“The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
If there’s one thing we humans can do is rationalize sin. It’s so easy to fool ourselves into thinking we always have a noble reason for the not-so-honorable things we do! Even easier to tell ourselves our sins aren’t sins because other people approve our behavior (as if sin were an offense against our peers and not against God). I think one of the biggest lies in human history is that we all need more self-esteem. Humans have an extremely high opinions of themselves, after all, despite all evidence of evil, most of people think mankind is basically good.
Just watch any romantic comedy or sitcom and you’ll inevitably find a character that does wrong, hurts people, lies, does everything to get what they want and still, at the slightest sign of remorse, they are quickly reassured that they are not bad, they just made some mistakes. Hollywood desperately tries to instill in society the notion that our actions are somehow disconnected from who we are, yet nothing is more illogical and further from the truth. People do bad things because people are bad, all people, everywhere. This idea that there is some irrevocable spark of inherent goodness in humanity is ludicrous and, in my opinion, is part of the reason why this generation that is so proud of itself even though there is very little to be proud of.
The world is full of all sorts of theories why there is so much war, hatred, violence, dishonesty and all manner of evil in the world . Most of them fail to see the heart of the matter: the human heart. They blame society, technology, politics, everything but man’s nature. Often, people who are confronted with their sins say “God knows my heart” as if it’s some sort of defense, when it should really be their biggest concern. They say it as if deep down our hearts can be good, despite our sinful behavior. Well, God does know our heart and that’s precisely why we are in big trouble.
I’m sure to be greeted with a chorus of accusations of hypocrisy for saying this but the reality is that I do not exclude myself of this charge. I am part of Adam’s fallen race, rotten to the core, in desperate need of redemption. Perhaps the difference is that, as a Christian, I own up to it. Years of careful pruning from my parents have helped restrain such evil to the point where I’m not as bad as I could be, but that doesn’t make me good. I am fallen, I was born with a sinful nature, inclined for evil, and I call out for God to save me, to change me, to sanctify me.
You see, our big problem with seeing our big problem is that we have really low standards of goodness. We compare ourselves with ourselves and so we think we look pretty good – like sheep at each other, we think we look white enough, but just place us in fresh snow and the filth will show itself. That’s what happens when we compare our righteousness with the righteousness of God. Let’s take the story of the rich young ruler as an example:
As Jesus started on his way, a man ran up to him and fell on his knees before him. “Good teacher,” he asked, “what must I do to inherit eternal life?”
“Why do you call me good?” Jesus answered. “No one is good—except God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false testimony, you shall not defraud, honor your father and mother.’”
“Teacher,” he declared, “all these I have kept since I was a boy.”
Jesus looked at him and loved him. “One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
At this the man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. Jesus looked around and said to his disciples, “How hard it is for the rich to enter the kingdom of God!”
The disciples were amazed at his words. But Jesus said again, “Children, how hard it is to enter the kingdom of God! It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.”
The disciples were even more amazed, and said to each other, “Who then can be saved?”
Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.”
Then Peter spoke up, “We have left everything to follow you!”
“Truly I tell you,” Jesus replied, “no one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age: homes, brothers, sisters, mothers, children and fields—along with persecutions—and in the age to come eternal life. But many who are first will be last, and the last first.”
One of the first things that come to my mind when I read this text is that Jesus, the Son of God, the Holy One of God, perfect and undefiled said “Why do you call me good?No one is good—except God alone”. Now, we know that Jesus is God and, therefore, he is good, but the point Jesus was making is that the man didn’t know Jesus was God and he called Him “Good teacher”. That showed that the man had the idea in his mind that man could be good. In Romans 3:10, the Bible says “There is no one righteous, not even one”. This is God’s Word, it’s His assessment of the state of humankind: no one is good, no one is righteous. In John 2:23-25, the Word says “Now when he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Feast, many believed in his name when they saw the signs that he was doing. But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.” God knows the heart of man, his judgement of us is completely accurate, completely true. So mankind is evil and it is God common grace that restrains man so that not everybody is as evil as they can be. It is also why some of us can do good works, but that doesn’t make us good. God’s standards are much higher:
“For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.” James 2:10.
