alfred Gibbs once told how he spent forty minutes on a Sunday morning preaching from the text of Ephesians 2:8-9. He put particular emphasis on the words “not of works.” His sermon was neatly divided into three main points, each one clearly explained and illustrated. For forty minutes he hammered away, showing conclusively from the Scriptures that no one could be saved by his own good deeds. When he finished, a nicely dressed woman who had sat and listened attentively to the entire sermon came up and shook his hand. “Madam, what did you understand from the sermon today?” he asked her. She beamed and said, “Thank for that illuminating sermon. I now see clearly what I must do.” “And what is that?” asked the preacher. She replied, “I must try and do my very best!” Mr. Gibbs was astounded. He later commented wryly that apparently those words “not of works” had not percolated to the first cavity of her brain. It is not difficult to understand, but it is difficult to accept because it goes against what we think and feel, against our tradition, and against what many of us have learned in churches full of “nice” people.
When the Bible says “not by works,” it means that according to God, good works cannot be a means of salvation. Yet many people believe that at least in some way good works, being sincere or doing our best plays a part, however small, in our being accepted by God. This is one of life’s biggest mistakes. Maybe you don’t agree, but at least let me explain.
In Isaiah 64:6 we read this, “But we are all as an unclean thing, and all our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” Here, using the prophet Isaiah as a spokesman, God gives us two very important pieces of information about ourselves. First, He tells us how He sees us, that is, what we are like in God’s sight. Then He tells us how He views our good deeds. Remember, this is from the divine perspective. How does God see us? “We are all as an unclean thing.” That’s pretty humbling, in fact, a lot of people consider it too humbling, too belittling. Some are better than others, they say. While that might be true comparatively speaking from our human perspective, that is definitely not so from God’s perspective. “We... all” is one of those absolute expressions; it is all-inclusive, admits no exceptions. I might compare myself to another person who has done something worse than me, and come out looking pretty good, but when any of us is compared to God, “we are all as an unclean thing.” No human being is good from God’s perspective. We are all sinners by nature and by deed. Some show it more than others, but before God, “there is none good, no not one.”
Second, God tells us how He views our good deeds. Some admit that we are all sinners, but go on to say that we can make up for that by doing good. God addresses this idea when the prophet says, “All our righteousnesses.” He is not talking about our bad deeds, failings, etc. We won’t even mention those! He is only thinking of what we call “our righteousnesses,,” that is, our best behavior, our good works. Do they have merit with God? Does He find them attractive or pleasing? God says, “All our righteousnesses are as filthy rags.” That’s pretty blunt. Does this include giving alms, fasting, being kind to others, church attendance, taking the sacraments, singing in the choir, being the lay reader, teaching Sunday School, being a deacon, church secretary, pianist or organist, or doing other kinds of church work? What about belonging to a civic club, the ladies’ circle, giving to or working with charities, not swearing or using foul language, trying to be honest, respectful, a good neighbor and doing your best? How could God call things like these “filthy rags”? What could possibly be wrong with these things?
That’s a fair question, and I hope that as I answer it in the following page, you’ll understand, and believe. I say that because the answer comes from God’s Word, and I certainly hope you will believe God. It’s the smart thing to do.
God uses the words “filthy rags” to describe our best works. That is certainly not a human opinion of good works, and to me it is one more indication that the Bible is divine. I doubt if a human author would have made such a statement. Those words really mean “unclean rags,” things that shouldn’t be touched or even washed, but thrown away. You would incinerate them as rubbish or dig a hole and bury them but not keep them around, and certainly not dress in them! Many of us remember when as children we went to a public toilet in a gasoline station or restaurant and our mother or father cautioned us, “don’t touch anything in there.” They were concerned about germs and disease. That’s pretty close to the idea here; “filthy rags” are, in modern vernacular, gross. And God says that is how He views what we call our good works, our “righteousness.”
Of course I realize that this offends many people who pride themselves in doing good, in being sincere, in trying hard. And they are RIGHT when they say that they have NOT done some of the bad things that others have, and that they have done good things which others have not. But there is a problem. They are unaware that they’re making a big mistake. They can only make this kind of statement about their “good works” while looking at other human beings, not while looking at God. And salvation has to do with God, it comes from Him. The human point of view about ourselves is that some are better than others, and this is in a perhaps correct in a comparative sense, but it is fatally incomplete. To repent is to re-think, to think again, and this is certainly an area in which each of us needs to do that.
