What if I told you that one of God’s biggest goals for your life was despair? As Christians, we’re trained to despair of our sinful behavior. That’s because it’s relatively easy for us to see the bad in our sins. No will argue that lust, pride, gluttony, hate, murder, gossip, etc. aren’t on the naughty list. We feel it inside as our conscience sounds the alarm. But we have a more insidious problem than our bad deeds that’s keeping us from God: Our good deeds.
Consider the story of the Pharisee and the tax collector in Luke 18. They both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee spent his time thanking God for all the good he did and the bad he avoided. However the tax collector humbly cried, “be merciful to me, God, the sinner!” He, and not the Pharisee, went home that day justified. What was it that kept the Pharisee from being forgiven? Not his bad deeds but his good ones! The man was convinced he had a righteousness apart from the one God gives, and he therefore saw no need for forgiveness. He was his own savior.
If, in the final analysis, we can appeal to our moral record as grounds for God accepting us, then we become the champion of our salvation. God’s pardon becomes a wage instead of a gift. Gratitude is replaced with presumption and there is no marveling at mercy. We earned it, after all.
So here’s your litmus test. Do you feel more worthy to be in God’s presence when you obey the rules? Do you feel slighted by God when you when you’ve been obedient and things still don’t go your way? Is your happiness in a day directly linked to how well you performed your Christian duties? If you’ve answered yes to these questions, you need to repent, not just of your bad deeds, but of your good deeds that you’re relying on to make you righteous, worthy and whole. God has made you righteous, Christian. Not by your doing but by Christ’s. “But by His doing you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us…righteousness…so that just as it is written, ‘let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.’” (1 Cor. 1:30-31). May you despair of your own efforts so you can fully enjoy Christ’s efforts on your behalf. This is the good news of the gospel.