Not of works
Andrew Sveda | Monday, March 21, 2022
Listening to a playlist one night alone in my dorm room, a new song started playing. It began: “Not what my hands have done / can save my guilty soul…” I didn’t even get that far before skipping to the next song. I had heard it many times before and had some particularly fond memories of it. But I really did not want to listen to it that night.
“I don’t need this,” I thought. “I already feel bad enough about myself. I need something that makes me feel good. How could a song like this relieve and free me from the heaviness and burden of my sin? I need something to boost my spirits, not to break it to pieces.”
So often we deceive ourselves as to what we need. We naturally try to avoid reflection on our own sin at all costs. This has been true in every generation. It is one thing to talk about man’s sinful condition in a general sense. It is another thing to see such darkness in yourself, to understand that when the Bible talks about the depravity of man, it is talking about you personally. Even when we begin to understand something of the heinousness of our sin, there is still a strong urge to put such things out of our mind and run away from Christ rather than coming to Him for grace and forgiveness. When we feel this way, alarm bells should be going off. Something is off in our thinking.
One reason people, knowing their sin, do not go to Christ for mercy is because of pride and self-righteousness. Going to Christ with no good of our own is something of an undoing of oneself. It would be the death of us to come to Him like a beggar, to approach the Savior with absolutely nothing, with no good work and no righteousness of our own. But this is your condition. Imagine a person refusing life-saving heart surgery, choosing to rather die than be seen as needy. Everyone in their right mind would call him absolutely foolish. Reader, you are desperately needy — more so than this person, for their illness is physical and temporary while yours is spiritual and the punishment eternal if you do not go to the Savior. One small pin is enough to pop the frail balloon you call your righteousness. The Bible says, “We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away” (Isaiah 64:6). This is the truth. Don’t lull yourself to sleep with fantasies that you are “a good person.” “The LORD looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God. They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; there is none who does good, not even one” (Psalm 14:2-3; cf. Romans 3:10-12). If you don’t accept this reality now and flee from the wrath to come by repenting and believing in Jesus Christ, you will die in your sins and suffer eternal condemnation in hell. I never said giving up on trying to save yourself was a painless process. But Jesus said, “whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matthew 16:25). There’s no way around it. There’s no alternate way into Heaven for the “truly good people.” There is one door and one way. You must go through that door or you can never enter. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:3).
Another, though not necessarily mutually exclusive, reaction is utter despair and depression. One feels something of the weight and severity of their sin. How can such a sinful person like me be made clean? Yes, God can forgive people; He has. But, such a person may say, I know the darkness of my own heart. I am too wretched a sinner to be saved. And so the heart sinks into hopeless darkness. If this is you, look to Christ for salvation. Look to what He has done for you on the Cross. Your sins are exceedingly great, but “Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15). “Christ … suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God,” and His “blood … cleanses us from all sin” (1 Peter 3:18,1 John 1:7). His death was an atonement for real, terrible sins, and “[w]here there is forgiveness of [sins], there is no longer any offering for sin” (Hebrews 10:18). We are saved, wholly and completely, not because of anything we have done but because of what He has done for us. “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” (Ephesians 2:8-9). “But I,” you say. But He! “But God,” says the gospel! He has saved tax collectors, Pharisees, prostitutes and even the chief of sinners (Ephesians 2:4, 1 Timothy 1:15). Go to Him as one of these great sinners and you will find abounding grace and welcome.
No longer despair that it is not by your hands that you can save your guilty soul. Rather rejoice that it is precisely not by your works that you are saved, for your righteousness would not last a second before God’s throne. You would have no assurance and peace with God if salvation was not all of grace and all of God. It is the Lord Himself who made “purification for sins” and “[i]t is God who justifies,” and He testified to this by raising Jesus from the dead, who is seated at the right hand of the Father (Hebrews 1:3, Romans 8:33). “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (Romans 5:1).
Andrew Sveda is a junior at Notre Dame from Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, majoring in political science with a supplementary major in theology. In his free time, he enjoys writing (obviously), reading and playing the piano. He can be reached at [email protected] or @SvedaAndrew on Twitter.
The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.