The divine point of view is that compared to God, all are bad, none are good. He says,
“As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one: there is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God. They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one” (Romans 3:10-12).
These clear and absolute statements of God about all people are directly opposed to what “nice folks,” religious persons and “good people” think about themselves. One young woman who had just become a Christian read that text to her mother as she tried to explain what had happened to her. Upon hearing those words, “there is none that doeth good, no, not one,” her mother’s mouth literally dropped in surprise or shock. She had never heard such an outlandish thing. She didn’t say anything, she was too polite to do so, but the expression on her face said it all. On another occasion, when these verses were shown to a devout Catholic woman in Spain, the reaction was a bit stronger. “I don’t believe that,” she stated firmly. When reminded that it was the Bible, she replied that if that was what the Bible said, then she didn’t believe the Bible was God’s Word. Her tone of voice indicated that she was insulted and offended by the declaration that there is none that does good. The first woman was quietly shocked, the second announced her rejection of the Bible and her disagreement. And others have even been known to become angry and take the verses as a personal insult or offense. Most of us have found ourselves in one of those three categories of reactions, because those words go right against what we believe about ourselves. But there is no mistake in the text. God knows what He is talking about, so if there is some mistake, it is on our side, not His.
Let’s think through what those verses say. Notice the repetition of the word “none” in that text. None righteous. None that understands. None that seeks after God. None that does good. Those are divine absolutes. Now, if I were the one who said “none,” I could be mistaken, there could be some miscalculation or prejudice on my part. But God said it, and He is all-knowing, loving, wise and good. It is wise to choose to believe Him, because He never has been wrong and never will be. In Romans 3:23 He changes from “none” to “all” and says, “all have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”
You see, the measuring stick for what is good and righteous is God, not humans, their deeds or opinions. There is a true and enduring righteousness, and it is part of the nature of God. God’s righteousness is perfect. Humanity has none of its own. And the problem with mankind’s religions, all of them, is that they try to teach and require people to “be good,” with the promise that if they are good enough, God will accept them. This is not only mistaken, it is also diametrically opposed to what God says. This kind of thinking and trying to be good actually leads us in the wrong direction, away from salvation. To think that we can work to be righteous and be accepted by God is a big mistake.
Consider the words of Romans 10:2-3. This verse mentions the righteousness of God three times.
"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 unto the righteousness of God."
In verse 2 the Apostle Paul expresses his concern for religious Israelites. And in our day and time this can be applied not only to religious Jews, but also to many other religious people, fine, upstanding members of respected churches. “They have a zeal of God, but not according to knowledge.” They are zealous, that is, fervent or arduous in embracing and defending what they believe, but they are mistaken. Zeal without knowledge is not a good thing. So one question that immediately comes to mind is, what knowledge are they lacking. Verse 3 addresses that subject, and repeatedly mentions the righteousness of God.
First it speaks of those who are ignorant of the righteousness of God. That means they have no real knowledge of God, no idea how holy and righteous He is, how absolutely perfect. A Spanish saying goes like this, “la ignorancia es atrevida.” It means that ignorance does some pretty daring things. Perhaps the closest in English would be the saying, “fools leap in where angels fear to tread.” When someone is ignorant about God’s righteousness, he can dare to think that THEY can make themselves righteous.
Second, it talks about those who seek to establish their own righteousness. This is like looking for the seven cities of gold or the fountain of youth. It doesn’t exist. As sinful humans, we cannot establish our own righteousness. But many people are trying to do just that, and hoping that they succeed. They propose to make themselves better by good works, by doing and not doing certain things, by giving to charity, being a good neighbor, not cursing, not smoking or drinking or gambling.
But this can not produce righteousness. God’s righteousness is the standard and we can never reach that by our efforts. It’s like someone saying he is going to make a running start, jump as hard as he can, and reach the moon. He might do his very best, and even jump higher than a lot of other people, but he isn’t going to reach the moon. If he really believes he will, he is either ignorant or crazy or maybe a little of both. If he knows anything about the distance from the earth to the moon, he knows it is impossible to get there by jumping, and therefore doesn’t even entertain serious thoughts about doing such a thing.
