Ever since mankind’s initial rebellion, we’ve entertained the misguided notion of covering up our sin and of working our way to heaven. In the garden, when they were shamed by their nakedness, they tried unsuccessfully to cover their transgressions. Sewing fig leaves was the first futile act of religious activity. They tried again at Babel. “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens” (Genesis 11:4, NKJV). That didn’t work either.
The Bible is abundantly clear. Man will never get good enough to be saved, nor can he stay good enough to stay saved. We can be saved from eternal death and destruction by grace alone, through faith alone, in Jesus alone. We can’t build a tower tall enough, and our religious activities won’t cover our wickedness when we stand before the judgment seat of God (2 Corinthians 5:10).
“You are saved by grace through faith, and this is not from yourselves; it is God’s gift-not from works, so that no one can boast”(Ephesians 2:8–9).
“He saved us—not by works of righteousness that we had done, but according to his mercy—through the washing of regeneration and renewal by the Holy Spirit. He poured out his Spirit on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Savior so that, having been justified by his grace, we may become heirs with the hope of eternal life” (Titus 3:5–7).
“He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began” (2 Timothy 1:9).
“We know that a person is not justified by the works of the law but by faith in Jesus Christ, even we ourselves have believed in Christ Jesus. This was so that we might be justified by faith in Christ and not by the works of the law, because by the works of the law no human being will be justified” (Galatians 2:16).
Jesus told a parable to illustrate this point. He told the “parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and looked down on everyone else: ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee was standing and praying like this about himself: “God, I thank you that I’m not like other people—greedy, unrighteous, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of everything I get.” But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even raise his eyes to heaven but kept striking his chest and saying, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” I tell you, this one went down to his house justified rather than the other, because everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, but the one who humbles himself will be exalted’ ” (Luke 18:9–14).
Two men went to church. One deluded himself into thinking he was good enough to stand before a Holy God. He compared himself to others when he needed to compare himself to Jesus, God’s standard of holiness. “We all fall short of God’s glorious standard”(Romans 3:23, NLT).
The other worshipper wisely fell before God, humbled by His Glorious Holiness, and cried out, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Faith in Jesus’ finished work at the cross is our only hope!
“Draw near to God, and he will draw near to you … Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will exalt you” (James 4:8–10).