Then Jesus goes on and reminds the man of God’s law, quoting a few of the ten commandments. This is to bring the heart to the knowledge of sin. But the man says he’s observed all those things from infancy – which I’m sure is safe to say he hasn’t, not perfectly as it would be required, if we take into account the Sermon on the Mount, where Jesus explains the spirit of the law and its meaning, which is deeper than it seems. Notice that it says Jesus loved him, which is the same as saying Jesus felt compassion for him, and because He loved him, Jesus pointed out the hidden sin in that man’s heart – greed, the love of money:
“One thing you lack,” he said. “Go, sell everything you have and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”.
This is not to say that the mere act of selling his possessions would earn him eternal life, we know it wouldn’t:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Ephesians 2:8-10.
Jesus was exposing that man’s heart to him, forcing him to face his sin.
Recently I’ve been told that someone close to me, who claims to be a Christian but is living in blatant sin, strongly protested when he was confronted, saying the dear sister was being a hypocrite and unloving for pointing out his sin and calling him to repentance. But notice here that it says Jesus loved the man and as a result of that love, confronted his sin. This notion that if you love someone, you should accept (and in practice, approve even if by omission) whatever their choice they make is a Satanic lie meant to keep people away from repentance and salvation. If we are Christians, we are to follow Christ’s example and be light, even knowing that the world hates the light because their deeds are evil (John 3:19). The only thing that makes this hypocritical is if we rebuke others while guarding our own sins in our hearts and fail to repent from them as well. That would be falling into the “Judge not” those people love so much to evoke and distort. What we need to do is what Jesus did “not judge by appearances, but judge with right judgment” (John 7:24).
Now, the man went away sad because he had many possessions. His love of money was more important to him than his eternal salvation. It seems insane to think that anyone would chose money for some years on Earth and eternity in Hell over giving it all up and living forever with God in Heaven, but that is what every person does when they refuse to repent from their sins and follow Christ. The point was not that he had to give his money away, but that the needed to recognize the righteousness he thought he’d attained so far was not enough, empty himself and turn to Jesus in wholehearted trust. If he had realized the depth of his unrighteousness and the infinite worth of He who was calling him, he’d given away ten times over whatever he considered precious so that he could follow Christ.That is the Gospel! We are sinners, hopelessly bound to Hell unless we repent and trust in Christ and be saved.
After the man leaves and Jesus makes his astonishing statement about the rich and their incapability to enter the Kingdom, the disciples ask him who then can be saved. Christ’s answer is even more astounding: “With man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God.” (Mark 10:27). Here we have, from the lips of Jesus the affirmation that it is impossible for men to save themselves. Salvation is a supernatural work of God from start to finish. God gave Jesus as propitiation for our sins, which means Jesus came to earth as a man, lived the perfect sinless life no other human being could ever have lived (Hebrews 4:15), then died on the Cross to pay the penalty for our sins (Romans 6:23; Isaiah 53), on the third day, God raised Him from the dead as a sign that the atonement was accepted (1 Corinthians 15), “so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus” (Romans 3:26).
Therefore, when Peter says they left everything to follow Christ and He assures them that they will have the reward here and in the life to come, Jesus is not saying that Peter and the others have earned their salvation by their good works, but that such actions are evidence that they have received salvation from God because “with man this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God”.
Salvation belongs to the Lord (Jonah 2:9). Therefore, He has provided everything He demands in Jesus Christ. Through Christ we are saved, justified, sanctified and glorified. It’s all Him and that is the assurance, that is the reason for our strong hope and the very reason why we are not hypocrites when we call people to repentance, knowing that the same call applies to us and we know that any righteousness we have is not our own but has been imputed to us through Christ and that by His Spirit we are being sanctified. When we call unbelievers to repentance, we are showing them the way to enter into eternal life and blessing (John 3:16-18). When we call believers to repentance, we are warning them not to despise the great salvation they have received, if indeed they have received it (Hebrews 10).
I’d like to end this post with the wonderful riches of 2 Peter 1:3-10. If you are not in Christ, I urge you to repent from your sins and turn to Him so you can enter into this salvation. If you are in Christ, meditate, marvel in these words and make your calling and election sure. May God’s grace be with us. Amen.
“His divine power has granted to us all things that pertain to life and godliness, through the knowledge of him who called us to his own glory and excellence, by which he has granted to us his precious and very great promises, so that through them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped from the corruption that is in the world because of sinful desire. For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they keep you from being ineffective or unfruitful in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. For whoever lacks these qualities is so nearsighted that he is blind, having forgotten that he was cleansed from his former sins. Therefore, brothers, be all the more diligent to confirm your calling and election, for if you practice these qualities you will never fall.”2 Peter 1:3-10