Yet people make this mistake all the time about salvation. They show how ignorant they truly are of God. They know nothing of His righteousness or of their own great sinfulness, and so they dare to say that they’re going to get to heaven by doing their best. You can’t get to the moon by making your best effort, much less heaven! One hymn written by Horatius Bonar states it like this:
Not what thee hands have done, can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Third, the verse says that these people have not submitted to the righteousness of God. You see, there is righteousness, but not theirs, not ours; it’s God’s. He has it and we need it. But a person who is working trying to make himself acceptable to God has a difficult time recognizing that his efforts are counterproductive. Submission is not one of his favorite words; it sounds too humbling, almost belittling, desperate. However, God is righteous and we aren’t. He has righteousness and we don’t. We can’t earn it; we can only receive it by submission - by an act of faith (trust, commitment), by calling upon Him for mercy.
In Luke 18:9-14 the Lord Jesus tells a parable about a self-righteous Pharisee and a contrite publican. Both men went into the temple to pray, but only one went home changed, forgiven. The Pharisee thanked God that he was not like other men, and proceeded to enumerate his good deeds. He was like so many religious people through the ages. He had not learned this simple truth, that only God is righteous and that all humans are sinful. So, in his ignorance he trusted in himself that he was righteous. He was self-confident, and that was a big mistake. He went about trying to establish his own righteousness, by fasting, giving offerings, etc. Like so many religious people today, he worked hard at his religion and in doing so, did not submit to the righteousness of God.
On the other hand, the publican (tax-collector) had learned this much, that he was not a good person. He did not trust in himself. He knew he was wicked and had no righteousness. Therefore when he prayed he could only ask for God’s mercy, and he pled, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” Notice those words: “me a sinner.” That is the great truth that he knew about himself, that the religious Pharisee did not know about himself.
From early days we taught our children to pray each evening before going to bed, and one of the things we taught them was to pray, “Teach me that I am the sinner that Jesus died for on the cross.” This is so important, and so difficult to learn. The Holy Spirit of God must convict us and show us what our heart is really like. Each one must be stripped of self-confidence and self-righteousness in whatever form it takes, and come to believe that he is the sinner that Jesus died for on the cross. Then he is prepared to pray, “God be merciful to me a sinner” (Luke 18:13). Have you come to that point in your life?
For this reason Christ came to the earth and died on the cross, to make it possible for us to have God’s righteousness. That is how the Apostle Paul puts it in 2 Corinthians 5:21, “For he hath made him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Christ knew no sin. He is perfect, righteous, and holy.
In contrast, we know no righteousness. We are imperfect. Unrighteous. Sinful. So the question is, how can a person like me ever have a relationship with this righteous and holy God, and dwell with Him in heaven?
What is impossible with men is possible with God. Here is the good news. God designated His Son Jesus Christ to be our Substitute. Christ came, not to show people how to be good, but to provide the only solution to our terrible sinfulness. He provides salvation to hopelessly lost people like us. We cannot “be good,” by nature, but Christ can make us good by forgiving and transforming us. The verse says that He was made sin for us, that is, He became our Substitute, bearing our sins for us. When He died at Calvary there was a human side and a divine side . Men crucified Him, it is true; that is the human side. But in those hours on the cross Christ was punished by God, the holy and righteous God, for our sins. “He bore our sins in his own body on the tree” 1 Peter 2:24 says. He wasn’t there because of anything He did. He is perfect! He was there because of what we are and have done. We are all sinners, and we have all sinned, and the penalty is death. “The wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23) . “The soul that sinneth, it shall surely die” (Ezek. 18:3). At Calvary Jesus Christ, God the Son, paid the death penalty for us. Do you believe the words of Cecil Alexander’s hymn, “There Is A Green Hill Far Away”?
There is a green hill far away, without a city wall,
Where God’s dear Son was crucified, who died to save us all.
He died that we might be forgiv’n, He died to do us good,
That we might go at last to heav’n, saved by His precious blood.
There was no other good enough to pay the price of sin;
He only could unlock the gate of heav’n and let us in.
But remember that prayer, “Teach me that I am the sinner that Jesus died for on the cross.” Don’t hide in the crowd, saying “no one is perfect.” God doesn’t deal with the crowd, but with the individual. So think and speak this way, not “we”, but “me.”
