If you were to approach someone on the street and you were to ask them if they were a good person what do you reckon their answer would be?
They would probably tell you that they are a good person. They don’t lie… that much. They don’t cheat… often. And they rarely, if ever, steal. They’ve not murdered anybody. Though, perhaps, they’ve wanted to. They’ve not had an affair. Hmm… they’ve thought about it. But for the most part, they’re good people. They haven’t done the bad things that land you in hell.
Throughout all human history there have been two pieces of the unregenerate man that have been at war with one another. Two pieces that would seem to work together to your detriment.
The two pieces of the unregenerate man are: His understanding that he must do something to please God; and his complete and total lack of awareness of his ability to do so.
If I were to ask you, dear Christian, if you were a good person, I’m sure, like me, your sins would come to mind. You understand the moral prescription that God has given humanity. And you understand your own failure to uphold it. And you understand your need for a savior. For like me, you are wicked. And your thoughts, and your heart, and your desires, are wicked. You understand that the natural state of man is in open rebellion.
This is not a conclusion you have come to on your own. This is the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. It is the Triune God working in you to generate a new and clean heart. You understand the need for repentance.
Unlike the world outside you understand that there is no sacrifice of your time, there is no asceticism or punishment of the body, there is no sacrifice of animal or flesh that can truly do what you need to do. Because everything in this world is just as fallen as you, and just as corrupt as you are.
What you need is something pure.
You understand this. You understand that the only thing you can do is trust God because you’ve fallen short of the mark. We’ve all fallen short of the mark.
Faith and hope in Christ is what we have. And it is all we can cling to. Yet the devil will try to use even this against us.
The Pharisees were offended at Christ eating with sinners and sharing the gospel.
You see, the Pharisees had come under a strong delusion of the devil, that their works were good enough to save them. And part of the good work that the Pharisees would do, would be to distance themselves from sin to such a point that they couldn’t even be seen in the presence of sinners. They considered themselves so holy in keeping the law, that they wouldn’t even allow themselves to be around the sinner.
Not realizing, of course, their own sin, being unregenerate men, as we all once were.
You may say, “Now I know I don’t rely on my own good work to get into Heaven. I’m not the Pharisees thinking I’m holy enough, thinking that if I don’t smoke or drink or chew, or date girls that do I’ll be okay.”
I’m not saying you think like the Pharisees. However, the devil does come to us still with this same burden. The burden of the Law.
The devil won’t always come to us and say, “You need to drink less, or do more good works for the kingdom.” Sometimes he will take another angle. Sometimes he will come to you and say, “You haven’t repented enough. Your heart isn’t ‘repenty’ enough for God. You need repent more. You need to be more sorry. You need to be more distraught over your sin.”
The devil will often come to us and try to convince us that works are what get us in to heaven. But it isn’t always our work that he will attempt to deceive us with. Sometimes he will try to deceive us with God’s work – For repentance is surely the work of God in our hearts.
He will tell you that you haven’t repented enough, you aren’t broken up enough, you don’t love God enough. Yeah, the world all has their works, and their works are wrong, because God doesn’t require the flesh of bulls, or burnt offerings, or festivals, right?
But the devil will come to you and say, “what does he require? Repentance and a contrite heart. And your heart isn’t contrite enough. You haven’t repented enough! God can’t forgive you because you aren’t really sorry!”
This is a lie the devil tells us. It’s an awful trick. It’s a terrible lie. Beloved, I want to encourage you, when the devil comes to you with your own works, and he tells you that they’re not good enough, I want to encourage you with the parable of the lost sheep, I want to encourage you with the parable of the lost coin, and I want to encourage you with your baptism.
Because surely the devil comes against us all and tries to get us to put our faith in our own works, put our faith in our own repentance, put our faith in the condition of our heart, to put our faith in anything but Christ alone.
He will come to us and try to convince us that we need must do these things. That you must do this to be saved. That to be saved. For like sheep, we have all gone astray.
But the thing about a sheep is that it doesn’t know it’s lost! It’s like those people, who tell you they’re a good person, they don’t even realize they’ve wandered from the fold.
And who here has a quarter that, if he were to lose it, the quarter would jump out of the couch cushions and back into his hand? A lost quarter is incapable of seeking out its master. But the good news is: you don’t have to know you’re lost, and you don’t have to seek out the master, because he seeks after you. He calls after you.
And as we see in Micah, he promises to drown our iniquity in the sea. And this is surely a promise he delivers and upholds for us in Holy Baptism.
Beloved, when the devil comes against you and tells you that you haven’t worked enough, you haven’t given enough, you have loved enough, you haven’t repented enough, you do this too much, you don’t do that enough. I want you to remember that the Lord has already drowned your iniquity in the sea.
That, like Israel through the red sea, he has already carried you through waters that the devil and all his armies cannot cross. That they are drowned in that sea. The Lord’s work is repentance and salvation, the Lord’s work is faith, not yours. That is God who saves us, and that it is by his mighty right hand that we are upheld.
And it is in His name that I say to you: Amen.