So, part two of this gospel saga starts with some mad props. In the last few years, some older, wiser Christians have really helped some stuff make sense for me. They've worked hard to remind me that salvation is not something we earn; we don't "become righteous" before God on the basis of our good deeds, we become righteous before God on the basis of Christ's good deeds! Maybe you're a non-Christian reader and that surprises you. Maybe you thought Christians teach that "good" people go to heaven and "bad" people go to hell. Maybe that ticks you off because a lot of the Christians you know don't seem much more "good" than anyone else! Or maybe you're a Christian reader and you think "yea yea yea I know all that." But maybe what you think you believe isn't really what you live. I know that was true of me- I knew God accepts me based on Christ's work (not mine), yet I often felt unworthy to talk to God if I had been "bad" that week. Again, it took a lot of people reinforcing the truth for me to realize that in many areas of my life, I wasn't actually believing the truth. So whether you're a Christian or not, hopefully this can be relevant for you!
First, why aren't "good" people OK with God? The Bible refers to all our righteousness as "filthy rags" in the eyes of God. This doesn't mean God is a grumpy old stooge who simply refuses to appreciate our efforts; it means He can see how sin corrupts each and every desire we have, even our desire do good! Someone living in a garbage dump might find a new shirt to wear while rummaging through the trash heaps. It may actually be a lot cleaner than what he's currently wearing! But that doesn't mean it's a clean shirt, it just means it's the cleanest thing he's ever known. That's how our good works are. We may think they're so good that God is impressed, but it's just b/c we're comparing them to what we know, not to the perfect, white-hot goodness of God.
The pharisees made this mistake. They compared their good rule-following to all the "bad people" around them. But when Jesus got there, he had no problem revealing their areas of blindness. He said, "you're like whitewashed tombs: clean on the outside but rotting within." He pointed out (to their fury) that they weren't actually following the rules at all, because the rules go to the level of the heart. Jesus said, "the law says do not murder. But I say whoever is angry with his brother is a murderer." They may not have been killing people, but their thoughts and feelings toward others weren't totally pure. According to the Standard of the Rules (that's Jesus!), even the best rule followers, the "good" people of the time were as bad as murderers. I'm no exception- just ask my husband!
The Bible also says that nobody can come into God's presence without "a pure heart and clean hands." I've already shown my disqualification there, despite the fact that many would consider me a "good" person. You might be thinking, "Well who can live up to that standard? That's impossible!" My response is, that's exactly the point! The rules show us that we're sinners- they're a beautiful gift for His people (we'll get to this later!) but they were never intended for us to try and live up to them in order to earn a right place before God. So if I treat them that way, I've missed the whole point and have bought a big fat lie. When I read, "who can ascend to the hill of the Lord? Only he that has clean hands and a pure heart", the point is not for me to say, "OK- I need to work on having clean hands and a pure heart so that I can be close to God!" Instead, it should make me realize "that counts me out!"
The law is actually describing something impossible for us, because it's describing the character of a Person that we simply can't be. The law demands outer and inner perfection. The only Person who ever lived with a truly "pure heart and clean hands" is Jesus Christ. The fact that the rules demand perfection and reveal my inability to "live up to them" is actually good news, because it get me ready to say, "I can't do this! I need a Savior!" It helps me to realize that the only way I can approach God's presence is through the death and resurrection of Jesus.
That's what the Cross is all about. In his death, the Perfect One took my angry, murdering heart onto Himself and payed for it by dying in my place. In his resurrection, he beat death itself and therefore gets to offer me the truly Good life that is his. My sin and my punishment are still in the ground; all that's left is the perfect life of Christ, which he shares with me.
So then...why bother trying to live right? Why not just throw out the law if its only purpose is to show us we can't save ourselves?
To be continued...