It means the end of pride, self-confidence and self-justification. It means realizing how terribly much I need the righteouness of God, how far short I fall. I can’t jump to the moon, and I can’t earn the righteousness of God. It is out of my reach. That is why God reached down — when Christ came to the earth as a man, and died as my Substitute on the cross. I couldn’t reach up, so God had mercy, and reached down. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him might not perish, but have everlasting life” (John 3:16). We needed divine help, not self-effort. God knows it, and that is exactly why He sent His Son Jesus Christ. It is a fatal blunder to think that there is any way to heaven, any way to be forgiven, any way to have eternal life, except through the mercy of God. We can’t earn heaven. We can’t make ourselves good enough to go there. Only God can do that. Albert Midlane’s hymn, “The Perfect Righteousness of God,” explains how God puts His own righteousness to our account.
The perfect righteousness of God is witnessed in the Saviour’s blood.
‘Tis in the cross of Christ we trace His righteousness, yet wondrous grace.
God could not pass the sinner by, his sin demands that he must die;
But in the cross of Christ we see how God can save us righteously.
The sin is on the Saviour laid, ‘Tis in His blood sin’s debt is paid;
Stern Justice can demand no more, and Mercy can dispense her store.
The sinner who believes is free, can say: “The Saviour died for me;”
Can point to the atoning blood, and say: “This made my peace with God.”
“That we might be made the righteousness of God in him”. It says “MADE!” Something God does to us, in us. We can’t make ourselves righteous. God doesn’t make us righteous by using our good works. Not “our righteousness,” but “the righteousness of God.” That perfect righteousness which God has, that is what we need to have a relationship with Him and to enter heaven. Not ours, but His (remember Romans 10:3). And please notice that the text says “in him.” That righteousness is not in a church or organization. It is not found in doing something or trying to be someone. It is found “in him,” that is, in Christ. The perfect righteousness of God can only be had through Christ, that is, by trusting personally in Jesus Christ. He IS the righteousness of God, and all who trust in Him as their Lord and Savior are given His righteousness. God considers the person who trusts in Christ to be “in Christ,” and He looks at that person as He looks at Christ. He sees Christ and His righteousness, because that person has trusted in the Lord Jesus. When we recognize that we are sinful but Christ died in payment for our sins, when we call upon the Lord Jesus to save us, deliver us, forgive us and give us eternal life, He takes us in. We become His, we are instantly forgiven and from then on we are “in Christ.” Not the one who does good works or is religious, but the one who believes in Christ, has the righteousness of God “in him.” J. Proctor illustrates with the words of the hymn, “It Is Finished.”
Nothing, either great or small, nothing, sinner, no;
Jesus did it, did it all, long, long ago.
When He, from His lofty throne, stooped to do and die,
Eve’rything was fully done: Hearken to His cry!
Weary, working, burdened one, wherefore toil you so?
Cease your doing; all was done, long, long ago.
Till to Jesus’ work you cling, by a simple faith,
“Doing” is a deadly thing — “doing” ends in death.
Cast your deadly “doing” down, down at Jesus’ feet;
Stand in Him, in Him alone, gloriously complete.
“It is finished,” yes, indeed, finished ev’ry jot,
Sinner, this is all you need, tell me, is it not?
Again, it is one of life’s big mistakes, a fatal blunder, to believe that you could get God to consider you righteous, save you and take you to heaven based on what you have done. Righteousness is not in you. It is in Him, and to have it you must repent of your sin, yes, even of the sin of pride, self-confidence, being religious, trying to be good. You must come to the point where you agree with God that all your best deeds, your own “righteousnesses,” are only filthy rags before Him. You must stop ignoring God’s righteousness and stop trying to establish your own. You must submit to the righteousness of God, that is, to the Lord Jesus Christ, in order for God to accept you. To fail to do this for any reason is a big mistake. Augustus Toplady wrote the well-known hymn, “Rock of Ages, Cleft for Me”, which says,
Not the labors of my hands, can fulfill Thy law’s demands;
Could my zeal no respite know, could my tears forever flow,
All for sin could not atone; Thou must save, and Thou alone.
Nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling;
Naked, come to Thee for dress, helpless, look to Thee for grace;
Foul; I to the fountain fly, wash me, Saviour, or I die!
