In my vast experience as a human being, I’ve noticed what appears to be a universal problem. This humanistic tendency cuts across all economic lines, cultural barriers, age, and societies’ sub-cultures.
Have I piqued your interest?
This is the problem: we all try to justify ourselves by comparing our good and bad qualities with others in our peer group.
Have you ever heard small kids justifying their actions by saying something like, “but the toy I threw at Jimmy’s head was smaller than the one Betty threw,” or, from older kids, “But Dad, I was only going 10 kms. over the speed limit when I got that ticket.”
We try to justify ourselves by pointing out we are somewhere in the middle of the pack in our circle of friends. Like Adam and Eve in the garden, we try to cover our sins by our own good works, and hope our good deeds outweigh our bad.
But where I spend eternity does not depend on my being judged by my peers, but by the one true perfect judge, God.
Where I fit in my pack of friends means nothing. It’s about the cross and what Christ did on it, and my accepting that work of Christ by faith, not trying to earn it by my works.
Good works are wonderful, but they are a result of my faith, not the cause of it.
As Paul says:
“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God, not of works, lest anyone should boast.” (Ephesians 2:8,9 NKJV.)
A murderer’s justification
Now let me share a true story that to me epitomizes the problem of works vs. grace. A few years ago I was in a Christian band that mainly ministered in Canadian correctional facilities.
One time after I preached at a maximum security center, I got talking to an inmate. This man had his own version of the classic excuse when confronted with the Gospel. We all know the line, “but I’m not that bad (middle of the pack) – I’ve never killed anyone – I’m not a sinner.”
This inmate used the same reasoning to try to justify himself within the framework of his sub-culture peer group. He said, “but I’ve only killed one person,” unlike many of his peers who were multiple murderers. He seemed very pleased that he was better than most of his peers – near the top of his pack.
I must admit, it was a new twist on an old line to justify oneself.
Even if I’m the top dog in a wolf pack, I’m still a wolf; I need God to change my nature. It’s not about where I stand in my pack of peers, but where I stand in reference to the cross of Christ. And the cross stands alone, without my help.
As Martin Luther said, “Sola gratia,” by grace alone.