I was reading of a story a missionary in the Sudan told of a meeting he was holding one day. It was one of those places where the natives might or might not show up with clothes on. But it was one prominent village elder's attire that really caught his eye. Evidently the man had been rummaging through the missionaries trash and happened upon his wife's corset. But don't get ahead of me. To this man this fancy piece of clothing was not to be wasted wrapped around one's waist but worn on one's head like crown! To make matters worse, this was all he felt necessary to wear to the meeting. Of course, to the missionary this man had not impressed him with his fancy covering but merely became an object of pity and repulsion.
Now it isn't too difficult to see the similarity of such a story with what the natural man does when he thinks he can impress the Holy God with some good deed or religious ritual. No matter how wonderful you think you are and how many "worthy" deeds you do in this life, in that great meeting, read Judgment Day, in the sky you will stand naked and ashamed unless you are clothed with the clothing given to us from God; the righteousness of Jesus Christ.
But perhaps there is a lesson for the saints as well. Too often we soon lose that sense of need and unworthiness that we had when we first came to Christ. We clean our lives up, memorize some Scripture, tithe and wear fancy suits and dresses to church and we begin to feel pretty smug about ourselves before the Lord. We compare our "good" works with all the lost around us and fool ourselves into thinking that God has to be more than a little impressed with us.
Of course, by the time this happens we can be sure he is quite displease with our efforts. Anything done without his glory in view out of thankfulness is no better than when the lost do it. Isa. 64:6 reminds us of how God sees such activity, "We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away." To parade our good works before the Lord is like wearing this on our heads! It is no accident that the elders of Revelation 4 cast their crowns before the throne. Whatever we do in this life is merely because it was given us from the Lord.
There is no doubt it is a struggle to serve the Lord without pride getting in the way; to walk humbling before him and others, always bearing in mind that I am nothing more than a sinner saved by grace. It is easy to forget that without the imputed righteousness of Christ I would be walking around in all my naked sinfulness and not only would I not have enough sense to be ashamed but I would be proud of myself. So let us preach the gospel to ourselves daily. When we see some poor soul lost in his sins and doing some evil thing that disgusts us let not our first thought be how awful they are but let us think of ourselves first and praise God for loving us while we were yet sinners; "There but for the grace of God go I". Perhaps we will walk more humbly, love more intensely and serve more effectively.