It is an affront to the wisdom and goodness of God for anyone to insist on being accepted in part or in whole on the basis of his deeds. We are sinners. We owed a debt we could not pay. Christ is perfect, righteous and holy. When He died in our place He paid a debt He did not owe. If we offer God anything in our hands, any works or efforts, it would be like saying that what Christ did on the cross was not enough. The Apostle Paul warns the Galatians about this very thing when he says, “I do not frustrate the grace of God: for if righteousness come by the law, then Christ is dead in vain” (Galatians 2:21). That word “frustrate” means “to do away with, to set aside, disregard; to thwart the efficacy of anything, nullify, make void, frustrate; to reject, to refuse, to slight.” Those who preach that good people go to heaven and call on people to be good and to their best are frustrating the grace of God. They are doing away with God’s grace, setting it aside, making it void, rejecting it, refusing it, slighting it. The false gospel of good works is a wicked and vile enemy of the truth. It is a monstrous lie that deceives and damns men and women, boys and girls. It inflates pride and self-confidence, and caters to people’s innate desire to think well of themselves. It is saying that Christ died in vain. That is a serious charge that many will have to face on judgment day. Will you be one of them? Are you ignoring, rejecting or devaluing Christ’s death on the cross by trying to impress God with your good works? My advice to you is, repent now while there is still time, and don’t cheapen Christ’s death on the cross by trying to do your best. The Lord Jesus already did His best, and that was good enough for all people for all eternity! He said, “it is finished!” and He meant it! There is nothing more to do except repent and trust in Him.
There are scenes in the Bible that illustrate exactly what we have been considering. One of them, perhaps the best, is found in Luke 18:1-14.
"And he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted."
The Pharisee was a religious man. He did good works and he knew it. Maybe he didn’t think he was perfect, but he knew he wasn’t as bad as some folks, and certainly he was better than certain others. What was his basic problem? The Lord Jesus gives it in verse 9. He trusted in himself that he was righteous. Just like in Romans 10:3, those who ignore the righteousness of God and go about to establish their own righteousness. He believed he was getting there, he was sincere, but he was sincerely wrong. He was committing one of life’s biggest and most common mistakes.
He stood in the temple and prayed with himself — it wasn’t really a conversation with God, but rather a monologue spoken to himself. He said,“God, I thank thee that I am not as other men are,” but it was a big mistake. God knows we are all like others. “All have sinned.” “There is none righteous,” none like God, no not one. Who are we to try and teach God about human nature, to try and explain to God how we really are. He already knows us! We cannot convince God that we are good, that we have any righteousness. But this man made the common mistake of comparing himself with those he knew to be worse, “extortioners, unjust, adulterers, even as this publican.” Some folks think to themselves, “I have never taken a drink, never robbed a bank, never committed adultery, so how I be as bad as those who have?” Or they say, “I’ve been to church all my life, read the Bible nearly every day, and even prayed.” The problem here is that, like the Pharisee, these people are thinking horizontally, not vertically. They compare themselves to others and find they are better. Returning to the illustration about the moon, it’s like saying that they can jump a little or even a lot higher than others. But they are still nowhere near the moon and will never reach it by jumping. These self-proclaimed “good people” are still nowhere near the righteousness of God and will never reach it by trying. Although they might be likeable, and would make the best neighbors you could wish for, they are fatally mistaken. They just don’t get it. They are blinded by their religiousness or by their self-confidence. They can’t see that they are just like that poor, deceived Pharisee. If he had any idea of how perfect, righteous and holy God is, he never would have stood there in self-confidence proclaiming his own goodness. His manner of speaking betrayed his gross ignorance and his lost condition. He didn’t have a clue! And there are a lot of so-called “good” religious people like him, who trust in their good works, good character, or religious behavior or achievements. They are ignorant of God’s righteousness, therefore they go about trying to establish their own righteousness. They have not submitted to the righteousness of God, because to do that they would have to abandon their own righteousness as useless, filthy rags, and plead for mercy. They are too proud, too self-confident to do that. They have worked too hard to get where they are, and just can’t believe they have to abandon it all as hopeless and humble themselves before God. But it is a big mistake to continue this way, because the Scripture says, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.”
