“You better watch out; You better not cry; Better not pout; I’m telling you why; Santa Claus is coming to town; He’s making a list; And checking it twice; Gonna find out Who’s naughty and nice; Santa Claus is coming to town; He sees you when you’re sleeping; He knows when you’re awake; He knows if you’ve been bad or good; So be good for goodness sake!”
It sounds right. We have heard it all our lives. So, we might reason, if “being good” gets us ahead here on earth, then won’t the same principle apply to getting us to heaven?
Well … No. It is not nearly enough — the problem is too big.
“If we bring God down to our level and raise ourselves up to His, then of course we see no need for a radical salvation, let alone for a radical atonement to secure it. When, on the other hand, we have glimpsed the blinding holiness of the glory of God and have been so convicted of our sin by the Holy Spirit that we tremble before God and acknowledge what we are, namely, ‘hell-deserving sinners,’ then and only then does the necessity of the cross appear so obvious that we are astonished we never saw it before.”
The instant a man comes to know his own true state before a holy God, he will not be satisfied until he finds rest in God himself. The reason that so few reach this state is that they are still deluded by their belief in “a righteousness of their own,” a spurious and deadly fallacy.
“He made Him who knew no sin to be sin on our behalf, so that WE might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
If God could have safely brought us to heaven by any other means than by the brutal, humiliating sacrifice of His only Son, don’t you think He would have done so? If our good behavior and observing the Law would “do the trick,” why didn’t God select that option?
Because the problem was NOT with the Law, but with man’s inability to live up to it due to his fallen spiritual nature.
That is why God intervened on our behalf through Christ, as noted in Romans 8:3: “For what the Law could not do, weak as it was through the flesh, God did: sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and as an offering for sin, He condemned sin in the flesh.”
The stringent, unbending demands of the Law were intended to act as a warning to all of us that our so-called “good works” and being “nice” are no more meritorious than “filthy rags” when it comes to cleansing us from our sins.
God’s redeeming purposes are centered upon Jesus and his work on our behalf. To foolishly point our hopes away from Christ and toward ourselves (as a source of merit) is a blasphemous insult to God’s grace.
“I do not nullify the grace of God, for if righteousness comes through the Law, then Christ died needlessly.”
Before “getting the message,” Paul took comfort in his status as a prominent Jew and defender of the faith, believing firmly that these things would assure him of acceptance by God. It took a bolt of lightning and a personal interview with the risen Christ before he “got it.” And when he did, he went on to lead a movement that would turn the then-known world upside down.
Here are his reflections on righteousness (right standing) before God, as related in Philippians 3:7-11:
“The very credentials these people are waving around as something special, I’m tearing up and throwing out with the trash — along with everything else I used to take credit for. And why? Because of Christ … I didn’t want some petty, inferior brand of righteousness that comes from keeping a list of rules when I could get the robust kind that comes from trusting Christ — God’s righteousness.”
How About You?
Have you despaired of self and turned to Christ? It is the only way.
— D.C. Collier is a Bible teacher, discipleship mentor and writer focused on Christian apologetics. A mechanical engineer and Internet entrepreneur, he is the author of My Origin, My Destiny, a book focused on Christianity’s basic “value proposition.” Click here for more information, or contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Click here for previous columns. The opinions expressed are his own.