I’ve been presenting the Gospel to a particular friend of mine for several years. She identifies with another religion, although she candidly admits that her affiliation with it hovers around a nominal commitment. She confesses to doing some things that both Christianity and her religion prohibit, feeling that her circumstances leave her no choice in the matter.
As far as I can tell, she accepts my evidence for Christ’s deity, for His death as atonement for sin and for His physical resurrection. Her assent to these truths, and yet her unwillingness to turn to Him, quite honestly baffled me. I supposed she feared persecution from her family.
But during a conversation about a year ago, I suddenly realized what holds her back. I asked her directly if she believes she’ll go to hell. Despite all I’ve told her about Jesus being the only Savior, and despite all her honest confession to me about her past and present sins, she confidently replied, “No, I don’t.” She views herself as a “good” person.
By human standards, she is.
The Lord, however, judges each of us by His standard. He taught His standard when He gave the Law to Moses, and clarified it when He came to earth in the Person of Jesus Christ. His Holy Spirit further explained His standard through the Apostles as they penned the New Testament Scriptures under His inspiration. Through the Spirit, James made it clear that even one violation of God’s Law makes a person guilty.
8 If you really fulfill the royal law according to the Scripture, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself,” you are doing well. 9 But if you show partiality, you are committing sin and are convicted by the law as transgressors. 10 For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it. 11 For he who said, “Do not commit adultery,” also said, “Do not murder.” If you do not commit adultery but do murder, you have become a transgressor of the law. ~~James 2:8-11 (ESV)
Our human understanding of sin causes us to measure ourselves against other people. We watch the news each night, comforting ourselves that we aren’t as bad as that political candidate who lies through her teeth or that drunk driver who killed the elderly person in the wheelchair. But from God’s perspective, even one small sin violates His holy nature. We forget that He doesn’t measure us against each other, but against Himself.
Thankfully, those of us who trust that Christ took the punishment for our sins when He died on the cross can be assured of His mercy and forgiveness. Although none of us can meet God’s standard of righteousness, He gives believers His righteousness in exchange for our sin.
My friend freely admits her sins, yet she can’t believe that she stands before God condemned as a sinner unless she puts her faith in Jesus Christ. Sadly, many people err in the same way, refusing the gracious gift of salvation solely because they trust in their own “goodness.” What a tragedy!