The publican (tax-collector) in Luke 18 was a different case, a complete contrast. He stood far off in the temple. He would not even raise his head. He was ashamed and felt guilty, and with good reason! He knew himself, that he was a sinner who deserved nothing good from God. He had no religious good feeling, and no self-confidence. Today the psychologists and those they have brainwashed would say that this man was lacking a “good self image.” But that is total nonsense. The Pharisee had a so-called “good self-image,” and for that very reason he was lost, unforgiven and had no relationship with God. It is better to have a correct self image than to have a good self-image. The publican had a correct self-image. The publican struck himself on the chest in an expression of contrition and unworthiness, and called out the only thing he dared to say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” He was on the right track, because Titus 3:5 says, “not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” We need mercy, not justice. That poor man pled for mercy, and he got it. The religious Pharisee boasted about the good things he had done, and got nothing from God. He made the mistake of thinking God owed him something. He made the mistake of thinking he was good because he was better than some other people. He made the mistake of trusting in himself and his goodness. It is a grave error. Salvation is an act of the mercy of God to people who don’t deserve it, who can’t earn it, who have no hope of getting it unless God has mercy on them. The publican was convicted of his sinfulness. He sought mercy from God, and found it. The Lord Jesus says, “I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”
Then to drive the point home, He concludes: “for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.” This is, we might say, a spiritual law. First, every one that exalts himself, like the Pharisee, shall be abased. All who try to establish their own righteousness, by being good, being religious, being sincere, doing their best, and thus hope to be accepted by God on the basis of who they are and what they have done, will be abased. They will be lost forever. It is a fatal mistake, to trust in self or religion instead of trusting in the Lord Jesus Christ and receiving salvation according to mercy. Second, every one who humbles himself, like that publican did, will be exalted. Every one who realizes his or her own utter sinfulness and that he deserves nothing good from God, knows that he has no righteousness to offer God. He feels the burden of his sin, feels unworthy, even filthy on the inside, and in desperation calls out to God for mercy. Many religious people, even in evangelical churches, have never come to a point in life where they felt this deep and real conviction of their own personal sinfulness and need of mercy. But this is the only way to the righteousness of God. All who come to God trusting in Jesus Christ as the one who died bearing their sins, and desiring to have righteousness in Him, because of who He is and what He did for them, find mercy. An unknown author writes,
Trust not in “doing,” it cannot avail,
Good resolutions and works can but fail;
“Grace, grace alone,” is the saved sinner’s plea,
“Not of works,” the Scriptures say, “salvation is free.”
“According to his mercy he saved us,” is what the Bible says. It is the only thing anyone will say in heaven, because the only people who will be there are those who trust in Jesus Christ and therefore find mercy with God. No one in heaven will say, “God, I thank you that I was not like other people.” No one in heaven will have a good self-image, but everyone will have a good Christ-image. There will be no boasting there. The song in heaven, according to Revelation 5, will not be “we are worthy,” or “I am worthy,” but “thou art worthy, Oh Lord” (Revelation 4:11) and “worthy is the Lamb that was slain” (Revelation 5:12). Only in hell will people be able to say, “we are worthy of this,” only there will people say, “I got what I deserved.” They committed a fatal error, and that is where it got them.
My prayer for you is that God by His Holy Spirit, through His Word, the Holy Scriptures, will open your eyes to your true sinful and unworthy condition. May He show you that you ARE like other people, that you sin because you are a sinner, and you cannot achieve righteousness on your own. May you realize and believe that all your righteousness (good works) is only filthy rags in God’s sight, and may you repent of all your attempts to be good, to make yourself acceptable, to earn favor or merit with God on the basis of your character or behavior. I pray you will no longer go about trying to establish your own righteousness, but that you will submit to the righteousness of God which is in Christ. May the Lord help you to see that you need His mercy and forgiveness, and that Christ was made sin for you, He carried your sins in His body on the cross and suffered there for you, in order that you might be made the righteousness of God in Him. May you realize that you are the sinner that Jesus died for on the cross. And may you abandon all self-effort and self-confidence, all hope in anything else, and commit yourself in faith to Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior. I pray you will humble yourself right now, and place all your trust in Jesus Christ for salvation, and say, “God be merciful to me, a sinner.” Every one who exalts himself will be abased, and every one who humbles himself will be exalted. There is no human righteousness to be had. It is time to agree with God about yourself and about His great plan of salvation. He loves you and will save you, not by works of righteousness, but according to His mercy. Don’t wait another minute, but right where you are, repent and trust in the Lord Jesus Christ to save you and give you His righteousness as a gift.
NOT WHAT THESE HANDS HAVE DONE
Not what these hands have done, can save this guilty soul;
Not what this toiling flesh has borne can make my spirit whole.
Not what I feel or do can give me peace with God,
Not all my prayers, or sighs, or tears, can ease my awful load.
No other work save Thine, no meaner blood will do.
No strength save that which is divine can bear me safely through.
Thy work alone, my Saviour, can ease this weight of sin,
Thy blood alone, O Lamb of God, can give me peace within.
Horatius Bonar (1808-1889)
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